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Alfred Dreyfus
Born (1859-10-09)9 October 1859
Died 12 July 1935(1935-07-12) (aged 75)
Place of birth Mulhouse, Alsace, France
Place of death Paris, France
Buried at Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris (48°50′17″N 2°19′37″E / 48.83806°N 2.32694°E / 48.83806; 2.32694Coordinates: 48°50′17″N 2°19′37″E / 48.83806°N 2.32694°E / 48.83806; 2.32694)
Allegiance France
Service/branch French Army
Years of service 1880–1918
Rank Lieutenant-colonel
Unit Artillery
Awards Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (1906)
Officier de la Légion d'honneur (1918)
Relations Raphael Dreyfus (father)
Jeannette Libmann (mother)
Lucie Eugénie Hadamard (wife)
Pierre Dreyfus (son)
Jeanne Dreyfus (daughter)

Alfred Dreyfus (French pronunciation: ​[al.fʁɛd dʁɛ.fys] ; 9 October 1859 – 12 July 1935) was a French artillery officer of Jewish background whose trial and conviction in 1894 on charges of treason became one of the most tense political dramas in modern French and European history. Known today as the Dreyfus Affair, the incident eventually ended with Dreyfus' complete exoneration.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Born in Mulhouse (Mülhausen) in Alsace, Dreyfus was the youngest of nine children born to Raphael and Jeannette Dreyfus (née Libmann). Raphael Dreyfus was a prosperous, self-made, Jewish textile manufacturer who had started as a peddler. The family moved to Paris from Alsace after the Franco-Prussian War, when in 1871 Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by the German Empire. The Dreyfus family had long been established in that traditionally German-speaking area. Raphael spoke Yiddish and conducted business affairs in the German language; the first language of most of Alfred's elder brothers and sisters was German or one of the Alsatian dialects. Alfred and his brother were the only children to receive a fully French education.[1]

In 1880, Dreyfus graduated as a sub-lieutenant from the elite École Polytechnique military school in Paris, where he received military training and an education in the sciences. His entry into the military was influenced by his experience of seeing Prussian troops enter his hometown in 1871 when he was eleven years old. From 1880 to 1882, he attended the artillery school at Fontainebleau to receive more specialized training as an artillery officer. On graduation he was attached to the first division of the 32nd Cavalry Regiment and promoted to lieutenant in 1885. In 1889, he was made adjutant to the director of the Établissement de Bourges, a government arsenal, and promoted to captain.

On 18 April 1891, Dreyfus married Lucie Eugénie Hadamard (1870–1945). They had two children, Pierre (1891–1946) and Jeanne (1893–1981).[2] Three days after the wedding, Dreyfus received notice that he had been admitted to the École Supérieure de Guerre or War College. Two years later, in 1893, he graduated ninth in his class with honorable mention and was immediately designated as a trainee in the French Army's General Staff headquarters, where he would be the only Jewish officer. His father Raphaël died on 13 December 1893.

At the War College examination in 1892, his friends had expected him to do well. However, one of the members of the panel, General Bonnefond, felt that "Jews were not desired" on the staff, and gave Dreyfus poor marks for cote d'armour (translatable as team spirit). Bonnefond's assessment lowered Dreyfus' overall grade; he did the same to another Jewish candidate, Lieutenant Picard. Learning of this injustice, the two officers lodged a protest with the director of the school, General Lebelin de Dionne, who expressed his regret for what had occurred, but said he was powerless to take any steps in the matter. The protest would later count against Dreyfus. The French army of the period was relatively open to entry and advancement by talent with an estimated 300 Jewish officers, of whom ten were generals.[3] However within the Fourth Bureau of the General Staff General Bonnefond's prejudices appear to have been shared by some of the new trainee's superiors, The personal assessments received by Dreyfus during 1893/94 acknowledged his high intelligence but were critical of aspects of his personality.[4]

The Dreyfus affair[edit | edit source]

Dreyfus caricatured by Guth for Vanity Fair, 1899

In 1894, the French Army's counter-intelligence section, led by Lt. Colonel Sandherr, became aware that new artillery information was being passed to the Germans by a highly placed spy most likely to be in the General Staff. Suspicion quickly fell upon Dreyfus who was arrested for treason on 15 October 1894. On 5 January 1895, Dreyfus was summarily convicted in a secret court martial, publicly stripped of his army rank, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island in French Guiana.

In August 1896, the new chief of French military intelligence, Lt Colonel Picquart, reported to his superiors that he had found evidence to the effect that the real traitor was a Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Picquart was silenced by being transferred to the southern desert of Tunisia in November 1896. When reports of an army cover-up and Dreyfus' possible innocence were leaked to the press, a heated debate ensued about anti-Semitism, and France's identity as a Catholic nation and a republic founded on equal rights for all citizens. Esterhazy was found not guilty by a secret court martial, before fleeing France. On 19 September 1899, following a passionate campaign by his supporters, including leading artists and intellectuals like Émile Zola,[5] Dreyfus was pardoned by President Émile Loubet in 1899 and released from prison. He had been subjected to a second trial in that year and again declared guilty of treason despite the evidence in favor of his innocence. Dreyfus, however, officially remained a traitor in a French court of law and pointedly remarked upon his release:

"The government of the Republic has given me back my freedom. It is nothing for me without my honor."[2]

During that time, he lived with one of his sisters at Carpentras, and later at Cologny.

On 12 July 1906, Dreyfus was officially exonerated by a military commission. The day after his exoneration, he was readmitted into the army with a promotion to the rank of Major ("Chef d'Escadron"). A week later, he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour,[6] and subsequently assigned to command an artillery unit at Vincennes. On 15 October 1906, he was placed in command of another artillery unit at Saint-Denis.

Dreyfus was present at the ceremony removing Zola's ashes to the Panthéon in 1908, when he was wounded in the arm by a gunshot from Louis Gregori, a disgruntled journalist, in an assassination attempt.

Later life[edit | edit source]

The Dreyfus Family, taken in 1905.

A 75-year-old Alfred Dreyfus, ca. 1934.

World War I[edit | edit source]

Dreyfus's time in prison, notably at Devil's Island, had been hard on his health, and he was granted early retirement in October 1907. As a reserve officer, he re-entered the army, as a Major of Artillery, at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Serving throughout the war, Dreyfus rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. By now middle-aged, Dreyfus served mostly behind the lines of the Western Front, in part as commander of an artillery supply column. However, he also performed front line duties in 1917, notably at Verdun and on the Chemin des Dames. Finally, Dreyfus was promoted to the rank of Officier de la Légion d'honneur in November 1918.[7] Dreyfus's son, Pierre, also served throughout the entire war as an artillery officer, receiving the Croix de Guerre for his services.

Death[edit | edit source]

Dreyfus died in Paris aged 75, on 12 July 1935, 29 years to the day after his official exoneration. Two days later, his funeral cortège passed the Place de la Concorde through the ranks of troops assembled for the Bastille Day National Holiday (14 July 1935). He was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris. The inscription on his tombstone is in Hebrew and French. It reads (translated to English):

Here Lies
Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Dreyfus
Officer of the Legion of Honour
9 October 1859 – 12 July 1935

Today, a copy of the statue of Dreyfus holding his broken sword stands at the entrance to the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris. The original can be found at Boulevard Raspail, n°116–118, at the exit of the Notre-Dame-des-Champs metro station.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. BBC Radio 4, 8 October 2009,In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg; Robert Gildea, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University; Ruth Harris, Lecturer in Modern History at Oxford University; Robert Tombs, Professor of French History at Cambridge University.
  2. 2.0 2.1 YuMuseum
  3. Paul Read, Piers. The Dreyfus Affair. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-4088-3057-4. 
  4. Paul Read, Piers. The Dreyfus Affair. p. 84. ISBN 978-1-4088-3057-4. 
  5. "Summary of Emile Zola's J'Accuse, and its Repercussions. Dreyfus Letter to Zola's Widow, 1910". SMF Primary Sources. Shapell Manuscript Foundation. http://www.shapell.org/manuscript.aspx?alfred-dreyfus-commemorates-emile-zola-1910. 
  6. Minutes of the induction of Dreyfus into the Legion of Honor, French Ministry of Culture and Communication [1]
  7. Alfred Dreyfus: Chronology, French Ministry of Culture and Communication [2]
  8. Brozan, Nadine. Chronicle. New York Times. 20 November 1991.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Lettres d'un innocent (Letters from an innocent man) (1898)
  • Les lettres du capitaine Dreyfus à sa femme (Letters from capitaine Dreyfus to his wife) (1899), written at Devil's Island
  • Cinq ans de ma vie (5 years of my life) (1901)
  • Souvenirs et correspondence, posthumously in 1936
  • Burns, Michael Dreyfus: a family affair 1789–1945 (1991), Harpercollins. ISBN 978-0-06-016366-2.

External links[edit | edit source]

  • Dreyfus Rehabilitated
  • Wikisource "Wikisource:1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dreyfus, Alfred" Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) 1911 
  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Dreyfus, Alfred". New International Encyclopedia. 1905. 

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