Napoleon's Crimes

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Napoleon's Crimes: A Blueprint for Hitler (in French Le Crime de Napoléon) is a controversial book published in 2005 by French philosopher Claude Ribbe, who is himself of Caribbean origin. In the book, Ribbe advances the thesis that it was Napoleon Bonaparte during the Haitian Revolution, not Hitler and the Nazis 140 years later, who first used gas chambers as a method of mass execution. The book caused a minor political and academic storm when it was published, and its premise remains under contention to this day.

In the early 19th Century, the French colonies of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and Guadeloupe were hit by a series of massive slave rebellions. Napoleon was in charge of putting them down, and he did so with brutal efficiency. Ribbe claims that some of Napoleon's men refused to do as they were ordered, and then later wrote journals describing the massacre. From these passages, he claims that Napoleon's troops burnt sulphur (readily collected from nearby volcanoes) to make sulphur dioxide gas, which is extremely poisonous. This would have been effective at helping to quell the rebelling Caribbean slaves.

Ribbe's most controversial accusation is that the holds of ships were used as makeshift gas chambers; he says that up to 100,000 black slaves were murdered in them. These revelations are still in considerable academic dispute, but when the book was published, the French establishment was quick to condemn his allegations. The French newspaper France Soir, for instance, published a stinging editorial, calling the claims of the book insane. The French historian Pierre Branda wrote a critical analysis of Ribbe's book, stating that it is mainly based on suppositions and that the sources are few and often quoted and referred to with heavy omissions.

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