Dreyfus trial: 120 years later, the city of Rennes has not forgotten

“Rennes has become the capital of the world for several weeks!” During the review of Captain Alfred Dreyfus in 1899, this French provincial city was propelled to the fore, an episode of its history still present 120 years later.
Condamné in 1894 in France by a military tribunal for passing documents to Germany, Alfred Dreyfus, from a family of Jews of Alsace (North-East of France), was deported and held in a prison in Guyana, French territory of South America.

“The Dreyfus affair”, a resounding scandal of the Third Republic in France, mixed miscarriage of justice, denial of justice and anti-Semitism against the captain, wrongly accused of high treason and who will finally be rehabilitated in 1906.

In 1898, the writer Émile Zola publishes “J’accuse …!” On the front page of the Paris daily newspaper L’Aurore, in the form of an open letter to the French president at the time, where he accuses the French government of anti-Semitism in this matter.

In the wake of this rostrum, the French Court of Cassation, in June 1899, breaks the judgment of 1894 and a new trial must take place … But why in Rennes, in the west of France?

Since this capital of the region of Brittany lost its parliament of the Ancien Régime, it has fallen asleep and “has the reputation of being a quiet city” with less than 70 000 inhabitants, far from Parisian fever, explains Philippe Bohuon, assistant animator at the Rennes tourist office, who prepares guided tours “trip to the time of the Dreyfus affair”.

Other assets: the city has a military court, multiple garrisons square the capital of a region with a rebel reputation, a railway connects to Paris in six hours and is located near a port of where Dreyfus can disembark after his long journey from Devil’s Island.

At the end of June, all hotels in Rennes are stormed by several hundred journalists, some from the United States, Italy or Argentina while engineers come from Paris to install new telephone lines in the office From post.

Several great French figures of the time, like Jean Jaurès, make the trip for the trial which, unlike that of 1894, is not in camera.

“At the time of the arrival of Dreyfus and throughout the summer, all eyes are turned to Rennes, which becomes the capital of the world,” says historian Vincent Duclert, author of several books on “The Case”.

Dreyfus is incarcerated in the military prison of Rennes: he has only a few meters to do in the middle of a hedge of soldiers to reach the hearing room installed across the street, in a room of the high school from Rennes.

Attempted assassination

Throughout the trial held from August 7 to September 9, many residents of Rennes come to attend the hearings, often in vain because of the influx. Also, the owner of a small plot erects a platform in his garden – at paying access – from where we can see Dreyfus make the short way between the prison and the school …

Evidence of feverish climate, one of the lawyers of Dreyfus, the boiling Fernand Labori, is the victim of an assassination attempt, not far from the court, receiving a bullet in the posterior.

“Dreyfusards” (those who supported Dreyfus from the beginning of the affair, Ed) and journalists meet at the Grand Cafe de la Paix, located … just below the military circle, giving rise to several verbal jousting between defenders and opponents of the captain.

On the day of the verdict, nearly 3000 telegraphs – a record – are sent to announce to the world the sentence of Dreyfus to ten years in prison with extenuating circumstances, by five votes to two, including that of the president of the court of war who votes ‘acquittal.

And just ten days after the Rennes judgment, French President Émile Loubet, because of international pressure and the risk of a boycott of the World Expo of 1900, grieves Alfred Dreyfus.

The 120 years of the trial are an opportunity for Rennes to propose until November 29 guided tours, exhibitions, plays, conferences, including one with the grandson of Alfred Dreyfus.

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