January 13, 1898 French writer Emile Zola writes an open letter to the president of France, Félix Faure, in which he accuses the government and military of anti-Semitism and trying to frame a Jewish army officer on charges of espionage. The letter, entitled J’accuse! (or “I accuse”) was printed on the front page of French newspaper L’Aurore and attracted widespread attention both in France and abroad. In it Zola points to the lack of credible evidence in the conviction of artillery captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was exiled to the Devil’s Island penal colony in 1894 after being found guilty of passing military secrets to the German government. When evidence started to emerge that Dreyfus was in fact innocent, it was kept secret by the military establishment. Zola set out different aspects of the conspiracy and named those he considered responsible. He also blamed the anti-Semitic mood in France, something he called “the scourge of our time.” Zola was convicted of libel for publishing J’accuse! but escaped to England to avoid prison in France. Dreyfus received a pardon in 1899 and had his guilty verdict overturned in 1906.
Also on January 13: first ever public radio broadcast takes place in New York (1910); death of Irish writer James Joyce (1941); first use of an aircraft ejector seat (1942).
Born on January 13: Patrick Dempsey (1966), Stephen Hendry (1969), Orlando Bloom (1977).