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How to Understand the Dreyfus Affair’

In response to:

How to Understand the Dreyfus Affair from the June 10, 2010 issue

To the Editors:

Alfred Dreyfus was all the more easily framed as his family originated from Alsace, long suspected of Germanic sympathies and under German rule from 1870 to 1918. Robert Gildea [“How to Understand the Dreyfus Affair,” NYR, June 10] rightly links the Dreyfus pardon to France’s move in 1905 to a secular state, with total separation of religion from public life. But the 1905 decision did not in fact extend to Alsace, at that time under German rule. Alsace was returned to France in 1918 but chose to remain under the terms of the earlier concordat.

To this day, Alsace (along with part of Lorraine and some overseas territories) is the only region of France where there is still no legal separation of church and state: priests, pastors, and rabbis are civil servants, and religious education is mandatory in schools (parents have to request formal dispensation). It is an ironic footnote to the Dreyfus affair that to this day, Alsace of all places has not fully rejoined La République laïque!

Susan Vaillant
Strasbourg, France

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