Richard Melson

September 2006

Dreyfus Affair

Dreyfus Affair

The Dreyfus Affair was a political scandal which divided France during the 1890s and early 1900s. It involved the wrongful conviction of Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus for treason and a subsequent political and judicial scandal.

On July 12, 2006, President Jacques Chirac held an official state ceremony on the Hundred Year Anniversary of Dreyfus' official rehabilitation together with the living relatives of Emile Zola and Alfred Dreyfus.[1] The event was held in the cobblestone courtyard of Paris' École Militaire, where 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 holds a memorial of the centennial of the end of the affair, particularly the laws that reintegrated and promoted Dreyfus and Picquart.

Captain Alfred Dreyfus in military uniform.

The dishonourable discharge of Dreyfus.

L'Aurore's front page on 13 January 1898 features

Emile Zola's open letter to the French President

Félix Faure regarding the Dreyfus Affair.

This drawing of a French family dinner by caricaturist Caran d'Ache depicts the divisions of French society during the Dreyfus Affair. At the top, somebody says "above all, let us not discuss the Dreyfus Affair!". At the bottom, the whole family is fighting, and the caption says "they have discussed it".

The Dreyfus Affair was a political scandal which divided France during the 1890s and early 1900s. It involved the wrongful conviction of Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus for treason and a subsequent political and judicial scandal.

Conviction and pardon

Captain Alfred Dreyfus was the highest-ranking Jewish artillery officer in the French army. He was charged with passing military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, and in 1894 was convicted of treason and imprisoned on Devil's Island. The conviction was based on documents which were found in the waste-paper basket of the German military attaché, Major Max von Schwartzkoppen, and which initially appeared to the French military authorities to implicate Dreyfus. Fearing that the sometimes anti-Semitic press would learn of the affair and accuse the French army of covering up for a Jewish officer, the French military command pushed for an early trial and conviction. By the time they realised that they had very little evidence against Dreyfus (and that what they had was not at all conclusive), it was already politically impossible to withdraw the prosecution without provoking a political scandal that would have brought down the French government. The subsequent court martial was notable for numerous errors of procedure (most notably, the defense was unaware of a secret dossier which the prosecution provided to the military judges).

Alfred Dreyfus was put on trial in 1894 and was accused of espionage, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison on Devil's Island. In June 1899 the case was reopened, following the uncovering of exonerating evidence, and France's Court of Cassation overturned his conviction and ordered a new court martial. Despite the new evidence presented at his new military trial, Dreyfus was reconvicted in September and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was subsequently pardoned by President Émile Loubet and freed, but would not be formally exonerated until July 12, 1906, when the Court of Cassation annulled his second conviction.

He was thereafter readmitted to the army and made a knight in the Legion of Honour. Dreyfus was recommissioned to serve behind the lines of the Western Front during World War I as a Lieutenant-Colonel of Artillery though he did perform some front-line duties in 1917. He served his nation with distinction beyond his natural retirement age.

Scandal and aftermath

The Dreyfus Affair was one of the most important scandals of the French Third Republic, if not the most important. The Affair deeply divided the country into Dreyfusards (those supporting Dreyfus) and anti-Dreyfusards (those against). Generally speaking, royalists, conservatives and the Catholic Church (the "right wing") were antidreyfusards while socialists, republicans and anticlericalists (the "left wing") were dreyfusards, though there were exceptions.

The Dreyfus Affair could not have happened in a country wholely antisemitic, nor in a country devoid of antisemitism. Indeed, Alfred Dreyfus, openly Jewish, had been admitted to the most selective military schools in the country, and had been commissionned into a sensitive position; this was, at the time, unheard of in several other European countries, where policies of discrimination were often in place. The Affair then greatly split French society and had important political repercussions; it contributed to the radicalization of opinion against the Catholic Church and the "clerical" party, which resulted in the 1905 French law on the separation of Church and State.

The writer Émile Zola is often thought to have exposed the affair to the general public in a famously incendiary open letter to President Félix Faure to which the French statesman and journalist Georges Clemenceau appended the eye-catching title "J'accuse!" (I Accuse!); it was published January 13, 1898 in the newspaper L'Aurore (The Dawn). In the words of historian Barbara Tuchman, it was "one of the great commotions of history." Zola was convicted of libel and was forced to flee the country.

Zola was in fact a latecomer (who nevertheless brought world-wide attention and publicity to Dreyfus' unjust treatment). The real credit for exposing the flaws behind Dreyfus' conviction, though, belongs to four others: Dreyfus' brother Mathieu, who fought a lonely campaign for several years; Jewish journalist Bernard Lazare; Colonel Picquart, a whistle-blower in the intelligence service; and finally the politician Scheurer-Kestner, who brought the injustice to the attention of the French political class. Picquart himself, the new chief of French counter-espionage who discovered the real traitor Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, was "reassigned" to Tunisia, North Africa in December 1896 for his continual attempts to expose Major Esterhazy and rehabilitate Dreyfus.

The affair saw the emergence of the "intellectuals"—that is, academics and other with high intellectual achievements who take positions on grounds on higher principles such as the Zola, the mathematicians Henri Poincaré and Jacques Hadamard, and the librarian of the École Normale Supérieure, Lucien Herr. The affair finished with the political and judicial defeat of the antidreyfusards, with laws voted overwhelmingly by the Chamber of Deputies in 1906 to reintegrate and promote Dreyfus and Picquart in the Army (Picquart became a general and even held the position of Minister of War). Anti-Dreyfusards then denounced the use of the Dreyfus Affair for political goals.

The factions in the Dreyfus affair remained in place for decades afterwards. 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 enactment separating church and state. The coalition of partisan antidreyfusards remained together, but turned to other causes. Groups like Maurras' Action Française that were created 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 deport Dreyfus' grand-daughter to the Nazi extermination camps.

It is now universally agreed that Dreyfus was innocent, but his statues and monuments are occasionally vandalised by far-right activists. The Dreyfus Affair was commented upon later by Hannah Arendt in her book "The Origins of Totalitarianism" claiming that the Affair evidenced a recurring theme of anti-Semitism as she sought to identify the causes of such a crisis.

In 1985, President François Mitterrand commissioned a statue of Dreyfus by sculptor Louis Mitelberg to be installed at the École Militaire, but the minister of defense refused to display it. The army didn't formally acknowledge Dreyfus' innocence until 1995.

Discussion of Theodor Herzl

The Jewish-Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl was assigned to report on the trial and its aftermath. Soon afterward, Herzl wrote The Jewish State (1896) and founded the World Zionist Organization, which called for the creation of a Jewish State. For many years it was believed that the anti-Semitism and injustice revealed in France by the conviction of Dreyfus had a radicalizing effect on Herzl, showing him that Jews could never hope for fair treatment in European society, thus orienting him toward Zionism. Herzl himself promoted this view.

However, in the past few decades this view has been rejected by historians[citation needed] who have closely examined the chronology of events. They have shown that Herzl, like most contemporary observers, including Jews, initially believed in Dreyfus' guilt. While eventually convinced of Dreyfus' innocence and indeed upset by French anti-Semitism beyond l'Affaire, Herzl seems to have been much more influenced by developments in his home city of Vienna, including the rise to power of the anti-Semitic Mayor Karl Lueger. It was this, rather than the Dreyfus Affair, which provided the chief stimulus for his support for a Jewish homeland, and which did so at a time (1895) when the pro-Dreyfus campaign had not really begun.

Centennial Commemoration

On July 12, 2006, President Jacques Chirac held an official state ceremony on the Hundred Year Anniversary of Dreyfus' official rehabilitation together with the living relatives of Emile Zola and Alfred Dreyfus.[1] The event was held in the cobblestone courtyard of Paris' École Militaire, where 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 holds a memorial of the centennial of the end of the affair, particularly the laws that reintegrated and promoted Dreyfus and Picquart.

Films

An American television film of 1991, "Prisoner of Honor", focuses on the efforts of a Colonel Picquart to justify the sentence of Alfred Dreyfus. (Colonel Picquart was played by American actor Richard Dreyfuss, who claims to be a descendant of Alfred Dreyfus).

Sources

See also

the true perpetrator of the crime of which

Alfred Dreyfus had been wrongly accused and convicted.

External links

(Journalistic retrospective of Zola's "J'accuse!")

Further reading

Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreyfus_Affair

Dreyfus Affair & 2006 Centennial in France

September 8, 2006