“It is a crime to poison the small and the humble,
to exasperate passions of reaction and intolerance,
while taking shelter behind the odious antisemitism…”
A day like today in February 07 1898 the Émile Zola was brought to trial for libel for publishing J’Accuse in the L’Aurore a literary, liberal, and socialist newspaper published in Paris, France J’accuse is in my opinion one of the most important historical essays ever written because it brought to public opinion an honest and objective critic against the ruling elite’s injustices.
In his letter, Zola addressed President of France Félix Faure, and accused the government of antisemitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army General Staff officer sentenced to penal servitude for life for espionage. Further, “Zola pointed out judicial errors and lack of serious evidence. The letter was printed on the front page of the newspaper, and caused a stir in France and abroad. Zola was prosecuted and found guilty of libel on 23 February 1898. To avoid imprisonment, he fled to England, returning home in June 1899.”
Zola’s intention was that he be prosecuted for libel so that the new evidence in support of Dreyfus would be made public (“Correspondence Between Emile Zola and Imprisoned Alfred Dreyfus”. Shapell Manuscript Foundation.) The case divided France deeply between the reactionary army and church and the more liberal commercial society and its ramifications continued for many years. On the 100th anniversary of Zola’s article, France’s Roman Catholic daily paper, La Croix, apologized for its antisemitic editorials during the Dreyfus Affair. As Zola was a leading French thinker, his letter formed a major turning-point in the affair.
Zola’s powerful letter included a direct conversation to the President of France to whom he address as a honorable and rightful man,
And it is to you, Mr. President, that I will proclaim it, this truth, with all the force of the revulsion of an honest man. For your honor, I am convinced that you are unaware of it. And with whom will I thus denounce the criminal foundation of these guilty truths, if not with you, the first magistrate of the country?
And by doing this, he requested the President to be truthful to Justice.
Lets have this letter as a memory of which is our truthful right and obligation as citizens of our States. Let us remember that We MUST always Accuse the wrongdoers and Demand justice to prevail.
Audio (French) – J’Accuse – Lettre ouverte d’Emile Zola
Here you can find the English translation of the letter: “I Accuse…!” By Émile Zola