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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials - The Dreyfus Affair

In 1894, a Jewish French army officer named Alfred Dreyfus was accused of treason. Despite tenuous evidence, he was convicted - largely because of strong antisemitism. Dreyfus was eventually pardoned, but the incident exposed deeply-held anti-Jewish sentiment in turn-of-the-century Europe.

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at five of its most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on The Dreyfus Affair.


In 1894, a French spy working as a maid at the German embassy discovered a torn up memo in the wastebasket of German diplomat Max von Schwarzkoppen. The memo detailed the inner workings of a new firing mechanism in a French cannon.


After having the letter analyzed by handwriting experts, Lt. Colonel du Paty de Clam, a self-proclaimed handwriting expert declared the writing to be that of Alfred Dreyfus, a French officer who was Jewish. After a quick, closed trial, Dreyfus was convicted and sentenced to exile on Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana.


After Dreyfus’s conviction, a newly appointed head of intelligence, Georges Picquart, discovered evidence that Dreyfus was innocent. When he brought this information to his superiors, he was quickly transferred to Tunisia and relieved of duty. Picquart’s deputy, Hubert-Joseph Henry, later committed suicide when it was revealed that he had forged a document to support Dreyfus’s conviction once Picquart started investigating.


Picquart concluded that the real culprit was not Dreyfus but a French officer named Ferdinand Esterhazy. It was later discovered that Esterhazy had a long history of giving information to Max von Schwarzkoppen.


In response to the mounting evidence that Esterhazy, not Dreyfus, was the traitor, French writer Emile Zola wrote J’Accuse...!, an open letter to French President Felix Faure. J’Accuse…! was published by future French prime minister Georges Clemenceau who, at the time, owned a newspaper named L’Aurore. The letter brought significant public attention to the case, eventually leading to a pardon for Dreyfus.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

* From the French Ministry of Culture, an extensive site dedicated to Dreyfus and the scandal that bears his name.

* Here’s a collection of photos, cartoons, and other visual media related to the Dreyfus Affair and how it played out in French society.

* From CNN, a study into the prevalence of antisemitism in contemporary Europe.

* Best-selling author Robert Harris talks about the Dreyfus Affair:

* Finally, this video does a nice job of summarizing the Dreyfus Affair:


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