|Home | Overview | The Collection | The Dreyfus Affair | Outreach | Site Map|
The lesson of the Dreyfus case, and of countless cases since, is that decision-makers who have control over important decisions on behalf of society, must always preserve an open mind. They must never join a bandwagon. Society must reserve to itself a questioning attitude towards officialdom. The supporters of Dreyfus elevated the "duty to question" over the "duty to obey". Some patriots and institutional conservatives at the time resented this. But in the end, the questioners proved right…. The objective evidence against Dreyfus was extremely weak – no motive, simply contested handwriting evidence. What made up the evidentiary deficit was anti-Semitism. In Australia we must make sure that we never make up any evidentiary deficit with attitudes of fear or loathing against members of a minority.
Dreyfus and Zola: A Moment in the Conscience of the World is more than a recollection of past persons and events of one century ago. For a wide public, and for students of Jewish history alike, this exhibition has primary didactic significance, especially in countries like Poland, which still struggle with historical conscience. The impressive collection of documents, set within their wider historical context, bring to the fore essential questions concerning injustice, intolerance, and personal bravery versus collective crimes. Dr. Beitler’s interests in education led to the development of the Dreyfus Collection and its series of international exhibitions. As Special Advisor to the Research Center for the Culture and Languages of the Polish Jews of the University of Wroclaw, she has been the source of several initiatives in educational programming for presentations at Krakow, Auschwitz, and Warsaw. These exhibitions speak to us of much more than the “Affair” and one episode in French history.
I am delighted to begin the New Year by thanking you for the official transfer of your extraordinary collection to the University of Pennsylvania Library…. The lessons of this collection are invaluable and never more timely. Ours is a world that needs to be reminded of the importance of tolerance, and the Dreyfus Affair is an especially effective reminder…. Thank you for this very meaningful and enduring gift.
The Dreyfus Affair was a pivotal moment in Zola’s career, but it was not something that was richly documented in the Library’s collection. Hence the appeal of the marvelous array of visual and textual messages assembled by Dr. Lorraine Beitler…. Above all, the Library deeply appreciates the generosity, energy, and commitment of Dr. Beitler. Her intelligence, determination, and moral vision are evident throughout the show. We thank her for sharing both her collection and her sense of purpose with us….
This is the contemporaneity of the Dreyfus Affair…It is the example of men and women who are willing to risk their present, and in some cases their future, for the promise of liberty. B’nai B’rith salutes the Beitler Foundation which…for the first time is presenting this exhibition in Spanish. As the international president of an organization with contacts in fifty-eight countries, where there is struggle against every type of discrimination in respect of human rights, I am delighted that one of them, B’nai B’rith Argentina, has seen fit to be the first to participate in this fundamental exposition.
One hundred years later…the War Academy takes pride in opening its doors to this exhibition, in homage not only to Major Dreyfus, but also to the officials, politicians, journalists, and people of France who rose up in indignation when the injustice was revealed and who supported truth and justice. We recognize that the Dreyfus Affair retains its contemporaneity, urging us to maintain vigilance against discrimination and lies and the necessity of transmitting this mandate to younger generations of civilians and military personnel.
As we look back on the Affair and its material culture, let us not lose sight of the nobility of the Dreyfusard cause…. During the Affair, as illustrated by this remarkable exhibition, first a handful of brave men and women, and then increasing numbers of ordinary citizens, supported a Jewish officer falsely condemned and persecuted by those who abused their power…. These campaigners stood up for truth, justice, and the rights of the individual. Not a bad agenda and not one we can afford to ignore.
As Consul General of Belgium in New York, I am greatly honored to have played a role in bringing this exhibit entitled The Dreyfus Affair: Voices of Honor to Belgium…The goal of the Beitler Family Foundation in focusing international attention on the Dreyfus Affair is to provoke each and everyone of us in all parts of the world, strife-torn or not, to examine our consciences so that we may someday be able to rid our planet of the dreadful prejudice and racism that surround us even today. Though social injustice and intolerance…seem an eternal curse we cannot lift, this exhibit serves to remind us that we each have within us the power to change things, just as the men and women who raised their “Voices of Honor” did, when they went against the tides of the time and, without regard to consequences, stood up for social justice and tolerance. May we all be inspired by their courage.
Just a little more than one hundred years ago, on January 13, 1898 to be exact, Emile Zola published his famous “J’Accuse” in the French journal, L’Aurore. In writing this incendiary article, the novelist laid to paper his indignation, his thirst for justice, and above all his courage. Courage to go against the current of a majority opinion which had dragged Dreyfus down into the mud and shame…. My wish is that this exhibition of exceptional documents tracing the Dreyfus Affair be a rare tool with regard to the perennial necessity of assuming conscience…. A century later, the Dreyfus Affair should remain exemplary, particularly for the young….
More than a century after it exploded, with all its diverse ramifications, the questions brought to light by what has come to be called the Dreyfus Affair have remained and indeed continue, unhappily, to be more than ever of contemporary significance. It is therefore fortunate that an exhibition such as the Dreyfus Affair: Voices of Honor marks a stage here, in the region of metropolitan Brussels, in the prestigious context of the Albertina, after having already traveled to Paris and New York. The documents assembled here, placed in relation to each other, and thus illuminated, present us with an opportunity. They constitute a remarkable occasion on which to study the ideas in context with regard to the facts and personalities which mark this drama; they also appear to me to provide an opportunity for meditation on the foundations of our society, and also on the demons which haunt and menace it with dreadful persistence…. If the Dreyfus Affair was able to inspire the courage of certain persons of honor, as Lorraine Beitler has shown, catalyzing others by the new importance of the press, and offering its baptism of fire to those who would from thenceforth be known as the “intellectuals”…may it, by the grace of this exhibition, make a durable impact with regard to the dangers and traps within society and give us the desire and strength to protect our values whenever they should find themselves menaced.
In visiting this exhibition devoted to the Dreyfus Affair, I cannot remain content with the interested regard of the historian or the curiosity of a bystander avid for sensational facts. Everything here speaks of today and questions me directly. This event, which divided France at the end of the nineteenth century, retains in effect an astonishing contemporaneity so revealing is it of the sentiments which boil in the hearts of humanity and which instigate mass movements and social outbreaks…. An affair of the past, but a reality still present in today’s world!
Accept my thanks on behalf of the Department of Defense for sharing your poignant and widely acclaimed exhibition, Voices of Honor: the Dreyfus Affair, with the cadets and faculty of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point this fall…. Your thoughtfully crafted exhibition will enable our future leaders to hold up the lamplight of history to illuminate the footpaths of their future…Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once wrote that a sense of history “is not a duty, but a necessity.” At a time when America’s armed forces have greater diversity, confront situations with more ethical complexity, and face increased public scrutiny, they will inevitably find it necessary to call on history for guidance. The Beitler Foundation, in answering that need, helps our servicemen and women to inform their duty with perspective, wisdom, and a respect for justice.
We are thrilled to be a partner in the display of Dr. Lorraine Beitler’s critically important exhibition about the trial, conviction, and exoneration of French Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus…a tragic example of how prejudice can run amuck under the cloak of national security concerns…. We must study cases like those of Dreyfus and [Henry Ossian] Flipper to ensure that discipline and security are never used as excuses to justify racial or religious prejudices. We must continue to learn to appreciate differences and use diversity within our Army to make it stronger….
Following Columbia University in New York and the Town Hall of the fourth district of Paris, it is now the turn of the Senate to welcome the exhibition presented by the American Beitler Foundation on the “Men of Honor” who in the name of justice and truth worked tirelessly for the rehabilitation of Alfred Dreyfus; Colonel Picquart, whose discoveries supported the hypothesis of a “judicial error”; Emile Zola who placed his talent as a polemicist at the service of the revision of the trial; Auguste Scheurer-Kestner, Vice-President of the Senate, who was the first influential politician to proclaim the innocence of the unjustly condemned officer…. When the moment came to render a lasting homage to this great Frenchman, the office of the Senate offered a symbolic site in the Luxembourg Gardens which permitted installation of a monument whose execution was entrusted to the celebrated sculptor Dalou…[and] reminds us of the duty of memory and the demands of vigilance.
Dr. Lorraine Beitler, an American collector impassioned by the history of the Dreyfus Affair, has brought together an exceptional group of original documents on the actors and episodes of the major political and judicial affair, which shook the Republic at the end of the last century. She has presented them in an exhibition, which evokes for visitors, the martyrdom of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the errors of his accusers, the lucidity and courage of his defenders, and the ultimate success of truth and of justice after years of lies, breaches of duty, and baseness…. [The exhibition] informs and educates, with its own particular power…. Lorraine Beitler is one of those numerous Americans who have tried to preserve and extend the rights and liberties of their country…. She has turned a French affair into an example, in order to demonstrate to her compatriots the virtues of civic action. At the same time she encourages us never to forget the lessons of the Dreyfus Affair. In welcoming her collection, Monsieur the President of the Senate has demonstrated the very best of the moral solidarity that exists between the United States and France. They are both to be thanked and congratulated.
The City of Paris is proud to welcome the exhibition organized by the Beitler Family Foundation on Zola and the Dreyfus Affair to the City Hall of the 4th District. Beyond the historical interest and power of attraction of this exhibition, and the aesthetic and pedagogical value of the documents offered to visitors, we are aware that, wherever it has been shown, the exhibition has given rise to reflections on the nature and meaning of a crisis which profoundly unsettled the political life and institutions of France between 1894 and 1906.
The “Affair” was in fact an exemplary fight for justice, for tolerance, and for honor against arbitrariness, against the breakdown of moral sense, and against the misuse of the powers and values of the Republic…. Through the care which has been brought to a selection remarkable for its intelligence and quality, the texts and imagery offered to the public clearly highlight the phases of a scandal whose impact has undoubtedly changed the orientation and practice of democracy in our country…. Such was the fight taken up by the French League for the Rights of Man created by intellectuals, artists, writers, journalists, and academics, those we call today the “relays of opinion,” committed for the first time to the defense of a great cause in the press, in publishing, and in social life and whose crucial moments are remarkably recalled by the exhibits…assembled here with all their emotional charge and their extraordinary powers of evocation.
The Beitler Foundation thus makes us hear, in a striking manner, the clamor of an “affair” which is both distant and yet so near….
The Affair highlighted the power of intellectuals to influence the political sphere, the issues of human values and rights of the individual…particularly in light of the power of the media then, and more so now with new technologies.
Printable version of this commentary from scholars and leaders from around the world.
|U Penn Libraries | Rare Book and Manuscript Library|