Herzl, Zola, and Dreyfus
This is a drawing from the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme (Museum of Jewish Art and History) in Paris. The drawing shows two figures seated on a sofa: on the right, Alfred Dreyfus and on the left, Émile Zola. Standing to the right of the sofa is Theodor Herzl who is holding a notepad.
This is an imaginary illustration, since it is unlikely that these three figures were ever together in the same room. However, the drawing shows the strong connection between the lives of these characters.
Alfred Dreyfus was a French-Jewish- officer who was wrongly accused of spying and treason. Following his conviction, Dreyfus was deported to Devil’s Island for life imprisonment. The Dreyfus Affair divided the French public; many supported Dreyfus’ conviction, while others fought to prove his innocence. Among Dreyfus’ supporters was the famous French writer Émile Zola. The Dreyfus Affair was an influential event for Theodor Herzl, and many believe it inspired him found modern political Zionism.
Herzl was Paris correspondent for the Austrian newspaper Neue Freie Presse at the time of the Dreyfus Affair. He believed in Dreyfus’ innocence and was witness to the anti-Semitic protests against Dreyfus and the Jews of France during the trial. In June 1895 he wrote in his diary:
In Paris, as I have said, I achieved a freer attitude toward anti-Semitism...Above all, I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to “combat” anti-Semitism.
Many believe that the Dreyfus Affair was the turning point that led Herzl to believe that the Jews must leave Europe and create their own state. The Austrian-Jewish writer Stefan Zweig wrote in his book The World of Yesterday:
In Paris, Herzl had had an experience which convulsed his soul, one of those hours that change an entire existence… At the moment of Dreyfus's degradation the thought of the eternal exile of his people entered his breast like the thrust of a dagger… If we suffer because of our homelessness, then let us build our own homeland!
Links for Further Information
“The Dreyfus Case and the Zionist Movement”, Harry Finer, The Jewish Mag, May 2009
“Theodor Herzl,” Rabbi Louis Jacobs, My Jewish Learning
Teachers of Jewish Studies or Jewish History could use this picture in various lessons. It could be shown in lessons dealing with the Dreyfus Affair, together with other resources provided on this page, or in lessons about the Zionist movement and Theodor Herzl. The picture is especially relevant to discussions about the anti-Semitic atmosphere in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century which inspired Herzl to establish the Zionist movement.
Who are the three figures in the picture?
What is the connection between Émile Zola and Alfred Dreyfus, who are both seated on the sofa?
What is the connection between Alfred Dreyfus and Theodor Herzl, who is standing beside the sofa?
This is probably an imaginary drawing as it is unlikely that the three ever met.
Why do you think the artist chose to draw these three figures together?
At the time of the Dreyfus Affair Theodor Herzl wrote:
“In Paris, as I have said, I achieved a freer attitude toward anti-Semitism ... Above all, I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to 'combat' anti-Semitism.”
Explain Herzl’s words. What was his solution to anti-Semitism?
It is said that the Dreyfus Affair was one of Herzl’s motivations for founding the Zionist movement.
How do you think that this affair influenced Herzl?
Imagine a conversation between the three figures in this picture.