The Dreyfus Affair
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. 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.
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.
It is often argued that the Dreyfus Affair split the nation in two. The truth of the matter is that France was already a divided country and the case acted as a casus belli, bringing old differences to the surface. ‘The Jew from Alsace’ encapsulated all that the nationalist right loathed, and therefore became the symbol of the nation’s profound division.
The press, it has been argued before, was primarily responsible for shaping the case into ‘The Affair’. Particularly in 1898-1899, the public campaign became a goldmine for graphic artists and draughtsmen: newspapers, magazines, posters, brochures, postcards and board games drew readers with colorful caricatures.
The anti-Dreyfusard attack was launched, shortly after Dreyfus’ arrest, by Edouard Drumont and its fiercely antisemitic La Libre Parole. Le Rire, though more moderate, also filled its covers with caricatures of preeminent Dreyfusards. One of the most ferocious examples of the hostile campaign is “The Museum of Horrors”, a series of 51 posters portraying Dreyfus and his supporters as grotesque hybrids between man and beast.
A unique archive relating to Alfred Dreyfus and the Dreyfus Affair, which took place in France between the years 1894-1906 and caused an uproar around the world, is preserved at the National Library. The archive includes letters from central figures in the Affair who wrote to Dreyfus during various stages in the drama
Here you can find various items related to the Dreyfus Affair including posters, postcards, illustrations, letters and more.