On a fine Monday morning, on October 15, 1894, artillery captain Alfred Dreyfus reported for inspection to the Ministry of War.
Upon his arrival, he was lead to the office of the Chief of the General Staff, where a few lines from a letter were dictated to him. "How odd", he thought. As it turned out, this ‘handwriting test’ was used to frame him: he was immediately arrested for having passed military secrets to the Germans, jailed in the military prison, and denied all communication with his family. Later, after weeks of isolation and illegal interrogation, he was tried and convicted of high treason.
The worst was yet to come. On January 5th, soldiers, officials, journalists and invited guests gathered in the courtyard of the École Militaire for Dreyfus’ public ‘degradation’ ceremony. The now-expelled officer had his military ranks ripped off his uniform and his sword broken. Beyond the gates, an angry crowd shouted: ‘Death to the Jews’.
Two months later Alfred was deported to Devil’s Island, off the coast of French Guyana (South America). Here he spent the next four years imprisoned in inhumane conditions and deprived of all human contact. It was only in the summer of 1899 that a second trial was held. To the outrage of his supporters, a second guilty verdict followed. Due to his feeble state, however, he was pardoned by the President of the Republic and was at last reunited with his family. It would take seven more years for Alfred Dreyfus’ name to be cleared.
The exhibition opens with the narration of the main events as presented above. Faced with the challenge of summarizing the complex story of the Dreyfus Affair, with its many characters, its twists and turns, we chose to help the visitor with the principal events.
Besides a timeline
with the main chronology we have opted to tell the story through the covers of the hugely popular Le Petit Journal. The anti-Dreyfusard content of its articles did not go unnoticed, but its sober visual style lent itself to illustrating the Affair through pictures.