About this Famous Person
French artillery officer who was convicted in 1894 on charges of treason
Source : Jean MECHET
Born in Mulhouse in Alsace, Dreyfus was the youngest of seven children born to Raphael and Jeannette Dreyfus, a prosperous, self-made, Jewish textile manufacturer who had started as a peddler. The family moved to Paris from Alsace after the Franco-Prussian War, when in 1871 Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by the German Empire. The Dreyfus family had long been established in the area that traditionally had been German-speaking, and Raphael spoke Yiddish and conducted business affairs in German. The first language of most of Alfred's elder brothers and sisters was German or one of the Alsatian dialects. Alfred and his brother were the only children to receive a fully French education.
In 1880 Dreyfus graduated as a sub-lieutenant from the elite École Polytechnique military school in Paris, where he received military training and an education in the sciences. His entry into the military was influenced by his experience of seeing Prussian troops enter his hometown in 1871 when he was eleven years old. From 1880 to 1882 he attended the artillery school at Fontainebleau to receive more specialized training as an artillery officer. On graduation he was attached to the first division of the 32nd Cavalry Regiment and promoted to lieutenant in 1885. In 1889 he was made adjutant to the director of the Établissement de Bourges, a government arsenal, and promoted to captain.
On 18 April 1891, Dreyfus married Lucie Hadamard (1870-1945). They had two children, Pierre and Jeanne. Three days after the wedding, Dreyfus received notice that he had been admitted to the École Supérieure de Guerre or War College. Two years later, in 1893, he graduated ninth in his class with honorable mention and was immediately designated as a trainee in the French Army's General Staff headquarters, where he would be the only Jewish officer. His father Raphaël died on 13 December 1893.
At the War College examination in 1892, his friends had expected him to do well. However, one of the members of the panel, General Bonnefond, felt that "Jews were not desired" on the staff, and gave Dreyfus poor marks, lowering his overall grade; he did the same to another Jewish candidate, Lieutenant Picard. Learning of this injustice, the two officers lodged a protest with the director of the school, General Lebelin de Dionne, who expressed his regret for what had occurred, but said he was powerless to take any steps in the matter. The protest would later count against Dreyfus.
- Category French Colonial Wars