Dreyfus affair: Wikis


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A faded handwritten document
The bordereau (memorandum) which sparked the Dreyfus affair.
Head and torso of a young man wearing military uniform with spectacles and a moustache
Alfred Dreyfus, who was wrongly convicted of spying for Germany.

The Dreyfus affair (French: Affaire Dreyfus) was a political scandal that 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 by the Army on the basis of false documents fabricated by a French counter-intelligence officer, Hubert-Joseph Henry, seeking to re-confirm Dreyfus's conviction. These fabrications were uncritically accepted by Henry's superiors.[1]

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 Émile 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[2]) and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards), such as Edouard Drumont (the director and publisher of the antisemitic 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.

This article is part of
the Dreyfus affair
Investigation and arrest
Trial and conviction
Picquart's investigations
Other investigations
Public scandal
"J'accuse...!" - Zola
Alfred Dreyfus


Investigation and arrest

Trial and conviction

Picquart's investigations

Other investigations

Public scandal

Émile Zola's open letter



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".[3]


Alfred Dreyfus after the Dreyfus Affair

Alfred Dreyfus being dishonorably discharged, 5 January 1895.
L'Aurore's front page on 13 January 1898 features Émile Zola's open letter to the French President Félix Faure.

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, on his request, he was granted an honorable discharge in 1907. In 1908, whilst attending the burial of the writer Emile Zola at the Panthéon, an assassination attempt was made on Dreyfus who was slightly wounded in the incident. Célestin Hennion, the head of the French Police, was on-hand to arrest the would-be assassin. Dreyfus volunteered for military service 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 Légion d'honneur in 1919. His son, Pierre Dreyfus, also served in WWI as an artillery officer and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Alfred Dreyfus' two nephews also fought as artillery officers in the French Army during WWI but both lost their lives. The same artillery piece for which Dreyfus was accused of revealing secrets to the Germans was used in blunting the early German offensives because of its ability to maintain accuracy during rapid fire.

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.

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 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 Levy, by the Gestapo. Madame Levy was imprisoned in Camp Drancy on November 3, 1943, and on November 20 of the same year she was deported to Auschwitz, where she perished.[4]

Antisemitism 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 antisemitism 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.

In the Middle East, the Muslim Arab press was sympathetic to the falsely accused Captain Dreyfus, and criticized the persecution of Jews in France.[5]

Not all Jews saw the Dreyfus Affair as evidence of antisemitism 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."[6]

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.

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.

Tour de France and L'Auto

The roots of both the Tour de France cycle race and L'Auto (L'Équipe), daily sporting newspaper, can be traced to the Dreyfus Affair. In 1900 a group of anti-Dreyfusards started L'Auto to compete directly with the 'Dreyfusite' sporting paper Le Velo. L'Auto in turn created the Tour de France race in 1903 to boost falling circulation.

Opinions were heated and there were demonstrations by both sides in the Dreyfus Affair. Historian Eugen Weber described an 1899 conflagration at the Auteuil horse-race course in Paris as "an absurd political shindig" when, among other events the President of France (Émile Loubet) was struck on the head by a 'walking stick' wielded by the Comte Albert de Dion.[7][8] De Dion, owner of the De Dion-Bouton car works,[9] served 15 days in jail and was fined 100 francs.[10] De Dion's behaviour was heavily criticised by Le Vélo, the largest daily sports newspaper in France,[11][12] and its Dreyfusard editor, Pierre Giffard. Thus de Dion lead a group of wealthy anti-Dreyfusards including anti-Dreyfusards such as Adolphe Clément and Edouard Michelin to start a rival daily sports paper, L'Auto.[13]

L'Auto was not the success its backers wanted. Stagnating sales led to a crisis meeting on 20 November 1902 where the chief cycling journalist, a 26-year-old named Géo Lefèvre[14] suggested a six-day race around France.[15] Long-distance cycle races were a popular means to sell more newspapers but nothing of the length that Lefèvre suggested had been attempted.[16] If it succeeded, it would help L'Auto match its rival and perhaps put it out of business.[17] It could, as Desgrange said, "nail Giffard's beak shut."[18][19] Desgrange and Lefèvre discussed it after lunch. Desgrange was doubtful but the paper's financial director, Victor Goddet, was enthusiastic. He handed Desgrange the keys to the company safe and said: "Take whatever you need."[20] L'Auto announced the Tour de France on 19 January 1903.

Portraits of the affair in various media




  • 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
  • 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 "grew up thinking that Alfred Dreyfus and I are of the same family."[21] USA, 1991
  • L'Affaire Dreyfus (released in Germany as Die Affäre Dreyfus), Yves Boisset, 1995


  • BBC Radio J'Accuse, UK, Hattie Naylor. Radio dramatisation inspired by a newspaper article written by Emile Zola in response to the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s.

BBC Radio 4, broadcast on 13 Jun 2009


  • The Time Tunnel episode Devil's Island. Story in which Drs. Newman & Phillips encounter Captain Dreyfus, newly arrived on Devil's Island.

ABC, broadcast on 11 Nov 1966

Radio Discussion

See also


  1. ^ See, for example, Jean-Denis Bredin, The Affair: the Case of Alfred Dreyfus. (New York: George Braziller, 1986).
  2. ^ The term post-dates the start of the affair.
  3. ^ (Romanian) Constantin Antip, "Émile Zola: «Adevărul este în marş»" ("Émile Zola: «Truth Is Marching On»"), in Magazin Istoric
  4. ^ George R. Whyte, The Dreyfus affair: a chronological history, Basingstoke 2008, p 331
  5. ^ Lewis, Bernard (1986). Semites and Anti-Semites. Pg. 133
  6. ^ Secularism, the French & Alfred Dreyfus - July 7, 2006 - The New York Sun
  7. ^ Marketing Michelin: advertising & cultural identity in twentieth-century France by Stephen L. Harp p.20
  8. ^ Weber, Eugen (2003), foreword to "Tour de France: 1903-2003", eds Dauncey, Hugh and Hare, Geoff, Routledge, USA, ISBN 978-0-7146-5362-4, p. xi
  9. ^ Boeuf, Jean-Luc and Léonard, Yves (2003); La République de Tour de France, Seuil, France
  10. ^ Weber, p. xi.
  11. ^ Boeuf, Jean-Luc, and Léonard, Yves (2003), La République du Tour de France, Seuil, France, p23
  12. ^ Nicholson, Geoffrey (1991) Le Tour, the rise and rise of the Tour de France, Hodder and Stoughton, UK
  13. ^ De Dion, Clément and Michelin were particularly concerned with Le Vélo – which reported more than cycling – because its financial backer was one of their commercial rivals, the Darracq company. De Dion believed Le Vélo gave Darracq too much attention and him too little. De Dion was a gentlemanly but outspoken man who already wrote columns for Le Figaro, Le Matin and others. He was also rich and could afford to indulge his whims, which included founding Le Nain Jaune (the yellow gnome), a publication which "answers no particular need."
  14. ^ Woodland, Les (2003). The Yellow Jersey Companion to the Tour de France. London: Yellow Jersey Press. 
  15. ^ Goddet, Jacques (1991), L'Équipée Belle, Robert Laffont (Paris), ISBN 2-221-07290-1, p20
  16. ^ Desgrange had first attempted to copy and outdo races run by his rival. In 1901 he revived the Paris-Brest event after a decade's absence. His winner knocked nearly two hours off the time but the race didn't catch the public imagination. The longest races went from city to city, such as from Bordeaux to Paris, in one stint. Giffard was the first to suggest a race that lasted several days, new to cycling but established practice in car racing. Unlike other cycle races, it would also be run largely without pacers.
  17. ^ Dauncey, Hugh and Hare, Geoff (2003), Tour de France: 1903-2003, Routledge, USA, ISBN 978-0-7146-5362-4, p64
  18. ^ "www.cyclingnews.com presents the 93rd Tour de France". Autobus.cyclingnews.com. http://autobus.cyclingnews.com/road/2006/tour06/?id=/features/2006/woodland_tour_origin. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  19. ^ "Know how the Tour de France started". Amazon.com. 1903-01-19. http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/RVBZWGNE9RZ0J. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  20. ^ Goddet, Jacques (1991), L'Équipée Belle, Robert Laffont (Paris), ISBN 2-221-07290-1, p15
  21. ^ Brozan, Nadine. Chronicle. New York Times. 20 November 1991.
  22. ^ BBC Radio 4, October 8 2009, In Our Time - The Dreyfus Affair, Melvyn Bragg; Robert Gildea, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University; Ruth Harris, Lecturer in Modern History at Oxford University; Robert Tombs, Professor of French History at Cambridge University.


  • 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-Denis Bredin, 1986, "The Affair: the Case of Alfred Dreyfus." George Braziller, New York, ISBN 0-8076-1175-1
  • 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 213627959
  • Adam Kirsch (July 11, 2006), The Most Shameful of Stains, The New York Sun
  • Stanley Meisler (July 9, 2006), Not just a Jew in a French jail, The Los Angeles Times
  • Ronald Schechter (July 7, 2006), The Ghosts of Alfred Dreyfus, The Forward. *George R. Whyte, The Dreyfus affair : a chronological history, Basingstoke 2008
  • Kim Willsher (June 27, 2006), Calls for Dreyfus to be buried in Panthéon, The Guardian
  • Pierre Touzin et Francois Vauvillier,2006, "Les canons de la Victoire 1914-1918.Tome1. L'artillerie de campagne". Histoire et Collections,Paris.ISBN : 2-35250-022-2

Further reading

Simple English

published a famous letter J'Accuse to complain that the government of France had been very unfair to Alfred Dreyfus.]]

The Dreyfus Affair was one of the biggest scandals in the history of France. It happened at the end of the 19th century. It was about Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army.

In 1894, Dreyfus was accused of being a spy, and accused of crimes against France. People thought he wrote letters to the Germans telling them about secrets of the French army.

His punishment was to be sent to a prison island in South America for the rest of his life.

When he was in prison, people (mostly his brother Mathieu and a high-ranking officer called Picquart) thought he was innocent. They proved that another soldier, Major Esterhazy, was guilty. But the army did not want to admit that it had been wrong. They refused to free him. Finally, the evidence that Dreyfus was innocent became so strong that the government had to demand a new trial. But at the new trial, the army again found him guilty. But the President of France, who did not want an innocent man to suffer any more, pardoned Dreyfus in 1899.

Dreyfus was released. Seven years later, he was officially declared innocent, and allowed back into the army.

The affair divided France into people who thought Dreyfus really was a spy and people who thought he was innocent. Many of those who thought Dreyfus was a spy hated Jews and believed that he was a criminal because he was a Jew, and that a Jew could not be a good Frenchman; this belief is called anti-Semitism. Others thought that the army could not be questioned. The other side believed that an innocent man should not be imprisoned, and feared that Dreyfus's enemies were also enemies of the republic.


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