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Surprising New Files on the Dreyfus Affair

The Frenchman, believe it or not, is back in the news

Adam Chandler
March 13, 2013
Alfred Dreyfus (center) with his family in 1906.(Frarchives)
Alfred Dreyfus (center) with his family in 1906.(Frarchives)

For the first time in history, France has released the full contents of its super-secret files used against Captain Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. The Dreyfus Affair, as it later became known, was the 12-year-old ordeal during which Dreyfus was falsely accused of being a spy, which brought anti-Semitic protests through the streets of Paris. Dreyfus was sentenced to life in prison before he was eventually rehabilitated.

Over at Bloomberg, Caroline Weber has an elegantly written story about the release of the full files, which sheds stunning light on the old case, as well as the links to French writer Marcel Proust (half-Jewish himself) and why we are only learning about some of this now.

In the Dreyfus Affair, the tie between presumed espionage and anti-Semitic prejudice is, of course, well known, and has been ever since January 1895, when Dreyfus, having just been found guilty of leaking military information to the Germans, was publicly stripped of his captain’s insignia to the rabid screams of a crowd that demanded “Death to the Jew!”

Unbeknownst to the condemned man and his lawyers, as well as to the public, the secret dossier in his case included a series of intimate letters between two foreign spies in Paris: Colonel Maximilian von Schwartzkoppen, the German military attache to whom Esterhazy [the actual culprit], not Dreyfus, had sold French military secrets, and Lieutenant Colonel Alessandro Panizzardi, an Italian military attache who was sexually involved with Schwartzkoppen in the mid-1890s.

Sit back with a madeleine and enjoy the rest. And when you’re finished, check out this excellent piece by Thomas Bass, who writes about how the ghost of Dreyfus still haunts the city.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.