Photo Credit: Saul Jay Singer

The Dreyfus Affair became a metaphor for antisemitism and, in one of the most unlikely and ironic sequences of events in Jewish history, Dreyfus (1859-1935), a wholly assimilated Jew, played a critical, if unintended, role in the rebirth of the State of Israel.

1894 postcard depicting the Bordereau, “Document no. 1” in the Dreyfus trial.

After French intelligence had intercepted the “Bordereau,” a secret military document sent in 1894 to the German military attaché, Eduard Drumont, founder of the antisemitic daily La Libre Parole, published a report accusing Dreyfus, the only Jewish member of the French General Staff, of spying for Germany. Major Joseph Henry forged documents implicating Dreyfus and, after a secret trial, Dreyfus was convicted of treason on December 21, 1894, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. He was paraded through the streets of Paris to mob jeers of “Death to the Jews” and was stripped of his sword in a humiliating public ceremony. Intelligence later seized a letter written by Major Ferdinand Esterhazy which clearly established that Esterhazy, not Dreyfus, was the German spy, but the French government squelched this evidence and Esterhazy was acquitted.


On January 13, 1898, Emile Zola (1840-1902), perhaps the most eminent 19th-century French author, published his famous J’Accuse! in which he accused the government and the military of conspiracy and malicious libel against Dreyfus. (Zola escaped to England after he was convicted of libel for J’Accuse!.) Antisemitic riots broke out throughout France, and the Dreyfus Affair became a major public issue. In 1898, the case was re-opened and Henry’s forgeries were detected; nevertheless, Dreyfus was again convicted (September 9, 1899) and was sentenced to five years in prison. This second miscarriage of justice evoked international condemnation until, finally, Dreyfus was pardoned and was promoted to major in 1906.

The Dreyfus Affair made a powerful impact on the outlook of world Jewry. In particular, Herzl’s confidence in liberalism, badly shaken when he personally witnessed Dreyfus’ disgrace, led him to the Zionist Idea. Jews everywhere realized that if such hatred of Jews could occur in France, the “homeland of liberty,” against a wholly assimilated Jew, then Jews couldn’t be safe anywhere and assimilation was no defense against antisemitism.


Du Paty de Clam portrait.

When, through the Bordereau, French military intelligence became aware in September 1894 of a spy within the army, Armand du Paty de Clam (1853-1916), a devout antisemitic Catholic loyalist and a major with the French General Staff, became deeply involved in the investigation to identify the traitor, due principally to his alleged “expertise” in handwriting analysis, although he was only – at best – an amateur. A brief three-week investigation identified approximately six suspects, but the pompous and patrician du Paty de Clam decided that the Jew Dreyfus was the criminal.

On October 15, 1894, du Paty de Clam effected an ambush of Dreyfus by summoning him to a meeting also attended by two civilian police detectives and a French military intelligence officer, during which he faked an injury to his writing hand, asked a bewildered Dreyfus to take dictation, and proceeded to dictate the precise words written in the Bordereau. After comparing Dreyfus’s writing through the lens of unadulterated antisemitic animus, he ignored warnings from professional handwriting experts – including a conclusion from Alfred Gobert, a leading expert and graphologist for the Bank of France, that “there were numerous and important disparities that had to be taken into account” – and announced that Dreyfus had written the Bordereau. He charged the Jewish officer with high treason and offered him the “honorable” way out: he gave him a revolver with a single bullet in the chamber. When Dreyfus proclaimed his innocence and refused to take his own life, he was transferred to Major Henry who, according to plan, had been waiting in an adjacent room.

The French General Staff ordered du Paty de Clam to assemble and compile the prosecution’s case against Dreyfus, but he failed to uncover any further evidence against him even after ransacking his home and the homes of his relatives, and Dreyfus refused to confess to a crime he had not committed, even after being subjected to brutal interrogation. Relying on his handwriting analysis, du Paty de Clam testified against Dreyfus at a court-martial hearing in late December 1894. When word got out that Dreyfus was about to be acquitted, he provided the infamous “secret dossier” to the tribunal and, in a blatant violation of the French Code of Military Justice, the tribunal accepted it. As it turned out, du Paty de Clam had manufactured a wholly counterfeit version of an important telegram (and misrepresented others) and then, in a prohibited ex parte communication, he represented to the tribunal that “this telegram is the pivot of the Affair.”

German postcard, “The Crown Witnesses” “Remembrance of the Zola Process” (Paris 1898). Du Paty de Clam, the leading witness, is depicted on the left.

The focus of the miscarriage of justice against Dreyfus has always been upon the fraudulently-obtained Dreyfus handwriting sample, but it may have been du Paty de Clam’s bogus telegram that determined the outcome in Dreyfus’ conviction by the tribunal. In any event, du Paty de Clam was later promoted to lieutenant colonel for his “excellent work” in the Dreyfus prosecution and conviction.

When the anti-Dreyfus conspiracy began to come to light, du Paty de Clam took a leading role in attempting to suppress the truth, including meeting with Esterhazy, the real spy, in October 1897; warning him of the emerging allegations against him; and promising protection by the French military authorities. He also participated in sending threatening telegrams to Colonel Georges Picquart, the principal whistleblower who emerged as perhaps the unlikeliest hero in the Dreyfus Affair and proved to be a key figure in unraveling the Affair and proving Dreyfus’ innocence. At a time when Dreyfus had few defenders in the French army, Picquart, an unapologetic antisemite, found evidence of Dreyfus’s innocence, and damaged his career by fighting for justice for Dreyfus. In particular, it was Picquart who obtained samples of Esterhazy’s handwriting that later proved to be identical to the writing of the Bordereau that had been attributed to Dreyfus.

Dreyfus Affair postcard depicting Picquart, a most unlikely hero.

When Picquart obtained the secret dossier provided to the tribunal in 1894, which had been stored since then in Henry’s safe, he discovered that the dossier contained nothing relating to Dreyfus. He immediately drew up a report, but he was ordered to conceal his discoveries and, when he persisted, he was demoted and sent to Tunis; he was indicted in July 1898 for revealing military secrets to civilians, was placed under arrest in a military prison and was accused of forging the note that had convinced him of Esterhazy’s guilt. Dreyfus’s exoneration in 1906 also served to pardon Picquart who, by an act of the Chamber of Deputies, was promoted to brigadier-general and he subsequently entered Georges Clemenceau’s first cabinet as Minister of War.

The beginning of the end for du Paty de Clam was the January 1898 publication of J’Accuse!, in which Zola declared that he was the leading villain at the heart of the evil Dreyfus Affair:

A nefarious man carried it all out, did everything: Lieutenant Colonel du Paty de Clam, at that time only a Commandant. He is the entirety of the Dreyfus business; it will be known only when one honest investigation clearly establishes his acts and responsibilities. He seems a most complicated and hazy spirit, haunting romantic intrigues, caught up in serialized stories, stolen papers, anonymous letters, appointments in deserted places, mysterious women who sell condemning evidences at night. It is he who imagined dictating the Dreyfus memo; it is he who dreamed to study it in an entirely hidden way, under ice; it is him whom commander Forzinetti describes to us as armed with a dark lantern, wanting to approach the sleeping defendant, to flood his face abruptly with light and to thus surprise his crime, in the agitation of being roused. And I need hardly say that that what one seeks, one will find. I declare simply that commander du Paty de Clam, charged to investigate the Dreyfus business as a legal officer, is, in date and in responsibility, the first culprit in the appalling miscarriage of justice committed . . .

Ah! this first affair is a nightmare for those who know its true details! Commander du Paty de Clam arrests Dreyfus, in secret. He turns to Mrs. Dreyfus, terrorizes her, says to her that, if she speaks, her husband is lost . . . There was behind this, only the romantic and lunatic imaginations of Commander Paty de Clam . . . [Dreyfus] is the victim of the lurid imagination of Major du Paty de Clam, the religious circles surrounding him, and the “dirty Jew” obsession that is the scourge of our time.

Later that September, the French army put du Paty de Clam on inactive status and, after reviewing the Dreyfus case in March 1899, the Supreme Court of Appeals ordered his arrest just prior to Dreyfus’s re-trial on his court martial in June 1899.

One of the terms of Dreyfus’s acceptance of a pardon in late 1899 was the grant of amnesty to all the perpetrators of the reprehensible Affair, including the degenerate du Paty de Clam. Stigmatized by his now-exposed role in the Affair, he resigned from the army in early 1901, but he successfully applied for re-admission in 1913 as a lieutenant colonel in the Territorial Army reserve forces. He was wounded early in World War I at the First Battle of Marne in September 1914 and was awarded the prestigious Legion of Honour, but he died from his wounds in 1916.

His son, Charles du Paty de Clam, later followed in his father’s “glorious” anti-Jewish tradition by serving as “Commissioner-General for Jewish Affairs” under the Vichy government in 1944, in which capacity he was responsible for enforcing Nazi racial theories against the Jews.

Rare original du Paty De Clam correspondence.

In this June 2, 1909, correspondence on his infantry letterhead – notwithstanding the fact that he had been earlier discharged from the military – du Paty de Clam writes regarding a letter that he had submitted to Le Siecle, a French newspaper published from 1836-1932.

I would be grateful if you could have a search made to find out if the “Siecle” has published a letter from me in one of the issues after last May 27. Receive, sir, my sincere greetings . . .

On April 4, 1898, La Siecle, published the first of four documents that were of critical importance in exposing Esterhazy’s guilt and enabled Dreyfus supporters to regroup in the wake of Zola’s libel conviction. As a leading pro-Dreyfus journal, it continued to strongly support the Dreyfus cause, including discussion of du Paty de Clam’s role in the Affair, and it is not difficult to imagine that his referenced letter to the journal was not submitted in support of its editorial position.



David Nunes Carvalho (1848-1925) studied at New York College, where he specialized in organic chemistry and photography. Much like his famous father, Solomon, discussed below, he began as a photographer; he patented an “orange pea green” studio color which reduced exposure times and was superior to the blue background most commonly used at the time; and he also patented various applications for celluloid before becoming an authoritative handwriting expert (1872).


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Manifesting an extraordinary gift for investigating inks and handwriting, Carvalho was called upon as an expert witness in many famous trials for over fifty years. His forensic expertise was touted by no less an authority than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his legend was such that, according to a review in the Hartford Daily Courant, “It is indeed a fact that Sir Conan Doyle stated in a lecture in New York that Mr. Carvalho’s powers exceeded those given to Sherlock Holmes, and were so startling that he would never dare put them into fiction!”

It was Carvalho’s investigation of the accusations of forgery in the documents said to have proven Dreyfus’ guilt, and his identification of Esterhazy as the writer of the suspect documents, that were greatly responsible for freeing Dreyfus from Devil’s Island. His broad experience and humanitarian approach coupled with strong scientific methodology underpinned Zola’s appeal in the Dreyfus Affair and earned him international recognition.


The story begins with Carvalho traveling with his daughter to Manhattan in 1896 to purchase a hat when, stopping to eat in a French restaurant, he happened to see a page in Le Matin, a French newspaper, that reproduced the Bordereau. After writing to Dreyfus’s wife, he was visited at his Long Island home by two of her representatives, who delivered writing samples that served as the basis for a sworn deposition that he sent to Dreyfus’s team (and also to Zola). According to his daughter’s account, Carvalho explained to her:

A particular feature of all of the writings of Captain Dreyfus was that all of his initial letters started from the base line and that the second letter is in general curiously raised above the line . . . I have learned by many years of experience that when a man tries to disguise his handwriting he tries to avoid the dominant and apparent characteristics of it . . . if he attempts to imitate the handwriting of another he will look for these dominant and apparent characteristics and make them more intense. That is what Esterhazy has done.

Carvalho’s broad public fame was not based entirely upon his critical role in the Dreyfus case, which was but one of the many famous cases in which he served as a graphology expert. One such notable case was the matter of millionaire William Marsh Rice who died in his Madison Avenue apartment in September 1900, after which his lawyer wrote a series of large checks drawing on Rice’s account and produced an alleged will that bequeathed Rice’s entire estate to him. Carvalho convinced the jury that the signatures had been forged; Rice’s lawyer was subsequently incarcerated for fraud and Rice’s estate was used to launch and fund Rice University in Houston. Carvalho proved that four of the questioned signatures were almost identical and, in a principle regularly used by contemporary handwriting verification experts and well-known to autograph collectors, he explained that “it isn’t possible for any human being – let along a feeble old man – to write his signature exactly in the same way twice.” [Collectors: Beware the dreaded autopen!]

Carvalho authored several basic studies in the field of handwriting analysis, including particularly the definitive work on ink he wrote at the end of the 19th century, Forty Centuries of Ink, which he subtitled “A Chronological Narrative Concerning Ink and its Backgrounds Introducing Incidental Observations and Deductions, Parallels of Time, and Color Phenomena, Bibliography, Chemistry, Poetical Effusions, Citations, Anecdotes, and Curiosa Together with Some Evidence Respecting the Evanescent Character of Most Inks of Today and an Epitome of Chemico-Legal Ink.” In the book, he examines how and where ink was produced from the dawn of history; analyzes its ingredients and its effect on different forms of paper; and recounts how it was used throughout history by different cultures. Interestingly, perhaps referring to his work in the Dreyfus Affair, he writes, “The criminal abuse of ink is not infrequent by evil-disposed persons who try by secret processes to reproduce ink phenomena on ancient and modern documents.”

Original Carvalho correspondence (with photo).

Exhibited here is a December 30, 1875, correspondence written by Carvalho to “Aunt Bea” on his Bachrach Photo-Engraving Company letterhead, which identifies him as a manager along with David Bachrach:

I beg to announce my engagement of marriage with Miss Annie Abrams. With love, I am

Your affectionate nephew

D. N. Carvalho

David Bachrach (1845-1921) was an American commercial photographer based in Baltimore who made important contributions to the technical, artistic, and professional advancements in the field as well as being the founder of a photographic dynasty that became a unique institution in the United States. He became the spokesman for photographers at the turn of the 20th century and he developed the first practical process for photographic printing on canvas, a forerunner of the present-day photoengraving system; he was also Gertrude Stein’s uncle.

Father and son portrait: Solomon and David Carvalho.

The scion of one of America’s most notable, albeit largely forgotten, Jewish families, Carvalho was the son of Solomon Nunes Carvalho, a renowned artist, daguerreotypist and pioneer in travel photography who, having participated in John Charles Fremont’s final expedition through the Rocky Mountains (1853), is believed to be the first photographer – and the first Jew – ever to accompany such an exploration. While traveling with Fremont, he devised a method for producing photographic images in subzero temperatures and exterior settings and later patented a new process for water heating. His beautiful daguerreotypes helped to promote American belief in “manifest destiny” but, sadly, in a great loss to American history, they were destroyed in a fire after he turned them over to famous Civil War photographer Matthew Brady.

Solomon was a Sephardic Orthodox Jew who made many significant Jewish contributions in the various places he lived across the United States, including founding the Beth Israel Sephardic Synagogue in Baltimore. A senior executive in William Randolph Hearst’s media empire, Solomon is believed by many critics to have been the model for the character Mr. Bernstein, the bespectacled Jewish character in Citizen Kane who understands that Kane’s unbridled arrogance is merely a pretext on the part of a lost, lonely boy, and loves him unconditionally without any expectation of remuneration or reward.

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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at [email protected].