Dreyfus affair

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"J'accuse...!" - Zola
Alfred Dreyfus

The Dreyfus Affair was a political scandal which divided France in the 1890s and the early 1900s. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent. Sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having communicated French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, Dreyfus was sent to the penal colony at Devil's Island in French Guiana and placed in solitary confinement.

Two years later, in 1896, evidence came to light identifying a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the real culprit. However, high-ranking military officials suppressed this new evidence and Esterhazy was unanimously acquitted after the second day of his trial in military court. Instead of being exonerated, Alfred Dreyfus was further accused on the basis of false documents fabricated by French counter-intelligence officers seeking to re-confirm his conviction.

Word of the military court's framing of Alfred Dreyfus and of an attendant cover-up began to spread, largely due to a vehement public protestation in a Paris newspaper by writer Emile Zola, in January 1898. The case had to be re-opened and Alfred Dreyfus was brought back from Guiana in 1899 to be tried again. The intense political and judicial scandal that ensued divided French society between those who supported Dreyfus (the Dreyfusards[1]) and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards), such as Edouard Drumont (the director and publisher of the anti-semitic newspaper La Libre Parole) and Hubert-Joseph Henry.

Eventually, all the accusations against Alfred Dreyfus were demonstrated to be baseless. Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army in 1906. He later served during the whole of World War I, ending his service with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.


[edit] History

[edit] Anti-Semitism perspective


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Antisemitism · Jewish history

Anti-Semitism in France during the latter part of the 19th century was openly displayed in print and in public speeches by politicians and journalists belonging to the far right of the political spectrum. After the formal inception of the French Third Republic in 1871, in the 1880s nationalist politicians such as Georges Boulanger, Edouard Drumont (founder of the Antisemitic League of France) and Paul Déroulède (founder of Ligue des Patriotes) sought to capitalize on the new fervor for a unified Catholic France. Since 1892, the anti-Semitic publication "La Libre Parole" had published highly defamatory contributions called "Les Juifs dans l'Armée" or "Jews in the Army". Consequently and in response, Jewish officers in the French Army such as Andre Cremieu-Foa and Armand Mayer had reacted by challenging to a duel the authors of these defamations. Captain Mayer lost his life in a duel against Marquis de Mores in June 1892, thus creating a major scandal that anticipated that of the Dreyfus Affair. War Minister Freycinet had intervened in the Chambre des Députés (the French lower house) in these terms: "Gentlemen, in the Army, we do not recognize Jews, Protestants or Catholics, we only recognize French officers."[citation needed] However, French Jews, in general, were later described by the historian George L. Mosse as often being perceived as a "nation within a nation".[2]

Nonetheless the situation of the Jewish community in France, in the 1890s, was better than that of Jews in certain other countries of continental Europe, such as Germany and worst of all in Tsarist Russia. All French Jews had been fully integrated into the nation by law since the French Revolution of 1789 and Napoleon's First Empire. As a result they generally held higher positions in the government and the military than in most other European countries. Later on in France, the political changes resulting from the Dreyfus Affair brought about the 1905 Law on the Separation of Church and State. It put an end to the favored status of the Catholic Church dating from Emperor Napoleon I's Concordat with the Vatican. This placed French Protestants and French Jews on the same level as Roman Catholics, with regards to the law and to public financing of places of worship.

[edit] Family

Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a graduate of both École polytechnique and the École Supérieure de Guerre, was a promising young artillery officer. His high exit rankings from these elite institutions had led to a training position on the French Army's General Staff in January 1893. Alfred Dreyfus's family background was solidly upper middle class and rested on a successful family-owned textile manufacture in Mulhouse, a city in Alsace that is close to the German and Swiss borders. After the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 and the annexation of Alsace by the German Empire, part of the Dreyfus family had chosen to retain its French nationality and moved permanently to Paris. Its younger members, including then 12-year-old Alfred Dreyfus and his brother Mathieu Dreyfus, grew up there.

[edit] Accusations and arrest

In October 1894, shortly after he had begun his training assignment in the "3ème Bureau" of the French Army's General Staff, Captain Dreyfus was arrested and charged with passing military secrets to the German embassy in Paris.

In December 1894, a military tribunal convicted Dreyfus of treason and sentenced him to life imprisonment in solitary confinement on Devil's Island, a prison island off the coast of French Guiana.

Captain Dreyfus's conviction was based on a handwritten list (the bordereau) offering Germany access to secret French artillery information. Marie Bastian (née Caudron), a French cleaning woman and spy in the employ of French military counter-intelligence (the so-called "Section de Statistique" led by a Lt Col Sandherr), had retrieved the bordereau list from the wastepaper basket of the German military attaché in Paris, Maximilian Von Schwartzkoppen.

The "bordereau" list appeared to implicate an artillery officer since it proposed access to technical information concerning a French artillery weapon, the Modèle 1890 120mm Baquet howitzer. Dreyfus came under suspicion because of his artillery training, his Alsatian origins and his yearly trips to his then-German home town of Mülhausen (now the French town of Mulhouse in Alsace) to visit his ailing father. Above all, the handwriting on the bordereau appeared to resemble that of Dreyfus.

By the time the High Command realized it could not find substantial evidence against Dreyfus (apart from the "bordereau", which forensic experts could not agree was in Dreyfus's handwriting), it had become impossible to withdraw the prosecution without a scandal that would bring down the highest levels of the French Army.[3] The obstinacy of the Army's General Staff in pressing unfounded charges against Captain Dreyfus precipitated criminal activities by French military counter-intelligence officers. Those officers fabricated false documents designed to incriminate Dreyfus.

The protracted cover-up of those illegal activities by highly placed members of the Army's General Staff became the heart of the Dreyfus Affair. In spite of anti-Semitic attitudes which existed in certain quarters of the General Staff, Dreyfus was generally praised by his superiors. However he was not popular with some of his colleagues because of his aloof personality and comparatively wealthy background. His father had died in 1893 and had left him a small fortune. Captain Dreyfus's personal income, in addition to that of his wife, exceeded that of a general officer in the French Army (Doise, 1994).

[edit] Judicial errors and obstruction of justice

The subsequent court-martial was notable for its numerous errors of procedure. The defense was not made aware of a secret dossier that the prosecution had provided to the military judges (Bredin, 1986). Withholding this dossier from the defense was illegal under French law. The French military historian Jean Doise, a retired officer in the French Army's General Staff, has published evidence (Doise, 1994) that led him to propose the conclusion that Dreyfus may have been used, at least initially, as a decoy by French military counter-intelligence (the "Section de Statistique" led by Lt Colonel Sandherr). According to Doise,[3] the intense prosecution of Alfred Dreyfus may have been initially designed to mislead German espionage into believing that it had stumbled on to highly sensitive artillery information.

Lt Col Georges Picquart demonstrated as early as 1896, that the partially destroyed bordereau used to incriminate Alfred Dreyfus in reality had been handwritten and delivered to the German Embassy by a French infantry officer of Hungarian descent, Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Written at the top of the list on the bordereau was a promise to deliver to the German Military Attaché technical information concerning the oleo-pneumatic recoil mechanism of a newly developed French howitzer, the 120mm Baquet. Presumably, Esterhazy either hoped to extract money from the German Attaché or had, as proposed by Jean Doise (1984), planted a deception into German hands to throw them off the scent of the Canon de 75 modèle 1897 field gun project. The new French 75 prototype and its advanced oleo-pneumatic recoil mechanism were secretly in concurrent development, while the 120mm Baquet had been earmarked for discontinuation.

If Esterhazy was a double-agent, it would explain why he, although unmistakably identified by Lt Col Picquart as the author of the bordereau, was acquitted by French military Justice in January 1898 and allowed to retire in England with a pension. Moreover, as a lieutenant, Esterhazy had served in 1881 and 1882 as a German translator on the staff of the "Section de Statistique", at the same time and in the same office as Major Joseph Hubert Henry, the officer later to be caught forging evidence against Dreyfus. These career overlaps are well documented and took place during the early part of Esterhazy's career, long before the Dreyfus Affair.[4] This underlines that the two officers worked in the same French military counter-espionage group twelve years before the Dreyfus Affair and knew each other well.

The theory that Esterhazy wasn't a man who sold military secrets to the Germans to cover debts and who sought revenge against France for denying him promotions and appointments is problematic. If Esterhazy was a double-agent working for Sandherr at the time that the bordereau was written, Sandherr's reaction to its discovery appears illogical. Esterhazy's sheltering from being convicted in January 1898 was probably not to protect a double agent, but rather to justify the original sentencing pronounced against Dreyfus in December 1894.

Recent revelations by professional French Army historians further confirm the conclusions of Lt Col Georges Picquart in 1896, namely that criminal machinations had been devised by Lt Col Sandherr and his group (notably Major Hubert-Joseph Henry, Captain Lauth, and archivist Gribelin) at the "Section de Statistique". Because those counter-intelligence officers were loosely supervised and distinct from the regular military intelligence section (the 2ème bureau ) at the French War Ministry, they were able to forge evidence against Dreyfus (the "faux Henry") and pervert the course of justice.[5] This occurred because Lt Col Sandherr reported directly and secretly to the office of the politically appointed War Minister, General Auguste Mercier, who occupied this key position until 1896. General Auguste Mercier was responsible for initiating the events and pressing the subsequent cover-up of the miscarriage of justice.[6] It is speculated but unprovable that General Deloye, who directed French Artillery and supervised the French 75's secret development, initiated the conspiracy.[7]

Dreyfus cashiered in a public ceremony.

In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus was tried on charges of espionage and found guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison on Devil's Island in French Guiana where he was to endure debilitating solitary confinement in a small hut for nearly five years. Before his deportation to Guiana, he underwent a formal degradation ceremony in the École Militaire in Paris where he was publicly cashiered: his rank marks and buttons were ripped off his uniform and his sabre was broken.[8]

In June 1899, the case was reopened following the uncovering of exonerating evidence and denial of due process during the initial court-martial. France's Court of Cassation quashed his conviction and ordered a new court-martial. Despite the new evidence presented at his second military trial, Dreyfus was re-convicted in September 1899 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was subsequently pardoned by President Émile Loubet and freed, but would not be formally exonerated until 12 July 1906, when the Court of Cassation annulled his second conviction.

In July 1906, Dreyfus was formally reinstated as a major in the army and made a Knight of the Légion d'Honneur. He retired in July 1907 until he was recalled to active duty in August 1914, at the age of 55.

During World War I, Dreyfus served behind the lines of the Western Front as a Lieutenant-Colonel of Artillery, and performed front line duties in 1917, notably at Verdun and on the Chemin des Dames.

In July 1919, Alfred Dreyfus was raised to the rank of Officer of the Légion d'Honneur. This elevation constituted official recognition that he served his country in time of war with distinction and well beyond the normal retirement age. However, his personal life and that of his family, not to speak of his military career, had been deeply damaged by the baseless accusations made against him since 1894.

[edit] Scandal

L'Aurore's front page on January 13, 1898 features Émile Zola's open letter to the French President Félix Faure denouncing the miscarriage of justice
This cartoon of a French family dinner by caricaturist Caran d'Ache illustrates the divisions in French society during the Dreyfus affair. In the top panel, the host says, “Above all, let us not speak of the Dreyfus affair!” The bottom panel shows the dinner party in disorder: “They spoke about it.”

The Dreyfus affair became one of the gravest crises to rock the French Third Republic. "The Affair" deeply divided the country into Dreyfusards (supporters of Dreyfus) and anti-Dreyfusards. Generally speaking, royalists and conservatives (the "right wing") were anti-Dreyfusards, while Dreyfusards were socialists, republicans and anticlericalists.

On the other hand, and contrary to common belief, the French Army at the end of the 19th century was not an anti-Semitic institution. Dreyfus's Jewish background was well-known, yet he had been admitted to the most selective military schools in the country and had been assigned to a sensitive position in the General Staff. During that same period, there were over 250 career officers professing the Jewish faith (Birnbaum, 1998) in the French Army, including many colonels and at least one general officer, General Samuel Naquet-Laroque (1843–1921), who occupied a high position in the state armament industries. That same period also saw the rise of Lt Colonel Mardochee-Georges Valabregue (1854–1934), an artilleryman from the École Polytechnique and an observant Jew. He became Commander in Chief of the École Supérieure de Guerre in 1905 and a full general during World War I. Another high ranking French officer of Jewish descent was General Jules Mordacq (1868-1943). He was a captain at the time of the Dreyfus Affair but his own career continued to progress normally. He became a highly decorated general and divisional commander in the field during World War I. General Mordacq was then chosen by Prime Minister Clemenceau, in early 1918, to become his principal military liaison with the High Command. The General remained in this important cabinet position with Clemenceau until the end of the war, in November 1918. He also assisted Clemenceau during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

Lucie Dreyfus, the loyal wife of Alfred, wrote many letters of comfort to him during his exile. She had also written to the Vatican for mercy, but her letter was never answered. It was she who appealed to Émile Zola for help. Lucie survived the Holocaust by changing her identity and hiding in Southern France at a Catholic convent under the name of Mme Duteil. She died in Paris at age 76, on December 14, 1945.[9]

The writer Émile Zola can be credited with having exposed the affair to the general public in a famously incendiary open letter to President Félix Faure to which the French journalist and politician Georges Clemenceau had affixed the headline "J'accuse!" (I accuse!); it was published January 13, 1898 in the maiden issue of the newspaper L'Aurore (The Dawn). It had the effect of a bomb — in the words of historian Barbara Tuchman, "It was one of the great commotions of history." Émile Zola's intent was to force his own prosecution for libel so that the emerging facts of the Dreyfus case could be thoroughly aired. In this he succeeded. He was convicted, appealed, was retried, and, before hearing the result, fled to England on the advice of his counsel and friends, returning to Paris in June 1899 when he heard that Dreyfus's trial was to be reviewed.

Zola's worldwide fame and respected reputation brought international attention to what he considered Dreyfus's unjust treatment. However, most of the work of exposing the errors in Dreyfus's conviction was done by four people: Dreyfus's brother Mathieu, who fought a lonely campaign for several years; Jewish journalist and anarchist Bernard Lazare, who first used the word J'accuse in L’Eclair, on 15 September 1896, a paper which he rewrote under the title The Dreyfus Affair – A Miscarriage of Justice, published in Belgium in November 1896; then Lt.Colonel Marie-Georges Picquart, a senior infantry officer who had replaced Lt. Colonel Sandherr, now deceased, at the helm of French Military Counter-intelligence; and the Alsatian vice-president of the French Senate, Auguste Scheurer-Kestner. They all worked resolutely to make the case for a revision of Dreyfus's conviction by the French military justice system. Picquart himself, who had demonstrated that the real author of the "bordereau" was Major Esterhazy, was reassigned to a post in the south of Tunisia in December 1896. This was not necessarily an inappropriate assignment, since Picquart had originally been transferred from a North African Tirailleur regiment to lead military counter intelligence in Paris. The intention now, however, was to get Picquart away from Paris in order to silence him. It was, in fact, a deliberate obstruction of justice by highly placed members of the French military leadership.

In 1906, the Chamber of Deputies overwhelmingly approved measures to rehabilitate and promote Dreyfus and Picquart in the Army. (Picquart became a general before WW1 and even held the position of Minister of War in a later Clemenceau government in 1906.) War Minister Général de Galliffet, also in 1906, formally put an end to the Dreyfus Affair during an intervention in the Chamber of Deputies which ended with the famous phrase: "L'incident est clos " which translates as "The incident is closed." However, anti-Dreyfusards in the civilian realm never really ceased to denounce the Dreyfus affair to further their own political ends.

[edit] Aftermath

The affair saw the emergence of the "intellectuals" — academics and others with high intellectual achievements who took positions on grounds of higher principle — such as Zola, the novelists Octave Mirbeau and Anatole France, the mathematicians Henri Poincaré and Jacques Hadamard, and the librarian of the École Normale Supérieure, Lucien Herr. Constantin Mille, a Romanian socialist writer and émigré in Paris, described the anti-Dreyfusard camp as a "militarist dictatorship".[10]

[edit] Alfred Dreyfus after the Dreyfus Affair

Alfred Dreyfus was reinstated into the French Army , raised to the rank of Major and made a Knight of the French Legion of Honor in July 1906. However his health had deteriorated during his imprisonment on Devil's Island and he was granted an honorable discharge, upon his request, in 1907. He would volunteer again in 1914, at the beginning of World War I, serving despite advancing age in a wide range of artillery commands, as a major and finally as a lieutenant-colonel . He was raised to the rank of Officer of the French Legion of Honor in 1919. His son, Pierre Dreyfus, would also serve in WWI as an artillery officer and would win the Croix de Guerre. Alfred Dreyfus' two nephews also fought as artillery officers in the French Army during WW-1 but unfortunately they both lost their lives.

Dreyfus died two days before Bastille Day in 1935. His funeral cortège passed through ranks assembled for Bastille Day celebrations at the Place de la Concorde, and he was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery.

[edit] Political ramifications

The factions in the Dreyfus affair remained in place for decades afterward. The far right remained a potent force, as did the moderate liberals. The liberal victory played an important role in pushing the far right to the fringes of French politics. It also prompted legislation such as a 1905 law separating church and state. The coalition of partisan anti-Dreyfusards remained together, but turned to other causes. Groups such as Maurras's Action Française, formed during the affair, endured for decades. The right-wing Vichy Regime was composed to some extent of old anti-Dreyfusards and their descendants. The Vichy Regime would later close its eyes to the arrest of Dreyfus's granddaughter, Madeleine, by the Gestapo and to her deportation and death at Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz, in January 1944.[11] [12]

[edit] Anti-Semitism and birth of Zionism

The Hungarian-Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl had been assigned to report on the trial and its aftermath. Soon afterward, Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896) and founded the World Zionist Organization, which called for the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. The anti-semitism and injustice revealed in France by the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus had a radicalizing effect on Herzl, demonstrating to him that Jews, despite the Enlightenment and Jewish assimilation, could never hope for fair treatment in European society. Historically, it is true that the Dreyfus injustice was not the initial motivation for Herzl's actions. However, it did go a long way to keep motivating him further into promoting Zionism. His persistent activism during his lifetime eventually led to the creation of a Jewish state long after his death.

In the Middle East, the Muslim Arab press was sympathetic to the falsely accused Captain Dreyfus, and criticized the persecution of Jews in France.[13]

Not all Jews saw the Dreyfus Affair as evidence of anti-semitism in France, however. It was also viewed as the opposite. The Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas often cited the words of his father: "A country that tears itself apart to defend the honour of a small Jewish captain is somewhere worth going."[14]

[edit] Commission of sculpture

In 1985, President François Mitterrand commissioned a statue of Dreyfus by sculptor Louis Mitelberg. It was to be installed at the École Militaire, but the Minister of Defence refused to display it, even though Alfred Dreyfus had been rehabilitated into the Army and fully exonerated in 1906. Today it can be found at Boulevard Raspail, n°116-118, at the exit of the Notre-Dame-des-Champs metro station. A replica is located at the entrance of the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris.

[edit] Centennial commemoration

On 12 July 2006, President Jacques Chirac held an official state ceremony marking the centenary of Dreyfus's official rehabilitation. This was held in the presence of the living descendants of both Émile Zola and Alfred Dreyfus. The event took place in the same cobblestone courtyard of Paris's École Militaire, where Capitaine Dreyfus had been officially stripped of his officer's rank. Chirac stated that "the combat against the dark forces of intolerance and hate is never definitively won," and called Dreyfus "an exemplary officer" and a "patriot who passionately loved France." The French National Assembly also held a memorial ceremony of the centennial marking the end of the Affair. This was held in remembrance of the 1906 laws that had reintegrated and promoted both Dreyfus and Picquart at the end of the Dreyfus Affair.

[edit] Films and theatre


  • L'Affaire Dreyfus, Georges Méliès, Stumm, France, 1899
  • Trial of Captain Dreyfus, Stumm, USA, 1899
  • Dreyfus, Richard Oswald, Germany, 1930
  • The Dreyfus Case, F.W. Kraemer, Milton Rosmer, USA, 1931
  • The Life of Emile Zola, USA, 1937
  • I Accuse!, José Ferrer, England, 1958
  • L'Affaire Dreyfus (released in Germany as Die Affäre Dreyfus), Yves Boisset, 1995
  • Prisoner of Honor, directed by Ken Russell, focuses on the efforts of Colonel Picquart to have the sentence of Alfred Dreyfus overturned. (Colonel Picquart was played by American actor Richard Dreyfuss, who says he is a descendant of Alfred Dreyfus).



  • The Dreyfus affair plays an important part in In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust, especially Vols. 3 and 4.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ The term post-dates the start of the affair.
  2. ^ George L. Mosse, Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism, (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), 150.
  3. ^ a b Doise, 1984
  4. ^ Bach, 2004, Duclert, 2006
  5. ^ Bredin, 1986 and general Andre Bach, 2004
  6. ^ Bach, 2004
  7. ^ (Doise, 1984)
  8. ^ Rubenstein, Richard L., and Roth, John K. (rev. ed. 2003). Approaches to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and Its Legacy, p. 84. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 0664223532.
  9. ^ Carroll, James. (2001) Constantine's Sword. p.471 [1]
  10. ^ (Romanian) Constantin Antip, "Émile Zola: «Adevărul este în marş»" ("Émile Zola: «Truth Is Marching On»"), in Magazin Istoric
  11. ^ http://www.floridaholocaustmuseum.org/Newsletter/FHM_winter_2005.pdf
  12. ^ Carroll, James. (2001) Constantine's Sword. p.470 [2]
  13. ^ Lewis, Bernard (1986). Semites and Anti-Semites. Pg. 133
  14. ^ Secularism, the French & Alfred Dreyfus - July 7, 2006 - The New York Sun

[edit] References

  • General Andre Bach, 2004, "L'Armée de Dreyfus. Une histoire politique de l'armée française de Charles X a l'"Affaire". Tallandier,Paris, ISBN 2-84734-039-4
  • Pierre Birnbaum,1998,"L'Armée Française était elle antisemite ?", pp 70-82 in Michel Winock: "L'Affaire Dreyfus", Editions du Seuil, Paris, ISBN 2-02-032848
  • Jean Doise, 1984, "Un secret bien gardé. Histoire militaire de l'Affaire Dreyfus." Editions du Seuil, Paris, ISBN 2-02-021100-9
  • Vincent Duclert,2006,"Alfred Dreyfus",Librairie Artheme Fayard,ISBN 2 21362795 9
  • George R. Whyte, The Dreyfus affair : a chronological history, Basingstoke 2008

[edit] Newspaper Articles

[edit] External links

[edit] Further reading

  • Jean-Denis Bredin, The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus (1986), ISBN 0807611751
  • Eric Cahm, The Dre

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