This is an anti-Semitic poster depicting Dreyfus as a hydra—a monster with the body of a dragon and multiple snake heads. The main head is that of Alfred Dreyfus. The monster is stabbed with a dagger with the words “The Traitor.” The title of the poster is “Museum of Horrors” and it was drawn by V. Lenepveu in 1900.
Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish officer, was wrongly accused of spying for Germany, and in 1894 he was convicted and placed in solitary confinement on Devil’s Island. One of the reasons for his conviction was the anti-Semitic atmosphere rampant in Europe at the time. Only years later, as a result of public protest, was Dreyfus acquitted.
One of the causes for Dreyfus’ accusation was the prevailing anti-Semitic and xenophobic atmosphere in France. For many, a Jew from Alsace, a French region that was annexed to Germany at the time, was an obvious target for accusations of espionage against France.
The anti-Dreyfusard attack was launched shortly after Dreyfus’ arrest by Edouard Drumont and his fiercely anti-Semitic newspaper La Libre Parole. Another newspaper Le Rire, though more moderate, was also filled with caricatures of preeminent Dreyfusards. One of the most virulent examples of the hostile campaign was “The Museum of Horrors,” a series of 51 posters portraying Dreyfus and his supporters as grotesque hybrids of man and beast.
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The Dreyfus Affair – Alfred Dreyfus was born in 1859 to a Jewish family in Alsace in the east of France. Dreyfus joined the French Army and was promoted to the rank of captain in the artillery corps in 1889. In 1894, the French Army’s counter intelligence section became aware of classified information being passed on to the German Army. Suspicion quickly fell on Dreyfus, and he was arrested in October 1894 and convicted of treason in a secret court martial. Dreyfus was stripped of his rank and military decorations before a large crowd of cheering onlookers in a “degradation ceremony” and was deported to Devil’s Island, a penal colony off the coast of South America. Throughout his trial Dreyfus claimed his innocence, and in the degradation ceremony he cried out: “I swear that I am innocent. I remain worthy of serving in the army. Long live France! Long live the army!” The many activists and intellectuals who supported Dreyfus were known as Dreyfusards. The famous French writer Émile Zola published an open letter titled “J’accuse” in a Paris newspaper, accusing the president and government of France of anti-Semitism and of the wrongful imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus. The anti-Dreyfusards, on the other hand, saw the affair as an example of the unpatriotic views held by the Jews. They saw Dreyfus’ roots in Alsace (a territory still being disputed by France and Germany) as proof of his affiliation to Germany. The protests finally succeeded, and in 1896 Alfred Dreyfus was returned to France and given a second trial. Despite the evidence brought before the court, Dreyfus was again found guilty of treason. Public opinion, however, forced President Émile Loubet to grant a pardon, and in 1899 Dreyfus was released from prison. He, nonetheless, officially remained a traitor until his full acquittal in 1906.