June 3, 1899 in Rennes, a former captain of the French army is about to be tried a second time for acts of treason ... France sinks into the throes of the Dreyfus Affair. It all started on October 15, 1894, when the artillery captain Alfred Dreyfus, of Alsatian and Jewish origin, was arrested at the Ministry of War. Military authorities accuse him of transmitting military secrets to the German embassy. They are based on writings (the famous bordereau) which a graphological study would have concluded that they were in the hand of Dreyfus. Back on a miscarriage of justice which made the republic tremble.
The Dreyfus Affair: from degradation to prison hell
Walking past the council of war in December 1894, following a long investigation opened by General Mercier, Minister of War, Alfred Dreyfus is condemned to degradation and deportation in Guyane. Despite the weakness of the elements used by the prosecution (especially the graphological analyzes) the captain paid the price for a revengeful and anti-Semitic political atmosphere which perfectly illustrates the reactions of the Parisian crowd during its degradation: "Down with the traitor, down with the Jew!" ".
Deported off Guyana, kept in secret, Dreyfus is going to know the hell of the prison, his health declining rapidly. His case will come back to the fore following the discoveries of the new head of the Intelligence Services, Lieutenant Colonel Picquart. At the beginning of 1896, the latter intercepted a document produced by a certain Commander Esterhazy, which we know in connection with the German embassy and whose writing is identical to that of the slip.
Picquart relaunches the Dreyfus affair
Discarded by the General Staff to whom he shared his discoveries, Picquart who should have kept silent on these ends up revealing the truth to Auguste Scheurer-Kestner, Alsatian politician and close to Clemenceau. After initial reluctance, Scheurer-Kestner defended Dreyfus with the authorities.
At the end of 1897 it was Esterházy's turn to be tried after the filing of a complaint by the older brother, Mathieu Dreyfus. Despite the accumulation of evidence against him, Commander Esterhazy was acquitted in January 1898... this decision, applauded by nationalist circles, is fiercely contested by those who are beginning to be called " Dreyfusards ". The "Dreyfusards" have the writer and journalist as their spokesperson Emile Zola who in his article "Jaccuse" (published in the newspaper l'Aurore) of January 13, 1898 appealed to the President of the Republic Faure and denounced the injustice done to Dreyfus.
Emile Zola: I accuse ...!
The eye-catching article was a best-seller and sold 300,000 copies in a matter of hours. As Charles Péguy wrote, "The shock was so extraordinary that Paris almost turned around". The Dreyfus Affair then becomes an object of public debate everywhere in France and unleashes fratricidal passions. The country is agitated by anti-Semitic riots (especially in Algiers), the Third Republic seems to waver for a time.
Faced with this agitation, the authorities overturn the first judgment de Dreyfus and the captain returns to France for his second trial. Once again the justice will show a rare bias in sentencing the accused, this time to ten years in prison, supposedly benefiting from extenuating circumstances. On September 19, 1899, 10 days after the verdict was handed down, President Loubet graces Dreyfus, a way to finally do justice while not losing face.
The annulment of the judgment and the rehabilitation of Alfred Dreyfus
The case will only know its legal outcome in 1906, when the Court of Cassation quashed the judgment of the Rennes War Council, recognizing that Dreyfus' sentence had been pronounced "wrongly".
The real leaders, including Esterházy, exiled in the United Kingdom, will never be condemned. Dreyfus reinstated in the army, served his country during World War I and reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Alfred Dreyfus died in 1935, and it was a time considered to transfer his ashes to the Pantheon alongside the brilliant herald of his cause: Emile Zola ...
Bibliography on the Dreyfus Affair
- The Dreyfus affair of Eric Cahm. Reference pocket, 1994.
- The Dreyfus Affair, by Michael Winok. Points History 1998.
- The Dreyfus affair: chronology (BNF)
- The summary of the case on the website of the Ministry of Justice