Page 80 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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F R E N C H - J E W I S H W R I T E R S
A N O V E R V I E W
B
y
L
othar
K
a h n
W
i t h
t h e
d e a t h
a t
98 of Andre Spire, the Dreyfus genera-
tion of French Jews has passed into history. I t comprised
such distinguished figures as Leon Blum, little known h
his literary efforts, Edmond Fleg, Jean-Richard Bloch, Henri
Bernstein and Henry Herz. These men had been raised in the
optimistic, assimilationist climate that pervaded French Jewry
from Napoleon’s Sanhedrin to the days of Dreyfus. They had
remained Jews, but their Jewishness was nominal; it gave nothing
and demanded nothing. If, on occasion, a Rightist flung a “sale
Ju if” at them, it did not severely shatter their security.
While minor and isolated incidents left them unperturbed,
the major Dreyfus Case did not. It required of man a reappraisal
of identity, condition, status and direction. They were alerted
suddenly to the whole complex of inveterate prejudices they had
long believed dead. They became newly conscious of emerging
socio-economic combinations which feasted freely on these preju-
dices. Further, where an anti-Semitic episode remained mostly
local and was slow to spread before modern communications,
modern newspapers could now create a threatening and treacher-
ous climate almost overnight. But there were heartening aspects
as well. While the French bourgeoisie, as Leon Blum has related,
hid its face in the sand, striving desperately to dissociate itself
from a Dreyfus believed guilty, the Jewish intellectuals cour*
ageously hurled themselves into the fray. First as Frenchmen,
and then reacting as Jews, they battled the ancient enemies of
state (army) and church, denouncing them as political exploiters
of ancient myths. For Fleg, Spire and Herz it signified a return
to Judaism and a firm rooting in the ancestral camp. For Blum
it led to a staunch commitment to the new god of some Jews,
Socialism. For Jean-Richard Bloch it meant also a return, alas
temporary, to Judaism.
The Dreyfus Case thus constituted the first break with post-
emancipation continuity and arrested the optimism of many Jews
who had seen themselves safely established in French life, and
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