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Remembering and Forgetting in Contemporary France

Napoleon, Slavery, and the French History Wars

Philip Dwyer

Abstract

On the front cover of Claude Ribbe’s Le Crime de Napoléon is a photograph of Hitler surrounded by a bevy of generals looking down at the tomb of Napoleon at the Invalides during his visit there after the fall of France in 1940. The message is clear: the author is thus directly associating Napoleon with Hitler and, as we shall see as Ribbe develops his argument, with the Holocaust. Napoleon, Ribbe claims, is guilty of a “triple crime” against humanity: the reintroduction of slavery in 1802; the deportation and killing of large numbers of Africans (or people of African origin); and the massacre of blacks that took on a “genocidal nature” and that prefigured the policy of racial extermination carried out by the Nazis during the Second World War (12 13). “Le crime est si impardonnable”, writes Ribbe, “qu’il a provoqué plus de deux siècles de mensonges. Car les faits sont bien connus des historiens, mais volontairement passés sous silence” (13).

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