Infamous antisemitic Dreyfus Affair documents for sale

Many pieces of history from the Rennes trial will be up for auction, including courtroom sketches of Dreyfus' wife Lucie, Captain Alfred Dreyfus himself and French officer Georges-Marie Picquart.

Alfred Dreyfus (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Alfred Dreyfus
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

More than 30 haunting mementos from France's infamous Dreyfus Affair will be put up for auction by Lion Heart Autographs on October 26.

The Affair, in which French-Jewish Artillery Captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongly accused, tried and convicted of treason in 1894, was a major turning point in French political history and its aftershocks are still being felt over 120 years later. 

Captain Dreyfus trial and sentence to life imprisonment are only part of the story. It came to light in 1896 that Dreyfus had clearly been framed by another French officer, Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy. However, the accusations against Esterhazy only resulted in a court-martial that ultimately acquitted him. 

The auction will, among other things, include a handwritten letter by Esterhazy himself to his former mistress. There will also be an unpublished courtroom sketch from the trial at Rennes of four French generals who fabricated evidence against Dreyfus. 

Public outcry, both pro and anti-Dreyfus

''The traitor: Degradation of Alfred Dreyfus, degradation in the Morland Court of the military school in Paris'' (credit: Henri Meyer/Bibliothèque nationale de France)''The traitor: Degradation of Alfred Dreyfus, degradation in the Morland Court of the military school in Paris'' (credit: Henri Meyer/Bibliothèque nationale de France)

The new evidence of Esterhazy's guilt as well as his acquittal resulted in public outrage on both sides; novelist Emile Zola famously fanned the flames of public opinion with his letter J'accuse published in the liberal newspaper L'Aurore. Zola, who was subsequently convicted of libel, attacked the army for covering up its mistaken conviction of Dreyfus.

Zola's work is also available for auction. Specifically, a signed note with a quotation from his historical article. It says, “La vérité est en marche et rien ne l’arrêtera” meaning, "truth is on the march, and nothing will stop it."

In 1898, antisemitic riots broke out across the country in response to Zola's court proceedings. In 1899, the French Supreme Court overturned Dreyfus' original 1894 conviction and referred the case to the Military Court of Rennes. The Rennes trial found him guilty yet again - despite all evidence to the contrary - but reduced his sentence from life to ten years. 

The Dreyfus Affair today

Many pieces of history from the Rennes trial will be up for auction, including courtroom sketches of Dreyfus' wife Lucie, Captain Alfred Dreyfus himself and French officer Georges-Marie Picquart who uncovered the scheme to frame Dreyfus.  

The effects of the Dreyfus Affair are still playing out in France's social and political sphere. In October 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated the world’s first museum dedicated to Captain Dreyfus and the trial. 

The upcoming auction will present those with the means to do so the unique opportunity to possess a piece of important Jewish and European history.