J’Accuse – Dreyfus, Zola

~ Anti-Semitism and the Veil-Picards ~

In 1907 Henri Robert a leading French criminal barrister said: “Alcoholism is the chief cause of the increase in criminality. Absinthe is the enemy”. As a scapegoat, absinthe was a perfect choice to the extent it was even drawn into the anti-Semitism debate of the time – many of the larger absinthe producers (including most importantly the Veil-Picard family that owned Pernod Fils) were Jewish, or of Jewish origin.

The Dreyfus Affair was a political scandal which divided France for many years .
Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer in the French army was, in fact, innocent: his conviction rested on false documents, and when high-ranking officers
realised this they attempted to cover up the mistakes. The writer Emile Zola exposed the affair to the general public in the literary newspaper L’Aurore (The Dawn) in a famous open letter to the Président de la République Félix Faure, titled J’accuse! (I Accuse!) on January 13, 1898. In the words of historian Barbara W. Tuchman, it was “one of the great commotions of history”. The Dreyfus Affair split France between the Dreyfusards (those supporting Alfred Dreyfus) and the Anti-Dreyfusards (those against him).
Fresh from the Dreyfus Affair, it was not surprising that Edouard Drumont, editor of the virulently anti-semitic La Libre Parole, called absinthe a “tool of the Jews”. One absinthe distiller even labelled his bottles “Absinthe Anti-Juive” with a sub-legend “France aux.“

Monnot is not recorded as a Jewish name in France, and so it seems likely that the Star of David on this label is a Masonic, not a Jewish symbol.

The anti-Druyfusard journal Psst…! featured regular contributions by Forain and Caran d’Ache. The text of the cover illustration from this 1898 issue reads: “Si le pain manque, l’absinthe est pour rien!”

Anti-semitic agitation in Montmartre as a result of the Dreyfus Affair.