“J’accuse,” Émile Zola, L’Aurore, January 13, 1898
This is the front page of the newspaper L’Aurore printed on January 13, 1898. The main article “J’accuse…!” was an open letter to the president of France written by the influential writer Émile Zola. In this letter Zola accuses the government of anti-Semitism and of the unlawful imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus.
Zola argued that Dreyfus’ conviction was based on a false accusation. He stated that the man behind the affair was Major du Paty de Clam and proved that the information that was passed onto the Germans could not have come from Dreyfus because it dealt with military secrets that Dreyfus was not privy to. He also claimed that the facts leading to Dreyfus’ conviction were based on imagination and anti-Semitism:
These, Sir, are the facts that explain how this miscarriage of justice came about. The evidence of Dreyfus’ character, his affluence, the lack of motive, and his continued affirmation of innocence combine to show that he is the victim of the lurid imagination of Major du Paty de Clam, the religious circles surrounding him, and the “dirty Jew” obsession that is the scourge of our time.
Émile Zola identified Major Esterhazy as the real traitor and claimed that the French War Office was covering up for him. According to Zola, the judges at Dreyfus’ court martial had all the information necessary for his acquittal but overlooked it due to religious prejudice.
In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish army officer was accused of spying for Germany. Dreyfus was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to deportation and imprisonment for life. The French public was divided on the Dreyfus Affair: the Dreyfusards fought to prove Dreyfus’ innocence, while the anti-Dreyfusards supported Dreyfus’ conviction on the anti-Semitic assumption that all Jews are traitors by nature.
Among those who supported Dreyfus was Émile Zola. Zola was a French novelist, playwright, and journalist. He was also involved in French politics and promoted the political liberalisation of France. In 1898, Zola risked his career when he published “J’accuse” on the front page of the Paris daily L’Aurore. In response to his article, Zola was brought to trial for libel. He was convicted and, facing imprisonment, he fled from France to England. Zola remained in London until June 1899 when he returned to France. In 1902 Zola died, supposedly of carbon-monoxide poisoning, however, there were many who believed that he was actually murdered.
Links for Further Information
Translation of “J’accuse” - wikisource
A Country Divided: Dreyfusards and Anti-Dreyfusards – from the National Library of Israel website
“J’accuse !” Emil Zola and the Greatest Newspaper Article in History – Flagpole Magazine, 1998
When teaching about the Dreyfus Affair in General or Jewish History lessons, teachers could present this article which played an important role in the fight to prove Dreyfus’ innocence. This resource could also be used when discussing anti-Semitism and struggles for justice and human rights. Teachers could use the original newspaper together with the English translation. It might help students to highlight important passages in the article.
Teachers could also present this article in Citizenship lessons in discussions of the power of journalism to change public opinion.
Literature and French teachers could present this resource when teaching Émile Zola’s works.
What is the title of the article that appeared in the French newspaper L’Aurore on January 13, 1898.
Who was the article addressed to?
Read the English translation of the article “J’accuse!” Who did Émile Zola accuse and of what?
Summarise Zola’s claims of Dreyfus’ innocence.
An article from 1998 claimed that “J’accuse” is the greatest newspaper article in history.
Do you agree? Why or why not?
Émile Zola was one of the Dreyfusards who fought to prove Alfred Dreyfus’ innocence.
Which other famous French figures were also Dreyfusards?
What was the outcome of Zola’s article?
Take a look at a national newspaper and find an article that is fighting for a human right.