Alfred Dreyfus’ Degradation Ceremony, January 13, 1895
This is an illustration of Alfred Dreyfus’ degradation ceremony that appeared on the front cover of the French newspaper Le Petit Journal on January 13, 1895. The picture shows Dreyfus standing erect and bare of his military decorations in a courtyard with a parade of military men. The officer in front of him is breaking Dreyfus’ sword in two. Below the picture are the words: “The Traitor. The Degradation of Alfred Dreyfus.”
Following a court martial on charges of espionage and treason, the French-Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus was sent to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. On January 5, 1895, before his deportation, soldiers, officials, journalists and other invited guests gathered in the courtyard of the École Militaire for his public degradation ceremony. Dreyfus had his military ranks ripped off his uniform and his sword broken in two. Beyond the gates, an angry crowd shouted: “Death to the Jews.” Dreyfus proclaimed his innocence and, raising his arms in the air, cried out: “Innocent! Innocent! Vive la France.”
After the humiliating ceremony, Dreyfus was held in a prison in solitary confinement, then transferred to the prison on Île de Ré, and finally deported to Devil’s Island. Only four years later was he brought back to France for a retrial, and he was finally officially acquitted in 1906.
This illustration represents the drama of the Dreyfus Affair. Teachers could show it in Jewish History lessons when teaching about anti-Semitism, the life of the Jews in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe, and the Holocaust. This resource could also be used in lessons such as English, History, Citizenship, and even Arts to explore the impact of pictures and images on public opinion.
What scene is depicted in this illustration?
When and why did it happen?
Compare Dreyfus’ uniform to the uniform of the soldier in front of him.
Why is there such a difference?
Describe the different characters in the picture.
What does Dreyfus’ posture tell us?
What does the image of the soldier opposite Dreyfus tell us?
The ceremony depicted here was intended to humiliate Alfred Dreyfus.
How was this done?
Imagine that Alfred Dreyfus wrote a diary.
What do you think he would have written on the evening of January 5, 1895?
Can you think of any other occasions when people were publicly humiliated?
This picture represents to many the drama of the Dreyfus Affair.
Can you think of other pictures that represent major historical events?