Thursday, April 9, 2015

dryfus

While watching a sunset with Harold, Maude sees a flock of seagulls and refers to Dreyfus. Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935), a Jewish officer in the French army, was wrongly convicted of treason in 1894, and sentenced to life in solitary confinement on Devil's Island (a penal colony off the coast of French Guiana). He was pardoned five years later, and ultimately exonerated when the evidence against him was proved false. The incident is seen by most historians as a revelation and indictment of French antisemitism, and its implications for French Jews still reverberate in France. The Dreyfus conversation coincides with Harold seeing Maude's concentration camp tattoo for the first time, which juxtaposes two of the most infamous instances of institutionalized European antisemitism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and strongly implies that Maude had been a Jewish concentration camp prisoner during World War II. 
The Holocaust Encyclopedia resource on the website for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., says that tattoos of serial numbers were given only (and specifically) to prisoners at the Auschwitz complex of concentration camps (which included Auschwitz I [Main Camp], Auschwitz II [Auschwitz-Birkenau], and Auschwitz III [Monowitz and the subcamps]) who had been selected for work. Prisoners at other Nazi concentration camps were not tattooed; neither were prisoners at Auschwitz who were selected for immediate extermination instead of a work detail. The purpose of the tattoo was for the Nazis to have a system by which they could identify the bodies of prisoners after their deaths.