Paris, 1894. The Dreyfus Affair Divides Public Opinion
Alfred Dreyfus, a French captain of Jewish-Alsatian descent, was accused of treason for handing over documents to the German government. Several intellectuals—such as writer Émile Zola in his famous letter "J'accuse" published in the newspapers—blamed the French government of being anti-Semitic; in contrast, the nationalist newspapers wanted the traitor’s blood.

The origin of the tension between France and Germany dated from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, when France lost its northeastern territories of Alsace and Moselle (Lorraine). Deep seated resentment led to a widespread mistrust of anyone of "Germanic" origins from these regions, especially if they were in the French government or army.