2. ORGANIZING DREYFUS' DEFENSE
The career of a man who seemed to be headed for the top had come to a dramatic end. Alfred Dreyfus, born in Mulhouse, Alsace, eastern France, in 1859, left the area in which his family had lived for generations when the Germans invaded Alsace in 1871, and went to live with his older sister in the southern town of Carpentras. After studying first in Grenoble, then in Paris, at 18 he gained a place at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique, and by twenty-one he was a second lieutenant. After studying at the Fontainebleau School of Artillery, he became a captain at 29 and was admitted to the Bourges Explosives School. By thirty, he had decided to apply for the highly competitive Military Academy. During his two years of studies, his reports were excellent. He graduated ninth out of the entire Academy in 1892, despite the hostility of General Bonnefond. His performance during further training at the General Staff headquarters promised a brilliant future.
General de Boisdeffre, Chief of Staff, had singled him out. He was happily married to a rich diamond merchant's daughter, Lucie Hadamard, and they had two children.
Dreyfus' family was shattered by his departure for the other side of the world. His brother Mathieu decided to spearhead an operation to identify the real guilty parties, gaining the help of a young writer, and family friend, Bernard Lazare. Lazare was initially contacted by Dreyfus' brother-in-law, Joseph Valabregue, a Carpentras businessman, who introduced him to Mathieu Dreyfus, Alfred's brother - who in turn convinced him of the miscarriage of justice.
Born in Nimes in 1865 to a family originally from Alsace, Lazare was a well-known literary critic. A convinced anarchist, he had broken ties with his home community, believing that assimilation was the sine qua non for eliminating anti-Semitism:
"How are the Jews to avoid both avert anti-Semitism and the unspoken disapproval of those who are indifferent to the struggle? The only way to avoid it is to disappear, to merge and go with the flow of the nation."
At the beginning of 1894, he had published a study on anti-Semitism which was well received by Drumont, the anti-Semitic editor of the Libre Parole, where he argued that,
"the general causes of anti-Semitism have always been found in the Jews and not in those who were against the Jews."
Nevertheless, as an optimist, he concluded on the following note:
"in any case, anti-Semitism appears to me to be destined to vanish, and it will vanish for all the reasons that I have given: because the Jew is changing, because religious, political, social and economic conditions are changing, but it will vanish above all because it is one of the last, tenacious signs of the old reactionary and ultraconservative spirit which is trying, in a hopeless rearguard action, to stem the revolutionary tide."
In an article published several weeks after Dreyfus' arrest, Bernard Lazare was the only figure to identify the new danger threatening the Jews:
"The Israelites are no longer shut away in ghettos, chains are no longer stretched across the end of the streets in which they live, but a hostile atmosphere is created around them, an atmosphere of mistrust, of latent hatred, of unacknowledged and therefore even more powerful prejudices, a ghetto which is terrible in a different way than the ghetto which could be escaped by rebellion or exile. This animosity is disguised commonly; and yet the intelligent Jew perceives it. He feels a resistance before him, he has the impression of a wall which his adversaries have erected between him and those in whose midst he lives."
It was at this point that Bernard Lazare threw himself into the Dreyfus Affair with such vigour that it should perhaps be known as the "Lazare Affair".
At the outset, the two men ran into stony silence and opposition. Paris Jewish circles, fearful of triggering anti-Semitic incidents, were loath to help them. The financial world refused to become involved. The press, as if obeying the same watchword, published nothing on the Affair. But the two persisted. Many of the literary or political figures to whom Lazare sent his work did not even take the trouble to read it; and those who did and were convinced by it - such as Senate Vice-President Scheurer-Kestner - had no patience for Lazare's anarchist leanings and tried to steer clear of the incipient proDreyfus movement.
In the summer of 1895, Lazare completed a detailed brochure proving that Dreyfus was innocent and exposing the various procedural irregularities at his trial, but held off publication at Mathieu's request. Not until the autumn of 1896 was he able to publish his work in Brussels, under the title: "A Miscarriage of Justice - The truth about the Dreyfus Affair", where Lazare refers plainly to the antiSemitic background to the Affair:
"Have I not said that Dreyfus belonged to a pariah class? He was a soldier, but he was Jewish, and it is above all as a Jew that he has been persecuted. It is because he was Jewish that he was arrested, it is because he was Jewish that he was found sentenced, it was because he was Jewish that the voice of justice and truth cannot be raised in his defence, and the responsibility for the sentence passed on this innocent man sits squarely on the shoulders of those who brought it about by their unworthy incitement, their lies and their slanders."