As the French get ready to celebrate their weird, fraught history today, what better time to remind them of when their military orchestrated a witch hunt against a Jewish officer and essentially framed him for being a spy, causing one of the greatest scandals of the late 19th/early 20th century?
And what better way to celebrate Alfred Dreyfus’s eventual exoneration than a look at who is (and who might be) a living relative of the lieutenant-colonel today?
Spoiler alert: They’re all actors.
1) Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Relationship to Alfred: Distant. While she’s not a direct descendant, the Dreyfus portion of her last name is the same Jewish Alsatian family from which Alfred hailed. The family’s wealth as relatively recently emancipated Jews was what made it possible for Alfred to go to military school, and Julia’s branch of the family has continued to prosper. Her father, who died less than a year ago, was a billionaire three times over.
Suffered persecution?: It may be more in the realm of general suffering, but this classic (yet timely) Seinfeld clip where Elaine rides the subway speaks for itself.
2) Julie Dreyfus
Relationship to Alfred: Unlike Julia (don’t mix them up, though there’s a Julie & Julia joke to be made somewhere here), Julie is a direct descendant of Alfred (roughly his great-great-granddaughter, give or take a generation).
Suffered persecution?: Certainly not as much as her ancestors. Lucie, Alfred’s widow, survived World War II by hiding out in a convent. In Inglorious Basterds, Julie plays Francesca Mondino, Joseph Goebbels’ French translator and mistress (she does meet a rather sticky end, though). Julie also plays a woman who loses her arm to Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. That has to count for something.
3) Richard Dreyfuss
Relationship to Alfred: Ambiguous. The actor “grew up thinking that Dreyfus and I are of the same family.” While he doesn’t have definitive proof (and where did that extra S in his name come from?), he has felt a connection to the Dreyfus Affair for much of his life. In fact, he starred in a 1991 HBO film about the Affair, Prisoner of Honor. Dreyfuss didn’t play Dreyfus (remember—different spellings), though he played Georges Picquart, the French military officer who worked to exonerate the Jewish captain.
Suffered persecution?: Did he have to serve a prison sentence in solitary confinement for a crime he didn’t commit for years, like Alfred? No, but he did have to fight a shark in Jaws. The shark could have been an anti-Semite, for all we know.
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Gabriela Geselowitz is a writer and the former editor of Jewcy.com.