Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy (1847 - 1923)

Erinnerung an den Zola-Prozess - Paris 1898



A spy in the service of Germany, and the real author of the bordereau that was used to convict Alfred Dreyfus, Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy was born in Paris on 16 December 1847.

He was the son of a general who died following the Crimean War, and he and his sister received an annual pension of 1,500 francs on the civil list of Napoléon III. He failed the entrance exam for Saint-Cyr, and enlisted, first in the papal army and then in the Roman Legion on 22 May 1869. He resigned in May 1870 and resumed service in the foreign regiment in June. He was a lieutenant in the Zouaves between 1871 and 1874, and captain in the infantry until 1882, but also served at the general staff offices, where he translated German documents. His commanding officer complained that he was "permanently seconded," to the point where he was noted, in 1881, as having "never done an hour of service."

Employed in the intelligence service in Algeria, he increased his time off on the pretext of intermittent fevers. In 1882, after the sixth request, he was made a Knight in the Legion of Honor. On 6 February 1886, he married the daughter of the Marquis of Nettancourt-Vaubecourt. Entrusted with the history of a battalion of chasseurs, he asked to be able to consult the roll files of officers at the army headquarters, claiming that nothing could be found in the archives. His request to be made inactive because of "temporary disabilities" was refused in February 1888. This is when his spying activities probably began; in May, he requested to be posted in the east of France, using his wife's health and his "very serious material interests in Lorraine" as pretexts.

His official address was in Paris, even when he was posted to the Midi or when he spent his vacations in Bavaria, and the general staff office protected him even when Colonel Picquart proved that he had written the bordereau. However, in June 1897 the commanding general of the 5th infantry division reported that commander Esterhazy "will not be able to resume consistent service for some time." On 17 August 1897, a presidential decision declared him "inactive because of temporary disabilities." In January 1898, he was acquitted of the crime of which Dreyfus had been found guilty. Sure of his position, he wrote to General Pellieux on 8 July that he could "run the staff headquarters." However, in a special report dated 11 July, General Millet, the director of the infantry, wrote that "in addition to the regular appearance that [Esterhazy] keeps up, privately he abandons himself to every impulse dictated by passions that are as rampant as they are reprehensible." He proposed bringing proceedings against Esterhazy for "gross misconduct with respect to discipline, offense against honor, and general debauchery."

Despite the censure of three-quarters of this document, on 24 August 1898 a regional board of inquiry decided, three votes to two, on a "discharge for habitual misbehavior." The presidential decision that ratified this "disciplinary measure" on 2 September-three days after the suicide of Colonel Henry-would not be served upon the spy, who had fled to England. There he lived by his wits, and by writing newspaper articles, including one in which he confessed that he was the author of the bordereau. He died on 21 May 1923, under the pseudonym of Count Jean de Voilemont. Hoping to ignore his base acts and benefit from the favors of the Republic, on 20 February 1949, one of his daughters sought a share in a tobacconist's shop.