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Alfred Dreyfus, 1859 – 1935

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In 1894 Captain Alfred Dreyfus of France was accused of selling military secrets to Germany.

In 1894, French Captain Alfred Dreyfus was tried for high treason and sentenced to life imprisonment in total isolation on Devil’s Island, off the coast of the peal colony of French Guiana. It took many years for the truth to be known: Dreyfus was totally innocent of the crime and false evidences had been used to convict him.

In 1896 new evidenced surfaced that seemed to exonerate Dreyfus. The military tried to suppress the information and failed, and the case became a political firestorm. On the anti-Dreyfus side were royalists, militarists and Roman Catholics. Those defending Dreyfus were republicans, socialists and anti-clerics, including famed author Emile Zola, who was sentenced to jail for criticizing the government’s role. The military would not acknowledge any injustice, and the case dragged on until Dreyfus was finally pardoned in 1906. After 101 years, the French army officially said they had been wrong. The affair revealed an institutionalized anti-Semitism in the army and helped unite the French left, eventually leading to the separation of church and state.

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