The Dryfus Case - Lest We Forget


The Dryfus Case - Lest We Forget


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Lest We Forget Alfred Dryfus

     The name Alfred Dryfus today just does not evict the same emotive response that it did in years gone by. Dryfus was a saga in anti-semitism in an enlightened society, that brought shame and scandal to a culturally advanced and educated country during the turn of the nineteenth century.

      Alfred Dryfus was a Frenchman, born of Jewish French parents in 1859. They were wealthy and lived in Paris. Alfred studied engineering and following graduation entered the army as an engineer. He rose to the level of captain. Jews in the upper echelon were a rarity in the French Army.

      In the fall of 1894, the French intelligence service intercepted a secret document which was sent to the German attache' in Paris. The French intelligence service determined by comparing the handwriting concluded that the document was written by Alfred Dryfus. Dryfus was quickly arrested and court-martialed. Many parts of the trial were contrary to proper legal proceedings and testimony was admitted with out proper examination.

      On January 5, 1895, Dryfus was found guilty of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. Dryfus continued to protest his innocence. He was exiled to Devil's Island to serve his sentence. In France anti-Jewish feelings were incited by the newspapers and bitter feelings ran rampant.

      Dryfus's brother, who believed in his brother's innocence, began a campaign to reverse the verdict and prove Alfred Dryfus's innocence. He published pamphlets exhuming the miscarriage of justice and calling for a re-investigation. Soon the French intelligence services became headed by a new commander, Lt. Col. Picquart. The new head of the intelligence services felt that something was suspicious and ordered a re-investigation. During this time the French intelligence services intercepted another letter from the German attache to a French major of Hungarian origin by the name of Esterhazy, which clearly indicated that Esterhazy was a German agent. The French intelligence chief realized that the incriminating document that convicted Dryfus was in fact written by Esterhazy. When Picquart tried to prove the innocence of Dryfus, the former intelligence chief, Major Henry, brought forged documents to prove the validity of the court martial. Picquart was dismissed from his post and given a different job in Africa.

      However the left wing opposition party took up the plight of Dryfus. In the French parliament, cries were heard demanding a public re-trial for Dryfus and condemning Esterhazy. As the French prime minister tried to ignore the increasing calls for a proper re-trial, Esterhazy was tried and acquitted. Picquart was sentence to 60 days imprisonment At this point, Emile Zola, the world famous writer, wrote an article to the President of the French Republic accusing the government of malicious libel. The article was published on the front page of L'Aurore, a popular newspaper under the caption "J'accuse!".

      The article made a tremendous impression upon the French public. Zola himself was found guilty of libel. Army officers threatened to resign if Dryfus was acquitted. Anti Jewish rioting broke out in various areas of France. It became the popular public topic. Families and friends split in dissension over it.

      Finally, in 1898, the new war minister, Cavaignac, decided to re-open the case. The suspected forgeries by the former intelligence chief, Henry were upheld as forgeries. Henry committed suicide. Public opinion swung in the favor of Dryfus. The government decided on a re-trial for Dryfus.

      The second court martial trial took place in 1899. All of the officers that had presented evidence against Dryfus maintained their original testimony. Based on this, the court found Dryfus guilty of treason, but reduced his sentence from life to ten years, five of which had passed. The anti-Jewish groups regarded this as a victory and justified their anti-Jewish tributes. The French president eventually gave Dryfus a pardon.

      In 1904, the leftists took power. The new government was persuaded to reopen the case. The court of appeals examined all the evidence and declared that the evidence against him was unsubstantiated. No new trial was necessary. Dryfus was exonerated. Dryfus as a person was re-instated, but Dryfus as an issue in miscarry of justice by anti-semites burned strongly for many decades to come.

      Many assimilated Jews became aware of their national identity and fragility amongst the nations. One such person who was shocked by the degree of miscarriage of justice, was a young reporter by the name of Theodore Hertzel. The loss of respect in his eyes for the seemly lawful and honorable society, became the birth pangs of modern Zionism.




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