This is a guest post by Joyojeet Pal
In 1894, a case of espionage broke out in France. Alfred Dreyfus, a young officer was arrested in connection with a letter suggesting a transfer of sensitive documents to the German attaché in Paris. Dreyfus was arrested for the crime, his family was intimidated and he was swiftly convicted despite weak evidence. After being publicly shamed as a traitor in a court-martial, he was sent to ‘Devil’s Island’ in French Guinea, a notorious penal colony. Within a couple of years of his conviction, a movement emerged to re-examine the facts of the case. Dreyfus would be eventually re-tried and re-convicted despite overwhelming evidence in his favour.
Dreyfus was Alsatian, Jewish, and a graduate of the elite École Polytechnique, one of the most competitive institutes in the country. Alsace had been lost by France following the Franco-Prussian war, the French were bitter about this, and Alsatians were often seen as a suspicious regional minority. The case that came to be known as the “Dreyfus Affair” in time became a landmark in modern French history because of the multilayered schisms in French society that it threw open.