The Dreyfus Affair

Alfred Dreyfus on
His Interrogation, Trial, and Degradation

Source: Alfred Dreyfus, Cinq Années de Ma Vie. Paris, Maspero, 1982;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2006.

... Saturday, October 13, 1894 I received a service note inviting me to report the following Monday at nine o’clock in the morning to the Ministry of Was for general inspection. It was expressly said that I was to be in “civilian attire.” The hour seemed early for general inspection, which ordinarily took place in the evening, and the notice to appear in civilian attire also surprised me. What is more, on Saturday they returned several times to have me sign the receipt for the inspection order. It was only on their second visit that they found me at home. After having noted these things upon reading the service note, I quickly forgot them, attaching no importance to it.

Sunday evening we dined as usual, my wife and I, at the home of my in-laws, from which we left in good spirits, happy as always after these evenings passed en famille, in affectionate surroundings.

Monday morning I said good-bye to my family. My son Pierre, who was then three-and-a-half, who had taken up the habit of leading me to the door when I left, accompanied me that morning as usual. This was one of my most vivid memories during my misfortune; often, during my nights of pain and despair I relived that moment when I held my child in my arms for the last time: this gave me a new dose of force and determination.

The morning was lovely and cool. The sun was rising on the horizon, chasing the light fog; everything announced a superb day. Since I had arrived early at the ministry I strolled for a few minutes in front of the building, and then climbed the stairs to the offices. Upon my arrival I was received by Commandant Picquart, who appeared to be expecting me and immediately led me into his office. I was surprised to find none of my comrades, officers always being convoked in a group for general inspection. After a few minutes of banal conversation Commandant Picquart led me to the office of the Chief of the General Staff. My astonishment was great when I entered: instead of finding myself in the presence of the Chief of the General Staff, I was received by Commandant du Paty de Clam in uniform. Three individuals in civilian clothes, who were completely unknown to me, were also there. These three individuals were M. Cochefert, chief of the Sureté, his secretary, and the archivist Gribelin.

Commandant du Paty came over to me and said in a choked voice: “The General is coming. While we’re waiting I have a letter to write, and since I’ve hurt my finger could you write it for me?” However strange the request made under such conditions, I immediately acceded to it. I seated myself at a small table that was at the ready, Commandant de Paty seated right next to me, his eye closely following my hand. After first having had me fill out an inspection form he dictated a letter, certain passages of which reminded me of the accusatory letter, which I was later to come to know and which took the name of the “bordereau.” During the dictation the Commandant fiercely interjected: “You’re trembling” (I wasn’t trembling. At the court martial of 1894 he explained that brusque statement by saying that he had noticed that I wasn’t trembling during the dictation, and that from that moment he thought he was dealing with a faker and sought to shake my confidence.) This vehement remark quite surprised me, as well as the hostile attitude of Commandant du Paty. But since any suspicion was far from my thoughts I thought that he found that I wrote poorly. My fingers were cold, for the temperature was quite cold outside and I had only been in a heated room for a few minutes. So I answered him: “My fingers are cold.”

Since I continued to write without showing any sign of distress, Commandant du Paty attempted a new form of questioning and violently said to me: “Pay attention. This is serious!” Whatever my surprise at proceedings as rude as they were unusual, I said nothing and applied myself simply to writing better. From this point Commandant du Paty, as he explained at the court martial of 1894, considered that I had all my sang-froid and that it was useless to carry the experiment on any longer. The scene of the dictation had been prepared in all its details; it hadn’t answered the hopes that had inspired it.

As soon as the dictation was completed, Commandant du Paty stood up and, placing his hand on me, cried out in a resounding voice: “In the name of the law, I arrest you. You are accused of the crime of high treason.” Lightning falling at my feet would not have produced in me a more violent commotion. I spoke in a state of confusion, protesting against an infamous accusation that nothing in my life justified...

After the closing of Commandant du Paty’s investigation the order to open a regular investigation was given my General Mercier, Minister of War. My conduct has been irreproachable; nothing in my life, my actions, my relations was open to any kind of misunderstanding.

On November 3 General Saussier, Governor of Paris, signed the order to open a case against me.

December 19, 1894 the debates began of the trial that took place in camera, despite the energetic protests of my lawyer. I ardently desired publicity of the hearing in order for my innocence to be shown in broad daylight.

When I was brought into the hearing room, accompanied by a lieutenant from the Garde Républicain I saw nothing, I heard nothing. I knew nothing of what was occurring around me: my spirit was completely absorbed by the frightful nightmare that had weighed on us for the past few weeks, by the monstrous accusation of treason whose inanity and nullity I was going to demonstrate.

At the back of the room I distinguished on the platform only the judges of the court martial, officers like me, comrades before whom I was finally going to be able to make clear my innocence. When I was seated before my defender, Maitre Demange, I looked at my judges: they were impassive.

Behind them, the substitute judges, Commandant Picquart, delegate of the Minister of War. M. Lépine, the prefect of police. Facing me, Commandant Brisset, government commissioner and the clerk Valecalle.

The first incidents: the battle carried out by Demange to obtain from the court the openness of the debates, the violent interruptions of the president of the court martial, the emptying of the room. None of this turned my spirit from the goal to which it tended. I was anxious to confront my accusers. I was anxious to destroy the wretched arguments of an infamous accusation, to defend my honor.

I listened to the erroneous and hate-filled deposition of Commandant du Paty de Clam, the lying deposition of Commandant Henry on the subject of our conversation while going from the Ministry of War to Cherche-Midi [prison] the morning of my arrest. I refuted them one by one, energetically, calmly. But the latter returned a second time to the bar and solemnly affirmed that he had it from an “absolutely honorable” person that there could be found at the Ministry of War an officer of the Deuxiéme Bureau who was a traitor. At the time of that information, which Henry in reality had from an agent of the Intelligence Service who was later identified to me, I was at the Deuxiéme Bureau. I stood up indignantly and violently demanded the appearance of he who had been invoked in the statement. Then, assuming a theatrical attitude, striking his chest, he added: “When an officer has a secret in his head he doesn’t even confide it to his kepi.” And then, turning to me: “And the traitor, there he is!” Despite my violent protests I was unable to obtain a clarification of these words. I was thus unable to show their falsity.

I listened to the contradictory reports of the experts. Two deposed in my favor, two deposed against me, all the while noting numerous differences between the handwriting of the bordereau and mine. I attached no importance to Bertillon’s deposition, for it seemed to me to be the work of a madman.

All the accessory accusations were refuted at the sessions. No motive could be invoked to explain so abominable a crime.

At the fourth and last session the government commissioner abandoned all the accessory charges and retained as the only evidence against me the bordereau. He grabbed the piece and brandished it, shouting:

“If I don’t show you a motive for this crime, the most serious that can be committed; if I have no other proof than this letter, it is still crushing for the accused. Take out your magnifying glasses and you will be sure that it is Dreyfus who wrote it. If it is he who wrote it, it is he who is guilty of the most infamous treason.”

Maitre Demange, in his eloquent plea, refuted the expert’s reports, demonstrated all the contradictions and ended by demanding how such an accusation could have been built up without producing a single motive.

Acquittal seemed to me to be certain.

I was condemned.

The degradation took place Saturday January 5 [1895]. I submitted to this horrible torture without weakness.

Before the gloomy ceremony I waited an hour in the room of the adjutant of the garrison of the Ecole Militaire. For many minutes I tensed all the force of my being. The memory of the atrocious months I had just passed returned to me and in broken up sentences I recalled the last visit Commandant du Paty de Clam made me in my prison. I protested against the infamous accusation against me. I recalled that I had written to the minister to tell him I was innocent. It was by travestying these words that Captain Lebrun-Renaud, with a rare thoughtlessness, created or allowed to be created the legend of the confession whose existence I only learned of in January 1899. If he had spoken to me before my departure from France, which didn’t occur until February 1895 – that is, more than seven weeks after the degradation – I would have sought to nip this legend in the bud.

Between four men and a non-commissioned officer I was led to the center of the square.

Nine o’clock sounded. General Darras, commanding the execution parade, had the arms brought.

I suffered the martyrdom, I stiffened myself in order to concentrate all my force; in order to support myself I evoked the memory of my wife and children.

After the reading of the judgment I cried out, addressing myself to the troops:

“Soldiers, they are degrading an innocent man! Soldiers, they are dishonoring an innocent man!

“Long live France! Long live the army!”

An adjutant of the Garde Républicain approached me. Rapidly, he tore off my buttons, the bands on my pants, the insignias on my kepi and sleeves, and then he broke my saber. I saw fall to my feet all these scraps of honor. And then, despite the horrible jarring of my entire being, my body upright, my head high, I called out again to the assembled soldiers and people: ‘I am innocent!”

The ceremony continued. I had to make a circuit of the square. I heard the cries of an abused crowd, I felt the shivering that made them vibrate, for they had had presented to them a man condemned for treason, and I attempted to make pass over to them another shiver, that of my innocence.