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France's choice after 1871

France's choice after 1871

The French-speaking integration of the Dreyfus family

Alfred Dreyfus's ancestors did not use a Roman alphabet before the mid-nineteenth century, although his mother and father did. Only two of their children, Rachel and Mathieu, were given Biblical names; the others were named Jacques, Henriette, Berthe, Louise, Ernestine, Leon and Alfred. This break with tradition was also evident in the area of the children's education; this was not met with the disapproval of the rabbi of Mulhouse. On the contrary, he rejoiced in the reigning spirit of equality in the town, and made certain that religious confirmations included a sacred declaration of patriotic loyalty to France.

Although German and Judeo-Alsatian (a Yiddish dialect) were spoken in the family home, Mathieu and Alfred's mother tongue was French; they were taught according to the wishes of the elders, who hoped that all the children would be "capable of expressing themselves in the language of their country." Alfred recalled the years spent "under the beneficent influence of [his] mother and sisters, of a father who was deeply devoted to his children, and under the touching protection of older brothers." At 13, he was unable to adapt to the Realgymnasium in Basel, and went to Paris, with Mathieu, to continue his studies.

The choice of French nationality

The Treaty of Frankfurt of 10 May 1871 gave residents in the German-annexed territories of Alsace and Lorraine the possibility of retaining their French nationality, if they decided before 30 September 1872, and moved out of the region. Raphaël Dreyfus opted to remain French on 23 May 1872, for both himself and his dependent children-Louise, Leon, Rachel, Mathieu and Alfred-at Carpentras, where his daughter Henriette had lived with her husband since 1869; she made the same choice the following day. In the fall of 1872, Raphaël moved to Basel before returning to Mulhouse in June 1874, where he requested German nationality solely for his daughter Rachel, who afterwards married an industrialist from Nancy. All of his sons avoided military service in a German uniform; in 1875, Mathieu enlisted as a hussar in Belfort, while Henriette asked Alfred, "Shouldn't there be at least one officer in the family for when the hour of revenge comes?" The Franco-Prussian War and the annexation of his native province thus determined Alfred's choice of career-he swore that he would devote all of his strength and intelligence to serving his country against the nation that had wounded the Alsatians to the quick.


The Dreyfuses opt for French nationality

After the Affair, Alfred and Henriette at Carpentras