Jan Meisels Allen
French President Emmanuel Macron, third from right, visits the Dreyfus Museum in Médan near Paris, on Oct. 26, 2021.
(Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images)
The Dreyfus Affair was a scandal that divided France from 1894 to 1906—it came to symbolize modern injustice in France. Now there is a museum devoted to it. The Museum is located in the suburb, Médan, featuring at least 500 documents including photographs, court papers and personal objects from the 8-year ordeal that ended in 1906 with Dreyfus’ exoneration from trumped-up espionage charges and convictions.
The Dreyfus Museum is part of the Zola House, a cultural institution devoted to preserving the memory of Émile Zola, the renowned French writer who, though not Jewish himself, had a key role in leading opposition and protests against the injustice done to Dreyfus. Zola had lived in the building where the institution named for him is housed. T
As summarized in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreyfus_affair)
“The scandal began in December 1894 when Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason. Dreyfus was a 35-year-old Alsatian French artillery officer of Jewish descent. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, and was imprisoned in Devil's Island in French Guiana, where he spent nearly five years.
In 1896, evidence came to light—primarily through an investigation instigated by Georges Picquart, head of counter-espionage — which identified the real culprit as a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. When high-ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence, a military court unanimously acquitted Esterhazy after a trial lasting only two days. The Army laid additional charges against Dreyfus, based on forged documents. Subsequently, Émile Zola's open letter J'Accuse…! stoked a growing movement of support for Dreyfus, putting pressure on the government to reopen the case.
In 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army. He served during the whole of World War I, ending his service with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He died in 1935.
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Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee