PARIS (Oct. 20)
Speaking at the unveiling this week of a statue commemorating Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac charged that France’s wartime Vichy regime was an accomplice in the Nazi campaign to exterminate European Jewry.
According to observers, Chirac’s comments marked the first time that a top-ranking French political leader explicitly charged the Vichy regime with complicity in the Holocaust.
Chirac, leader of the conservative Gaullist Party and a contender to succeed French President Francois Mitterrand in elections scheduled for next May, spoke Sunday at ceremonies marking the centennial of Dreyfus’ arrest on trumped-up charges of spying for Germany.
Chirac also said that the same forces that led to the false accusal and conviction of the Jewish army officer 100 years ago were still existent in Europe and France today.
Noting that “injustice, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and national division” all played a factor in the celebrated case, Chirac said these same factors, particularly antipathy toward Jews, were still prevalent today.
Dreyfus was arrested in 1894 after a French spy in the German Embassy found a document purportedly in Dreyfus’ handwriting that provided sensitive information to the Germans.
Dreyfus was subsequently arrested, convicted on charges of espionage, publicly stripped of his military medals and sent to Devil’s Island, a French penal colony off the coast of French Guiana, in South America.
In ensuing years there were growing calls for Dreyfus’ release, most notably by author Emile Zola, whose newspaper article, “J’Accuse,” charged that top army officials had fabricated the case against Dreyfus.
In July 1906, the verdict against Dreyfus was annulled by a civilian court, and he was reinstated into the army, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and fought the Germans in World War I.
Saying that the Dreyfus case provided the French people with a lesson in vigilance to prevent the repetition of such a scandal, Chirac said, “A century ago, the establishment wanted to destroy one individual. Half a century ago, the Vichy regime was objectively the accomplice in a genocide. It’s not the same scope, but it stems from the same source of evil.”