Photograph of Alfred Dreyfus’ Second Trial, August 7, 1899
This photograph from August 7, 1899 shows a day during Alfred Dreyfus’ second trial. The text below the photograph reads:
The curtain rose at Rennes on August 6, 1899 (Bank holiday!) Dreyfus is seen facing the judges, in front of a captain of gendarmes and having his counsel on his right. The accusation is being read.
The photograph was printed in the book Actors and Scenes in the Drama of Disgrace in London, circa 1899. The book documents the Dreyfus trial step-by-step with around 100 photographs from the arrest and trial. The book also includes photographs of people involved in the affair, the military prison, and the court hall.
After Dreyfus had suffered five years of imprisonment on Devil’s Island following a false conviction of treason, the real perpetrator, Major Esterhazy, was arrested and put on trial. The military, however, was reluctant to accept the new evidence, and Esterhazy was acquitted after a brief trial. The Dreyfusards, the intellectuals who were fighting to prove Dreyfus’ innocence, didn’t give up. The famous French writer Émile Zola published an open letter, “J’Accuse” addressed to the president of the French Republic in the newspaper L’Aurore. Further public pressure brought about the annulment of the 1894 verdict, and Dreyfus was returned to France for a retrial.
Dreyfus’ retrial took place in 1899 in the city of Rennes. He was, once again, convicted, this time to 10 years of hard labour. However, President Emile Loubet granted Dreyfus a presidential pardon, and he was, at last, reunited with his family. It took another seven years for the verdict to be annulled and for Dreyfus’ name to be officially cleared.
Alfred Dreyfus’ false accusation of treason was an anti-Semitic and French political scandal that had a huge impact 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 century and the beginning of the twentieth century and can provide important context to the rise of Nazism that led to the holocaust. This topic could thus be taught when teaching about anti-Semitism and the roots of the Holocaust both in History lessons, in lessons around the time of Holocaust Day, or in preparation for visits to Poland.
When discussing the legal system in Citizenship, this resource could also be used in as an example of wrongful accusation, on the one hand, and an example of the right to protest and the power of the public to change legal decisions, on the other.
What is taking place in this photograph?
Find Alfred Dreyfus in the photograph.
This is a photograph of Dreyfus’ second trial.
When was his first trial and what was its outcome?
What was the reason for the retrial?
What was the outcome of the second trial?
Do you think this pleased Dreyfus?
The Dreyfus Affair is an example of the shortcomings of the legal system due to anti-Semitic bias.
Can you find other examples of such trials?
The first verdict was annulled due to public protest.
What does this teach us?
Can you find other examples of the power of public protest?