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To what extent was anti-Semitism the motive force behind the Dreyfus Affair?

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Koulla Christou To what extent was anti-Semitism the motive force behind the Dreyfus Affair? Described as a 'catalyst for tensions in French society' (Kedward), the Dreyfus affair divided France dramatically. On Monday 15 October 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a junior member of the French general staff was arrested and condemned for selling military secrets to the Germans. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island despite being innocent, and if he was guilty of any 'crime' in 1894, it was of being Jewish. The judges in fact, already knew the perpetrator. In 1893, discoveries were made that led to the belief that a traitor was present in the French army. Documents disappeared which concerned the defence of the country, maps, plans of fortresses, copies of secret instructions and much more. In 1894, a letter, which came to be known as the bordereau, and other papers were found in a waste paper basket in the office of Colonel Von Schwartzkoppen, a German military attach´┐Ż, and these made it appear as though a French military officer was providing secret information to the German government. The bordereau was, however, produced to the French military by Commandant Henry in September 1894. It appeared to be the covering letter sent with certain military communications. On 4 September the bordereau was copied and distributed to the departmental chiefs. All the officer and chiefs who were shown this document agreed that a traitor had to be found and brought to justice. ...read more.


Chapman comments that: 'Other officers with whom he served said he put his nose into matters which did not concern him, especially mobilisation plans, and talked about them too much'1. Dreyfus was also quite vain, and this caused him to be disliked also. He often liked to display knowledge of secret and confidential topics, and often boasted about his wealth, and sometimes about women. Dreyfus was also quite rich. In 1894, he had a private income of 25-30 000 francs a year, and therefore the source of this income was questionable. In the French army's opinion, 'being a Jew, would he not wish to increase his wealth?'2 However, Commandant Esterhazy, a French infantry officer who was in fact completely responsible for the Dreyfus affair, was far more likely to have been the one guilty of selling military secrets to the Germans as he was a compulsive gambler and always in debt. It is obvious from these facts that Esterhazy was far more likely to have needed to make money so that he could pay off this debts and feed his gambling addiction. The honour of the army also helped to find Dreyfus guilty. When the bordereau was first found, the army needed to find and name a traitor so that the honour of the French army could be upheld. Dreyfus, being the only Jew in the French general staff, appeared to be the perfect culprit, as after the Panama scandal, who but a Jew would let down their country? ...read more.


With all the above reasons aside, the Dreyfus case revolved around anti-Semitism. The majority of opinions on the case are that without anti-Semitic forces, there would not have been a case against Dreyfus. Hannah Ardent argued that: 'The Dreyfus Affair... is the culmination of the anti-Semitism which grew out of the special conditions of the nation state.' She therefore was arguing that the army created the majority of anti-Semitic views against Dreyfus and therefore caused the case to explode. It is therefore fair to argue that although the case of Dreyfus was the result of a mixture of social and political tensions, and other reasons, such as Dreyfus' tendency to boast, the case was largely due to anti-Semitic exploitation. The army was fairly responsible for this, but I would agree with Chapman that without the intervention of the media, the anti-Semitic feelings circling the case would not have expanded to the degree that they reached, and the case would not have been made so public. A traitor was named, and unfortunately for Dreyfus, he was a Jew. 1 Jacques Kayser, The Dreyfus Affair - Intro. Page 7. 2 www,essaybank.co.uk, Which was the greater threat to the survival of the 3rd Republic, the Boulanger crisis or the Dreyfus affair? Page 2 of essay. 1 Guy Chapman, The Dreyfus Trials - Page 19. 2 Jacques Kayser, The Dreyfus Affair - Page 39. 3 Guy Chapman, The Dreyfus Trials - Page 21. 2 Walther Steinthal, Dreyfus - Page 45. 1 Guy Chapman, The Dreyfus Trials - Page 17. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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