BEACHWOOD: The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage brings to life the famous Dreyfus Affair in an immersive exhibit opening today.
Many historians regard the 1894 Dreyfus Affair as a critical turning point in the ascendancy of modern media and as an early example of a media war.
Lies and Justice Denied: The Dreyfus Affair examines the charge of treason against a Jewish officer of the French military, Alfred Dreyfus, and the court and media battles that followed.
The exhibit, co-created by the Maltz Museum and the University of Pennsylvania, contains archival films, photographs, artifacts, works of art and period music that bring to life the world in which Dreyfus lived, highlighting the villains and heroes surrounding the case.
In 1894, Dreyfus was accused of selling French military secrets to the Germans. Although there was clear evidence the charges were false, that evidence was suppressed and Dreyfus was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island.
The movement against Dreyfus was fueled by anti-Semitism, which was common in France at the time.
Upon learning about the case, the novelist and essayist Emile Zola took on the French establishment in an open letter to the French president that was published on the front page of a daily newspaper.
Titled J’accuse, the letter accused the government of anti-Semitism and conspiring against Dreyfus with false charges of espionage. The now-famous diatribe described in detail the many injustices and irregularities that led to the life sentence Dreyfus had received.
With the help of Zola and others who opposed the army’s leadership, Dreyfus was pardoned and released from imprisonment on Devil’s Island in 1896 and fully exonerated in 1906.
Those unfamiliar with the history still might know the popular phrase “J’accuse,” meaning “I accuse you” in French. Since the court case, the phrase has become a common term to express outrage toward the powerful.
Examples of its usage in the English-speaking world can be found in political writings, essays, fiction and parodies.
The events surrounding the Dreyfus Affair and the meaning of those events have made the incident among the most written about moments in media history.
Time magazine ranked the Dreyfus Affair as No. 4 in the top “Trials that Shook the World.” The Dreyfus Affair also led to the creation of the Tour de France bicycle race, which was a publicity stunt to gain readership for a startup newspaper, created by the anti- Dreyfusards.
The exhibit at the Maltz Museum runs through Jan. 5. Tickets to the museum and this special exhibit are $12 for adults and $5 for children.
The museum, at 2929 Richmond Road, Beachwood, is open Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, go to www.maltzmuseum.org.