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Maximilian von Schwartzkoppen

Maximilian von Schwartzkoppen, about 1895

Maximilian Friedrich Wilhelm August Leopold von Schwartzkoppen (24 February 1850 – 8 January 1917 ) was a Prussian military officer. After serving as Imperial German military attaché in Paris, Schwartzkoppen was later given the rank of General of the Infantry,[1] and held various senior commands in World War I. He is known for his role in the Dreyfus Affair.


Life and careerEdit

He was born in Potsdam, Brandenburg, the son of Prussian general Emil von Schwartzkoppen (1810–1878) and his wife Anna Marie Luise, née von Ditfurth (1816–1865). The Schwartzkoppen family, ennobled in 1688, descended from Brunswick. Schwartzkoppen joined the Prussian Army in the late 1860s and took part in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. He served as a member of the general staff with the rank of captain (Hauptmann) from 1885 to 1888 and thereupon became adjutant to Prince Ernest Louis of Hesse.

On 10 December 1891, Schwartzkoppen was appointed as military attaché at the Embassy of the German Empire in Paris, maintaining relations with the French Republic. This was his second posting to Paris. In addition to performing formal representational and liaison duties, his subsidiary task was to obtain secret information on the French Army, without the knowledge of the German ambassador resident in Paris.[2] Instead, Schwartzkoppen reported directly and in confidence to the Director of Military Intelligence in Berlin. As a result of his spying, he became involved in the Dreyfus Affair. In 1894, he received an anonymous offer for the purchase of rather insignificant military intelligence, outlined in an unsigned "bordereau". The torn paper, supposedly in the handwriting of Alfred Dreyfus, was recovered from Schwartzkoppen's wastebasket by a French cleaning woman on September 25; it became the key evidence of Dreyfus's conviction for treason.

Serious doubts regarding the guilt of Dreyfus were raised during his trial. Later investigations showed that Schwartzkoppen was receiving intelligence from not Dreyfus but the French officer Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy.[3][4] Schwartzkoppen himself confirmed Dreyfus' innocence in his memoirs, published posthumously in 1930.

In the 1890s, Schwartzkoppen had an affair with Hermance de Weede, wife of the Counsellor at the Dutch Embassy in Paris, and a large number of their letters were intercepted by the authorities.[5] Also intercepted was correspondence between Schwartzkoppen and a popular figure in French diplomatic circles,[6] the Italian military attaché Lieutenant Colonel Count Alessandro Panizzardi. Their letters indicate the two freely exchanged intelligence and cooperated on espionage matters;[7] the letters are filled with passionate and erotic endearments[8][9] which[10] indicate that they too were having an affair.[11] The Schwartzkoppen and Panizzardi material was withheld from the Dreyfus defence team in 1894, but was later discussed in a closed session during the 1899 retrial.[12] While neither officer had anything to do with Dreyfus, the correspondence lent an air of truth to other documents that were forged by prosecutors to lend retroactive credibility to Dreyfus's conviction as a spy.

Some of these forgeries even referenced the real affair between the two officers: in one, Alessandro supposedly informs Panizzardi that if "Dreyfus is brought in for questioning," they must both claim that they "never had any dealings with that Jew. … Clearly, no one can ever know what happened with him."[13] The letters, real and fake, provided a convenient excuse for placing the entire Dreyfus dossier under seal, given exposure of the liaison would have 'dishonoured' Germany and Italy's military, and compromised diplomatic relations.

Later life and deathEdit

After returning from his diplomatic posting in Paris, Schwartzkoppen resumed routine military duties. In 1902, he married Luise Grafin von Wedel with whom he subsequently had two daughters. Promoted to the rank of general in 1907, Schwartzkoppen retired from the army the following year, moving to his country estate in the Altmark.

With the outbreak of war in August 1914, General Schwartzkoppen returned to active service. He commanded the 233rd Infantry Brigade in France, before being appointed in 1916 to lead the 202nd Infantry Division on the Russian Front. Suffering from pneumonia, he was hospitalized in Berlin. While delirious, he reportedly blurted out, "Listen to me. Dreyfus is innocent. There is no evidence whatsoever against him". His wife, seated at his side, made a written record of this statement. Schwartzkoppen did not recover and died on 8 January 1917.[14]


Schwartzkoppen was described as being a cultivated officer with considerable social charm;[15] characteristics which suited him for the diplomatic and Imperial Court functions which made up much of his military career.

Decorations and distinctionsEdit

Schwartzkoppen was an officer of the Kaiser's Military Suite and Colonel of the Emperor Franz Grenadier Guards Regiment. He received the decorations of Holder of the Red Eagle, First Class with oak leaves; Order of the Crown, First Class; and Member of the Knights of St John.


  1. ^ Reid, Piers Paul. The Dreyfus Affair. p. 349. ISBN 978-1-4088-3057-4.
  2. ^ Reid, Piers Paul. The Dreyfus Affair. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-4088-3057-4.
  3. ^ Robert Harris (17 January 2014). "The Whistle-Blower Who Freed Dreyfus". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 28 November 2014.
  4. ^ Adam Gopnik (September 28, 2009). "Trial of the Century: Revisiting the Dreyfus affair". The New Yorker. Condé Nast. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  5. ^ Reid, Piers Paul. The Dreyfus Affair. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-4088-3057-4.
  6. ^ Maguire, Robert J. Ceremonies of Bravery: Oscar Wilde, Carlos Blacker, and the Dreyfus Affair, Oxford University Press, 2013, p48
  7. ^ Maguire, Robert J. Ceremonies of Bravery: Oscar Wilde, Carlos Blacker, and the Dreyfus Affair, Oxford University Press, 2013, p48
  8. ^ Correspondance de Panizzardi à Schwartzkoppen, Dossier Secret, 2F, Service Historique de la Défense, 2016
  9. ^ "Trial of the Century". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2016-08-17.
  10. ^ Weber, Caroline (2013-03-13). "Dreyfus, Proust and the Crimes of the Belle Epoque". Bloomberg View. Retrieved 2016-08-17.
  11. ^ "Gay love sheds light on l'affaire Dreyfus | The Times". Retrieved 2016-08-17.
  12. ^ Forth, Christopher "The Dreyfus Affair and the Crisis of French Manhood, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006, p46
  13. ^ Weber, Caroline (2013-03-13). "Dreyfus, Proust and the Crimes of the Belle Epoque". Bloomberg View. Retrieved 2016-08-17.
  14. ^ Reid, Piers Paul. The Dreyfus Affair. p. 349. ISBN 978-1-4088-3057-4.
  15. ^ Reid, Piers Paul. The Dreyfus Affair. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-4088-3057-4.

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