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J’Accuse! The Dreyfus Affair and its Aftermath

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, March 23, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0682
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$20 - Member
$25 - Non-Member
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Front page of the newspaper L’Aurore with the letter written by Émile Zola, January 13, 1898

On January 5, 1895, a shocking spectacle took place in the courtyard of the Parisian Ecole Militaire. Alfred Dreyfus, a young officer—and a Jew—who had been court-martialed for passing military secrets to the Germans, was publicly degraded and denounced with cries of “Jew” and “Judas”. Based on the flimsiest of evidence, a highly irregular military trial found him guilty of treason and sentenced him to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island off the coast of Guyana. Newspapers became a big factor during the case. Some publications relentlessly attacked Dreyfus. Other journalists and writers, including novelist Émile Zola, denounced the role of the French army for what they saw as a miscarriage of justice. New evidence identified the actual traitor as well as another French officer who had forged documents implicating Dreyfus.

Historian Ralph Nurnberger highlights the trial when Dreyfus was convicted and the subsequent trials over the course of the next dozen years, as well as providing background on the fascinating characters involved during the various stages of “The Affair”. He explains why the Dreyfus affair has had far-reaching ramifications, including setting the stage for the expansion of anti-Semitism in Europe and the difficulties faced by minorities seeking justice in pluralist societies.

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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.