The Dreyfus Trial


Emile Zola

["J'accuse", an argument by novelist Emile Zola that Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted, was published on January 13, 1898. Zola's argument appeared on the front page of the Parisian daily L'Aurore in the form of an open letter to the President of the Republic. The text accuses the government of the era of anti-Semitism.]

J'accuse, (meaning "I accuse"), the famous open letter by Emile Zola to the then President of the French Republic, fiercely defending Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer, accused of treason by the French army. It was published in the newspaper L'Aurore on 13 January 1898. Dreyfus was falsely convicted. Zola's letter, resembling a charge sheet, began with the denunciatory phrase "J'accuse, " blamed the army for tendentiously implicating Dreyfus, a captain in the French army.

Zola was hauled up to trial on 7 February 1898) and was sentenced to one year's imprisonment and a fine of Franc 3, 000 after being found guilty of libel. It took eight years for clearing the Jewish officer of libel charge through presidential pardon.

The celebrated French fiction writer's open letter, accusing the government of anti-Semitism and unlawful imprisonment of Dreyfus, created widespread indignation against the top brass at the Elsee Palace. It has a striking simile with the saffron fascist government, headed by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Damodardas Modi and the Union minister of home affairs, Amit Anilchandra Shah, his closest colleague. Take the Bhima Koregaon case that dates back to 1 January 2018, the day of the bicentenary celebrations of the Bhima Koregaon battle at Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra. The celebration was marred by violence leading to death of one person and injuries to several others. The Police investigation (??) into the incident led to the arrest of several social and human rights activists, alleging that the killers had "Maoist links". The police further alleged that the so-called Maoists funded the Elgar Parishad meeting on 31 December 2017, where inflammatory speeches were made, claimed police, leading to the violence. On 28 August 2019 with Amit Shah at the helm of ministry of home affairs in the on-going Modi 2.0 regime several well-known Leftist individuals and civil rights functionaries were arrested, including writer and poet Varavara Rao, lawyer and activist Sudha Bhardwaj, academic and activist Vernon Gonsalves, and human rights activists Arun Ferreira and Gautam Navlakha.

The rest is history. All charges are not only unfounded but fabricated too. Arsenal Consulting, a Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm, surmised that Rona Wilson's computer was compromised by a hacker for 22 months between 2016 and mid-April, 2018, when electronic evidence was seized by the Pune Police on suspicion of his alleged links with the violence at the Bhima Koregaon village.

Zola's open letter scripted a new phase in the history of the Third Republic, a phase in which successive governments pursued a series of anticlerical policy that culminated in the formal separation between the church and the state. The problem before Indians is how to strengthen the raging battle between the fascist Hindutva and democratic order in India.]

Letter to Mr. Félix Faure,
President of the Republic
Mister President,
Allow me, in my gratitude for the kind welcome you once gave me, to be concerned about your just glory and to tell you that your star, so happy so far, is threatened with the most shameful, the most indelible stain? You came out safe and sound from slander, you won hearts. You appear radiant in the apotheosis of this patriotic celebration that the Russian alliance has been for France, and you are preparing to preside over the solemn triumph of our Universal Exhibition, which will crown our great century of work, truth and freedom. But what a patch of mud on your name—I was going to say on your reign—that this abominable Dreyfus affair! A council of war has just, by order, dared to acquit an Esterhazy, the supreme bellows of all truth, of all justice. And it's over, France has this stain on its cheek, history will write that it was under your presidency that such a social crime could have been committed. Since they dared, I will also dare. The truth, I will say it, because I promised to say it, if justice, regularly seized, did not do it, full and whole. My duty is to speak, I don't want to be an accomplice. My nights would be haunted by the specter of the innocent who atones over there, in the most dreadful of tortures, a crime he did not commit. And it is to you, Mr. President, that I will shout it, this truth, with all the strength of my revolt as an honest man. For your honor, I'm sure you don't know. And to whom will I denounce the harmful peat of the real culprits, if it is not you, the first magistrate of the country?

First the truth about the trial and the conviction of Dreyfus. A nefarious man who led everything, did everything, was the lieutenant-colonel of Paty de Clam, then simple commander. It's the whole Dreyfus affair; we will not know her until a fair investigation has clearly established her actions and responsibilities. He appears to be the most smoky, the most complicated spirit, haunted by romantic intrigue, delighting himself by means of serial novels, stolen papers, anonymous letters, meetings in deserted places, mysterious women who peddle overwhelming evidence at night. It was he who imagined dictating the slip to Dreyfus; it was he who dreamed of studying it in a room entirely covered with ice; it is him that the commander Forzinetti represents us armed with a deaf lantern, wanting to be introduced near the sleeping accused, to project on his face a sudden flood of light and thus to surprise his crime, in the alarm of the alarm clock. And I don't have to say everything, that we seek, we will find. I simply state that the commander of Paty de Clam, responsible for investigating the Dreyfus affair, as judicial officer, is, in order of dates and responsibilities, the first culprit of the appalling miscarriage of justice that has been committed. The slip had been in the hands of Colonel Sandherr, director of the intelligence office, who had died of general paralysis for some time. "Leaks" were taking place, papers were disappearing, as it still does today; and the author of the slip was wanted, when a priori gradually became apparent that this author could only be an officer of the general staff, and an artillery officer: double manifest error, which shows with what a superficial spirit we had studied this slip, because a reasoned examination shows that it could only have been a troop officer. So we were looking around the house, examining the scriptures, it was like a family affair, a traitor to be caught in the offices themselves, to expel him. And, without my wanting to repeat a partially known story here, the commander of Paty de Clam enters the scene, as soon as a first suspicion falls on Dreyfus. From that moment, it was he who invented Dreyfus, the affair became his business, he made a point of confusing the traitor, of bringing him to complete confessions. There is the Minister of War, General Mercier, whose intelligence seems poor; there is the Chief of the General Staff, General de Boisdeffre, who seems to have given in to his clerical passion, and the Deputy Chief of the General Staff, General Gonse, whose conscience may have been lost. accommodate many things. But, at bottom, there is first only the commander of the Paty de Clam, who leads them all, who hypnotizes them, because he also deals with spiritism, occultism, he converses with the spirits. One cannot conceive of the experiences to which he subjected the unfortunate Dreyfus, the traps in which he wanted to make him fall, the mad investigations, the monstrous imaginations, a whole torturing dementia. Ah! this first affair, it is a nightmare, for who knows it in its true details! The commander of Paty de Clam arrests Dreyfus, puts him in solitary confinement. He runs to Madame Dreyfus' house, terrorizes her, tells her that, if she speaks, her husband is lost. Meanwhile, the unfortunate man tore off his flesh, shouted his innocence. And the instruction was made thus, as in a chronicle of the XVth century, in the middle of the mystery, with a complication of fierce expedients, all this based on a single childish charge, this imbecile slip, which was not only a vulgar treason, which was also the most impudent of the swindles, because the famous secrets delivered were almost all worthless. If I insist, it is because the egg is here, from where the real crime will emerge later, the appalling denial of justice of which France is ill. I would like to point out how the miscarriage of justice could have been possible, how it arose from the machinations of the commander of Paty de Clam, how General Mercier, Generals de Boisdeffre and Gonse were able to get caught up in it, engage little little by little their responsibility for this error, which they believed they had to impose, later on, like the holy truth, a truth which cannot even be discussed. At the beginning, there is therefore, on their part, only carelessness and intelligence. At most, we feel them yield to the religious passions of the environment and the prejudices of the esprit de corps. They let foolishness. But here is Dreyfus before the council of war. The most absolute camera is required. A traitor would have opened the border to the enemy to lead the German emperor to Notre Dame, that we would not take closer measures of silence and mystery. The nation is struck with stupor, one whispers terrible facts, these monstrous betrayals which indignant history; and of course the nation bows. There is not enough severe punishment, she will applaud the public degradation, she will want the culprit to remain on her rock of infamy, devoured by remorse. So is it true, the unspeakable things, the dangerous things, capable of setting Europe on fire, that we had to carefully bury behind this camera? No! behind it was only the romantic and insane imaginations of the commander of Paty de Clam. All this was done only to hide the most preposterous of soap operas. And to be sure, it is enough to study carefully the indictment read before the court martial. Ah! the nothingness of this indictment! That a man could have been convicted on this act is a miracle of iniquity. I challenge honest people to read it, without their hearts leaping in indignation and shouting their revolt, thinking of the outrageous atonement over there, at Devil's Island. Dreyfus knows several languages, crime; no compromising papers or crimes were found with him; he sometimes goes to his country of origin, a crime; he is hardworking, he is anxious to know everything, a crime; he is not troubled, a crime; he is confused, a crime. And the naivety of writing, the formal assertions in a vacuum! We were told about fourteen counts: we only find one in the end, that of the slip; and we even learn that the experts disagreed, that one of them, Mr. Gober, was shaken up militarily, because he allowed himself not to conclude in the desired direction. There were also reports of twenty-three officers who had come to overwhelm Dreyfus with their testimony. We do not yet know their interrogations, but it is certain that not all of them had charged him; and it should be noted, moreover, that all belonged to the offices of the war. This is a family trial, we are there among ourselves, and it must be remembered: the staff wanted the trial, tried it, and it has just tried it a second time. So there was only the slip, on which the experts had not agreed. It is said that, in the council chamber, the judges would naturally acquit. And, therefore, as one understands the desperate obstinacy with which, to justify the condemnation, one affirms today the existence of a secret, oppressive part, the part which one cannot show, which legitimizes everything, to which we must bow, the good God invisible and unknowable! I deny it, this piece, I deny it with all my might! A ridiculous room, yes, perhaps the room where it is a question of small women, and where it is spoken of a certain D. .. who becomes too demanding: some husband doubtless finding that he was not paid for his pretty expensive woman.

But a piece of national defense that cannot be produced without war being declared tomorrow, no, no! It's a lie! and it is all the more odious and cynical that they lie with impunity without being able to convince them. They stir up France, they hide behind its legitimate emotion, they close their mouths by disturbing hearts, by perverting minds. I know of no greater civic crime. These, then, are the facts that explain how a miscarriage of justice may have been committed; and the moral proofs, Dreyfus's fortune, the absence of reasons, his continual cry of innocence, finish showing him as a victim of the extraordinary imaginations of the commander of Paty de Clam, of the clerical environment where he was, hunting down "dirty Jews", which dishonors our times.

And we come to the Esterhazy case. Three years have passed, many consciences remain deeply troubled, worry, seek, finally convince themselves of Dreyfus' innocence. I will not go into the history of doubts, then of Mr. Scheurer-Kestner's conviction. But, while he was digging on his side, there were serious facts going on at the general staff. Colonel Sandherr was dead, and Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart had succeeded him as head of the intelligence office. And it is for this reason, in the exercise of his functions, that the latter one day had in his hands a letter-telegram, addressed to Commander Esterhazy, by an agent of a foreign power. His strict duty was to open an investigation. The certainty is that he never acted outside the will of his superiors. He therefore submitted his suspicions to his superiors, General Gonse, then General de Boisdeffre, then General Billot, who had succeeded General Mercier as Minister of War. The famous Picquart file, of which there has been so much talk, has never been anything but the Billot file, I mean the file made by a subordinate for his minister, the file which must still exist in the War Ministry. The research lasted from May to September 1896, and what has to be said aloud is that General Gonse was convinced of Esterhazy's guilt, that General de Boisdeffre and General Billot did not doubt that the slip was from Esterhazy's handwriting. The investigation by Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart had led to this certain finding. But the turmoil was great because the conviction of Esterhazy inevitably led to the review of the Dreyfus trial; and that was what the staff wanted at no cost. There must have been a psychological minute full of anxiety. Notice that General Billot was not compromised in anything, he arrived fresh, he could tell the truth. He did not dare, undoubtedly in the terror of public opinion, certainly also in the fear of delivering the entire staff, General de Boisdeffre, General Gonse, without counting the suborders. Then it was only a minute of fighting between his conscience and what he believed to be of military interest. When that minute passed, it was already too late. He was committed, he was compromised. And, since then, his responsibility has only grown, he has taken responsibility for the crime of others, he is as guilty as the others, he is more guilty than them, because he was the master of doing justice, and he did nothing. Do you understand that! General Billot, generals de Boisdeffre and Gonse have known that Dreyfus is innocent for a year now, and they have kept this dreadful thing for themselves! And these people are sleeping, and they have wives and children they love! Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart had fulfilled his duty as an honest man. He insisted with his superiors, in the name of justice. He even begged them, he told them how unpolitical their deadlines were, in front of the terrible storm which was piling up, which was to break out, when the truth was known. This was later the language that Mr. Scheurer-Kestner also held to General Billot, begging him out of patriotism to take charge of the matter, not to let it get worse, to the point of becoming a public disaster. No! The crime was committed, the staff could no longer admit his crime. And Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart was sent on a mission, he was moved farther and farther away, as far as Tunisia, where they even wanted to honor his bravery one day, by charging him with a mission that would surely have him massacred in the vicinity where the Marquis de Morès died. He was not in disgrace, General Gonse had friendly correspondence with him. But there are secrets that it is good to have surprised. In Paris, the truth worked, irresistible, and we know how the expected storm broke out. Mr. Mathieu Dreyfus denounced Major Esterhazy as the real author of the slip, when Mr. Scheurer-Kestner was going to file, in the hands of the Minister of Justice, a request for review of the trial. And this is where Commander Esterhazy appears. Testimonies show him at first panic-stricken, ready to commit suicide or to flee. Then, all of a sudden, he paid off, he surprised Paris with the violence of his attitude. It was because help had come to him, he had received an anonymous letter warning him of the actions of his enemies, a mysterious lady had even gone out at night to give him a stolen piece from the General Staff, which was to save him. And I can't help but find Lieutenant-Colonel Paty de Clam there, recognizing the expedients of his fertile imagination. His work, Dreyfus' guilt, was in jeopardy, and he surely wanted to defend his work. The revision of the trial, but it was the collapse of the soap opera so extravagant, so tragic, whose abominable outcome takes place in Devil's Island! This is what he could not allow. Therefore, the duel will take place between Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart and Lieutenant-Colonel du Paty de Clam, one with his face uncovered, the other masked. we will soon find them both before civil justice. Basically, it is always the general staff who defend themselves, who do not want to confess their crime, whose abomination is growing from hour to hour. We wondered in amazement who the protectors of Commander Esterhazy were. First, behind the scenes, Lieutenant-Colonel du Paty de Clam who engineered everything, who drove everything. His hand is betrayed by absurd means. Then it is General de Boisdeffre, it is General Gonse, it is General Billot himself, who are obliged to have the commander acquitted, since they cannot allow Dreyfus' innocence to be recognized, without the war offices crumbling into public contempt. And the beautiful result of this prodigious situation is that the honest man in there, Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart, who alone has done his duty, will be the victim, the one who will be flouted and punished. O justice, what frightful despair sinks the heart! We go so far as to say that he was the forger, that he fabricated the telegram card to lose Esterhazy. But, great God! Why? what purpose? give a reason. Is that one also paid for by the Jews? The beauty of the story is that he was justly anti-Semitic. Yes! we are witnessing this infamous spectacle, men lost in debts and crimes whose innocence is proclaimed, while the very honor is struck, a man with a spotless life! When a society is there, it decays. So there you have it, Mr. Speaker, the Esterhazy case: a culprit that was to be found innocent. For almost two months, we have been able to follow the beautiful work hour by hour. I'm abbreviating, because it's basically here just a summary of the story whose burning pages will one day be written all along. And so we saw General de Pellieux, then Commander Ravary, lead a rascal investigation from which the rascals come out transfigured and the honest people dirty. Then we convened the council of war.

How could we hope that a council of war would defeat what a council of war had done? I'm not even talking about the always possible choice of judges. Isn't the superior idea of discipline, which is in the blood of these soldiers sufficient to undermine their power of equity? Who says discipline says obedience. When the Minister of War, the grand chief, established publicly, to the cheers of the national representation, the authority of the res judicata, you want that a council of war gives him a formal denial? Hierarchically, this is impossible. General Billot suggested the judges by his statement, and they judged as they should go to the fire, without reasoning. The preconceived opinion they brought to their seat, is obviously this:

Dreyfus was convicted of the crime of treason by a court martial, so he is guilty; and we, the war council, cannot declare him innocent; we know that to admit Esterhazy's guilt would be to proclaim Dreyfus's innocence. Nothing could get them out of there. They have rendered an unjust sentence, which will forever weigh on our councils of war, which will henceforth taint all their judgments with suspicion. The first council of war may have been unintelligent, the second is necessarily criminal. His excuse, I repeat, is that the supreme chief had spoken, declaring the thing judged unassailable, holy and superior to men, so that inferiors could not say the contrary. We are told about the honor of the army, we want us to love it, to respect it. Ah! yes, yes, the army that would rise at the first threat, that would defend French land, it is all the people, and we have only tenderness and respect for it. But it's not about her, whose dignity we want, in our need for justice. It is the sword, the master that we will perhaps be given tomorrow. And devoutly kiss the saber handle, the god, no! I demonstrated on the other hand: the Dreyfus affair was the affair of the war offices, an officer of the staff, denounced by his comrades in the staff, condemned under pressure from the chiefs from the staff. Again, he cannot return innocent without the whole staff being guilty. So the offices, by all imaginable means, through press campaigns, communications, influences, did cover Esterhazy only to lose Dreyfus a second time. What a sweep the Republican government should give in this Jesuit, as General Billot himself calls them! Where is it, the ministry really strong and of a wise patriotism, which will dare to rewrite everything and renew everything there? How many people I know who, when faced with a possible war, tremble with anxiety, knowing in which hands national defense is! And what a nest of low intrigue, gossip and squandering, has become this sacred asylum, where the fate of the fatherland is decided! We are horrified by the terrible day that the Dreyfus affair has just thrown into it, this human sacrifice of an unfortunate, a "dirty Jew"! Ah! all that has been agitated there about insanity and foolishness, crazy imaginations, practices of low police, mores of inquisition and tyranny, the good pleasure of some braided men putting their boots on the nation, entering it in the throat his cry of truth and justice, under the pretext liar and sacrilege of reason of State! And it is still a crime to have relied on the filthy press, to have allowed oneself to be defended by all the scoundrel of Paris, so that this is the scoundrel who triumphs insolently, in the defeat of law and simple probity. It is a crime to have accused of disturbing France those who want it generous, at the head of free and just nations, when one plots the impudent conspiracy to impose error, before the whole world. It is a crime to mislead public opinion, to use this opinion which has been perverted to the point of delirium for a death task. It is a crime to poison the small and the humble, to exasperate the passions of reaction and intolerance, by sheltering behind the odious anti-Semitism, of which the great liberal France of human rights will die, if she is not cured of it. It is a crime to exploit patriotism for works of hate, and it is a crime, finally, to make the saber the modern god, when all human science is at work for the next work of truth and justice.This truth, this justice, which we so passionately wanted, what distress to see them thus puffed up, more unrecognized and more obscured! I suspect the collapse that must take place in the soul of Mr. Scheurer-Kestner, and I do believe that he will end up feeling remorse, that of not having acted revolutionary, on the day of the arrest in the Senate, dropping the whole package, to throw everything down. He was the great honest man, the man of his loyal life, he believed that the truth was enough in itself, especially when it appeared to him as bright as daylight. What is the point of upsetting everything, since soon the sun was going to shine? And it is this confident serenity with which he is so cruelly punished. Likewise for Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart, who, out of a feeling of high dignity, did not want to publish General Gonse's letters. These scruples honor him all the more since, while he remained respectful of discipline, his superiors made him cover with mud, instructed himself his trial, in the most unexpected and most outrageous manner. There are two victims, two good people, two simple hearts, who let God do it while the devil acted. And we even saw, for Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart, this despicable thing: a French court, after having let the rapporteur publicly charge a witness, accuse him of all faults, went in camera, when this witness was introduced to explain and defend itself. I say that this is one more crime and that this crime will raise universal consciousness. Certainly, the military courts have a singular idea of justice. This, then, is the simple truth, Mr. President, and it is appalling; it will remain a stain for your presidency. I suspect you have no power in this matter, that you are the prisoner of the Constitution and those around you. You still have a human duty, which you will think about, and which you will fulfill. It is not, moreover, that I have the least despair of triumph. I repeat with more strident certainty: the truth is on the move and nothing will stop it. It is only today that the business begins, since today only the positions are clear: on the one hand, the culprits who do not want the light to be shed; on the other, the vigilantes who will give their lives to make it happen. I have said it elsewhere, and I repeat it here: when we shut up the truth underground, it accumulates there, it takes on such a force of explosion that, the day it bursts, it blows everything up with she. we'll see if we don't just prepare for the most resounding disasters for later.

But this letter is long, Mr. Speaker, and it is time to conclude. I accuse the lieutenant-colonel of Paty de Clam of having been the diabolical worker of the judicial error, in unconscious, I want to believe it, and of having then defended his harmful work, for three years, by the machinations the most absurd and the most guilty.

I accuse General Mercier of being an accomplice, at least out of weakness of mind, to one of the greatest inequities of the century.

I accuse General Billot of having had in his hands certain proofs of Dreyfus' innocence and of having suffocated them, of being guilty of this crime of harming humanity and harming justice, with the aim of to save the compromised staff.

I accuse General de Boisdeffre and General Gonse of being accomplices in the same crime, the one no doubt out of clerical passion, the other perhaps by that esprit de corps that made war offices the holy arch, unassailable.

I accuse General de Pellieux and Major Ravary of having carried out a rascal investigation, by which I mean an investigation of the most monstrous partiality, of which we have, in the report of the second, an imperishable monument of naive audacity.

I accuse the three handwriting experts, Sieurs Belhomme, Varinard and Couard, of having made false and fraudulent reports, unless a medical examination declares them suffering from vision and judgment disease.

I accuse the war offices of having carried out in the press, particularly in L'Éclair and L'Écho de Paris, an abominable campaign, to mislead public opinion and cover up their fault.

I finally accuse the first council of war of having violated the law, by condemning an accused on a room which has remained secret, and I accuse the second council of war of having covered this illegality, by order, by committing in turn the legal crime of knowingly acquitting a culprit.

In laying these charges, I am aware that I am putting myself under the umbrella of articles 30 and 31 of the press law of July 29, 1881, which punishes crimes of defamation. And it is voluntarily that I expose myself.

As for the people I accuse, I do not know them, I have never seen them, I have no resentment or hatred against them. They are for me only entities, spirits of social evil. And the act I am doing here is just a revolutionary way to hasten the explosion of truth and justice.

I have only one passion, that of light, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and which has the right to happiness. My fiery protest is only the cry of my soul. So dare you put me on trial and let the investigation take place! I wait.

Please accept, Mr. President, the assurance of my deep respect.

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Vol. 53, No. 47-52, & Vol 54, No. 1 - 4, May 23 - July 31, 2021