ESTERHAZY, MARIE-CHARLES-FERDINAND WALSIN. (1847-1923). French infantry officer and German spy whose actions precipitated the infamous Dreyfus Affair. ALS. (“Estzy”). 2/3 p. 12mo. (Paris), N.d. (May 1898). To a male friend. In French with translation.

“Dear friend, I had asked you to have the newspaper’s letter reproduced, but the last paragraph was grotesquely truncated.

It is: as for me, I will follow three days in a row, from tomorrow, at 7 in the evening, the streets of and of .... Thank you in advance...”

The son of a distinguished Crimean War veteran of Hungarian descent, Esterhazy joined the French Foreign Legion, fought during the Franco-Prussian War, and later became a German translator for the French military counter-intelligence section and the French War Ministry. He was employed by the Intelligence Department during the 1882 expedition to Tunisia, which had become a French protectorate the prior year. During this time, he inserted his war “exploits” into the official record, which were later identified as inaccurate. Despite his quarrelsome nature and profligate spending habits, Esterhazy advanced in his military career, but after squandering his inheritance, his wife’s dowry, and speculating in stocks and gambling, he sought financial assistance from the wealthy Jewish Rothschild family in June of 1894.

That same month, Esterhazy secretly met with the military attaché of the German Embassy, Colonel Max von Schwartzkoppen. A few months later, a cleaning woman employed by French Counterintelligence as a spy in the embassy recovered from Schwartzkoppen’s wastepaper basket the torn remnants of a memorandum, or bordereau, listing classified French military information. It was immediately assumed that a spy was working out of the French General Staff’s headquarters. Prompted by a pervasive anti-Semitic sentiment, and with no evidence other than a similarity in handwriting, the army arrested Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus for treason, accused and tried him as the author of the bordereau, and banished him for life in solitary confinement on Devil’s Island.

In August 1896, Georges-Marie Picquart (1854-1914), chief of military intelligence, discovered a letter (the petit bleu) from the German Embassy addressed to Esterhazy and, later, matched Esterhazy’s handwriting to the bordereau. After bringing the evidence of Dreyfus’ innocence and Esterhazy’s guilt to his superiors, the army resolutely protected Esterhazy and hid its complicity. As punishment, Picquart was assigned to active duty in Tunisia, though he still sought to persuade those in power of the truth. His ongoing involvement led Esterhazy and his confederates to forge evidence against Picquart.

In the meantime, Dreyfus’ ally, Senate Vice President Auguste Scheurer-Kestner, whom Picquart had convinced of the truth, published a letter in the November 15, 1897, issue of Le Temps declaring Dreyfus’ innocence. Shortly thereafter, in November 1897, Esterhazy’s trial began and Picquart was recalled to Paris to testify. Despite the evidence, it was Esterhazy who was cleared during an inquest and subsequent court martial in January 1898, and Picquart who was imprisoned in January 1898 for revealing military secrets. After Esterhazy’s trials, antisemitic demonstrations erupted throughout France. The events prompted author Emile Zola to famously publish his letter “J’accuse…!” in L’Aurore on January 13, 1898. Zola was then put on trial for libel with Picquart testifying in Zola’s defense. Zola was convicted on February 23 and Picquart was dismissed from the army on February 26. On March 5, Picquart fought a duel with Hubert-Joseph Henry, an anti-Dreyfusard army officer who forged evidence against Dreyfus. Meanwhile, Esterhazy was also attempting to provoke Picquart into a fight, sending his seconds to Picquart on March 3, and then publishing an open challenge to a duel and accusations of cowardice, dated May 23, in the May 27, 1898, issue of Le Temps (reproduced here), the subject of our letter. The published notice states that Picquart can find Esterhazy in the Paris streets of Lisbonne and Madrid for three successive days beginning the following day at 7 p.m., a point clarified in our letter.

Le Petit Journal published an illustration depicting “an incident between Esterhazy and Picquart” on July 17, 1898, but the event occurred sometime prior to that date as, after testifying at Zola’s trial for libel and becoming one of Dreyfus’ most vociferous champions, Picquart was accused of forging the petit bleu, and imprisoned again on July 13, 1898. Thousands of people signed petitions for Picquart’s release circulated by Le Siècle and L’Aurore leading to his freedom in June 1899. Seven years later, Picquart was finally exonerated, promoted to brigadier general and, in October, made Minister of War.

Our letter is not only evidence of Esterhazy’s ongoing provocation of Picquart but provides an example of the handwriting that was central to the Dreyfus Affair. Gently folded with barely visible damp-staining and normal wear. In fine condition and rare, especially regarding the affair. [indexhistory] [indexJudaica]

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