Picquart's Investigations of the Dreyfus Affair

Picquart's Investigations of the Dreyfus Affair

While Alfred Dreyfus was serving his sentence on Devil's Island back in France a number of people began to question his guilt. The most notable of these was Major Georges Picquart.

Colonel Picquart

Not long after the condemnation of Alfred Dreyfus ,the military counter-intelligence section at the French War Ministry had a change of leadership. Lt Colonel Sandherr, incapacitated by general paralysis, had resigned from the post simultaneously with his assistant, Cordier (July 1 1895); Major Henry, who aspired to the position although he did not speak a single foreign language, was not appointed Sandherr's successor. Instead, Georges Picquart, who had been in charge of reporting the proceedings in the Dreyfus case to the War Minister and to his chief of the staff, received the appointment. He was a young and brilliant officer, of Alsatian origin, hard-working, well-informed, with a clear intellect, a ready speech, and who, moreover, appeared to share all the prejudices of his surroundings; he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel on April 6 1896, and was the youngest officer of that grade in the army. Immediately upon his arrival at the office he reorganized the service, which the prolonged illness of Sandherr had caused to be neglected. He required in particular that the paper bags in which Madame Bastian continued to collect the waste papers from the German embassy, and which she brought to Major Henry, should pass through his hands before being confided to Captain Lauth, whose work it was to piece and paste them together. These bags, however, never brought anything of importance to light, though they showed that the leakage of secret information had not ceased since the condemnation of Dreyfus.

The "Petit Bleu"

The chief of the staff, Boisdeffre, on transferring the service into Picquart's hands, had declared to him that in his opinion the Dreyfus affair was not definitely settled. They must be on the lookout for a counter-attack from the Jews. In 1894 they had not been able to discover a motive for the treason; there was therefore every reason for continuing the researches to "strengthen the dossier."

In the month of March, 1896, Henry, much occupied by the state of his mother's health and by different matters he had to attend to in the country, made only short and infrequent visits to Paris. One day he sent Madame Bastian's paper bag, particularly bulky on this occasion, to Picquart without even having had time to glance at it. Picquart, also without inspecting it, passed it on to Lauth. Lauth later brought his chief a pneumatic-tube telegram (commonly known as a "petit bleu"), the fragments of which he had found in the bag; pasted together, they contained the following words:

"To Major Esterhazy, 27 Rue de la Bienfaisance, Paris."

"Sir: I am awaiting first of all a more detailed explanation [than] that which you gave me the other day on the subject in question. Consequently I beg you to send it to me in writing that I may judge whether I can continue my relations with the firm R. or not. C."

The writing of this note was disguised, but the place it came from left no room for doubting that it emanated from Colonel Schwarzkoppen; the office possessed another document, known to have been written by him, and signed with the same initial "C." The "petit bleu" had not been sent by mail; apparently, after having written or dictated it, Schwarzkoppen reconsidered his determination and had thrown the note into the waste-paper basket, taking care to tear it up into very small pieces — there were more than fifty of them; he had foreseen neither the tricks of Madame Bastian nor the patient industry of the Intelligence Department.

"It is fearful," said Captain Lauth on delivering it. "Can there possibly be another one?" (meaning another traitor among the officers). Picquart could share only the same impression; but determined upon avoiding the indiscretions and the blunders which had been committed in 1894, he resolved to undertake personally a secret inquiry before spreading abroad the news of his discovery. He put the "petit bleu" away in his strong-box, and shortly afterward had photographs of it taken by Lauth, in which he strove to remove the traces of the rents.

The object of this precaution was both to make the reading of the photograph easier and to prevent the officers who would handle these photographs later on from guessing the origin of the document.

Major Esterhazy

Picquart began by getting information about the personality of Major Esterhazy, to whom the "petit bleu" was addressed. To this end he applied to his friend Major Curé, one of Esterhazy's fellow soldiers. The details he gathered through this source were not creditable to Esterhazy.

Picquart did not at once fathom all the details of Esterhazy's relations with the German attaché, of which the "petit bleu" had given him but a glimpse. Picquart did know, however, all the corruptions and scandals of Esterhazy's private life, the suspicions of malversation (in Tunis) and of espionage which had tainted his character; he learned further that Major Esterhazy, a neglectful officer, constantly absent from his garrison, was nevertheless extremely fond of getting information on confidential military questions, particularly those concerning mobilization and artillery. He diligently frequented artillery tests, and when he could not succeed in being ordered to attend the "écoles à feu," (artillery tests) went there at his own expense. This is what he had done notably in 1894, the year of the bordereau. He also borrowed books and documents, and had them copied by his secretaries.

Picquart's Investigations

At first Picquart did not establish any connection in his own mind between the "petit bleu" and the bordereau; he simply thought he was on the track of a fresh traitor, and hoped to catch him in the act. Different circumstances prevented him from pursuing his investigations. Besides, Esterhazy had been warned, and not only was it impossible to surprise him in any compromising visit, but he showed himself openly at the German embassy, to which he went to ask for a passport for his colonel. He even carried his audacity to the point of insisting that he be allowed to return to the War Office, in preference to the Intelligence Department, and was able to urge his request through the highest parliamentary and military influence.

However, a fresh incident occurred to strengthen Picquart's suspicions. The French military attaché at Berlin, Foucault, informed him of a curious conversation he had had with one Richard Cuers, a spy who wavered between France and Germany. Cuers told Foucault that Germany had never employed Dreyfus, that the only French officer who was in Germany's pay was a major of infantry who had furnished some sheets from lectures held at the "école de tir" at Châlons.

The Secret Dossier

Picquart acquainted General de Boisdeffre with his discovery, and upon the order of the general and of the minister of war, General Billot, he was directed to continue his inquiry as quietly as possible; still, Boisdeffre seemed from that time little disposed to recommend judicial proceedings. If Esterhazy were really a traitor, he would be dismissed from the army quietly; another Dreyfus affair was to be avoided. Picquart now set to work in earnest to get samples of Esterhazy's handwriting, and he succeeded in obtaining two letters which the major had written to the chiefs of Billot's cabinet. On looking at them Picquart was startled; the writing was identical with that of the bordereau attributed to Dreyfus. He wished to make sure of his impression, so he showed some photographs of these letters (from which he had removed the proper names) to Du Paty and Bertillon.

Du Paty declared: "They are from Matthew Dreyfus"; Bertillon said: "It is the writing of the bordereau." And when Picquart assured him that these letters were of recent date, he declared: "The Jews have, for the past year, been training some one to imitate the writing; he has succeeded in making a perfect reproduction."

The connection between the letters and the bordereau flashed across the mind of the colonel in all its terrible certainty. If Esterhazy, as the handwriting seemed to indicate, were the author of the latter, Dreyfus must be the victim of a judicial error. For a moment he clung to the idea that he must have further proofs of Esterhazy's guilt; where could they be if not in the secret dossier, communicated to the judges in 1894, and in which he had also placed blind confidence, without the least knowledge of its contents? This dossier, notwithstanding Mercier's orders, had not been destroyed; it was still in Henry's safe. During the latter's absence Picquart had the dossier brought to him by Gribelin, the keeper of the records; he turned it over in feverish haste, but this masterpiece of the "bureau" contained absolutely nothing that applied, or could be made to apply, to Dreyfus. Of the only two papers that were of any importance, one, the document "canaille de D . . .," did not in any way concern any officer, but only a poor scribbler who had assumed the name of Dubois, while the other, the memorandum of Schwarzkoppen, almost certainly pointed to Esterhazy. As to Du Paty's commentary, this was a mass of wild suppositions. Later this commentary was claimed by General Mercier as his private property and quietly destroyed by him.

Much concerned, but still confident of the honesty of his chiefs, Picquart immediately drew up a report and brought it to Boisdeffre, who ordered Picquart to go and relate his story to the deputy-chief of the staff, General Gonse. The general received the colonel, listened without flinching to his revelations, and concluded that they must "separate the two affairs," that of Dreyfus and that of Esterhazy. These instructions, confirmed by Boisdeffre, seemed absurd to Picquart, since the bordereau established an indissoluble bond between the two cases; he should have understood from that moment that his superiors had determined not to permit at any cost the reopening of the Dreyfus affair.

Father Du Lac

Boisdeffre had for spiritual adviser Father Stanislas du Lac, an influential Jesuit, who appears to have played an important though secret part in all this story. Perhaps the officers would not admit even among themselves that under their pompous formulas was hidden, above everything, the fear of seeing their positions in the military world melt away if they publicly confessed the part they had taken in the error and illegal act of 1894; for once the innocence of Dreyfus was established, the communication of the secret dossier would appear to everybody what it was in reality—an odious crime. As to General Billot, to whom Picquart, following Boisdeffre's orders, made a complete report of the case, he appeared deeply moved. He had not the same reasons as his companions to defend the judgment of 1894 at any cost, for he had had nothing to do with it, and learned for the first time the story of the secret dossier. But this soldier-politician lived in terror of his surroundings; he did not dare to see the affair clearly, and took for his motto the words of the comedy: "Je suis leur chef; il faut que je les suive" (I am their leader; I am bound to follow them).

Against the young chief of the Intelligence Office there was from this time forward on the part of his superiors secret strife which was bound to end in rupture, but of which Picquart was for a long time unconscious. He did not perceive that in his own office he was jealously spied upon, opposed, and deceived by his fellow workers, Henry, Lauth, and Gribelin. One of them, Henry, had some mysterious motives besides the desire to please his superiors. Since 1876, when they had served together at the Intelligence Office, he had been the comrade, the friend, and even the debtor of Esterhazy, although he pretended to know very little about him. Between these two men there existed a bond the exact nature of which has remained unknown, but which must have been very powerful to involve Henry in the falsehood, deceit, and forgeries which were unveiled later. If it is not certain that Henry was Esterhazy's accomplice, it seems very probable that from the end of 1894 he knew him to be the author of the bordereau, and knew also that the traitor had him in his power.

The Castelin Interpellation

In September, 1896, the rumor of the prisoner's escape brought the case abruptly back to public notice. The anti-Jewish press inveighed against the accomplices, the protectors of the traitor; a member of the Chamber, Castelin, announced that at the opening of the next session he would interpellate the ministry on this subject. Moreover, it was known at the Staff Office that the Dreyfus family was pursuing an inquiry and was getting ready to publish a pamphlet demanding the revision of the case.

Picquart, now that his eyes had been opened, was much preoccupied with all these plots. He believed Castelin to be working for the Dreyfus family. He had also been affected by a strange forgery, quite inexplicable to him, which had come into his hands early in September: a letter in a feigned handwriting, and in the style of a German, pretending to be addressed to Dreyfus by a friend, Weiss or Weill, and referring to imaginary "interesting documents" written in sympathetic ink, easily legible to expert eyes. This was probably the beginning of the plot to discredit Picquart, who insisted to Gonse that the initiative should come from the Staff Office. Gonse answered by vaguely advising him to act with prudence, and was opposed to the "expertises" in handwriting that the colonel demanded. In the mean time the bombshell burst. On 14 September "L'Eclair" published under the title "The Traitor" a retrospective article which pretended to bring to light the real motives for the judgment of 1894. The article revealed for the first time the fact of the communication to the judges of a secret document, but this document — the letter "canaille de D . . ." — now became a "letter in cipher" in which the following phrase was found: "This creature Dreyfus is becoming decidedly too exacting." This article had been brought to "L'Eclair" by a contributor to the "Petit Journal," where Henry had some acquaintances; nothing further is known concerning it. Picquart attributed it to the Dreyfus family, and desired to take proceedings, which his chiefs would not authorize. This only caused him to insist more firmly that immediate steps should be taken. Then took place between General Gonse and Picquart this memorable dialogue ["Le Procès Dreyfus Devant le Conseil de Guerre de Rennes," I. 440, 441, Paris, 1900.] :

:"What can it matter to you," said the general, "whether this Jew remains at Devil's Island or not?":"But he is innocent.":"That is an affair that can not be reopened; General Mercier and General Saussier are involved in it.":"Still, what would be our position if the family ever found out the real culprit?":"If you say nothing, nobody will ever know it.":"What you have just said is abominable, General. I do not know yet what course I shall take, but in any case I will not carry this secret with me to the grave."

From that day Picquart's removal was decided. He was authorized for the sake of appearances to continue his investigations concerning Esterhazy, but he was forbidden to take any decisive step, or, above all, to have the man arrested. With an adversary so cunning, ordinary measures — secret searches in his rooms, opening of his correspondence, examination of his desks — were of no avail, and never would be. For Esterhazy had been warned. He went to Drumont some time before the appearance of Lazare's pamphlet, and said that they desired to reopen the Dreyfus affair, and to involve him in it in order to retard his promotion ("La Libre Parole," 3 December 1902).

Henry's Confirmatory Letter

Meanwhile, Henry insinuated to General Gonse that it would be well to put the secret dossier (of the Dreyfus case) out of the way, for indiscretions might arise — perhaps had already arisen — because of it (an allusion to the article in "L'Eclair," which he wished to be attributed to Picquart). Gonse did not need to be told twice, and removed the dossier (30 October). A very few days later Henry triumphantly brought him a letter from Panizzardi, in blue pencil, which, he said, he had just found among some scraps in Madame Bastian's paper bag (31 October). It was thus worded:

My dear friend: I have read that a deputy is going to ask several questions on the Dreyfus affair. If they request any new explanations at Rome, I shall say that I never had any dealings with this Jew. That is understood. If they question you make the same reply, for nobody must ever know what has happened to him. Alexandrine.

The writing was apparently Panizzardi's, and in order to compare it Henry produced an earlier letter, supposed to have been taken from the waste of the secret dossier, written with the same pencil, on the same sort of paper ruled in squares, and containing the same signature. In reality, the letter brought for comparison contained fraudulent additions hinting at a Jewish traitor, while the new document was a forgery from beginning to end, executed by one of Henry's customary forgers, probably Leeman, called Lemercier-Picard, who later admitted to Count Tornielli that he had written it. Gonse and Boisdeffre believed or pretended to believe in its authenticity, and likewise convinced General Billot thereof. When Colonel Picquart expressed his doubts to Gonse the latter answered: "When a minister tells me anything I always believe it."

On 6 November the memoir which had been prepared by the Dreyfus family, and which had been written by Bernard Lazare, appeared at Brussels. He laid bare the inconclusive character of the incriminating document (without, however, publishing it), confirmed the communication of the secret document, but affirmed, in opposition to "L'Eclair," that it bore only the initial "D" and not the name of "Dreyfus" in full. The pamphlet, distributed to the members of the Chamber, received from the press a cold welcome. But a few days later (10 November) "Le Matin" published the facsimile of the famous bordereau attributed to Dreyfus. It became known later that it had been obtained from the expert Teyssonnières, who alone had kept the photograph of the bordereau confided to all the writing-experts in 1894. The publicity given to this facsimile would allow writing-experts all the world over to prove the differences that existed between the writing of the bordereau and that of Dreyfus; it might also meet the eyes of people who would recognize the writing of the true culprit, and that is exactly what happened. Esterhazy's handwriting was recognized particularly by Schwarzkoppen (who only then understood the drama of 1894), by Maurice Weil, and by a solicitor's clerk, the son of the chief rabbi Zadoc Kahn. The confusion at the Staff Office was now great; it grew worse confounded when Maurice Weil, one of Esterhazy's intimate friends, sent to the minister of war an anonymous letter which he had just received and which warned him that Castelin intended to denounce Esterhazy and Weil as accomplices of Dreyfus. The Staff Office pretended to recognize Picquart's hand in all these incidents, or at any rate to regard them as the result of his alleged indiscretions. His immediate departure was resolved upon. He had already been told that he would be sent to inspect the intelligence service in the east of France. Boisdeffre went with him to the minister, who rebuked Picquart soundly for having let information leak out and for having seized Esterhazy's correspondence without authorization. In recognition of his services in the past, he was not disgraced, but was ordered to set out immediately, and to resign his position to General Gonse. He did not protest, but started on 16 November. Two days later Castelin's interpellation, which had become a decided bugbear to the Staff Office, was made, but it failed of its purpose. Castelin demanded that proceedings should be instituted against the accomplices of the traitor, among whom he named Dreyfus' father-in-law Hadamard, the naval officer Emile Weyl, and Bernard Lazare. General Billot, who had addressed the Chamber before Castelin, affirmed the perfect regularity of the action of 1894, and made an appeal to the patriotism of the assembly to terminate a "dangerous debate." After a short and confused argument the Chamber voted an "ordre du jour" of confidence, inviting the government to inquire into the matter and to take proceedings if there were cause. A petition from Madame Dreyfus, invoking, with the support of the article in "L'Eclair," the communication of the secret document, was put aside by the judicial committee for want of sufficient proof.

Machinations Against Picquart

Meanwhile, under a pretext, Picquart was hurried off from Nancy to Marseille, and later on to Tunis; and, to avoid notice, he was attached to the Fourth Regiment of sharpshooters in garrison at Sousse. During the whole time General Gonse wrote to him upon the question of money, as if to suggest purchasing his silence. Picquart recorded in a codicil to his will the history of his discovery, which he intended for the president of the republic; in this way he was sure "not to take his secret with him to the grave."

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