Alfred Dreyfus was born into the family of a wealthy textile manufacturer in Mulhouse, in the French province of Alsace, and educated in Paris. When Alsace was ceded to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War (1871), Alfred opted to stay in France. The rest of the family returned to Mulhouse to run the business.
Dreyfus attended the elite Ecole Polytechnique military school, training as an artillery officer. He married Lucie Hadamard, a wealthy woman in her own right. He became the first Jewish army officer in the General Staff, the highest reaches of the French army. In September 1894, a cleaning woman (and French spy) discovered incriminating papers in a wastepaper basket at the German Embassy.
Given the anti-Semitic campaigns of Drumont and his like, Dreyfus became an obvious target of the investigation. The court martial was rigged to come to a speedy guilty verdict. Dreyfus was stripped of his honors and sent to spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement on Devil’s Island in French Guiana.
Dreyfus owes his release to his oldest brother, Mathieu, who left Mulhouse to devote himself to vindicating him. After much effort and a growing alliance of those convinced of his innocence, Alfred Dreyfus was returned to France in 1899 to face retrial by the military court. Despite overwhelming evidence that the treason had been committed by the scoundrel, Ferdinand Esterhazy, Alfred Dreyfus was found guilty again (with extenuating circumstances) on 9 September and “pardoned” by the President of the Republic ten days later. Some of his allies never forgave him for accepting this pardon (rather than full exoneration). Others like Mathieu supported Alfred’s decision to return to some semblance of normal life.
Dreyfus was officially exonerated in 1906 and rejoined the army. He served as an artillery officer throughout World War I.