Dreyfus Alfred (1859-1935)

French artillery officer

Captain Alfred Dreyfus of the French Army was convicted of treason before a crowd hurling anti-Semitic epithets and on January 5, 1895 publicly demoted and exiled for life to Devil's Island off the coast of South America.

Dreyfus, the son of a wealthy, assimilated Jewish family, had joined the army as an engineer, and became the only Jew on the general staff. In the fall of 1894, French intelligence discovered a secret military document sent by a French officer to the military attach‰ of the German embassy in Paris. Evidence pointed to Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, a Hungarian with German connections, as the traitor, but the French military establishment, in particular Major H. J. Henry of the intelligence service, found this impossible to believe. Dreyfus, as a Jew, was a suitable scapegoat, and he found himself charged with treason. After a secret court-martial, he was convicted on insufficient evidence, demoted and exiled.

Dreyfus' family persisted in fighting the verdict. The new head of French intelligence, Lt. Col. Georges Picquart, had sensed something suspicious in the trial, and new evidence made it clear that Esterhazy was a German agent. But Major Henry forged documents to show that the court martial verdict was correct, and Picquart was dismissed from his position and assigned to duty in Africa.

Before leaving Paris, he told his side of the case to friends, and the left-wing Senator August Scheurer- Kestner took up the cause, announcing in the Senate that Dreyfus was innocent, and openly accusing Esterhazy. But the right-wing government refused to listen to the new evidence. Esterhazy was tried and acquitted and Picquart sentenced to 60 days in prison.

The case came to a head on January 13, 1898, when novelist Emile Zola published his famous J'Accuse letter on the front page of the newspaper L 'Aurore. Zola, not known as a friend of the Jews, accused the denouncers of Dreyfus of malicious libel. The article made a powerful impression: 200,000 copies were sold in Paris. In February, Zola himself was found guilty of libel.

The public outcry continued, and a second trial was finally held in 1899. The verdict was again treason, but the sentence reduced to ten years because of "extenuating circumstances." Dreyfus agreed not to appeal, and was eventually pardoned by the president of the republic. In 1904, with a leftist government in power, Dreyfus demanded a fresh investigation, and in 1906 the court of appeal pronounced his complete innocence. Dreyfus was reinstated as a major, re-enlisted in World War I, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

 

See also: Dreyfusgate - the Dreyfus Affair

Captain Alfred Dreyfus of the French Army was convicted of treason before a crowd hurling anti-Semitic epithets and on January 5, 1895 publicly demoted and exiled for life to Devil's Island off the coast of South America.

Dreyfus, the son of a wealthy, assimilated Jewish family, had joined the army as an engineer, and became the only Jew on the general staff. In the fall of 1894, French intelligence discovered a secret military document sent by a French officer to the military attach‰ of the German embassy in Paris. Evidence pointed to Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, a Hungarian with German connections, as the traitor, but the French military establishment, in particular Major H. J. Henry of the intelligence service, found this impossible to believe. Dreyfus, as a Jew, was a suitable scapegoat, and he found himself charged with treason. After a secret court-martial, he was convicted on insufficient evidence, demoted and exiled.

Dreyfus' family persisted in fighting the verdict. The new head of French intelligence, Lt. Col. Georges Picquart, had sensed something suspicious in the trial, and new evidence made it clear that Esterhazy was a German agent. But Major Henry forged documents to show that the court martial verdict was correct, and Picquart was dismissed from his position and assigned to duty in Africa.

Before leaving Paris, he told his side of the case to friends, and the left-wing Senator August Scheurer- Kestner took up the cause, announcing in the Senate that Dreyfus was innocent, and openly accusing Esterhazy. But the right-wing government refused to listen to the new evidence. Esterhazy was tried and acquitted and Picquart sentenced to 60 days in prison.

The case came to a head on January 13, 1898, when novelist Emile Zola published his famous J'Accuse letter on the front page of the newspaper L 'Aurore. Zola, not known as a friend of the Jews, accused the denouncers of Dreyfus of malicious libel. The article made a powerful impression: 200,000 copies were sold in Paris. In February, Zola himself was found guilty of libel.

The public outcry continued, and a second trial was finally held in 1899. The verdict was again treason, but the sentence reduced to ten years because of "extenuating circumstances." Dreyfus agreed not to appeal, and was eventually pardoned by the president of the republic. In 1904, with a leftist government in power, Dreyfus demanded a fresh investigation, and in 1906 the court of appeal pronounced his complete innocence. Dreyfus was reinstated as a major, re-enlisted in World War I, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

 

See also: Dreyfusgate - the Dreyfus Affair

Entry taken from "Junior Judaica, Encyclopedia Judaica for Youth" CD-ROM

by C.D.I. Systems 1992 (LTD) and Keter.

 

 

 

 

 

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02 May 2005 / 23 Nisan 5765 0