Dreyfus affair manuscript collection to make $1m?

A collection of letters and manuscripts relating to the Dreyfus affair could make up to $1m at Bonhams.

The lot will sell in the fine books and manuscripts auction in New York on September 21.  

Emile Zola Dreyfuss
The lot includes an essay from French playwright Emile Zola

The trial, which saw a Jewish officer in the French army unjustly accused of treason, was one of the biggest scandals of the 19th century.

Captain Alfred Dreyfuss, the officer in question, was convicted in 1894 of passing military secrets to the Germans - a crime for which he was imprisoned on Devil's Island in French Guiana.

The evidence was scant.

An investigation in 1896 identified a Ferdinand Walsin Esterhaz as the real spy, but the results were covered up by the right wing top brass.

In 1898 the playwright and novelist Emile Zola published a blistering open letter titled "J'Accuse...!" in newspaper L'Aurore.

In it, he calls out the government as anti-Semitic and chastises France for its treatment of Dreyfuss.

The archive consists of a letter by Dreyfuss, a manuscript copy of an earlier essay by Zola relating to the trial and a letter by Esterhaz maintaining his innocence.

Dreyfuss' letter dates to 1895 and gives an indication of the depths of his despair. He writes to the French Minister of Colonies asking to be shipped to a desert island alone.

He writes: "I have been condemned for a crime the most infamous that a soldier can commit and I am innocent.

"Only the grace that I have solicited, and failing that, I still solicit, would be justice.

"I ask that one carry out the investigations in order to unmask the monster who is doubly a criminal: who is traitor to his country and who allows his horrible crime to be blamed on an innocent man..."

The affair split France in two, but ended in 1906 with Dreyfuss' total exoneration and a promotion to major.

He is memorialised in two statues in Paris.

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