The Dreyfus Affair Holds a Sacred Place in French History. Is There Room for Debate?
The recently declassified dossier that served to convict Alfred Dreyfus is full of sordid details, but most French historians refuse to touch it
Nearly 120 years after the Dreyfus Affair shook the world, you would think we know all there is to know about the seminal case involving a French Jewish officer falsely accused of treason. Alfred Dreyfus was found guilty and deported to prison on a small, remote island, and it was only after his family, joined by leading intellectuals of the time, rallied in protest that he was acquitted, his case becoming a cornerstone of the democratic French republic.
A flood of books on the topic followed, from Emile Zola’s J’Accuse onward. Yet French historians showed remarkably little interest when, a few years ago, the French army made available parts of its archive that include the notorious secret dossier that had been used to indict the Jewish captain. The file sheds light not only on the case itself but also on the complex web of personalities, institutions, and societal attitudes that surrounded it.
All these details might have remained in the shadows were it not for the dogged work of French historian Pierre Gervais. Gervais is the co-author of a recent book, available in French only, about the secret file. On today’s podcast, from his apartment in Paris, Gervais speaks with Tablet Magazine’s Liel Leibovitz about his discoveries. Leibovitz has also written a book on these latest revelations about the Dreyfus Affair; it’s just out as an Amazon Kindle Single published by Tablet Magazine. [Running time: 19:50.]
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