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Alfred Dreyfus, the French Jewish military officer whose trial and imprisonment for twelve years on false charges of spying drove a wedge through French society, was shot in the arm and wrist by an anti-Semitic military journalist, Louis Grégori, while attending a ceremony honoring Emile Zola, Dreyfus’ great public defender, on this date in 1908. Zola’s ashes were being transferred to the Panthéon in a formal Paris ceremony attended by the president of France and several cabinet ministers; Dreyfus (at left in the photo above, following his rehabilitation) was two years out of prison and had been fully exonerated and made a Knight of the French Legion of Honor. “The Legion of Honor was dishonored by the nomination of Dreyfus,” said Grégori at his trial, “and the ceremony at the Pantheon came as a crowning infamy.” Grégori was acquitted by his jury, despite numerous eyewitnesses to his attack. Dreyfus had been one of very few Jews in the French officer corps when he was convicted and sentenced for treason in 1894. The Dreyfus Affair was a sensation in French society as people split over their attitudes towards Jews, human rights, French tradition. The actual evidence in the case clearly exonerated him and pointed to other guilty parties, which eventually led to his pardon and rehabilitation. Zola’s defense of Dreyfus led to his conviction for defamation and his exile from France.
“I did not fire specially at Dreyfus, but at Dreyfusism generally.” —Louis Grégori