Dreyfus – the Story of a French Jewish Family
Opening: March 11, 2014
Exhibition Curator: Simona Di Nepi | Chief Curator: Orit Shaham Gover
In collaboration with the National Library of Israel
About the Exhibition
Captain Alfred Dreyfus was a French citizen and a patriot. In 1894, his life changed when he was convicted of high of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island, off the coast of South- America.
During Dreyfus’ long years on the island, his wife Lucie, brother Mathieu, and his devoted supporters, fought for his innocence and, after five years, obtained a retrial. Dreyfus was once again found guilty but, due to his weakened state, he received the presidential pardon and could at last return to his family. It would take seven more years for his name to be cleared and for Alfred Dreyfus to be, at long last, a free man.
Family Reunion at Carpentras, Circa 1899, Dreyfus Family Collection
From left: Henriette Valabrègue (Alfred’s eldest sister), Jeanne, Lucie, Mathieu, Pierre, Joseph and Paul Valabrègue
The exhibition Dreyfus – The Story of a Jewish French Family reveals the lesser-known part of the Affair: the private, ‘behind-the scenes’ story of Alfred Dreyfus and those close to him. By presenting the passionate judicial fight for Dreyfus’ acquittal, the exhibition raises questions on fundamental issues such as anti-Semitism, racism and human rights- all of which have become synonyms of the Affair.
For the first time in Israel, the items on display tell the touching family story. Amongst these are Lucie’s Siddur (prayer book), an embroidered carpet depicting Jewish festivals that once belonged to Alfred, and beautiful family photographs. The items are on loan from the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme in Paris, and Yaël Perl-Ruiz, Alfred Dreyfus’ great grand-daughter. The exhibition at Beit Hatfutsot is the result of her initiative, and she is the true driving force behind this venture.
The exhibition also features original letters, formerly in the private Dreyfus family collection, now on loan from the National Library of Israel and the Muse’e d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme. This correspondence includes love letters between Alfred and Lucie.
In addition to following the story of the Dreyfus family during the Affair, the exhibition also explores their lives during the two World Wars, and that of their descendants in present days.
In two historical periods, the family story is intertwined with the fate of the Jews in France: it highlights their integration into French society and culture both in the inter-war period and in the second half of the last century. Here it stresses the major contribution of Jewish artists and philosophers.
The degradation and acquittal in the French press
The exhibition concludes with a documentary presenting interviews with Alfred Dreyfus’ descendants, leading intellectuals and young entrepreneurs. It asks them to what extent the Affair influenced their identity as French Jews, and what it means to be Jewish in France today.
Chief Curator, Beit Hatfutsot: Dr. Orit Shaham Gover
Exhibition Curator: Simona Di Nepi
Chair of the Academic Committee: Prof. Hagai Ben Shamai