Dreyfus relative: he was 'completely broken' by affair

Alfred Dreyfus, the French officer accused of treason in one of the most notorious episodes of institutional antisemitism in history, owed his eventual exoneration to the efforts of many, including writer Emile Zola.

But according to his great granddaughter, the artillery officer's survival was guaranteed by his wife Lucie, who was 24 when he was convicted of treason and exiled to Devil's Island.

"She was just wonderful," said Yael Perl Ruiz, whose mother was 18 when Dreyfus died. "Without Lucie I think he would have died. She never believed it even for one minute. She was very clever because she instilled in him that she need him and 'if you die I will die also, so then you have to live'.

"So that's why he began to fight, for his children and for his wife."

Ms Perl Ruiz, a fashion designer in Paris, said Dreyfus was often wrongly described as "a man with a very hard heart but he was full of tenderness".

"He was a hero, he was stoic, and he was full of courage and full of hope."

She told an audience at Kinloss synagogue that her mother recalled Dreyfus as a "completely broken" man even after he won justice.

"He never talked about what happened to him," she said. "He would wake at night and be screaming and having bad dreams. It was terrible."

She said he never Dreyfus never felt like he had his honour restored, even when he was readmitted by the army. "For him it was a second trauma because all the officers of his age were promoted around 1900. He knew that his career was finished and that he could never be a general."

"His life had been broken twice. He always thought that France was not antisemitic because France gave the same rights to the Jews. All the time of the trial he never accepted it was antisemitism. He didn't want to accept it."

Ms Perl Ruiz, who is friends with Zola's great granddaughter and working to open a Dreyfus museum at Zola House, also spoke of the inheritance that came with being from such a well-known family, said the affair still divided France. "We still have people who think he was guilty," she said.

Last updated: 3:15pm, July 16 2012