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About the Exhibition

Come see a unique exhibit marking the 120th anniversary of the Dreyfus Affair.
The exhibit is open to the public at the Beit Hatfutsot, in cooperation with the National Library.
Opening: March 11, 2014
Curator: Simona Di Nepi | Chief Curator: Orit Shaham Gover

About the exhibition at Beit Hatfutsot

The exhibition tells the story of the Dreyfus family from the late 19th century till our time. The story of the French Jewish officer who was accused of high treason may be known to many, but the personal family story behind the newspaper headlines is not as known.

Alfred Dreyfus – the first Jewish officer in the French Army – was a citizen who enjoyed equal rights, a loyal French patriot. But his life pitted him against challenges which few would have been able to withstand. These challenges forced Alfred Dreyfus and his family to fight both for his being part of the French nation as for his Jewish identity. It's a heroic story of a man who fought against the odds, facing corrupt political and legal systems which needed a symbol of treason, and after having chosen him to play the part, refused to admit to its mistake. Dreyfus was accused, tried and found guilty in an accelerated process and he was sentenced to be incarcerated in a far-away island at the other side of the earth, where he suffered physical and mental abuse. But Dreyfus didn't give up - Dreyfus, his wife Lucie, his brother Mathieu and a large group of supporters did not rest or give up. The fought and managed to obtain a retrial, in which Dreyfus was once again found guilty. They accepted a pardon which didn't entail an acquittal, simply because they feared for Alfred's life. But they fought on until the final acquittal, because for them the most important goal was to prove that Dreyfus hadn't betrayed, that he remained as he had been from the start – a Jew who was also a proud French patriot.

The exhibition "Dreyfus: The Story of a Jewish French Family" is unique in that it tells Alfred Dreyfus' story from the perspective of Jewish Identity while focusing on the personal story of the family. It is the story of the struggle of Dreyfus and all those who stood by him against a hostile public and what turned out to be an outbreak of a new kind of anti-Semitism of a political and racial nature. The exhibition follows the story of the Dreyfus family starting with the "affair" and all its phases until the acquittal. It tells the story of the family's part in both World Wars and extends its view up to present times. In two segments of the exhibitions the family story is weaved into the wider fabric of the Jews in France and their integration into French culture and society – between the World Wars and in the decades following the World War II. At these junctures in the exhibition we "zoom out" from the story of the family to Jewish artists, authors and philosophers who were active in France in these periods, some even being at the forefront of French culture.

The exhibition ends with a film about the different ways in which Dreyfus' descendants as well as other Jews in France are trying to realize their French-Jewish identity today. It is here that closure is achieved: from the Jewish individual who fought to realize his French identity to the struggle of his descendants to realize their Jewish identity.

The exhibit showcases many original items which have never before been shown to the Israeli public, including items from a collection of documents and personal belongings of the Dreyfus family. This collection was donated to the National Library of Israel by Mrs. Jeanne Dreyfus-Lévy, Alfred Dreyfus' daughter, more than 50 years ago. Lately, the collection came to the attention of Dr. Betty Halpern-Guedj of the National Library and of Mrs. Yael Perl-Ruiz from Paris, Alfred Dreyfus' great-granddaughter. As a result, the path was laid out for the cooperation between the National Library and Bet Hatfutsot. The visitors to the exhibition can see unique items linked to the story of the Dreyfus family, such as Lucie's personal Bible, Dreyfus' hand-woven carpet showing the three Jewish festivals as well as authentic and rare family photographs in the original family album. These items were contributed to the exhibition by Mrs. Yael Perl-Ruiz and the Jewish Museum in Paris, adding the personal emotional touch of the family's history.

Beit Hatfutsot thanks: