A letter written in prison by Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish officer in the French army who was falsely accused of high treason, is to be sold at auction in Paris.
Written to the interior ministry in 1895, a month after he was sentenced, the letter will be sold by Sotheby's in Paris on May 29 and is expected to sell for between $130,000 and $190,000 (100,000 and 150,000 euros), the auction house said in a statement.
Dreyfus, an assimilated Jew, was found guilty in 1894 of passing confidential information on French artillery to the German military in Paris. He was stripped of his rank, publicly degraded and deported to the penal colony of Devil's Island to serve a sentence of life imprisonment in complete isolation.
The physical evidence against Dreyfus consisted only of a slip of paper discovered in a German military trashcan on which was written a promise, in French, to deliver a valuable French artillery manual to the Germans. Experts were unable to definitively link the note to the Jewish officer.
Despite the lack of evidence, however, the Parisian press continued to defame Dreyfus, questioning his loyalty and whether he was part of an "international Jewish conspiracy."
Colonel Henry, a French military intelligence agent, testified that he had additional information definitively implicating Dreyfus. While the information involved classified military information that could not be released to the public, it nonetheless led to Dreyfus’s conviction.
The real culprit turned out to be a Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, but although the clear evidence against him was made known shortly after the trial to the military authorities, they ignored it.
The verdict stunned world Jewry, leading them to question how such a blatantly anti-Semitic incident could occur in France, the country that presumably epitomized liberty, equality and freedom.
It galvanized the famous French intellectual, Emil Zola, to write "J'Accuse", a condemnation of the proceedings and the protests it aroused finally led to Dreyfus' vindication.
The Dreyfus Affair became a monumental event in Jewish history, causing Theodore Herzl, who was to become the father of modern Zionism, to understand that Jewish emancipation was not the solution to the so-called “Jewish problem,” but that an alternative solution was needed. The solution he proposed was the idea of a Jewish national homeland.