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ANTI-SEMITIC BIGOTRY AS CHRONICLED BY HISTORICAL MEDALS


 

came to a vote in parliament, General Auguste Mercier, who was Minister of War when Dreyfus was arrested and was now a senator, refused to accept this, saying from the tribune that “I feel obliged to declare that the conviction I acquired in 1899 is in no way shaken. Consequently my conscience does not allow me...to associate myself with the vote you will announce.” Mercier immediately became a hero to the anti Dreyfusard anti-Semites of l'Action Française. Further, the editor of their journal, Henri Vaugeois, issued a call for a subscription for a gold medal in his honor. (See Dreyfus, 1906).

Despite the imprisonment of Dreyfus based on false testimony, in 1906 a medal was, in fact, issued in homage to General Mercier (figure 33). The medal pays tribute to him in his role in sentencing Dreyfus, as it refers to the "Traitor Dreyfus" in the legend above his bust on the obverse, and on the reverse legend, repeats Mercier’s words spoken at the tribune regarding his opposition to their reinstatement of Dreyfus: "My conviction gained by the debates of 1899 has in no way shaken my conscience and does not allow me to join you to vote and emit words pronounced by the senate July 18, 1906."

  Dreyfus Affair: General Auguste Mercier Medal   General Auguste Mercier Medal
Figure 33. Dreyfus Affair: General Auguste Mercier Medal

J. Baffier, France, 1906, Bronze struck medal, 50 mm. (Image courtesy of William Rosenblum)

While French history is replete with examples of anti-Semitism, there was a brief period during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte that stands out as a notable exception, and although his actions were self-serving, Napoleon is considered as one of the most prominent figures in the history of Jewish emancipation. Needing Jewish soldiers, in 1806, Napoleon convened a meeting with Jewish notables (called the Grand Sanhedrin) for the purpose of relieving the Jews from their dietary laws, thus enabling them to serve in the French army. In return, the Jews received religious freedom and state protection in the French empire. This event was commemorated by the issuance of a medal (figure 34), the obverse of which shows a bust of Napoleon Bonaparte and the reverse a subservient Moses handing the Tablets of the Law to Napoleon.

  The Grand Sanhedrin of Napoleon Medal
Figure 34. The Grand Sanhedrin of Napoleon Medal

Alexis Depaulis and Nicholas Brenet, France, 1806, Silver struck medal, 41 mm. Ref. Friedenberg p. 40 (Image courtesy of Busso Peus Nacht.)

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