World War I
Battle of Verdun
Second Battle of the Aisne
Chevalier de la
Légion d'honneur (1906)
Officier de la
Légion d'honneur (1918)
Raphael Dreyfus (father)
Jeannette Libmann (mother)
Lucie Eugénie Hadamard (wife)
Pierre Dreyfus (son)
Jeanne Dreyfus (daughter)
Alfred Dreyfus (French: [al.fʁɛd dʁɛ.fys]; 9 October 1859 –
12 July 1935) was a French Jewish artillery officer whose trial and
conviction in 1894 on charges of treason became one of the most tense
political dramas in modern
French history with a wide echo in all
Europe. Known today as the Dreyfus affair, the incident eventually
ended with Dreyfus's complete exoneration.
Captain Alfred Dreyfus's grandchildren donated over three thousand
documents to the Musée d'art et d'histoire du judaïsme (Museum of
Jewish art and history), including personal letters, photographs of
the trial, legal documents, writings by Dreyfus during his time in
prison, personal family photographs, and his officer stripes that were
ripped out as a symbol of treason. The museum created an online
platform in 2006 dedicated to the Dreyfus Affair, giving the public
access to these exceptional documents.
1 Early life
2 The Dreyfus affair
4 Later life
4.1 World War I
5 See also
8 External links
Born in Mulhouse,
Alsace in 1859, Dreyfus was the youngest of nine
children born to Raphaël and Jeannette Dreyfus (née Libmann).
Raphaël Dreyfus was a prosperous, self-made, Jewish textile
manufacturer who had started as a peddler. Alfred was 10 years old
Franco-Prussian War broke out in the summer of 1870, and his
family moved to
Paris following the annexation of
Germany after the war.
The childhood experience of seeing his family uprooted by the war with
Germany prompted Dreyfus to decide on a career in the military.
Following his 18th birthday in October 1877, he enrolled in the elite
École Polytechnique military school in Paris, where he received
military training and an education in the sciences. In 1880, he
graduated and was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in the French army.
From 1880 to 1882, he attended the artillery school at Fontainebleau
to receive more specialized training as an artillery officer. On
graduation he was assigned to the Thirty-first
which was in garrison at Le Mans. Dreyfus was subsequently transferred
to a mounted artillery battery attached to the First Cavalry Division
(Paris), and promoted to lieutenant in 1885. In 1889, he was made
adjutant to the director of the Établissement de Bourges, a
government arsenal, and promoted to captain.
On 18 April 1891, the 31-year-old Dreyfus married 20-year-old Lucie
Eugénie Hadamard (1870–1945). They had two children, Pierre
(1891–1946) and Jeanne (1893–1981). Three days after the
wedding, Dreyfus learned that he had been admitted to the École
Supérieure de Guerre or War College. Two years later, he graduated
ninth in his class with honorable mention and was immediately
designated as a trainee in the French Army's General Staff
headquarters, where he would be the only Jewish officer. His father
Raphaël died on 13 December 1893.
At the War College examination in 1892, his friends had expected him
to do well. However, one of the members of the panel, General
Bonnefond, felt that "Jews were not desired" on the staff, and gave
Dreyfus poor marks for cote d'amour (translatable as likability).
Bonnefond's assessment lowered Dreyfus's overall grade; he did the
same to another Jewish candidate, Lieutenant Picard. Learning of this
injustice, the two officers lodged a protest with the director of the
school, General Lebelin de Dionne, who expressed his regret for what
had occurred, but said he was powerless to take any steps in the
matter. The protest would later count against Dreyfus. The French army
of the period was relatively open to entry and advancement by talent,
with an estimated 300 Jewish officers, of whom ten were generals.
However, within the Fourth Bureau of the General Staff, General
Bonnefond's prejudices appear to have been shared by some of the new
trainee's superiors. The personal assessments received by Dreyfus
during 1893/94 acknowledged his high intelligence, but were critical
of aspects of his personality.
The Dreyfus affair
Main article: Dreyfus affair
Alfred Dreyfus in his room on
Devil's Island in 1898,
stereoscopy sold by F. Hamel, Altona-Hamburg...; collection Fritz
Dreyfus painted by Guth for Vanity Fair, 1899
Part of a series on the
Military degradation of Alfred Dreyfus
Investigation and arrest
Trial and conviction
Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy
In 1894, the French Army's counter-intelligence section, led by
Lieutenant Colonel Jean Sandherr, became aware that information
regarding new artillery parts was being passed to the Germans by a
highly placed spy, most likely on the General Staff. Suspicion quickly
fell upon Dreyfus, who was arrested for treason on 15 October 1894. On
5 January 1895, Dreyfus was summarily convicted in a secret court
martial, publicly stripped of his army rank, and sentenced to life
Devil's Island in French Guiana. Following French
military custom of the time, Dreyfus was formally degraded by having
the rank insignia, buttons and braid cut from his uniform and his
sword broken, all in the courtyard of the École Militaire before
silent ranks of soldiers, while a large crowd of onlookers shouted
abuse from behind railings. Dreyfus cried out: "I swear that I am
innocent. I remain worthy of serving in the Army. Long live France!
Long live the Army!"
In August 1896, the new chief of French military intelligence,
Lieutenant Colonel Georges Picquart, reported to his superiors that he
had found evidence to the effect that the real traitor was a Major
Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Picquart was silenced by being transferred
to the southern desert of
Tunisia in November 1896. When reports of an
army cover-up and Dreyfus's possible innocence were leaked to the
press, a heated debate ensued about anti-Semitism and France's
identity as a Catholic nation or a republic founded on equal rights
for all citizens. Esterhazy was found not guilty by a secret court
martial, before fleeing to England. Following a passionate campaign by
Dreyfus's supporters, including leading artists and intellectuals such
as Émile Zola, he was given a second trial in 1899 and again
declared guilty of treason despite the evidence in favor of his
However, due to public opinion, Dreyfus was offered and accepted a
pardon by President
Émile Loubet in 1899 and released from prison;
this was a compromise that saved face for the military's mistake. Had
Dreyfus refused the pardon, he would have been returned to Devil's
Island, a fate he could no longer emotionally cope with; so officially
Dreyfus remained a traitor to France, and pointedly remarked upon his
The government of the Republic has given me back my freedom. It is
nothing for me without my honor.
For two years, until July 1906, he lived in a state of house-arrest
with one of his sisters at Carpentras, and later at Cologny.
On 12 July 1906, Dreyfus was officially exonerated by a military
commission. The day after his exoneration, he was readmitted into the
army with a promotion to the rank of major (Chef d'Escadron). A week
later, he was made Knight of the Legion of Honour, and subsequently
assigned to command an artillery unit at Vincennes. On 15 October
1906, he was placed in command of another artillery unit at
Dreyfus was present at the ceremony removing Zola's ashes to the
Panthéon in 4 June 1908, when he was wounded in the arm by a gunshot
from a disgruntled journalist, Louis Gregori, in an assassination
In 1937 his son Pierre published his father's memoirs based on his
correspondences between 1899 and 1906. The memoirs were titled
Souvenirs Et Correspondance and translated into English by Dr Betty
Dreyfus had started corresponding with the marquise Marie Arconati
Visconti in 1899 and began attending her Thursday (political) salons
after his release. They continued correspondence until her death in
The Dreyfus family, taken in 1905
A 74-year-old Alfred Dreyfus, ca. 1934
World War I
Dreyfus's prison sentence on
Devil's Island had taken its toll on his
health. He was granted retirement from the army in October 1907 at the
age of 48. As a reserve officer, he re-entered the army as a major of
artillery at the outbreak of World War I. Serving throughout the war,
Dreyfus rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
By then in his mid-50s, Dreyfus served mostly behind the lines of the
Western Front, in part as commander of an artillery supply column.
However, he also performed front-line duties in 1917, notably at
Verdun and on the Chemin des Dames. He was promoted to the rank of
Officier de la
Légion d'honneur in November 1918.
Dreyfus's son Pierre also served throughout the entire war as an
artillery officer, receiving the Croix de guerre.
Dreyfus died in
Paris aged 75, on 12 July 1935, exactly 29 years after
his exoneration. Two days later, his funeral cortège passed the Place
de la Concorde through the ranks of troops assembled for the Bastille
Day national holiday (14 July 1935). He was interred in the Cimetière
du Montparnasse, Paris. The inscription on his tombstone is in Hebrew
and French. It reads (translated to English):
Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Dreyfus
Officer of the Legion of Honour
9 October 1859 – 12 July 1935
A statue of Dreyfus holding his broken sword is located at Boulevard
Raspail, n°116–118, at the exit of the Notre-Dame-des-Champs metro
station. A duplicate statue stands in the courtyard to the Museum of
Jewish Art and History in Paris.
Florence Earle Coates, a Philadelphia poet, wrote four poems about the
Dreyfus affair: two entitled "Dreyfus", one published in 1898 and the
other in 1899, "Picquart," (1902), and "Le Grand Salut" (1906).
Jack Dreyfus, founder of the
Dreyfus Funds and relative
Gérard Louis-Dreyfus, American businessman and distant relative
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, American actress and distant relative
Theodor Herzl, Austrian journalist who began the Zionist movement
after seeing the antisemitism present in Dreyfus's trial
Gaston Moch, a defense supporter of Dreyfus
Charles Péguy, who wrote a defense of Dreyfus
George Whyte, an authority on the
Dreyfus affair who has authored a
large body of literary and stage works on Dreyfus and the Dreyfus
Julie Dreyfus, French actress and distant relative
The Dreyfus Affair (film series), an 1899 series of short silent
An Officer and a Spy, a novel written in first person by Robert
Harris, in the form of an account of the Dreyfus Affair as if written
by Georges Picquart
^ a b YuMuseum
^ Read, Piers Paul (2012). The Dreyfus Affair. p. 83.
^ Read. The Dreyfus Affair. p. 84.
^ Read. The Dreyfus Affair. p. 113.
^ "Summary of Emile Zola's J'Accuse, and its Repercussions. Dreyfus
Letter to Zola's Widow, 1910". SMF Primary Sources. Shapell Manuscript
^ Minutes of the induction of Dreyfus into the Legion of Honor, French
Ministry of Culture and Communication 
^ Wood, Michael (17 September 2017). "The French Are Not Men".
Retrieved 29 October 2017. (London Review Of Books)
^ Biography of
Alfred Dreyfus and General Chronology, French Ministry
of Culture and Communication
Lettres d'un innocent (Letters from an innocent man) (1898)
Les lettres du capitaine Dreyfus à sa femme (Letters from capitaine
Dreyfus to his wife) (1899), written at Devil's Island
Cinq ans de ma vie (5 years of my life) (1901)
Souvenirs et correspondence, posthumously in 1936
Burns, Michael Dreyfus: a family affair 1789–1945 (1991),
Harpercollins. ISBN 978-0-06-016366-2.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alfred Dreyfus.
Alfred Dreyfus at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Alfred Dreyfus at Internet Archive
Alfred Dreyfus at
LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
Alfred Dreyfus in European newspapers of the time - The
"Dreyfus, Alfred". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.).
"Dreyfus, Alfred". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
Alfred Dreyfus Personal Manuscripts and Letters
ISNI: 0000 0001 2122 9355
BNF: cb119005994 (data)