8["The Dreyfus Case", The Argus (Melbourne), Saturday 11 August 1945, page 27]


ONE of the most puzzling and yet intriguing cases in French history after 1870 is that of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. How was it that the trial of an army officer should have brought France to the brink of civil war, and have left such unhappy and bitter memories, that even as late as 1931 a play was declared unsuitable and banned from the French stage, because it dealt with this subject?

Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a rich Alsatian, was arrested on a charge of treason. Some staff officer had apparently been selling military documents to Germany, and the writing on them was so like that of Dreyfus, that when he saw it, he cried out: "Somebody has stolen my handwriting." A famous French expert of handwriting identified the writing as being exactly the same as that of Dreyfus, and in December, 1894, Dreyfus was condemned by the War Council. However, the council could find no motive or reason for the treachery, as Dreyfus was a blameless citizen, and came from a rich and patriotic family in Alsace-Lorraine. At this stage an element of unfairness entered the case, as certain secret documents were handed to the judges, and although no discussion was allowed on them, they clinched the case against Dreyfus, who was deprived of his rank, and sent to the dreaded convict settlement on Devil's Island. Colonel Picquart, Dreyfus' commanding officer, believed that Dreyfus was an innocent man, and he had also been given information that a certain penniless and unscrupulous adventurer, a Hungarian by birth, was the man who had committed the actual forgery. The French Army refused to reopen the case, and Picquart, for his rashness, was sent to a lonely province in Tunisia. Such injustice was not suffered for long, for when Emile Zola took up the matter in his famous letter, J'Accuse, the whole nation was divided for and against Dreyfus. The very fate of the Republic was at stake, for if the military could penalise an innocent man and cover the guilty, then all liberty was gone. On one side stood the Conservatives and the Nationalists, who believed that the army was always right against them were ranged the Republicans and the Liberals of all parties. When civil war became imminent Dreyfus was recalled, but the army, believing that a judgment once given, should be respected, condemned Dreyfus again and ordered him to undergo 10 years' detention. This was felt by the people to be intolerable, and the Government was forced to interfere and pardon him. The supporters of Dreyfus did not rest until the Court of Appeal had changed its original decision, and Dreyfus was declared to be innocent.

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