The Dreyfus Affair




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The Dreyfus Affair

By: Hannah Arendt


Exercises: J. Geffen


1. It happened in France at the end of the year 1894. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer of the French General Staff, was accused and convicted of espionage for Germany. The verdict, lifelong deportation to Devil’s Island, was unanimously adopted. The trial took place behind closed doors. Out of an allegedly voluminous dossier of the prosecution, only the so-called “bordereau” was shown. This was a letter, supposedly in Dreyfus’s handwriting, addressed to the German military attaché, Schwartzkoppen. In July, 1895, Colonel Picquard became head of the Information Division of the General Staff. In May, 1896, he told the chief of the General Staff, Boisdeffre, that he had convinced himself of Dreyfus’ innocence and of the guilt of another officer, Major Walsin-Esterhazy. Six months later, Picquard was removed to a dangerous post in Tunisia. At the same time, Bernard Lazare, on behalf of Dreyfus’s brothers, published the first pamphlet of the Affair: Une erreur judiciaire; la verite sur l’affaire Dreyfus. In June, 1897, Picquard informed Scheurer-Kesten, Vice President of the Senate, of the facts of the trials and of Dreyfus’ innocence. In November, 1897, Clemenceau started his fight for re-examination of the case. Four weeks later Zola joined the ranks of the Dreyfusards. J’Accuse was published by Clemenceau’s newspaper in January 1898. At the same time, Picquard was arrested. Zola, tried for calumny of the army, was convicted by both the ordinary tribunal and the Court of Appeal. In August, 1898, Esterhazy was dishonorably discharged because of embezzlement. He at once hurried to a British journalist and told him that he – and not Dreyfus – was the author of the “bordereau” which he had forged in Dreyfus’ handwriting on orders from Colonel Sandherr, his superior and former chief of the counterespionage division. A few days later Colonel Henry, another member of the same department, confessed forgeries of several other pieces of the secret Dreyfus dossier and committed suicide. Thereupon the Court of Appeal ordered an investigation of the Dreyfus case.

2. In June, 1899, the Court of Appeal annulled the original sentence against Dreyfus of 1894. The revision trial took place in Rennes in August. The sentence was made ten years’ imprisonment because of “alleviating circumstances”. A week later Dreyfus was pardoned by the President of the Republic. The World Exposition opened in Paris in April, 1900. In May, when the success of the Exposition was guaranteed, the Chamber of Deputies, with overwhelming majority, voted against any further revision of the Dreyfus case. In December of the same year all trials and lawsuits connected with the affair were liquidated through a general amnesty.

3. In 1903, Dreyfus asked for a new revision. His petition was neglected until 1906, when Clemenceau had become Prime Minister. In July, 1906, the Court of Appeal annulled the sentence of Rennes and acquitted Dreyfus of all charges. The Court of Appeal, however, had no authority to acquit; it should have ordered a new trial. Another revision before a military tribunal would, in all probability and despite the overwhelming evidence in favor of Dreyfus, have led to a new conviction. Dreyfus, therefore, was never acquitted in accordance with the law, and the Dreyfus case was never really settled. The reinstatement of the accused was never recognized by the French people, and the passions that were originally aroused never entirely subsided. As late as 1908, nine years after the pardon and two years after Dreyfus was cleared, when, at Clemenceau’s insistence, the body of Emile Zola was transferred to the Pantheon, Alfred Dreyfus was openly attacked in the street. A Paris court acquitted his assailant and indicated that it “dissented” from the decision which had cleared Dreyfus.

4. Even stranger is the fact that neither the First nor the Second World War has been able to bury the affair in oblivion. At the behest of the Action Française, the Precis de l’Affaire Dreyfus was republished in 1924 and has been the standard reference manual of the Anti-Dreyfusards. At the premiere of L’Affaire Dreyfus (a play written by Rehfisch and Wilhelm Herzog under the pseudonym of Rene Kestner) in 1931, the atmosphere of the nineties still prevailed, with quarrels in the auditorium, stink bombs in the stalls, and shock troops of the Action Française standing around to strike terror into actors, audience and bystanders. Nor did the government – Laval’s government – act in any way differently than its predecessors some thirty years before: it gladly admitted it was unable to guarantee a single undisturbed performance, thereby providing a new late triumph for the Anti-Dreyfusards. The play had to be suspended. When Dreyfus died in 1935, the general press was afraid to touch the issue, while the leftist papers still spoke in the old terms of Dreyfus’ innocence and the right wing of Dreyfus’ guilt. Even today, though to a lesser extent, the Dreyfus Affair is still a kind of shibboleth in French politics.

5. While the Dreyfus Affair in its broader political aspects belongs to the twentieth century, the Dreyfus case, the various trials of the Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus, are quite typical of the nineteenth century, when men followed legal proceedings so keenly because each instance afforded a test of the century’s greatest achievement, the complete impartiality of the law. It is characteristic of the period that a miscarriage of justice could arouse such political passions and inspire such an endless succession of trials and retrials, not to speak of duels and fisticuffs. The doctrine of equality before the law was still so firmly implanted in the conscience of the civilized world that a single miscarriage of justice could provoke public indignation from Moscow to New York. Nor was anyone, except in France itself, so “modern” as to associate the matter with political issues. The wrong done to a single Jewish officer in France was able to draw from the rest of the world a more vehement and united reaction than all the persecutions of German Jews a generation later. Even Czarist Russia could accuse France of barbarism, while in Germany members of the Kaiser’s entourage would openly express an indignation matched only by the radical press of the 1930s.

6. The dramatis personae of the case might have stepped out of the pages of Balzac: on the one hand, the class-conscious generals frantically covering up for the members of their own clique and, on the other, their antagonist, Picquard, with his calm, clear-eyed and slightly ironical honesty. Beside them stand the nondescript crowd of the men in Parliament, each terrified of what his neighbor might know; the President of the Republic, notorious patron of the Paris brothels, and the examining magistrates, living solely for the sake of social contacts. Then there is Dreyfus himself, actually a parvenu, continually boasting to his colleagues of his family fortune which he spent on women; his brothers, pathetically offering their entire fortune, and then reducing the offer to 150,000 francs, for the release of their kinsman, never quite sure whether they wished to make a sacrifice or simply to suborn the General Staff; and the lawyer Demange, really convinced of his client’s innocence but basing the defense on an issue of doubt so as to save himself from attacks and injury to his personal interests. Lastly, there is the adventurer Esterhazy, he of the ancient escutcheon, so utterly bored by this bourgeois world as to seek relief equally in heroism and knavery. An erstwhile second lieutenant of the Foreign Legion, he impressed his colleagues greatly by his superior boldness and impudence. Always in trouble, he lived by serving as duelist’s second to Jewish officers and by blackmailing their wealthy co-religionists. Indeed, he would avail himself of the good offices of the chief rabbi himself in order to obtain the requisite introductions. Even in his ultimate downfall he remained true to the Balzac tradition. Not treason nor wild dreams of a great orgy in which a hundred thousand besotted Prussian Uhlans would run berserk, but a paltry embezzlement of a relative’s cash sent him to his doom. And what shall we say of Zola, with his impassioned moral fervor, his somewhat empty pathos, and his melodramatic declaration, on the eve of his flight to London, that he had heard the voice of Dreyfus begging him to bring this sacrifice?

7. All this belongs typically to the nineteenth century and by itself would never have survived two World Wars. The old-time enthusiasm of the mob for Esterhazy, like its hatred of Zola, have long since died down to embers, but so too has that fiery passion against aristocracy and clergy which had once inflamed Dreyfusards and which had alone secured the final release of Dreyfus. As later affairs were to show, officers of the General Staff no longer had to fear the wrath of the people when they hatched their plots for a coup d’etat. Since the separation of Church and State, France, though certainly no longer clerical-minded, had lost a great deal of her anticlerical feeling, just as the Catholic Church had itself lost much of its political aspiration.

8. The Dreyfus Affair in its political implications could survive because two of its elements grew in importance during the twentieth century. The first is hatred of the Jews; the second, suspicion of the republic itself, of Parliament, and the state machine. The larger section of the public could still go on thinking the latter, rightly or wrongly, under the influence of the Jews and the power of the banks. Down to our times the term Anti-Dreyfusard can still serve as a recognized name for all that is anti-republican, antidemocratic, and antisemitic. A few years ago it still comprised everything from the monarchists to Fascists. It was not, however, to these Fascist groups, numerically unimportant as they were, that the Third Republic owed its collapse. On the contrary, the plain, if paradoxical truth is that their influence was never so slight as at the moment when the collapse actually took place. What made France fall was the fact that she had no more true Dreyfusards, no one who believed that democracy and freedom, equality and justice could any longer be defended or realized under the republic. At long last the republic fell like overripe fruit into the lap of that old Anti-Dreyfusard clique which had always formed the kernel of her army.



Answer in your own words.

The next ten questions relate to paragraphs 1-2.
Answer the question below in English.

1. What was Alfred Dreyfus charged with?



Answer:

Answer the question below in English.

2. What was the material “evidence” presented at the first trial?



Answer:

Complete the sentences below.

3. Dreyfus was supposed to have been corresponding with

4. The first man to have raised doubts concerning Dreyfus’ guilt was

5. The public at large was first informed of the affair through



Answer the question below in English.

6. Name the writer and the publisher who made common cause in Dreyfus’


defence.

a)


b)

Answer the question below in English.

7. In what circumstances was a renewed investigation of the affair ordered?



Answer:

Complete the sentences below.

8. The original sentence passed in 1894 was

9. In 1899 he was sentenced by the Court of Appeal to

Answer the question below in Hebrew.

10. What makes the general amnesty, passed in 1900, rather suspect? (Inferential)



Answer:

Answer the question below in English.

11. What does the information provided in paragraph 3 suggest about the attitude of the military authorities to the Dreyfus Affair?



Answer:

Answer the question below in English.

12. Who are the labels Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards occasionally attached to in French political discourse?



Answer:

Answer the question below in Hebrew.

13. How and why did public opinion outside France – paragraph 5 – become so deeply involved in the Dreyfus Affair?



Answer:

Answer the question below in English.

14. What particular achievement – paragraph 5 – could 19th century Europe well take pride in?



Answer:

Answer the question below in English.

15. In what sense could the behaviour of Dreyfus’ lawyer be seen as somewhat opportunistic? (Paragraph 6)



Answer:

Choose the best answer.

16. To the extent that moral fervour was indeed the hallmark of the embattled Dreyfusard, then, ironically enough, given different circumstances,

would probably never have joined the Dreyfusard camp.

a. Clemenceau b. Zola

c. Alfred Dreyfus c. Picquard

e. Dreyfus’ lawyer f. Esterhazy



Answer the question below in English.

17. What emotions and fears – paragraph 7 – made the Dreyfusard camp ultimately victorious?



Answer:

Answer the question below in English.

18. What legislation of far-reaching importance was passed in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair?]



Answer:

Answer the question below in Hebrew.

19. To what does the writer – paragraph 8 – attribute the fall of the Third Republic (pre-World War II France)?



Answer:




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