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Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935).

  • Profession: French artillery officer of Jewish background.
  • Relation to Mahler: 
  • Correspondence with Mahler: 
  • Born: 09-10-1859 Mulhouse, France.
  • Died: 12-07-1935 Paris, France.
  • Buried: 00-00-0000 Montparnasse cemetery, Paris, France.

Alfred Dreyfus was a French artillery officer of Jewish background whose trial and conviction in 1894 on charges of treason became one of the most tense political dramas in modern French history. Known today as the Dreyfus Affair, the incident eventually ended with Dreyfus' complete exoneration.

In 1894, the French Army's counter-intelligence section, led by Lt. Colonel Jean Sandherr, became aware that information regarding new artillery parts was being passed to the Germans by a highly placed spy, most likely to be 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 imprisonment on 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, in the courtyard of the Ecole 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, Lt. Colonel Georges Picquart (1854-1914) 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' 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' supporters, including leading artists and intellectuals like Émile Zola, he was given a second trial in 1896 and again declared guilty of treason despite the evidence in favor of his innocence.

However, due to public opinion, Dreyfus was offered & 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 return 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 release:

The government of the Republic has given me back my freedom. It is nothing for me without my honor. For 2 years, until July 1906, he lived in a state of house-arrest with one of his sisters at Carpentras, and later at Cologny. On 12-07-1906, 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 a Knight of the Legion of Honour,and subsequently assigned to command an artillery unit at Vincennes. On 15-10-1906, he was placed in command of another artillery unit at Saint-Denis. In 1937 his son Pierre had published his father's memoirs based on his correspondence between 1899 and 1906. The memoirs were published Souvenirs Et Correspondance and translated into English by Dr Betty Morgan.

Dreyfus was present at the ceremony removing Zola's ashes to the Panthéon in 1908, when he was wounded in the arm by a gunshot from Louis Gregori, a disgruntled journalist, in an assassination attempt.