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France

Prison letter by French man accused of treason sells for €380,000

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-05-29

A letter written by Alfred Dreyfus, whose framing for treason in 1894 and subsequent pardon split French society, sold for €380,000 at Sotheby’s in Paris on Wednesday, despite opposition from the Dreyfus family.

A letter written by the famed French army captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was wrongly convicted of treason over a century ago, fetched €380,000 at an auction at Sotheby’s in Paris on Wednesday.

Penned by Dreyfus in 1895 during his incarceration, the letter was written to France’s interior minister.

In it, Dreyfus proclaims his innocence, saying: "I have been sentenced for the most infamous crime a soldier can commit and I am innocent... I ask you, minister, not for grace or pity, but simply for justice."

The letter’s final sale price far exceeded pre-auction estimates of between €100,000 and €150,000.

But the sale came amid controversy, with members of the Dreyfus family having previously claimed the letter should be donated to a museum or a library, rather than sold off to the highest bidder.

"We urge the seller of this letter to give up the sale," Dreyfus's grandson Charles Dreyfus and historian Vincent Duclert wrote in an open letter seen by the AFP news agency earlier this week.

A scandal that divided French society

Dreyfus, born into a French-Jewish family, was framed and the victim of a subsequent cover up by the French army. In 1894 Dreyfus was found guilty of passing secret information to the German military attache in Paris and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason at the infamous Devil's Island penal colony in French Guiana.

As evidence of the cover up leaked to the public, the Dreyfus Affair, as it would become known, divided French society and sparked a fierce political debate over anti-Semitism in France.

Dreyfus’s supporters included the likes of Emile Zola, who in the winter of 1898 published his famous "J'accuse" letter to the president of the day, naming officials who framed Dreyfus.

A year later, Dreyfus was pardoned and set free, but it was not until 1906 that he was officially exonerated by the state.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-05-29

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