In 1895 Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935), a French artillery officer, was wrongfully convicted of passing military secrets to the Germans, and sentenced to lifelong solitary confinement at the infamous penal colony on Devil's Island, off the northern coast of South America. His Jewish background made him a target of institutional prejudice, his superiors moving repeatedly to suppress evidence which might have proven his innocence.
As Freud's reference attests, the so-called 'Dreyfus Affair' became the focus of international attention and widespread outrage, incited by influential figures like the novelist Émile Zola. After over a decade of imprisonment, Dreyfus would finally be exhonerated in 1906. Following an unsuccessful assassination attempt, reinstated and promoted, he went on to serve throughout the Great War. At its close he was awarded France's highest decoration, the légion d'honneur.
Online text of Émile Zola's open letter 'J'Accuse...!', published in L'Aurore, (1898)