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The social rise of a family

The social rise of a family

Jews in Upper Alsace

With the exception of Samuel Léopold, his great-grandfather's father who came from Lower Alsace, all of Alfred Dreyfus's ancestors lived in Alsatian towns. Restrictions on professions that Jews were allowed to practice confined them to intermediary commercial activities such as trading in livestock and grain. Research by Odile Jurbert has established Dreyfus's genealogy. His great-grandfather and grandfather on his mother's side, Abraham and Simon Libmann/Weil were butchers in Ribeauvillé, where his mother Jeannette Adèle Libmann-Weil was born on 17 May 1817. She was a seamstress before her marriage at age 24 to Raphaël Dreyfus.

Both of Captain Dreyfus's great-grandfathers on his father's side were merchants who lived and worked in Rixheim, where the Jewish community represented 13% of the population (243 people according to a 1748 census). The town was on the border of the free city of Mulhouse, where the Jews had taken refuge during riots, when their houses were sacked and burned during the French Revolution. His great-grandfather Israël Dreyfus was a textile merchant, but also made loans, which formed the bulk of his estate. Jacques Dreyfus, Alfred's grandfather, was an active member of the Jewish community, where he performed circumcisions. Although he also made loans (eight claims were registered to his credit between 1813 and 1823)-and though this activity no doubt caused a trading license to be refused him on 7 March 1811-he decided to develop his textile business. He set up shop in Mulhouse as of June of 1821, and when he died aged 57 at number 12 Rue de la Justice, the bulk of his estate consisted of his merchandise and his house.

Raphaël Dreyfus, home-owner and textile merchant

Raphaël Dreyfus was the father of a number of children, some of whom died at an early age. He lived in his father's house at first (1841-44), before moving to 35 Rue des Tanneurs and then number 46 of the same street, and then to 1 Rue de Bâle (1846-1853). Between 1854 and 1866, the family lived in the Rue du Sauvage at the corner of Place des Victoires. This is where his youngest son Alfred was born on 9 October 1859. After 1866, the boy grew up in a private mansion at number 45 Rue de la Sinne.
Raphaël Dreyfus owned his houses in the Rue de la Justice, Porte de Bâle, Rue du Sauvage and the Rue de la Sinne. He was variously described as a peddler (1844), a business agent (1845) and a textile merchant. Although he is listed as a textile merchant on his 1841 marriage license, the contract for the marriage states his profession as landlord. As Odile Jurbert has shown, it was his real estate operations plus his activity as a broker for printed and embroidered textiles that supplied him with the necessary funds to open his mill.


Raphaël Dreyfus, Alfred's father

Mme Raphaël Dreyfus circa 1880

Dreyfus's birthplace