Today, JTA is reporting that a letter from Alfred Dreyfus surprisingly scored nearly $500,000 in an auction in Paris yesterday.
The letter, which Dreyfus sent from prison to government officials in an attempt to clear his name, was sold Wednesday for $492,000 at an auction organized by Sotheby’s Paris branch. It was not expected to bring in more than $190,000, according to the French news agency AFP, which did not name the buyers.
AFP reported that Dreyfus’ grandson, Charles Dreyfus, wrote an open letter this week urging the seller not to sell but to give the letter to a museum.
Maybe the most telling thing about this story is how greatly the initial expectation of the auction was eclipsed. You’d think one 119-year-old letter from a French captain falsely accused of treason wouldn’t fetch much, even when you include the historical import of the Dreyfus Affair as a catalyzing moment for modern Zionist movement–Theodor Herzl famously covered the farce as it turned from controversy into a populist anti-Semitic clarion call– and the legacy of the affair captured in J’accuse by Emile Zola.
Without (hopefully) ascribing too much motive to the largess of the letter’s new owner, I can’t help but think that the precarious perch upon which French Jews seemingly sit today might have boosted the resonance of such a historical item. Or as Clémence Boulouque wrote last week:
…Yet the republican pact appears to be broken, and with approval rates sinking to new lows President Hollande has so far failed to give answers to a nation plagued by debt, taxes, and all-time high unemployment. A recent poll, in April, shows that over two in three French are braced for violent social unrest (“explosion sociale”) in the coming months: In the current climate, the communal anxiety of French Jews is being fueled by their awareness that they are ideal scapegoats. As CRIF President Richard Prasquier concludes, this deleterious climate “damages the image of France as a safe haven for its minorities”—an image that French Jews still refuse to see as their world of yesterday.
Related: A Growing Fear in France [Tablet]
Dreyfus letter fetches nearly $500,000 at Paris auction [JTA]