On This Day
The Dreyfus affair (French: affaire Dreyfus, pronounced [lafɛːʁ dʁɛfys]) was a political scandal that divided the Third French Republic from 1894 until its resolution in 1906. “L’Affaire”, as it is known in French, has come to symbolise modern injustice in the Francophone world, and it remains one of the most notable examples of a complex miscarriage of justice and antisemitism. The role played by the press and public opinion proved influential in the conflict.
The scandal began in December 1894 when Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason. Dreyfus was a 35-year-old Alsatian French artillery officer of Jewish descent. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, and was imprisoned in Devil’s Island in French Guiana, where he spent nearly five years.
In 1896, evidence came to light—primarily through an investigation instigated by Georges Picquart, head of counter-espionage—which identified the real culprit as a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. When high-ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence, a military court unanimously acquitted Esterhazy after a trial lasting only two days. The Army laid additional charges against Dreyfus, based on forged documents. Subsequently, Émile Zola’s open letter J’Accuse…!, stoked a growing movement of support for Dreyfus, putting pressure on the government to reopen the case.
In 1899, Dreyfus was returned to France for another trial. The intense political and judicial scandal that ensued divided French society between those who supported Dreyfus (now called “Dreyfusards”), such as Sarah Bernhardt, Anatole France, Henri Poincaré and Georges Clemenceau, and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards), such as Édouard Drumont, the director and publisher of the antisemitic newspaper La Libre Parole. The new trial resulted in another conviction and a 10-year sentence, but Dreyfus was pardoned and released. In 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army. He served during the whole of World War I, ending his service with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He died in 1935.
The affair from 1894 to 1906 divided France into pro-republican, anticlerical Dreyfusards and pro-Army, mostly Catholic “anti-Dreyfusards”. It embittered French politics and encouraged radicalisation.
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Born On This Day
1912 – Elias Degiannis, Greek commander (d. 1943)
Ilias Degiannis (Greek: Ηλίας Ντεγιάννης; 22 December 1912 – 18 June 1943) was a Greek navy officer Resistance leader during the Axis occupation of Greece.
Degiannis had participated in the abortive pro-Republican coup attempt of March 1935, and been dismissed from the navy as a result.
He was one of a number of pro-Liberal or left-wing Greeks contacted and recruited by Section D of British intelligence in early 1941, forming an intelligence cell called “Prometheus” (Προμηθεύς) under the leadership of Colonel Evripidis Bakirtzis. Due to the German invasion of Greece and the rapid conquest of the country in April–May 1941, the British were not able to organize their clandestine network on a firm basis or provide them with suitable material such as radios. Following the British withdrawal, only the Prometheus group used its transmitter to send information to SOE in Cairo.
In early 1942, Bakirtzis was forced to leave Greece because his identity had been revealed to the Germans. Degiannis, along with fellow participants in the 1935 coup Charalambos Koutsogiannopoulos and Dimitris Bardopoulos, was left in charge of the group which was reorganized as “Prometheus II”. The group collected intelligence for the SOE and engaged in a successful sabotage campaign against Axis shipping.
He was arrested, tortured and executed by the Germans on 18 June 1943. He was promoted posthumously to Commander.
In December 1980 the Hellenic Navy commissioned the La Combattante IIIb-class fast attack craft Ypoploiarchos Degiannis (P 26) in his honour.
His brother Theodoros Degiannis became an admiral and chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff in 1982–1984, while another brother Ioannis Degiannis became a senior judge, presiding over the Greek Junta Trials.
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