Newspaper Drawing – The Trap Set for Dreyfus, 1899
This is a drawing from Graphic, an illustrated weekly newspaper, published in London in 1899. The title of the picture is “Dreyfus le martyr” – Dreyfus the Martyr.
The drawing shows the events of October 15, 1894. Depicted are Dreyfus himself, who is seated at the table, Colonel du Paty de Clam, who is dictating to Dreyfus, and M. Cochefert, head of the secret police, who subsequently arrested Dreyfus. Below the drawing is a short text in English describing the scene with the title “The Trap Set for Dreyfus.”
A month before this scene, a French housekeeper at the German embassy in Paris found a torn letter, a bordereau containing confidential information. The French General Staff were charged with finding the spy and proving his guilt. Due to the anti-Semitic atmosphere in France at the time, the blame fell almost immediately on Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer.
Dreyfus was summoned to the Ministry of War where he was asked to write a few sentences. His handwriting was later compared to the writing on the bordereau and was used to prove his guilt. Dreyfus was arrested and imprisoned at the Cherche-Midi military prison in Paris where he awaited a court martial.
This illustration marks the beginning of the Dreyfus Affair which became a French anti-Semitic political scandal with major repercussions on the Jewish and non-Jewish world in the ensuing years. The Dreyfus Affair is an extreme example of the anti-Semitic atmosphere in Europe at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. It provides an important historical context about the rise of racism and subsequent Nazism that led to the Holocaust. This topic could thus be taught in History lessons about anti-Semitism and the roots of the Holocaust, in lessons around Yom HaShoah, or in preparation for trips to Poland.
Describe the drawing.
Who are the characters?
Where are they?
What are they doing?
This drawing depicts a scene from the beginning of the Dreyfus Affair in which the French military are trying to find out who passed secret information to the Germans.
What did they think that Dreyfus had done?
What does the picture tell you about how the French military tried to prove that Dreyfus was guilty?
Try to put yourself in place of the different characters.
What do you think Alfred Dreyfus, the colonel, and the head of secret service are each thinking?
This picture appeared in a newspaper under the title: “The Trap Set for Dreyfus.” Why do you think the editors of the newspaper chose this title?
Think of an alternative title and share it with the class.
What happened after this scene?
Read about the continuation of the Dreyfus Affair and draw illustrations of the following scenes.