I look at street maps of our major cities in Israel and nowhere do I find a Dreyfus street. It puzzles me.
Alfred Dreyfus was an Alsace-born French Jew whose unhappy life story gave rise to the Zionist movement. We have Herzl streets and Herzl boulevards across our land. We have Zola streets and even one named Clemenceau. All of these men were actors in the tragic drama of Alfred Dreyfus. Yet there is no Dreyfus street in all of Israel.
The history is well known but bears some repeating. Alfred Dreyfus was a Captain in the French army, the only Jew to hold such high rank. In 1894 he was accused (falsely) of treason for transmitting secret information to the military attache of the German Embassy in Paris.
Documents were discovered in his handwriting (forged), he was tried in a trial that rocked French history. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on notorious Devil’s Island in French Guiana. (He served only 5 years there in solitary confinement).
Meanwhile, the trial created great waves of anti-Semitism throughout France. Newspapers printed headlines “Dreyfus is a Jew. Dreyfus is a traitor. All Jews are traitors” and cries of :”Mort aux juifs” (death to the Jews) were heard everywhere.
One man who attended the trial as a reporter was mortified. “France is the most civilized nation in Europe. If Jews are to be condemned and persecuted here, there is no place for them in Europe. They must have a country of their own”.
The man was an Austro-Hungarian journalist for the large Vienna daily newspaper “Neue Freie Presse” and his name was Theodor Herzl.
Herzl, at first, was convinced of Dreyfus’ guilt. All the evidence pointed to it. But here was a man being tried not only for the crime of treason but for the crime of being a Jew.
Herzl himself was an assimilated Jew. He was born in Budapest, lived next door to the Dohany synagogue, the largest one in all of Europe at that time, became a Bar Mitzvah in that synagogue, respected Jewish traditions but observed few of them. And he was deeply disturbed by the trial and by the wave of anti-Semitism which followed.
There was a group of decent Frenchman, called “Dreyfusards”, who believed in Dreyfus’ innocence and who worked diligently to prove his innocence. Among them was Anatole France, a poet and novelist and a Nobel Prize laureate in literature. There was the noted mathematician and theoretical physicist, Henri Poincare, and Georges Clemenceau, one of France’s leading statesmen who became Prime Minister.
After several years, the real culprit was exposed, Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, a French army officer who sold secrets to the German Embassy for money to cover his heavy gambling debts. Esterhazy fled France before he could be arrested, and lived in England for the rest of his life.
The true hero of the Dreyfus Affair was the leading French novelist, playwright and journalist, Emile Zola.
For years he had believed in Dreyfus’ innocence and on January 13, 1898, he published an open letter to the President of France, Felix Faure, in Clemenceau’s daily newspaper, L’Aurore. It begin in bold letters:
“J’ACCUSE”…., I accuse the French President and the government and the army of France of sending an innocent man to life imprisonment.
It was Zola’s open letter which changed French society forever. The church was now to be separated from the government and the army was no longer to be the major governing force of France.
Dreyfus was released from Devil’s Island, returned to serve in France’s army, promoted to the rank of major and served during the First World War.
But the trial was the turning point in the life of Theodor Herzl. His published articles and books gave birth to a new Jewish movement called Zionism.
He assembled leading Jews from all the countries in the world to attend the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland. There he shared his ideas of Jewish statehood and to those who were doubtful, he proclaimed “There are those who do not share my dream, but I predict that within fifty years a Jewish state will come to be. If you will it, it is no legend”.
Herzl died at the age of 44 in 1904. His vision and his dream came true in 1948, fifty years from the time he prophesied it in 1898.
And all because of one insignificant French Jew named Dreyfus.
So where is rehov Dreyfus? Why can’t I find it on our street maps?