We are all familiar with the famous headline (I accuse) published in 1898 by the French writer Émile Zola.
J'accuse, an illustration of Zola using a pen to attack the general staff
from The Lorraine Beitler Collection of the Dreyfus Affair,
University of Pennsylvania Libraries
In the letter, Zola addressed the President of France and accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army General Staff officer sentenced to penal servitude for life for espionage. Zola pointed out judicial errors and lack of serious evidence. The letter was printed on the front page of the newspaper, and caused a stir in France and abroad.
Zola was prosecuted and found guilty of libel on 23 February 1898. To avoid imprisonment, he fled to England, returning home in June 1899.
The 1894 court martial of French army Captain Alfred Dreyfus was the world's first "trial of the century" - a media spectacle fueled by state-sponsored conspiracies, willfully inaccurate press coverage and a dark current of rabid anti-Semitism, all orchestrated in the name of national security. When an innocent man was sentenced to life on Devil's Island, the Dreyfus Affair became the most infamous event of its time, a global phenomenon that touched the conscience of an entire generation and left lessons that are just as relevant as today's headlines.
This fall, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage introduces visitors to the men and women who played pivotal roles in the case that shook the world when it premieres its original exhibition TRAITOR! Spies, Lies and Justice Denied: The Dreyfus Affair (October 8, 2013 - January 5, 2014).
The immersive exhibition - created with the collaboration of the acclaimed Lorraine Beitler Collection of the Dreyfus Affair - will transport visitors to Paris during La Belle Époque: the "Beautiful Era" of the 1890s. In the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, visitors will experience archival films, photographs, artifacts, works of art and period music that bring to life the world in which Dreyfus lived, illuminating the roots of the affair and the facts of the case, as well as highlighting the villains behind the miscarriage of justice and the heroes who risked their honor and their lives to speak out against it.
"In building the collection, my goal was always to foster debate over the issues of social justice raised in the Dreyfus Affair," said Dr. Beitler. "I am delighted that this exhibition brings to multiple generations of contemporary audiences the lessons to be learned from a remarkable moment in history."
"The Dreyfus Affair was an example of European anti-Semitism so overt that it prompted Theodore Herzl to advocate a safe haven for Jews in their historic homeland of Israel," said Milton Maltz, chair of the board of directors of the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. "Even those who defended Dreyfus in the press were punished for their opinions, a situation mirrored today in more brutal media repression by governments around the world."
The Dreyfus Affair nearly destroyed France's reputation among civilized nations, sowed the seeds of two world wars and even indirectly inspired the creation of the State of Israel. Today, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage's world premiere exhibition invites visitors to discover the story for themselves in a way no history book can convey.
At a media preview, David Schafer, Interim Executive of the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, said that the exhibit will cover historical facts but also themes such as Justice denied to the falsely accused, the Power of the Press in shaping opinion, Anti-Semitism, racism and more.
He introduced Museum co-founder Milton Maltz who gave some background on the case where France's powerful army was humiliated by the Prussians and they found a Jew, Alfred Dreyfus, to falsely blame. This led to Emile Zola's famous J'accuse headline.
In this video clip, Milton Maltz told how they were able to create the world premiere exhibition TRAITOR! Spies, Lies and Justice Denied: The Dreyfus Affair. Lorraine Beitler had been collecting anti-Semitic posters and items on her trips to France and donated them to the University of Pennsylvania. She met with Maltz and her items and films became a key part of the new exhibit.
Maltz warned that journalism can be a dangerous profession. He told the story of meeting Pulitzer Prize winner David Stevenson Rohde who escaped from a Taliban prison after 7 years. Maltz said that the consequences of 1894 France are still around today as journalist are imprisoned and killed around the world. He said that murder is the ultimate censorship.
Learn more about this important world premiere exhibition at the Maltz Museum website.
The exhibition (and the Museum) are not just for Jews or people interested in Jewish affairs.
In this video clip,Milton Maltz said that before the Holocaust, the Dreyfus Affair literally made the world aware of anti-Semitism and inspired Theodor Herzl who is in effect the founder of the State of Israel. He said that the Museum is not just for Jews. One of the first exhibits was on Early Christianity and a recent exhibit featured Pope John Paul II.
The themes of this particular exhibit are important to our current lives as this poster listing the deadliest countries for journalists shows.
20 deadliest countries for journalists
Mr. Maltz also teased the audience with a preview of an upcoming exhibit. He told the story of how a Jewish girl ended up unknowingly dating the son of Nazi Adolf Eichmann who was one of the major organizers of the Holocaust.
David Schafer and Milton Maltz
More on the Maltz Museum
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