Captain Dreyfus and Mr. Zola

Bust of Zola at Médan
Emile Zola surveys his considerable domain, now a museum.

A Bare-Bones Account of the Celebrated Affair

Paris:- Sunday, 11. January 1998:- It will be 100 years on Tuesday, since the date of the publication of Emile Zola's famous 'J'Accuse...!' by the Paris daily, L'Aurore.

For this occasion there will be a highly publicized 'Hommage au Capitaine Dreyfus et à Emile Zola.' This will start on Monday with an inauguration of a new plaque, to be placed at 21 bis. rue de Bruxelles.

It was in this house in Paris' ninth arrondissement that Zola wrote 'J'Accuse,' between the evening of Tuesday, 11. January and the day of publication in L'Aurore on Thursday, 13. January 1898.

The paper was run by Ernest Vaughan and Georges Clemenceau. They decided that the form would be as 'an open letter to the President copy of l'Aurore 'J'Accuse...!' of the Republic,' who was Félix Faure, and it was Clemenceau's idea to add the six-column headline, 'J'Accuse...!'

'J'Accuse...!' was, in effect, a point-by-point recapitalization of the entire 'Affaire Dreyfus, which concluded with serious accusations against the chiefs of the French army.

This violent attack on the leaders of the French army sold 200,000 copies within two hours, and started the slow process which eventually saw the exoneration of Alfred Dreyfus, in 1906.

The whole business started in September of 1894. Army counter-espionage services reconstructed a letter, found torn to bits in a wastebasket in the German embassy in Paris. It was addressed to the German military attaché, Schwartzkoppen.

Suspicion of its authorship fell on Captain Alfred Dreyfus who was attached to the French army headquarters.

Captain Dreyfus was interrogated on 15. October and arrested. On 22. December, a military court found Captain Dreyfus guilty of espionage and he was sentenced to deportation and life imprisonment. He was publically stripped of his rank in the Grand Cour of the Ecole Militaire on 5. January and he arrived at Devil's Island to begin his sentence on 13. April, 1895.

The infamous letter in question, known in the case as the 'bordereau,' is a spy's suggestion list. Apparently the most 21 bis, rue Bruxelles interesting items on it are about artillery matters - matters with which Captain Dreyfus had no contact in 1894. Two of the five experts who examined it, did not believe Captain Dreyfus wrote it. The three other experts disagreed.

Zola's residence in the rue de Bruxelles in Paris.

At the beginning of March in 1896, French counter-espionage 'found' a telegram - known in the case as the 'petit-bleu' - which was sent from the German embassy and addressed to Commander Estherazy.

The head of counter-espionage, Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart, investigated and became convinced Estherazy was the author of the 'bordereau,' attributed to Captain Dreyfus. The chiefs of the army didn't want to hear about this.

On 1. November, Commander Henry composed, or had composed, a fake document, which directly implicated Captain Dreyfus.

Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart had to quit the counter-espionage service and was sent to Tunisia on 16. November. On a visit to Paris in June of 1897, he told a lawyer friend about his doubts, and this lawyer went to Scheuer-Kestner, the vice-president of the Senate. Félix Faure, the president, did not want to hear anything about this on 16. November.

In an article in the 25. November edition of Le Figaro which concluded with, "La vérité est en marche, et rien ne l'arrêtera,' Emile Zola began his campaign in favor of Captain Dreyfus.

In mid-January of 1898, Commander Estherazy was unanimously acquitted by a military tribunal. Two days later, Zola's 'J'Accuse...!' was published in L'Aurore.

As expected, as intended, Emile Zola was convicted of slander against the army chiefs on account of the 'letter's' publication, on 23. February 1898. He got the maximum penalty of one year in jail Alfred Dreyfus and a fine of 3,000 francs. The sentence was confirmed by the assizes at Versailles on 18. July and Zola fled to Britain.

However, 'J'Accuse...!' had the eventual effect - on 3. June 1899 - of an appeals court annulment of the conviction of Captain Dreyfus.

Captain Alfred Dreyfus.

Commander Henry, now Colonel, confessed his forgery to the Minister of War, Cavaignac, and was sent prison at Mont-Valérien on 30. August. The General de Boisdeffre, chief of the army, resigned on the same day. A day later, Colonel Henry committed suicide.

Captain Dreyfus was tried again at Rennes before the Council of War between 7. August and 9. September of 1899 and was found guilty again, but with 'extenuating circumstances.' On 19. September 1899, Captain Dreyfus was pardoned by the President of the Republic, Emile Loubet.

The civil appeals court overturned the Rennes decision in July of 1906 - completely exonerating Captain Dreyfus.

Picquart was taken back into the army, with the rank of Brigade-General. A few weeks later, Clemenceau, who had become President of the Council, was named Minister of War in his new government.

Emile Zola died on 29. September 1902, at his domicile in the rue de Bruxelles in Paris.

He wrote a 'social and natural' history of a family under the Second Empire, in 23 volumes. He wrote a dozen other novels, travel pieces, plays, art and literary criticism, and various letters - during a very long career. Emile Zola was born in Paris in 1840.

From an old line of Alsatian Jews, Alfred Dreyfus was born in Mulhouse in 1859. He was 11 when he witnessed the Prussian entry into Mulhouse, and it was Pantheon then that he decided to become an officer in the French army. In 1880, he chose the artillery and in 1889 he reached the rank of Captain.

Alfred Dreyfus married in 1890 and had a son and a daughter. In 1892 he was promoted to a post at army headquarters. After he was finally acquitted by the appeals court, he returned to the army, and was named Chévalier de la Légion d'Honneur on 21. July, 1906. He retired from the army a year later, but returned for service in World War I.

The Panthéon, under an unusual winter sky last week.

Alfred Dreyfus died on 12. July 1935 and his funeral procession passed through the place de la Concorde, where troops assembled for the Fête Nationale stood at attention. He was buried at the cemetery of Montparnasse.

'Hommage au Capitaine Dreyfus et à Emile Zola'

Besides the inauguration of a new plaque at Zola's house in the rue de Bruxelles, a whole series of events are planned over several days; but mainly focused on Monday, 12. January and Tuesday, 13. January.

So many events are to take place on Tuesday, that it would be nearly impossible to attend them all.

The Bibliothèque Nationale has an exhibition of documents on show from Tuesday until Friday; from 12:00 to 18:00 - in the Salon d'Honneur, at 58. rue de Richelieu, Paris 2.

There will be a colloquy held in the Galerie Colbert, in the rue Vivienne, on Tuesday from 9:00 to 13:00. This follows a debate on Monday evening, put on by the Société des Gens de Lettres, at 20:30. Location: 38. rue du Faubourg-Saint-Jacques, Paris 14.

At 16:30 on Tuesday, a wreath will be placed on the tomb of Emile Zola at the Panthéon, with the Minister of Justice, Madame Elizabeth Guigou presiding; and there will be short speech given by the Honorary President of the Appeals Court, Pierre Drai.

On Tuesday evening there will be a conference at the Sorbonne, starting at 18:30. This is at 45. rue des Ecoles, Paris 5.

Later in the evening, at 21:00, there will be a show, 'J'Accuse...!' at the Maison des Cultures du Monde, 101. boulevard Raspail, Paris 7. Entry: 150 francs, students: 60 francs. Res. Tel.: 01 40 20 41 00.

All of these events are under the patronage of the President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, assisted by the Committee of Patronage, led by the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin.

The Maison d'Emile Zola

As a celebrity in 1878, Emile Zola bought an estate to the west of Paris and had a 'château' built for himself. It has its own sizeable park, which has a garden and a house for friends and there was - or is - a chalet on a nearby Zola house in Medan island in the Seine, which is known as the 'plage de Villennes.' There are a number of summer restaurants here and there actually is an open-air pool on the island, right beside the river.

The entry to the museum is in the red-brick building, while the house is at the right.

Zola's house is across the SNCF tracks, in Médan, within sight of the riverfront installations. In this house he wrote 'Nana,' 'Germinal,' 'La Terre' and 'La Bête Humaine.' In this house he entertained friends such as the Goncourt brothers, Cezanne and Maupassant. The site is well-preserved and is pretty much as he left it, and as a museum it was inaugurated in 1985.

Individual visits are possible on Saturdays and Sundays, from 14:00 to 18:00. For groups, visits are arranged all year round, by reservation.

Maison d'Emile Zola
26. rue Pasteur, 78670 Médan. Info. Tel.: 01 39 75 35 65 and fax, 01 39 75 59 73.

To arrive by train, take the Paris-Mantes line from Gare Saint-Lazare, to the station at Villennes. On Sundays, from May to September, the train also stops at Médan - which is also handy for the 'plage' of Villennes.

By road, leave the A13 at Poissy-Villennes, and follow the signs to Villennes, but head for Médan at the first sign you see for it. In Médan, Zola's house is about 150 metres beyond the church, right beside the bridge which crosses the train tracks. Park either near the church, or cross the tracks and park in one of the restaurant parking lots.

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