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The Dreyfus Affair

The History and Legacy of France's Most Notorious Antisemitic Political Scandal
Narrated by: Gregory T. Luzitano
Length: 1 hr and 16 mins
Categories: History, 20th Century
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Publisher's Summary

Sometime in 1889, a woman named Madame Marie Bastian was recruited as an agent of the secretive “Statistical Section”, an espionage and counter-intelligence agency attached to the military intelligence office of the French General Staff. Mme. Bastian was a cleaner employed by the German Embassy in Paris. Thanks to her Romany origins, she was somewhat acquainted with Germany and marginally conversant in the German language. She enjoyed complete and unrestricted access to the private residences of many important German diplomats and functionaries, and as she gathered up the torn-up documents in the various wastepaper baskets, she routinely passed them on to a handler attached to the Statistical Section.

In September 1890, among a pile of torn-up documents delivered by Mme. Bastian was found a note handwritten in French which, when pieced together, proved to be a list of French military secrets handed over to the Germans by an unknown French officer of the General Staff. This discovery, which proved the existence of a traitor in the department, triggered a ferment in the corridors of the Conseil Supérieur de la Guerre, and the hunt was on for the culprit.

By a process of elimination, officers of the military intelligence were able to narrow down a list of probable traitors, among whom was a young Jewish staff officer Captain Alfred Dreyfus who was immediately earmarked as the chief suspect. Dreyfus’ handwriting was compared to that on the bordereau and although the various handwriting experts who conducted the comparison failed to reach a common consensus, it was nonetheless judged that Dreyfus was indeed the culprit. In December 1894, Dreyfus was court-martialed, convicted, and sentenced to a term of life in prison. 

On January 5, 1895, in a formal parade, Captain Dreyfus was stripped of his rank, his sword was broken over the knee of a sergeant, and he was shipped overseas to the penal colony of Devil’s Island on the coast of French Guiana.

These are the essential facts of the “Dreyfus Affair” as it came to be known, an episode that, in many respects, defined French anti-Semitism in the late 19th century. A case was built with the central objective of protecting the integrity of French military establishment, and in the process, the relatively muted anti-Semitism in France (at least in comparison to other European nations) was transformed into an era of virulent and violent Jew-hatred that characterized and sullied the final decade of the 19th century in France.

The Dreyfus Affair: The History and Legacy of France’s Most Notorious Antisemitic Political Scandal examines the chain of events that produced one of the most notorious episodes in modern French history.

©2019 Charles River Editors (P)2019 Charles River Editors

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