PARIS - France's president urged continued vigilance against racism and intolerance at a national ceremony yesterday marking the 100th anniversary of the rehabilitation of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army captain whose trumped-up treason conviction came to symbolize French anti-Semitism.
On July 12, 1906, a top French court "rehabilitated" Dreyfus, meaning his name was formally cleared paving the way for his return to the army. The decision was reached after a protracted legal process involving several minor cases that also sought to sully his name.
He returned to the army and was awarded the Legion of Honor, one of France's most prestigious distinctions.
"The combat against the dark forces of intolerance and hate is never definitively won," said President Jacques Chirac, who presided over the ceremony in the cobblestone courtyard of Paris' Ecole Militaire, where Dreyfus was stripped of his rank and then rehabilitated 11 years later.
Relatives of Dreyfus attended the ceremony, along with relatives of writer Emile Zola, who campaigned on the besmirched captain's behalf. A bevy of ministers, historians and Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders were also present.
Chirac called Dreyfus, who served more than four years on Devil's Island off French Guiana before being cleared, "an exemplary officer" and a "patriot who passionately loved France."
Even 100 years after Dreyfus' rehabilitation, the affair continues to speak to modern-day France, which is still coming to terms with the collaborationist Vichy regime of World War II and still subjected to scattered anti-Semitic acts.
Many historians have applauded yesterday's event, saying it represented an important step toward confronting France's past.
But for some, the national ceremony steeped in pomp falls short. Chirac formally rejected a bid to have the remains of Dreyfus - interred at the Montparnasse Cemetery - transferred to the monument of French heroes, the Pantheon, beside those of Zola.
A statue of Dreyfus created in the mid-1990s never found its intended place at Ecole Militaire and stands elsewhere in Paris.
It began in 1894 with a letter intercepted by French army intelligence intended for the German military attache in Paris.
Within a few months, Dreyfuss was convicted and sent to Devil's Island on April 13, 1895.