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DREYFUS, ALFRED (1859-1935).

The only Jewish officer on the French General Staff, he became the center of one of the most famous cases in legal history and a crucial point in the battle against antisemitism in the modern world. In 1894, a French court-martial convicted Dreyfus of treason on the basis of documents alleged to have been written in his hand. Two years later, fearing that the army would be discredited, the government suppressed evidence that Dreyfus was not guilty and that the real spy was Major Ferdinand Esterhazy, another member of the general staff. In 1897, however, the issue was brought into the open, and the case became the center of a conflict that embroiled French politics for a decade. Those who insisted on Dreyfus’s guilt were both politically reactionary and openly antisemitic; winning the majority of voters to their side, they vanquished the liberal forces in the elections of 1898. The following year, however, a new prime minister permitted a second trial. Because Dreyfus’s innocence was common knowledge, it was expected that he would be acquitted. Nevertheless, the court found him “guilty with extenuating circumstances,” and sentenced him to ten years’ imprisonment. Although he was pardoned by the President of France soon after, the battle for Dreyfus’s exoneration continued. Finally, in 1906, the Supreme Court of Appeals cleared the prisoner, and Dreyfus was reinstated as a major in the army. In 1998, the French government paid special tribute to Dreyfus and to his main defender, the celebrated writer Emile Zola.

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