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Bernard Lazare, the first Dreyfusard

Bernard Lazare, the first Dreyfusard

An anarchist disturbed by moral anti-Semitism

Lazare Bernard was born in Nîmes on 14 June 1865. As a symbolist poet, critic and militant anarchist, he did not feel drawn to the case of a wealthy officer who could get along perfectly well without him. But his article, "The New Ghetto," published by Clemenceau in La Justice on 17 November 1894, showed Bernard's clear view of the dangers-not of an anti-Semitic party, but of an anti-Semitic state of mind spread by simplistic souls, which established "causal relationships between phenomena that are not related." He fought against "simple-mindedness of thought" in the sixty-nine articles that he published in L'Echo de Paris between November 1894 and August 1896-a time when Mathieu Dreyfus was of the opinion that a revisionist campaign should not be launched too quickly, and urged Lazare to investigate first.

In early 1895, according to his biographer Philippe Oriol, when he accepted to work for the Dreyfus family, Bernard Lazare wanted above all to denounce the special courts, the citizen-crushing State, "the infallibility of the sword, its privileges and those of the holy water sprinkler." It was in November of 1896, following the British media operations, that his pamphlet, "A Miscarriage of Justice: The Truth about the Dreyfus Affair," was mailed in sealed envelopes from Brussels to 3,500 public figures. In its sixty-four pages, Lazare protested "in the name of this justice that we have misjudged," and called for the review of the trial before all of France. His second pamphlet "A Miscarriage of Justice: The Dreyfus Affair," showed the existence of what, a century later, we would call a militaro-police conspiracy. Writing in his journal on the evening of his rehabilitation, Alfred Dreyfus praised Bernard Lazare, "a young artist with talent and a great future, half artist-poet, half sociologist, who was the first to write a report in my favor, in which he laid out in a very simple style all of the facts known at the time."

The Zionist polemist

In "the ongoing struggle against anti-Semitism," Lazare explained to Joseph Reinach that they could bury their economic and philosophical differences. In 1897, his belief was unwavering with respect to Dreyfus's conviction: "it is because he is Jewish that he has been judged, it is because he is Jewish that he has been convicted, it is because he is Jewish that in his favor the voice of justice and truth cannot be made to be heard." The outburst of anti-Semitism that swept the country in early 1898 strengthened his Zionism, and he wanted to separate French Jews from their assimilationist ideology. Nevertheless, in Europe, a number of Jewish families-like that of the future philosopher Lévinas-dreamed of moving to republican France, where public opinion had been roused to force acknowledgement of the innocence of a Jewish man. When Picquart and Zola are honored, Bernard Lazare is there to remind us that cried out in the midst of indifference, "that the first to rise up for the Jewish martyr was a Jew who knew the pariah class to which he belonged." He died unheralded in September 1903, but a monument will be built in his honor in Nîmes, in witness to the fact of "having struck the first blow, and having wielded the pickaxe so well that all the other Dreyfusards were obliged to pass through the breach that he made."


Bernard Lazare

Belgian pamphlet by B. Lazare

Parisian pamphlet by Bernard Lazare