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History's new verdict on the Dreyfus case
Los Angeles Times - Los Angeles, Calif.
Subjects: Heroism & heroes; History; Anti-Semitism
Author: Meisler, Stanley
Date: Jul 9, 2006
Start Page: M.3
Section: Current; Part M; Editorial Pages Desk
Abstract (Document Summary)

The Dreyfus affair is an extraordinary tale of injustice, deceit and coverup. When a French cleaning lady working at the German Embassy in Paris in 1894 found a traitorous letter, suspicion fell on Dreyfus, the only Jew in the general staff of the French army. Investigators were so sure of Dreyfus' guilt that they dismissed the analysis of a handwriting expert who refused to link the letter's script to Dreyfus. When other evidence against Dreyfus proved flimsy, the army simply manufactured more.

The Dreyfus affair still periodically roils French politics. In 1985, the socialist government of President Francois Mitterrand commissioned a statue of Dreyfus. Sculpted by the late Louis Mitelberg, it was supposed to stand in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire, where a humiliated Dreyfus was striped of his captain's rank. But the minister of defense refused to allow it to be displayed because the French army wanted no public reminders of the embarrassing affair. After three years out of the public eye and six in a little-publicized corner of the Tuileries Gardens, the statue was eventually moved to a prominent site on the Boulevard Raspail on Paris' Left Bank on the 100th anniversary of Dreyfus' first conviction.

Anti-Semitism in France also continues to revive memories of the Dreyfus affair. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, for example, invoked Dreyfus' name when a gang of youths were accused of torturing to death a 23-year-old Jewish man earlier this year. Meeting with Jewish leaders, De Villepin cited the Dreyfus affair as "the indestructible link uniting the Jews of France and the destiny of the republic." By exonerating Dreyfus, the prime minister explained, France had wielded truth and justice to defeat rumor- mongering and specious claims of national security.

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