If we were to review what many people know about the Dreyfus Affair, the outline of trumped-up charges against a French Jewish army officer, imprisonment and exoneration would be the main features. Some might be aware of the effect of the case on Theodore Herzl and the development of modern Zionism, but its overall, catalytical effect on French Jewry, world Jewry, the French nation and Republic - together with its consequences into the Nazi occupation of France - would go largely uncommented outside France.
For these reasons, this issue is devoted to the centenary of the trial and the struggle for appeal, examining the implications, offering activities which could be adapted to other topics. The history of the Dreyfus Affair itself comprises many of the elements of a hammy spy thriller: corruption, perversion and gross miscarriage of justice, cover-up, conflicts and hatred - and we bring this historical background in the final section, together with the inevitable questions that were asked then and those which today's perspective afford.
THE ESTIMATED WORLD IMPACT OF THE DREYFUS AFFAIR
The Dreyfus Affair had a major impact on the situation of French Jewry; it was also to drastically change the future of the Jewish people worldwide.
1. The final victory of the Dreyfus camp was to convince part of French Jewry that it was occasionally legitimate to act as a Jew to help another member of the community or all of its members.
2. The network of modern French Jewish organizations can also trace its origins to the core group of Dreyfus supporters.
3. The Affair rapidly became a matter of opinion, a polemical debate, dominated by a class consciousness. From the outset, injustice was blatant, together with the search for a scapegoat.
4. It led eventually, to a change of government, and - in 1905, under a government which drew its conclusions from the military, clerical and extreme nationalist coalition in the Dreyfus Affair - a law separating Church and State.
5. Anti-Semitism put in its appearance during the Affair: it aroused all those who could not accept the Jews' equal status as citizens, as well as those driven by a vengeful patriotism.
6. Moreover, anti-Semitism took on its contemporary form, already linking the Jew with finance, and international power. The first signs of Vichy France could already be detected, both in the anti- Semitic press and in movements which brought individuals together. The ideas were there; they simply required official status. In this sense, the Dreyfus Affair can be considered to be the precursor of a twentieth century which would be even darker for the Jews.
7. The Affair revealed for the first time the precariousness of the Jews' emancipation. First and foremost, it proved that assimilation was simply an illusion which had lasted one century. Even one of the greatest protagonists of assimilation, Bernard Lazare, very quickly came to this conclusion.
Lazare sprang into action when he realized that anti-Semitism is a permanent phenomenon, and that the only salvation for the Jews lay in a national solution.
8. In Herzl, who was previously also an advocate of assimilation, the Dreyfus Affair awoke an old dream of the Jewish people, sparking off what was to be the greatest revolution in modern Judaism: Zionism.
The Dreyfus Affair was thus at the source of two events - the Shoah and Zionism - which were to transform the Jewish people utterly in every sense: demographic, geographic, cultural.