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Dreyfus Scandal Ignited by Spying Cleaning Lady: Lewis Lapham

Lewis Lapham
Lewis Lapham, of "Lapham's Quarterly," in New York. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

March 3 (Bloomberg) -- In the later years of the 19th century, Paris was a hive of spies. A network of German agents was directed by Maximilian von Schwartzkoppen, the military attache; venal French citizens were caught selling sensitive information to the enemy.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

To gather intelligence, the French used the “Statistical Section,” where Martin-Joseph Brucker recruited menial workers to spy on their employers.

Marie-Caudron Bastian cleaned the German Embassy every day, and instead of burning all the papers in the waste baskets as instructed, she sold them to the French.

At one point, an irate mistress discarded by Brucker denounced him and Bastian as spies, but the Germans decided the cleaning lady was too stupid for that role.

In August 1894, Bastian got 100 francs for her latest delivery, a letter offering military secrets to Schwartzkoppen, which could only have come from a French officer.

It was the note that brought about the false conviction for treason of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a rich young Alsatian Jew, creating a scandal that tore France apart.

I spoke with Piers Paul Read, author of “The Dreyfus Affair,” on the following topics:

1. French Anti-Semitism

2. Catholic Army

3. Dreyfus on Devil’s Island

4. New Evidence Ignored

5. 1906 Exoneration

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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