In Search of History TV - Historical Novel Society online
On a wintry morning in January 1895 a French army captain was stripped of his rank. A crowd of thousands chanted, ‘Death to the Traitor!’ His crime – high treason: selling military secrets to the enemy. But Alfred Dreyfus was an innocent man. He was a victim of a country rife with anti-Semitism and an army rife with corruption. In Search of History s1e25: The Infamous Dreyfus Affair, History 1997
Dreyfus was dragged to prison. He protested violently; he screamed of his innocence. ibid.
Dreyfus arrived at his new home [Devil’s Island] on April 14th 1895. He lived in a single-room square hut. ibid.
‘I read, work, dream and most of all suffer.’ ibid. Dreyfus
Emila Zola: ‘J’accuse … An abominable campaign designed to mislead public opinion and conceal their wrong-doing.’ ibid.
The French High Court annulled the verdict and ordered Dreyfus to stand trial again … Incredibly, Dreyfus was found guilty a second time. ibid.
This notorious case has undergone numerous academic and popular study, following the centenary of Alfred Dreyfus’ rehabilitation in 1906. The subtitle of Read’s book is borne out by his detailed reconstruction of how officers and commanders deliberately ignored or, worse, fabricated evidence.
This cause célèbre started with a scrap of a letter (or bordereau) containing French military details, found in a German embassy wastepaper-basket by a cleaning lady working for French Intelligence.
Brilliant, rich and, importantly, Alsatian, Dreyfus had risen quickly through the army ranks but had attracted attention because of his Jewishness and introspectiveness. Graphologists analysed the bordereau to link it to Dreyfus, even without convincing evidence. Read cites anti-Semitism as a primary contributory factor towards Dreyfus’ arrest on 15 October 1894 and subsequent exiling on the notorious Devil’s Island, off the coast of French Guiana.
In spite of the Supreme Court’s declaration of Dreyfus’ innocence and his award of the Légion d’Honneur in 1906, the Affair cast a long shadow into the 1940s, when the anti-Dreyfusard Action Française was influential in France’s shameful treatment of Jews under the Vichy regime. Historical Novel Society online article, ‘The Dreyfus Affair: The Story of the Most Infamous Miscarriage of Justice in French History’