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Dreyfus in history

Dreyfus in history

Images of Dreyfus

During the Affair, Dreyfus was caricatured and sketched, and he appears in a newsreel filmed at Rennes in 1899. That same year, French filmmaker Georges Méliès made Dreyfus into a cinematic figure with a twelve-scene, fifteen-minute film about the Affair. By 1908, the Pathé studios had made three films, bearing out Zola's intuition: "this vast drama that shakes the world seems to have been staged by some sublime dramatist." But by 1915, the films of both Méliès and Nonguet had been banned in the name of public order. In the early 1930s, anti-Dreyfusard protests closed down two plays, while a German film by Richard Oswald and an English one by Kraemer and Rosmer were not granted distribution permissions. In 1938, Joseph Schildkraut received an Academy Award for Best Actor for his interpretation of Dreyfus in William Dieterle's film The Life of Emile Zola. However, the Daladier government refused to allow the film to be shown in France, and even managed to have it withdrawn from the Venice Film Festival on the grounds of "offense against the honor of the French army." Despite the tensions to which the army was subjected, José Ferrer's I Accuse! was allowed to be shown in 1959; at the time, the Dreyfusard sympathies of the family of Prime Minister Michel Debré and the father of Charles de Gaulle were well known. On 19 December 1962, De Gaulle confided to Alain Peyrefitte that "judges can be blinded by caste prejudice," and added, "When the military is convinced of Dreyfus's guilt decades after his rehabilitation, it is the best proof that they are morons. There are morons everywhere, even in courtrooms." The difficulties in filming television productions about the Affair in military settings illustrates the trauma in remembering the event, but is an illustration of what Antoine de Baecque calls "the clear conscience of French cinema concerning 'leftist fiction'."

The teaching and celebration of Dreyfus

From the mid-1920s until the 1950s, teaching the Affair provided the occasion for a great lesson in civics, and it was referred to in the Malet-Isaac series as a "national crisis of conscience." Textbooks in the 1980s, however, devoted less space to the topic, which was covered in a dozen lines in most of the books used in elementary and secondary schools. For high school classes, Hubert Tison points out three textbooks that contain between one and two pages of documents, but counts a maximum of 79 lines devoted to the history of Dreyfus's trial, despite being characterized as "an excellent tool for teaching civics."
Centennial commemorations of the Affair got off to a bad start when a weekly military publication called Dreyfus's innocence "the theory generally accepted by historians." In addition, on 7 September 1994, the new head of the Army's historical service spoke in public of "a minor legal event triggered by a military conspiracy." After this, however, homages to Zola and Dreyfus were much clearer. On 8 January 1998, in a letter to Dreyfus's descendants, the President of France spoke of the Affair in these terms: "A dark stain, unworthy of our country and our history, a colossal miscarriage of justice and a shameful compromise by the State."

On 12 July 2006, in the main courtyard of the Ecole Militaire, president Chirac led a national ceremony paying solemn homage to Alfred Dreyfus. After listening to the main part of the second decree by the Court of Cassation, he said that the tragedy of Captain Dreyfus "contributed to strengthening the Republic. It was the crucible in which were forged humanist values of respect and tolerance, values that bind us together even today. The rehabilitation of Dreyfus is the victory of the Republic. It is the victory of the unity of France."


Commemoration of the rehabilitation of Dreyfus

Place Dreyfus and the monument to "I Accuse!" on Avenue Zola in Paris

Dreyfus, music and lyrics by Yves Duteil 5