Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Fall 2004 Newsletter

Forzinetti Acquisition Sheds Further Light on Dreyfus


Police Photograph of Alfred Dreyfus taken
immediately after the degradation ceremony,
1895. Photo by Alphonse Bertillon.


Text of the Bordereau, 1899. A holography
copy, in Dreyfus's hand, executed at his
second court martial.


Autograph telegram, in clerical hand, to
Forzinetti, July 12, 1906, informing Forzinetti of
the court's decision to annul the Rennes verdict.

"Truly, I am a victim of the most hideous miscarriage of justice in our century."

-Alfred Dreyfus, January 23, 1895

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center has acquired the papers of Ferdinand Forzinetti (1839-1909), one of the most seminal collections of materials in existence pertaining to the Dreyfus Affair.

The Dreyfus Affair centered on the 1894 trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer in the French army who was wrongly convicted of treason. The conviction was based on false documents, and when high-ranking officers realized their mistakes, a major cover-up ensued.

Commandant Ferdinand Forzinetti was the first Frenchman to protest and resist the persecution of Dreyfus. Indeed, within hours of Dreyfus's incarceration in Cherche-Midi, the military prison Forzinetti supervised, he became convinced of the captain's innocence, and over the ensuing decade played an essential role in the campaign to clear him.

Spanning the duration of the drama, Forzinetti's archive provides a panoramic view of the Dreyfus Affair. He corresponded with all of the key participants: Auguste Mercier, the ringmaster of the cover-up; Georges Picquart, the professional soldier and anti-Semite who nevertheless unmasked the real traitor; Joseph Reinach, the Jewish parliamentarian leader and prominent Dreyfusard who wrote the definitive history of the affair; George Clemenceau, the future premier; Fernand Labori, one of Dreyfus' lawyers at the retrial in Rennes (and Emile Zola's lawyer during the libel prosecution that followed the publication of "J'Accuse"); and many others. The archive also includes direct statements from the accused and his chief French advocate, Commandant Forzinetti.

Some later Dreyfusards-like Zola and Clemenceau-are better remembered than Forzinetti; some, like Reinach, Jean Jaur├Ęs, and Georges Picquart played more decisive parts in the affair. But Dreyfus valued none more than Forzinetti, a 56-year-old Algerian-born French soldier. Certain public figures only joined the fight when, in the words of historian Jean-Denis Bredin, they were "assured that their conscience and career could walk the same path together." Forzinetti, however, never showed such caution. A widower approaching the mandatory retirement age, he had four teenage children to support, circumstances that gave him every reason to toe the official line. In fact, he could have financially exploited the army's appetite for incriminating evidence-whether truthful or not-by providing perjured testimony against Dreyfus. Forzinetti never did. Indeed, the Forzinetti archive makes it clear how one morning a man may report to his desk, as he had hundreds, thousands of times before, and by the close of the day have the perilous opportunity for moral greatness set before him.

What scholars will find most compelling about the Forzinetti archive is that it remains virtually unknown and unused. Forzinetti's role in the affair was foundational-it was, literally, into his hands that Dreyfus was remanded on the day of his arrest, and it was there that he remained until his exile to Devil's Island. But insomuch as Forzinetti's descendents retained the collection for a century, the details of his complex involvement have remained undocumented.

Acquisition of the Forzinetti archive enhances the Center's previous holdings related to the Dreyfus Affair and constitutes a major addition to its Jewish Studies and French History collections. Given the historical importance of the affair, these materials will be the source of important textual research and general interest for scholars, students, and the public for years to come.

We are deeply grateful to the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation of Houston for providing the lead gift for this acquisition. We also wish to thank the Maxine and Jack Zarrow Family Foundation of Tulsa, Oklahoma for their financial support, along with The University of Texas System. These gifts made the acquisition of the Forzinetti archive possible.  

-Tom Galyean

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