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Alfred Dreyfus: The Fight for Justice at Yeshiva University Museum
Photograph of Lucie and Alfred Dreyfus on the terasse of the house of Villemarie, Carpentras, circa 1910, Family Archives.

NEW YORK.- Yeshiva University Museum presents the first major exhibition to address the history and consequences of the Dreyfus Affair through the personal effects of Alfred Dreyfus himself. Alfred Dreyfus: The Fight for Justice is now on view at the New York City museum, marking the exhibition’s first North American venue. The show was organized by the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris, where it was on view in Fall 2006 before travelling to the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt in early 2007. The exhibition comprises some 200 objects from the Dreyfus family archive, including photographs, posters, letters, and the original “J’accuse…!” newspaper article, written by Emile Zola to the president of France in 1898. The majority of the objects will be on public view in the United States for the first time.

The exhibition begins in 1870, after France was defeated by Germany in the Franco-Prussian war, and retells the story of how one man’s false conviction fueled political and humanitarian activism as well as anti-Semitism in France and around the world. In 1894, Jewish French army officer Captain Alfred Dreyfus was accused of giving French military secrets to Germany, wrongfully arrested and jailed for treason. His trial and the political scandal that ensued left France bitterly divided for decades, with liberal intellectuals on one side, and the clergy and military on the other. The Dreyfus Affair contributed to many important 20th century world developments and had a significant effect on one assimilated Jewish journalist covering the trial in Paris for an Austrian newspaper, who would change the face of Jewish history. Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl was so shaken by the mobs of people shouting “Death to the Jews” at the time of the trial that he decided that the only solution to anti-Semitism was for Jews to have their own national homeland. He immediately plunged into organizing and amassing support for the founding of a Jewish state and, in 1897, convened the first Zionist congress in Basel, Switzerland.

In 1895, Dreyfus narrowly escaped a lynching before being committed to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island in French Guyana for 10 years. During that time, he wrote hundreds of letters to his wife Lucie, his brother Mathieu, French government officials and various supporters to pursue both his own fight for honor and human rights in a democratic society. The exhibition includes a sampling of these original letters and an evening of drama and discussion “From the Depths of My Heart: The Letters of Alfred and Lucie Dreyfus” will take place at the Museum on November 29.

Alfred Dreyfus: The Fight for Justice is organized chronologically into eight sections, beginning before the Affair in 1870; covering the trial and retrial of Dreyfus and the trial of Dreyfus champion Emile Zola in the 1890s, and concluding with a section on how the 20th century addressed issues of rehabilitation and the challenge of commemoration. The exhibition’s original objects and documentary materials will reveal how the Dreyfus Affair impacted history, culture and legislation in France and affected the intermittent waves of anti-Semitism in fin-de-siècle Europe. A two-part international symposium dedicated to these issues has been organized by the museum and the Cardozo Law School and is scheduled to take place in early 2008.

The lead sponsor of the exhibition is The Leon Levy Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the David Berg Foundation. We would also like to acknowledge the support of The Brenner Family Foundation and the Liman Foundation.

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