Birthday: October 9, 1859
Died At Age: 75
Sun Sign: Libra
Born Country: France
Born in: Mulhouse, France
Famous as: Artillery Officer
Spouse/Ex-: Lucie Dreyfus (m. 1891)
father: Raphael Dreyfus
mother: Jeannette Libmann
siblings: Berthe Dreyfus, Ernestine Dreyfus, Henriette Dreyfus Valabrègue, Jacques Dreyfus, Léon Dreyfus, Louise Dreyfus, Mathieu Dreyfus, Rachel Schil
Died on: July 12, 1935
place of death: Paris
Cause of Death: Heart Attack
education: École Polytechnique, Q13495752
awards: Croix de guerre 1914–1918
Officer of the Legion of Honour
Knight of the Legion of Honour
Who was Alfred Dreyfus?
Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish origin French artillery officer who was at the center of the a 12-year-long controversy, known as the 'Dreyfus Affair', during which he was put to trial for treason in 1894 and was imprisoned on Devil's Island in French Guiana after his conviction. It created a huge controversy once it was revealed that the trial was not impartial and that the army, instead of rectifying their error, tried to hush up information proving his innocence. Because he was the only high-ranking Jew in the French army, the wrongful accusations against him and his imprisonment rekindled debates about anti-Semitism that saw support from intellectuals from various fields. He was later pardoned, and eventually exonerated, and was re-admitted into the army, following which he served in World War I at Verdun and on the Chemin des Dames.
Childhood & Early Life
Alfred Dreyfus was born on October 9, 1859, in Mulhouse, Alsace, as the youngest of nine children of Raphaël Dreyfus, a prosperous, self-made Jewish textile manufacturer, and his wife Jeannette. In 1870, when he was 10 years old, his family moved to Paris after Germany annexed Alsace-Lorraine following its win in the Franco-Prussian War.
His childhood experience of the war with Germany inspired him to follow a military career, and he enrolled in the elite École Polytechnique military school in Paris in October 1877, at the age of 18. He received military training, as well as science education before his graduation in 1880, and was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in the French army.
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Alfred Dreyfus decided to receive more specialized training as an artillery officer and further attended the artillery school at Fontainebleau in 1880-82. Following graduation, he was initially assigned to the Thirty-first Artillery Regiment garrisoned at Le Mans.
He was later transferred to a mounted artillery battery attached to the First Cavalry Division (Paris) and was promoted to lieutenant in 1885. In 1889, he was made adjutant to the director of the Établissement de Bourges, a government arsenal, before being promoted to captain.
In April 1891, three days after his marriage, he was admitted to the École Supérieure de Guerre or War College, from where he graduated ninth in his class two years later, with honorable mention. Soon after, he was sent as a trainee in the French Army's General Staff headquarters, where he was the only Jewish officer.
While he was expected to do well at the War College examination in 1892, due to his Jewish background, one member of the panel, General Bonnefond, gave him poor marks, lowering his overall grade. He protested in vain with another Jewish victim, Lieutenant Picard, for which he was criticized in his personal assessments during 1893-94, which otherwise praised him for his intelligence.
The Dreyfus Affair
In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, the only Jew in the French army high command, was immediately held responsible after counter-intelligence section learned that a high-ranking spy was leaking information regarding new artillery parts to Germany. He was arrested for treason on October 15, 1894, and on January 5, 1895, following a secret court martial, was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island in French Guiana.
Following French military custom, he was formally degraded by having the rank insignia, buttons and braid cut from his uniform and his sword broken in front of the public at the École Militaire courtyard. Amidst angry shouts like 'Death to Jews' from the people, he continued to assert his innocence, crying out that he remained worthy of serving in the army.
In August 1896, fresh evidence was uncovered by newly appointed chief of military intelligence Lieutenant Colonel Georges Picquart that the real traitor was the Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. However, his report was hushed up, and he was silenced by being transferred to the southern desert of Tunisia in November 1896.
The fact that the army tried to cover up Dreyfus's possible innocence was eventually leaked to the press, creating a debate about anti-Semitism and equal rights for all citizens in France. While Esterhazy was cleared in a secret court martial and fled to England, Dreyfus found support particularly from the intellectuals, such as Émile Zola, who published an open letter to President Félix Faure in 1898.
Alfred Dreyfus’ supporters ran a successful campaign, following which he was given a second trial in 1899, but the new court martial again declared him guilty, which caused a huge outcry among his supporters. A few days later, President Émile Loubet offered to pardon him, which he accepted, even though it meant he was still a traitor to France despite his release from prison.
He lived under house-arrest with one of his sisters at Carpentras, and later at Cologny, until he was officially exonerated by a military commission on July 12, 1906. The next day, he rejoined the army with a promotion to the rank of major, and was made 'Knight of the Legion of Honour' a week later.
He was initially given command of an artillery unit at Vincennes before being placed in command of another artillery unit at Saint-Denis on October 15, 1906. Due to his declining health, he was granted retirement from the army in October 1907, when he was 48.
After World War I broke out, he was called back into the army as a major of artillery, and mostly served behind the lines of the Western Front, commanding an artillery supply column. He also performed front-line duties at Verdun and on the Chemin des Dames in 1917, eventually becoming a lieutenant colonel, and was promoted to the rank of 'Officer of the Legion of Honour'.
Personal Life & Legacy
Alfred Dreyfus married 20-year-old Lucie Eugénie Hadamard on April 18, 1891, when he was 31 years old. They had two children together: son Pierre, who later received the 'Croix de guerre' for serving as an artillery officer in World War I, and daughter Jeanne.
His father died on December 13, 1893, nearly a year before his arrest, and it is his wife Lucie who provided her unwavering support during the Dreyfus affair and never ceased to defend his honor. She visited him daily in Parisian prisons and had an important correspondence with him when he was exiled to Devil's Island.
He was injured during an assassination attempt on him by disgruntled journalist Louis Gregori on June 4, 1908, when he was at the ceremony removing Zola's ashes to the Panthéon.
Exactly 29 years after his exoneration, on July 12, 1935, Dreyfus died in Paris at the age of 75, and was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris. Two years later, his son published his memoir, 'Souvenirs et Correspondance', based on his correspondence between 1899 and 1906.
Two statues of Alfred Dreyfus holding his broken sword are located at Boulevard Raspail, at the exit of the Notre-Dame-des-Champs metro station, and in the courtyard to the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris. The Museum also showcases over three thousand documents donated by Dreyfus's grandchildren, including personal letters, photographs, legal documents, his writings and the ripped stripes from his uniform.