Charles Dreyfus

Dreyfus was a chemist who had moved from Alsace to England in 1869. In 1876, aged 28, he founded the Clayton Analine Company and remained a director there until his retirement in 1913. He was a pillar of the local Jewish community as a leading member of the South Manchester Reform Synagogue, and a founder member of the Victoria Memorial Jewish hospital, which opened in 1904. His Zionist activities began in 1901 when he was elected president of a body called the Manchester Central Zionist Committee. In 1902, as president of the MZA, he presided over the amalgamation of various Zionist associations into the one body. At the annual EZF meeting (Liverpool, 1903), Dreyfus was elected provincial vice-president. He was also active in local politics, serving as a member of the city council from 1897–1906, as president of the East Manchester Conservative Association in 1905, and as chairman of Prime Minister Balfour’s constituency committee during the 1906 election campaign.

As an English delegate, Dreyfus met with Weizmann at the Fifth (Basle, 1901) and/or Sixth (Basle, 1903) Zionist Congresses. They met again in November 1904 when Weizmann came to see him regarding (ostensibly) a job for his wife Vera at the Jewish Hospital. As a result of this meeting, Dreyfus offered him a position at Clayton Analine; the contract was for three years and allowed him to work at the factory during the university vacations. Weizmann certainly saw his employer as an important potential influence, and urged his fellow Zionists to "contact Dreyfus and use him to establish relations with the English government. Dreyfus is in favour of Palestine… Dreyfus must be promoted. He wields enormous influence." (Weizmann - Ussishkin, 29 Jan 1905). And later, "I intend to… promote Dreyfus. He is a friend of Balfour… Moreover, in Zionist affairs Dreyfus will listen to me." (Weizmann - fiancé Vera, 30 January 1905). At the same time, there seemed to be a genuine friendship between the two men, and Weizmann made a custom of visiting his employer’s family in up-market Fallowfield on Sundays. Dr and Mrs Dreyfus also visited Weizmann following a chemical accident in the university laboratory, when a hand injury kept Weizmann in bed for six weeks.

As regards important landmarks in Zionist history, it is worth pointing out that, along with Weizmann, Dreyfus was one of the delegates from Manchester to the English Zionist Federation in 1905, at which the question of the British offer of territory in East Africa was discussed as an alternative to Palestine. And as the manager of Balfour’s election campaign in Manchester (1906), Dreyfus was responsible for introducing Weizmann to AJ Balfour in 1906.

Related information from the family history of Mrs Terry Zakine-Cerf is available in FRENCH.


Previous | Index  



IMAGE AND DOCUMENT CREDITS: Charles Dreyfus x2 (© Manchester Jewish Museum). Full reference: Sources.