Alfred Dreyfus
Alfred Dreyfus was a French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 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
Dreyfus Affair
The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided France in the 1890s and the early 1900s. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent...

, the incident eventually ended with Dreyfus's complete exoneration.

Early life

Born in Mulhouse
Mulhouse |mill]] hamlet) is a city and commune in eastern France, close to the Swiss and German borders. With a population of 110,514 and 278,206 inhabitants in the metropolitan area in 2006, it is the largest city in the Haut-Rhin département, and the second largest in the Alsace region after...

 (Mülhausen) in Alsace
Alsace is the fifth-smallest of the 27 regions of France in land area , and the smallest in metropolitan France. It is also the seventh-most densely populated region in France and third most densely populated region in metropolitan France, with ca. 220 inhabitants per km²...

, Dreyfus was the youngest of nine children born to Raphael and Jeannette Dreyfus (née Libmann). Raphael Dreyfus was a prosperous, self-made, Jewish textile
A textile or cloth is a flexible woven material consisting of a network of natural or artificial fibres often referred to as thread or yarn. Yarn is produced by spinning raw fibres of wool, flax, cotton, or other material to produce long strands...

 manufacturer who had started as a peddler
A peddler, in British English pedlar, also known as a canvasser, cheapjack, monger, or solicitor , is a travelling vendor of goods. In England, the term was mostly used for travellers hawking goods in the countryside to small towns and villages; they might also be called tinkers or gypsies...

. The family moved to Paris from Alsace after the Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...

, when in 1871 Alsace-Lorraine
The Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine was a territory created by the German Empire in 1871 after it annexed most of Alsace and the Moselle region of Lorraine following its victory in the Franco-Prussian War. The Alsatian part lay in the Rhine Valley on the west bank of the Rhine River and east...

 was annexed by the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

. The Dreyfus family had long been established in the area that traditionally had been German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

-speaking, and 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
Alsatian language
Alsatian is a Low Alemannic German dialect spoken in most of Alsace, a region in eastern France which has passed between French and German control many times.-Language family:...

 dialects. Alfred and his brother were the only children to receive a fully French education.

In 1880, Dreyfus graduated as a sub-lieutenant from the elite École Polytechnique
École Polytechnique
The École Polytechnique is a state-run institution of higher education and research in Palaiseau, Essonne, France, near Paris. Polytechnique is renowned for its four year undergraduate/graduate Master's program...

 military school in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, where he received military training and an education in the sciences. His entry into the military was influenced by his experience of seeing Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n troops enter his hometown in 1871 when he was eleven years old. From 1880 to 1882, he attended the artillery school at Fontainebleau
Fontainebleau is a commune in the metropolitan area of Paris, France. It is located south-southeast of the centre of Paris. Fontainebleau is a sub-prefecture of the Seine-et-Marne department, and it is the seat of the arrondissement of Fontainebleau...

 to receive more specialized training as an artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 officer. On graduation he was attached to the first division of the 32nd Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 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). 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, lowering his 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 Dreyfus affair

In 1894, the French Army's counter-intelligence section, led by Lt. Col. 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
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 on October 15, 1894. On January 5, 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
Devil's Island
Devil's Island is the smallest and northernmost island of the three Îles du Salut located about 6 nautical miles off the coast of French Guiana . It has an area of 14 ha . It was a small part of the notorious French penal colony in French Guiana until 1952...

 in French Guiana
French Guiana
French Guiana is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department located on the northern Atlantic coast of South America. It has borders with two nations, Brazil to the east and south, and Suriname to the west...


In August 1896, the new chief of French military intelligence, Lt Colonel Picquart
Georges Picquart
Marie Georges Picquart , was a French army officer and Minister of War. He is best known for his role in the Dreyfus Affair.-Early career:...

, reported to his superiors that he had found evidence to the effect that the real traitor was a Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy
Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy
Charles Marie Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy was a commissioned officer in the French armed forces during the second half of the 19th century who has gained notoriety as a spy for the German Empire and the actual perpetrator of the act of treason for which Captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully accused...

. Picquart was silenced by being transferred to the southern desert of Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

 in November 1896. When reports of an army cover-up and Dreyfus's possible innocence were leaked to the press, a heated debate ensued about anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

, France's identity as a Catholic nation and a republic founded on equal rights for all citizens. On September 19, 1899, following a passionate campaign by his supporters, including leading artists and intellectuals like Émile Zola
Émile Zola
Émile François Zola was a French writer, the most important exemplar of the literary school of naturalism and an important contributor to the development of theatrical naturalism...

, Dreyfus was pardoned by President Émile Loubet
Émile Loubet
Émile François Loubet was a French politician and the 8th President of France.-Early life:He was born the son of a peasant proprietor and mayor of Marsanne . Admitted to the Parisian bar in 1862, he took his doctorate in law the next year...

 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."

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

On July 12, 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
Légion d'honneur
The Legion of Honour, or in full the National Order of the Legion of Honour is a French order established by Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of the Consulat which succeeded to the First Republic, on 19 May 1802...

, and subsequently assigned to command an artillery unit at Vincennes. On October 15, 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
Panthéon, Paris
The Panthéon is a building in the Latin Quarter in Paris. It was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve and to house the reliquary châsse containing her relics but, after many changes, now functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens...

 in 1908, when he was wounded in the arm by a gunshot from Louis Gregori, a disgruntled journalist, in an assassination attempt.

Later life

World War I

Dreyfus's time in prison, notably at Devil's Island, had been difficult 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
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 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
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

, in part as commander of an artillery supply column. However, he also performed front line duties in 1917, notably at Verdun
Verdun is a city in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Verdun is the biggest city in Meuse, although the capital of the department is the slightly smaller city of Bar-le-Duc.- History :...

 and on the Chemin des Dames
Chemin des Dames
In France, the Chemin des Dames is part of the D18 and runs east and west in the département of Aisne, between in the west, the Route Nationale 2, and in the east, the D1044 at Corbeny. It is some thirty kilometres long and runs along a ridge between the valleys of the rivers Aisne and Ailette...

. Finally, Dreyfus was promoted to the rank of Officier de la Légion d'honneur
Légion d'honneur
The Legion of Honour, or in full the National Order of the Legion of Honour is a French order established by Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of the Consulat which succeeded to the First Republic, on 19 May 1802...

 in November 1918. Dreyfus's son, Pierre, also served throughout the entire war as an artillery officer, receiving the Croix de Guerre
Croix de guerre
The Croix de guerre is a military decoration of France. It was first created in 1915 and consists of a square-cross medal on two crossed swords, hanging from a ribbon with various degree pins. The decoration was awarded during World War I, again in World War II, and in other conflicts...

 for his services.


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
Place de la Concorde
The Place de la Concorde in area, it is the largest square in the French capital. It is located in the city's eighth arrondissement, at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées.- History :...

 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
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme
The Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme is a French museum of Jewish art and history located in the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan at 71, rue du Temple in the Marais district in Paris. The museum is open daily except Saturday . An admission fee is charged...

 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

  • Florence Earle Coates
    Florence Earle Coates
    -Biography:She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Granddaughter of noted abolitionist and philanthropist Thomas Earle, and eldest daughter of Philadelphia lawyer George H. Earle, Sr. and Mrs. Frances Van Leer Earle, Mrs...

    , Philadelphia poet, wrote three poems about Dreyfus. Two poems were entitled "Dreyfus"—one published in 1898, and another in 1899—and a third, published in 1906, entitled "Le Grand Salut".
  • Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy
    Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy
    Charles Marie Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy was a commissioned officer in the French armed forces during the second half of the 19th century who has gained notoriety as a spy for the German Empire and the actual perpetrator of the act of treason for which Captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully accused...

    , the real traitor.
  • Gérard Louis-Dreyfus
    Gérard Louis-Dreyfus
    William Louis-Dreyfus is a French-born American businessman. With his family's net worth estimated at $2.9 billion by Forbes, he is one of the richest men in the world. He is the chairman of Louis Dreyfus Energy Services and the great grandson of Léopold Louis-Dreyfus, founder of Louis Dreyfus Group...

    , American
    United States
    The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

     businessman and distant relative.
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus
    Julia Louis-Dreyfus
    Julia Scarlett Elizabeth Louis-Dreyfus is an American actress and comedienne, widely known for her sitcom roles in Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine....

    , American
    United States
    The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

     actress and distant relative.
  • Richard Dreyfuss
    Richard Dreyfuss
    Richard Stephen Dreyfuss is an American actor best known for starring in a number of film, television, and theater roles since the late 1960s, including the films American Graffiti, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl, Whose Life Is It Anyway?, Stakeout, Always, What About...

    , American actor
  • Sylvan Goldman
    Sylvan Goldman
    Sylvan Nathan Goldman was an American businessman and inventor of the shopping cart, which had a pair of large wire baskets connected by tubular metal arms with four wheels. He introduced the device on June 4, 1937, in the Humpty Dumpty supermarket chain in Oklahoma City, of which he was the owner...

    , inventor of the shopping cart
    Shopping cart
    A shopping cart is a cart supplied by a shop, especially supermarkets, for use by customers inside the shop for transport of merchandise to the check-out counter during shopping...

     and distant relative.
  • Theodor Herzl
    Theodor Herzl
    Theodor Herzl , born Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl was an Ashkenazi Jew Austro-Hungarian journalist and the father of modern political Zionism and in effect the State of Israel.-Early life:...

    , Austria
    Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

    n journalist who began the Zionist movement after seeing the antisemitism present in Dreyfus' trial.
  • Gaston Moch
    Gaston Moch
    Gaston Moch was the secretary of the Esperantist Centra Oficejo and a member of the Lingva Komitato.Moch was born in Saint-Cyr-l'École, Yvelines. He was the Son of French Jewish Military officer, Col. Jules Moch, co-founder of "The Club Millitare" during the time when French Jews were entering the...

    , a defense supporter of Dreyfus
  • Charles Péguy
    Charles Péguy
    Charles Péguy was a noted French poet, essayist, and editor. His two main philosophies were socialism and nationalism, but by 1908 at the latest, after years of uneasy agnosticism, he had become a devout but non-practicing Roman Catholic.From that time, Catholicism strongly influenced his...

    , who wrote a defense of Dreyfus.
  • Émile Zola
    Émile Zola
    Émile François Zola was a French writer, the most important exemplar of the literary school of naturalism and an important contributor to the development of theatrical naturalism...

    , the author of the pamphlet J'Accuse
    is an open letter by Émile Zola concerning the Dreyfus affair. may also refer to:* J'accuse , a 1919 French silent film, set during World War I, directed by Abel Gance...

  • George Whyte
    George Whyte
    George R. Whyte is an author, composer, and dramatist. Universities of London and Paris. Musical formation: piano: Paul Lichtenstern composition: Francesco Ticciati...

    , large body of literary and stage works on Dreyfus and the Dreyfus Affair.

External links

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