Thursday, January 13, 2011

On This Date

On January 13, 1898, the French writer Emile Zola published his famous letter,"J'accuse," in the French daily L'Aurore. Zola's letter exposed the Dreyfus Affair, in which a young Jewish officer was accused of treason for passing secrets to the Germans - a crime he did not commit. But he was railroaded by anti-semitic prosecutors and sent to Devil's Island. When the real culprit (a gentile) was identified, the Army sought to protect itself by suppressing the evidence against him and fabricating documents to point the finger at Dreyfus. Zola's brave letter (it was not fashionable to defend Jews at that time in France), though not the first publication to defend Dreyfus, garnered world-wide attention, which forced the case to be re-opened. After a second trial, which split public opinion between the openly anti-semitic media and the "Dreyfusards," including (in addition to Zola) Anatole France and Henri Poincare, Dreyfus finally was exonerated. A week later he was made a Knight in the Legion of Honour as a "soldier who has endured an unparalleled martyrdom." He went on to serve in World War I and finished his military career at the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

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