Anti-Semitism and Jewish Identity in The Blood of Lorraine
The Blood of Lorraine opens with the shocking accusation that a Jew killed and mutilated a Christian child. The investigating magistrate Bernard Martin has little doubt that this charge is a lie. But he must move quickly. In the fall of 1894, tensions are rising in Nancy, France, a garrison town near the German border. The newspapers are shouting that Alfred Dreyfus, the highest ranking Jewish officer in the French army, has committed treason. This is the first stage of what will erupt into the famous Dreyfus Affair. As the threat of violence increases in his jurisdiction, the fictional Bernard Martin must not only solve a crime, but confront an insidious ideology of hatred.
The anti-Semitism depicted in The Blood of Lorraine is all-too-real, an explosive amalgam of old stereotypes and modern prejudices against Jews. This virulent, “new” anti-Semitism infected the body politic of France from the end of the nineteenth century well into the twentieth.
THE OLD: BEFORE THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
The first cause of Jew-hatred in the Middle Ages was theological: the accusation that Jews were Christ-killers. By the 1200s, some people believed that Jews threatened them. “Blood libel” is the superstition that Jews killed Christians (especially children) in order to drain their blood for use in religious rites. Violent hostility erupted in waves, especially during times of crisis (for example, the Crusades and the Black Plague).
The economic stereotype, connecting Jews with money, evolved at the same time. It had two sources. The first was restrictions against Jewish participation in the most common form of economic survival, agriculture, and exclusion from many craft guilds. This limited the ways in which Jews could earn a living. The second was the medieval Church’s prohibition against usury, or the charging of interest for loans. Of course, many Christians ignored this prohibition. Still, a larger percentage of Jews than Christians became middlemen, as peddlers, cattle traders, and money-lenders.
Eventually in Europe a few Jewish men became wealthy enough to be of great use to princes, kings, and emperors, who depended upon them for quick loans to raise armies or settle debts. These rich lenders were known as “court Jews.”
Given the economic and religious stereotypes, Europeans perceived Jews as outsiders, marked by their differences, real and assumed, from the vast Christian majority. Yiddish-speaking (Ashkenazi) Jews inhabited what is now northeastern France, where The Blood of Lorraine is set, for centuries. Always at the whim of local rulers, they also suffered periods of expulsion. When they were allowed to settle, most Ashkenazis lived in self-governing rural communities.
THE NEW: AFTER THE REVOLUTION
The French Revolution of 1789 transformed the basic political relationship of Frenchmen to the state. Before the Revolution there were three hundred different law codes dealing with the various “communities” of France. Everyone was a subject of the King, but not as a single individual. Privileges and obligations depended upon one’s membership in a hierarchy of “estates” or “communities” (like the nobility, religious orders, craft guilds, and Jewish settlements). After the Revolution, men became individual citizens, regardless of social class, profession or religion Of course, class differences and prejudices did not fall away. And it took almost a century to permanently establish a Republic and political democracy (for men). However, from the time of their emancipation during the Revolution, middle class Jews eagerly took up their new status as individual French citizens.
The new era brought other changes. Industrialization and the growth of international finance wrought new anti-Jewish prejudices. So did the politics of the new mass society.
The presumed Jewish relationship to money was thoroughly exploited by anti-Semites.
Jews were portrayed as the leaders of international finance and the exploiter of the “little man.” The Rothschilds, a fabulously wealthy and powerful Jewish family, became the emblem of this kind of stereotyping, which eventually morphed into the poisonous notion of an “international Jewish conspiracy.”
Two potent new political ideologies increasingly raised the question of Jewish identity. The pseudo-science of racism classified Jews as a separate race, Semites rather than European Aryans, and endowed them with specific physical and moral characteristics. Nationalism claimed every ethnicity should have its own political state. It was also a form of extreme patriotism. French nationalists were suspicious of anyone not “rooted” in the “blood” and “soil” of some mythological ancient France. From the racist, nationalist context, the Jew was a wanderer and stateless, a so-called “cosmopolitan” representing everything that threatened the traditions of the imagined collective identity of “true” Frenchmen.
THE AMALGAM AT THE TIME OF THE BLOOD OF LORRAINE, 1894
Assaults on the Jews of France increased in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Anti-capitalists wrote books and pamphlets attacking Jewish financiers. Others elaborated racist and nationalist ideologies. Medieval superstitions also lived on. Alleged cases of blood libel in Damascus, Syria (1840) and Tiszaeszlar, Hungary (1882) were widely reported, especially in the religious press. The Blood of Lorraine opens with such an accusation.
One man, in particular, brought the old and new together in a seething vicious stew. Edouard Drumont’s La France Juive (Jewish France) became a bestseller. First published in 1886, it went through 200 editions by 1900. Drumont also published the anti-Semitic newspaper, La Libre Parole (The Free Word), which “broke” the story of Dreyfus’s alleged treason. His vicious caricature of Dreyfus appears in the first scene of The Blood of Lorraine.
The insidious effects of anti-Semitism in the widely disseminated Catholic newspaper La Croix serve as a backdrop to the personal tragedies in The Blood of Lorraine. The novel also draws on a much more obscure publication, Abbé Hémonet’s Nancy-Juif (Jewish Nancy) (1892-93). The book’s author, a country priest, obviously thought of himself as a prophet and a local version of his hero, Drumont.
Given this level of drum-beating against the Jews of France, it is not surprising that Alfred Dreyfus became an easy scapegoat.
The Blood of Lorraine not only deals with prejudice and hatred, but also with the question of Jewish identity. David Singer, the fictional Jewish judge, is proud of being both French and Jewish. However as he moves up through the ranks (like Dreyfus and so many other Jews of his generation), he must suffer the slights and sneers of those around him. Singer also is forced to confront his attitude towards Eastern European immigrant Jews, who are uncomfortable reminders of the unemancipated village existence of his ancestors.
Bernard Martin, despite his total allegiance to the Republic and its principles, begins to have moments of doubts about Singer when he realizes that they are not alike “in every way,” as he had once thought. For the first time in Martin’s life he will ask the questions: What is a Jew? And to whom does a Jewish Frenchman owe his first allegiance?