Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish army captain during the Third Republic in France. He was accused and convicted of treason for allegedly selling army secrets to the Germans. A French document, known as a bordereau, was sent to German military officials. There was evidence found that could prove Dreyfus’s innocence, but based on a fabricated handwriting analysis and the bias of anti-Semitism, Dreyfus was arrested for this crime. The political crisis came over whether or not you believed Dreyfus. Those who did not side with Dreyfus were said to be anti-Semitic. Basing their opinions solely on the fact that Dreyfus was Jewish, not basing it on evidence. La Libre Parole is an example of a newspaper that covered the publicity of the affair early on and this paper was run and edited by known anti-Semitics. Dreyfus became a symbol in France demonstrating how disloyal French Jews really were.
Clearly, from the very beginning, Dreyfus was treated unfairly. When it came time for the trial, documents were forged, and some were kept hidden from his attorney. The Ministry of War held a secret trial where false testimonies were made, and hidden files were shown. Due to all of this, Dreyfus was found guilty. To make matters even worse, Dreyfus was dishonored in 1895 in a huge act of public humiliation. His stripes were torn, and his sword was broken in front of a large crowd. All the while he was shouting his innocence to the masses.
Dreyfus was then sent to Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana in South America. For a long time, very few advocated for Dreyfus to be liberated, in fact those who were against this were dubbed “anti-Dreyfusards” and those who wanted him free were called Dreyfusards. The Dreyfus family pressed for the case to be reopened due to lack of evidence. It was not until 1898 and 1899 that the Dreyfusards gained enough strength to make any sort of difference in the case. Radical left-wing coalitions formed, and the political crisis continued.
But how was Dreyfus finally proven innocent? French Intelligent Services got a new head during Dreyfus’s imprisonment, Lieutenant Picquart. Picquart never believed that he was guilty and sought the truth. Evidence surfaced that someone else in the French army was in fact guilty of writing the bordereau and pushed to have the truth revealed. Picquart was eventually forced to resign, but not before novelist Emile Zola also started trying to expose the truth with his article “J’accuse.” All this activity reached the French Senate and eventually led to Dreyfus being formally exonerated in 1906. He was admitted back into the army, promoted to Major, served in World War l and promoted again to Lieutenant Colonel. However, it was not until 1995, over 100 years later, that Alfred Dreyfus was publicly declared innocent to the country.
The statue of Dreyfus is rightfully placed in the courtyard of the Jewish Art and History Museum in the Marais in Paris. The Marais is Paris’s Jewish Quarter, with most Jewish owned shops, restaurants and businesses being in this neighborhood. The museum focuses on the Jewish history in France. The Dreyfus affair creating such political turmoil and unrest marked a monumental period of change in the country. Alfred Dreyfus remains a historical Jewish icon today and a mark of the injustice Jews in France have faced.