The Anti-Semitic Moment: A Tour Of France In 1898

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In 1898, the Dreyfus Affair plunged French society into a yearlong frenzy. In Paris and provincial villages throughout the country, angry crowds paraded through the streets, threatening to attack Jews and destroy Jewish-owned businesses. Anger about the imagined power of Jewish capital, as well as fears of treason and racial degeneration, made anti-Semitism a convenient banner behind which social and political factions could fall in line. Anti-Semitic feelings that had been simmering in France for decades came boiling to the surface.

Here Pierre Birnbaum guides readers on a tour of France during this crisis. He shows that in the midst of violence, Jewish citizens bravely and effectively defended themselves and were aided by a police force determined to maintain order. Birnbaum paints a vivid portrait of French Jewish culture at the time and explains why the French state remained strong in this time of widespread unrest.

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Editorial Reviews

David Vital
An important contribution both to the ever-mounting history of the Affair and to the general history of Jewry . . .
The Times Literary Supplement
Publishers Weekly
"The Yids and their accomplices are wallowing in the mud, the filth, the torrent of shit they have unleashed," wrote Edouard Drumont, editor of La Libre Parole, in 1898, at the height of the Dreyfus affair. It was by far the major political event in France at the time; a nationwide anti-Semitic response was triggered when the Jewish Capt. Alfred Dreyfus was accused of treason. Emile Zola's famous J'accuse-a defense of Dreyfus-triggered even more anti-Semitic sentiment. Birnbaum, a professor of politics and philosophy at the Sorbonne, substantially broadens the scope of historical inquiry into the Dreyfus affair and raises vital questions. He has uncovered new materials showing that, as the controversy grew, many French cities and towns seethed with near-riots and pogroms: in Paris, 2,000 students and artists swarmed the streets and shouted, "Death to the Jews"; in Moulins, a Monsignor Dubourg led a rally that condemned "the sinister race of the stateless." What is more startling is that the police and government officials, many harboring anti-Semitic sentiments, "came forward as defenders of the rights for all citizens" and arrested protesters, rabble-rousers and agitators, thus preventing what might have become widespread murderous violence. Birnbaum's research breaks new ground, although at times the narrative is confusing and repetitious, and he does not explore as much as he might why these rabid forces of anti-Semitism were stopped by the authorities. Still, this is an important addition to the literatures of anti-Semitism and French history. (Nov.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This is an impressive example of "microhistory" that should be welcomed by specialists in French history and politics. Birnbaum (politics and philosophy, Sorbonne), a prolific authority on French Jewry, documents a sensational episode in French history-the ferocious wave of anti-Semitism that gripped the nation in the wake of the Dreyfus affair. Drawing exhaustively from local archives, Birnbaum breaks new ground in re-creating the hysteria of the time-the demonstrations, parades, speeches, songs, press accounts, and other diatribes that rocked the French body politic in the seminal year of 1898 over the treason trial of a Jewish officer, Capt. Alfred Dreyfus. The author, whose rich examples include evidence from all over France, concludes that demonstrations in large cities and little towns probably attracted hundreds of thousands of people and represented a new kind of popular politicization. This timely and disturbing study raises critical issues of interest to scholars of French history and politics: how anti-Semitism intersected with reactionary politics and the diverse ideological passions of the time, how French Jews reacted and defended themselves, and how the forces of order nonetheless prevailed. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., N.J. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Liberty, equality, and fraternity? For everyone but Jews-as much of France strenuously believed a century ago, according to this provocative study of anti-Semitism. Birnbaum (Political Philosophy/the Sorbonne) is not a historian as such; as he writes at the outset, "this tour of anti-Semitic France turns its back on meticulous research methods, on the desire to explain, to choose the sample with great care, with the goal of providing proof, quantifying, demonstrating how the variables were constructed, and reaching definitive conclusions." He adds, sounding a bit like Inspector Clouseau, "I shall build my account on everything and on nothing." Fortunately, there's plenty of that everything in Birnbaum's pages, as he turns over archive after archive to reconstruct how ordinary French people behaved during the shameful, 12-year Dreyfus Affair and the subsequent persecution of Dreyfus's renowned defender, the novelist Émile Zola. In the main, the French people, he writes, responded badly, taking the occasion of the charge that French Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus had spied for the Germans to initiate anti-Semitic demonstrations-and, in some cases, anti-Semitic violence-throughout the nation. Vigorous protests swept through Paris early in 1898, he writes, with cries of "Out with Zola! Death to the Jews! Death to the Yids! Long live the army!" These protests spread quickly to every corner of the country, so that even in rural villages, newspapers were printing scurrilous warnings of this ilk: "Beware, all Jews of Feverney and Jussey, if you do not want to be scalded alive like the animals whose flesh you refuse to eat." In time, writes Birnbaum, this vicious outpouring ebbed-thanks in at leastsome measure to the behavior of the national police, who, while no friend of the Jews, took its responsibility to uphold the law seriously. Anti-Semitic sentiment remained, however, to find new and deadly expression with the arrival of fascism three decades later. Timely, given the recent swell of xenophobia in France, and a useful supplement to standard histories of the episode, such as Jean-Denis Bredin's The Affair.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226052069
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2011
  • Edition description: Translatio
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Pierre Birnbaum is visiting professor of Jewish studies at Columbia University. A number of his works and edited collections have been published in English, including Anti-Semitism in Modern France, The Jews of the Republic, and Paths for Emancipation.

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Table of Contents

Map of France ix

Introduction 3

1 Is Paris Burning? 7

2 Journey to the Center of France 74

3 In Barrésian Lorraine 123

4 Storm on the Coast: Algerian Marseilles 150

5 Radical Toulouse, Nationalist Bordeaux 185

6 Take Arms, Citizens of Vendée! 221

7 The Battle of Brest 255

8 In the Region of Normandy 272

9 Good Superintendent Leproust Peacekeeping and Prejudice Among the Police 290

10 The "Arrogance" of Rabbi Taubmann: Passivity and Resistance Among the Jews 309

Conclusion 332

Chronology of Events in the Dreyfus Affair 337

Notes 341

Index 379

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