Dreyfus’s Favorite Granddaughter

Dreyfus’s Favorite Granddaughter

Excellent article by Adam Gopnik about Alfred Dreyfus, the French officer convicted of treason, in The New Yorker magazine, Sept. 29.

Memorable points:

A handwriting expert concluded that because Dreyfus’s handwriting was so different from that in the incriminating document, the disguise must have been deliberate.

The guilty party, named Esterhazy, was “one of those subjects in the history of espionage who are so obviously guilty that only the geniuses of counter-intelligence could look past them.”

Anti-Semitism didn’t start the Dreyfus affair. But it “fuelled” it.

“In captivity, shackled to his bed at night, he saved his sanity by reading: he read Tolstoy, Nietzsche, the French classics…. More than anything, he read Shakespeare.”

The novelist Emile Zola (“J’accuse…”), who publicly and heroically defended Dreyfus was tried for criminal libel and convicted; he fled the country and returned only when the government fell and he was pardoned.

The Roman Catholic Church was “more or less” disestablished in France “largely because of the grotesque role that the Church and [the publication] La Croix had played in the persecution of Dreyfus.”

Dreyfus was given amnesty, and when WWI broke out, he served as an artillery colonel in Paris and Verdun. “He died in 1935, a man honored and respected both as a soldier for France and as a martyr for freedom.”

“Alfred’s favorite granddaughter, Madeline, a Resistance fighter, was deported by the Vichy state and died at Auschwitz, age 25.”