The Jews of France

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"These, Sir, are the facts that explain how this miscarriage of justice came about; The evidence of Dreyfus's character, his affluence, the lack of motive and his continued affirmation of innocence combine to show that he is the victim of the lurid imagination of Major du Paty de Clam, the religious circles surrounding him, and the 'dirty Jew' obsession that is the scourge of our time."  -- Émile Zola strongly defends Alfred Dreyfus and all of justice.

The Dreyfus Affair was a political scandal which divided France from the 1890s to the early 1900s. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Jewish background who was in advanced training with the Army's General Staff. Alfred Dreyfus was sentenced to life imprisonment, which he began to serve in solitary confinement on Devil's Island in French Guiana.

Two years later, in 1896, the real culprit was brought to light and identified: a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. However, French high-level military officials dismissed or ignored this new evidence which exonerated Dreyfus. Thus, in January 1898, military judges unanimously acquitted Esterhazy on the second day of his trial. Worse, French military counter-intelligence officers fabricated false documents designed to secure Dreyfus' conviction as a spy for Germany. They were all eventually exposed, in large part due to a resounding public intervention by writer Emile Zola in January 1898. The case had to be re-opened, and 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) and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards).

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.*2

Read about a Yiddish theatrical production of "The Jewish Captain Dreyfus on Devil's Island," as performed at the Windsor Theatre in New York City in 1898, by clicking here.

Captain Alfred Dreyfus
Paris, France

Emile Zola
Paris, France
    date unknown


Front page cover of the newspaper L'Aurore of Thursday 13 January 1898, with the letter J’accuse...!, written by Emile Zola about the Dreyfus affair. The headline reads "I accuse! Letter to the President
of the Republic."

*1 -- From the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.  *2 -- From Wikipedia.





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