Gas chamber

Gas chamber

Overview
A gas chamber is an apparatus for killing humans or animals with gas, consisting of a sealed chamber into which a poison
Poison
In the context of biology, poisons are substances that can cause disturbances to organisms, usually by chemical reaction or other activity on the molecular scale, when a sufficient quantity is absorbed by an organism....

ous or asphyxiant gas
Asphyxiant gas
An asphyxiant gas is a non-toxic or minimally toxic gas which reduces or diplaces the normal oxygen concentration in breathing air. Prolonged breathing of oxygen depleted air can lead to death by asphyxiation...

 is introduced. The most commonly used poisonous agent is hydrogen cyanide; carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 and carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 have also been used. Gas chambers were used as a method of execution for condemned prisoners in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 beginning in the 1920s.
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Encyclopedia
A gas chamber is an apparatus for killing humans or animals with gas, consisting of a sealed chamber into which a poison
Poison
In the context of biology, poisons are substances that can cause disturbances to organisms, usually by chemical reaction or other activity on the molecular scale, when a sufficient quantity is absorbed by an organism....

ous or asphyxiant gas
Asphyxiant gas
An asphyxiant gas is a non-toxic or minimally toxic gas which reduces or diplaces the normal oxygen concentration in breathing air. Prolonged breathing of oxygen depleted air can lead to death by asphyxiation...

 is introduced. The most commonly used poisonous agent is hydrogen cyanide; carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 and carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 have also been used. Gas chambers were used as a method of execution for condemned prisoners in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 beginning in the 1920s. During the Holocaust
The Holocaust
The Holocaust , also known as the Shoah , was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews and millions of others during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi...

, large-scale gas chambers designed for mass killing were used by Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 as part of their genocide
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 program, and also by the Independent State of Croatia
Independent State of Croatia
The Independent State of Croatia was a World War II puppet state of Nazi Germany, established on a part of Axis-occupied Yugoslavia. The NDH was founded on 10 April 1941, after the invasion of Yugoslavia by the Axis powers. All of Bosnia and Herzegovina was annexed to NDH, together with some parts...

 at the Jasenovac concentration camp
Jasenovac concentration camp
Jasenovac concentration camp was the largest extermination camp in the Independent State of Croatia and occupied Yugoslavia during World War II...

. The use of gas chambers has also been reported in North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

.

Gas chambers have also been used for animal euthanasia
Euthanasia
Euthanasia refers to the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering....

, using carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 as the lethal agent. Sometimes a box filled with anesthetic gas is used to anesthetize small animals for surgery or euthanasia.

United States


Gas chambers have been used for capital punishment in the United States
Capital punishment in the United States
Capital punishment in the United States, in practice, applies only for aggravated murder and more rarely for felony murder. Capital punishment was a penalty at common law, for many felonies, and was enforced in all of the American colonies prior to the Declaration of Independence...

 to execute criminal
Crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

s, especially convicted murder
Murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

ers. The first person to be executed in the United States by lethal gas was Gee Jon
Gee Jon
Gee Jon was a Chinese national who was the first person in the United States to be executed by lethal gas. A member of the Hip Sing Tong criminal society from San Francisco, California, Gee was sentenced to death for the murder of an elderly member from another gang in Nevada...

, on February 8, 1924. An unsuccessful attempt to pump poison gas directly into his cell at Nevada State Prison
Nevada State Prison
Nevada State Prison is a penitentiary located in Carson City. The prison has been in continuous operation since it was established in 1862 and is managed by the Nevada Department of Corrections. It is one of the oldest prisons still operating in the United States. The high security facility housed...

 led to the development of the first makeshift gas chamber to carry out Gee's death sentence. In 1957, Burton Abbott
Burton Abbott
Burton W. Abbott was a University of California at Berkeley accounting student living in Alameda, California, who was tried for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Stephanie Bryan in November 1955. Although the evidence against him was entirely circumstantial, he was convicted and sentenced to...

 was executed as the governor of California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, Goodwin J. Knight, was on the telephone to stay the execution. Since the restoration of the death penalty in the United States in 1976, eleven executions by gas chamber have been conducted. By the 1980s, reports of suffering during gas chamber executions had led to controversy over the use of this method.

At the September 2, 1983, execution of Jimmy Lee Gray
Jimmy Lee Gray
Jimmy Lee Gray was convicted for the murder of three-year-old Deressa Jean Scales in 1976, after kidnapping and sodomizing her. At the time of this murder, he was free on parole following a conviction in Arizona for the murder of a 16-year-old girl.He was executed in 1983 by the State of...

 in Mississippi
Mississippi
Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

, officials cleared the viewing room after eight minutes while Gray was still alive and gasping for air. The decision to clear the room while he was still alive was criticized by his attorney. David Bruck, an attorney specializing in death penalty cases, said, "Jimmy Lee Gray died banging his head against a steel pole in the gas chamber while reporters counted his moans."

During the April 6, 1992, execution of Donald Harding in Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

, it took 11 minutes for death to occur. The prison warden stated that he would quit if required to conduct another gas chamber execution. Following Harding's execution, Arizona voted that all persons condemned after November 1992 would be executed by lethal injection.

Following the execution of Robert Alton Harris
Robert Alton Harris
Robert Alton Harris was an American career criminal and murderer who was executed in San Quentin's gas chamber in 1992. This marked the first execution in the state of California since 1967. Harris had killed two teenage boys in 1978...

, a federal court declared that "execution by lethal gas under the California protocol is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual
Cruel and unusual punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment is a phrase describing criminal punishment which is considered unacceptable due to the suffering or humiliation it inflicts on the condemned person...

." By the late 20th century, most states had switched to methods considered to be more humane, such as lethal injection
Lethal injection
Lethal injection is the practice of injecting a person with a fatal dose of drugs for the express purpose of causing the immediate death of the subject. The main application for this procedure is capital punishment, but the term may also be applied in a broad sense to euthanasia and suicide...

. California's gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin State Prison is a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation state prison for men in unincorporated San Quentin, Marin County, California, United States. Opened in July 1852, it is the oldest prison in the state. California's only death row for male inmates, the largest...

 was converted to an execution chamber for lethal injection.

As of 2010, the last person to be executed in the gas chamber was German national Walter LaGrand
LaGrand case
The LaGrand case was a legal action heard before the International Court of Justice which concerned the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations...

, sentenced to death before 1992, who was executed in Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

 on March 3, 1999. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that he could not be executed by gas chamber, but the decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The gas chamber was formerly used in Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

, Nevada
Nevada
Nevada is a state in the western, mountain west, and southwestern regions of the United States. With an area of and a population of about 2.7 million, it is the 7th-largest and 35th-most populous state. Over two-thirds of Nevada's people live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, which contains its...

, New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

 and Oregon
Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

. Six states, Arizona, California, Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

, Mississippi, Missouri
Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

 and Wyoming
Wyoming
Wyoming is a state in the mountain region of the Western United States. The western two thirds of the state is covered mostly with the mountain ranges and rangelands in the foothills of the Eastern Rocky Mountains, while the eastern third of the state is high elevation prairie known as the High...

, authorize lethal gas if lethal injection cannot be administered, the condemned committed their crime before a certain date, or the condemned chooses to die in the gas chamber. In October 2010, New York governor David Paterson
David Paterson
David Alexander Paterson is an American politician who served as the 55th Governor of New York, from 2008 to 2010. During his tenure he was the first governor of New York of African American heritage and also the second legally blind governor of any U.S. state after Bob C. Riley, who was Acting...

 signed a bill rendering gas chambers illegal for use by humane societies
Humane Society
A humane society may be a group that aims to stop human or animal suffering due to cruelty or other reasons, although in many countries, it is now used mostly for societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals...

 and other animal shelters.

Method of use


When executions by gas chambers are conducted in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, the general protocol is as follows. First, the executioner will place a quantity of potassium cyanide
Potassium cyanide
Potassium cyanide is an inorganic compound with the formula KCN. This colorless crystalline compound, similar in appearance to sugar, is highly soluble in water. Most KCN is used in gold mining, organic synthesis, and electroplating. Smaller applications include jewelry for chemical gilding and...

 (KCN) pellets into a compartment directly below the chair in the chamber. The condemned person is then brought into the chamber and strapped into the chair, and the airtight chamber is sealed. At this point the executioner will pour a quantity of concentrated sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid is a strong mineral acid with the molecular formula . Its historical name is oil of vitriol. Pure sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid. The salts of sulfuric acid are called sulfates...

 (H2SO4) down a tube that leads to a small holding tank directly below the compartment containing the cyanide pellets. The curtain is then opened, allowing the witnesses to observe the inside of the chamber. The prison warden then asks the condemned individual if he or she wishes to make a final statement. Following this, the executioner(s) throws a switch/lever to cause the cyanide pellets to drop into the sulfuric acid, initiating a chemical reaction that generates hydrogen cyanide (HCN) gas:
2KCN
Potassium cyanide
Potassium cyanide is an inorganic compound with the formula KCN. This colorless crystalline compound, similar in appearance to sugar, is highly soluble in water. Most KCN is used in gold mining, organic synthesis, and electroplating. Smaller applications include jewelry for chemical gilding and...

(s) + H2SO4
Sulfuric acid
Sulfuric acid is a strong mineral acid with the molecular formula . Its historical name is oil of vitriol. Pure sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid. The salts of sulfuric acid are called sulfates...

(aq) → 2HCN(g) + K2SO4
Potassium sulfate
Potassium sulfate is a non-flammable white crystalline salt which is soluble in water...

(aq)


The gas is visible to the condemned, and he/she is advised to take several deep breaths to speed unconsciousness in order to prevent unnecessary suffering. Accordingly, execution by gas chamber is especially unpleasant for the witnesses to the execution due to the physical responses exhibited by the condemned during the process of dying. These responses can be violent, and can include convulsions and excessive drooling
Drooling
Drooling is when saliva flows outside the mouth...

.

Following the execution, the chamber is purged of the gas through special scrubbers, and must be neutralized with anhydrous ammonia
Ammonia
Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to food and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or...

 (NH3) before it can be opened. Guards wearing oxygen masks remove the body from the chamber. Finally, the prison doctor examines the individual in order to officially declare that he or she is dead and release the body to the next of kin.

One of the problems with the gas chamber is the inherent danger of dealing with such a toxic gas. Anhydrous ammonia is used to cleanse the chamber after cyanide gas has been used:
HCN + NH3
Ammonia
Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to food and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or...

 → NH4+ + CN


The anhydrous ammonia used to clean the chamber afterwards, and the contaminated acid that must be drained and disposed of, are both very poisonous.

Nitrogen gas or oxygen-depleted air has been considered for human execution, as it can induce nitrogen asphyxiation
Nitrogen asphyxiation
Nitrogen asphyxiation is an occasional cause of accidental death and a theoretical method of capital punishment advocated in a National Review article, "Killing with kindness – capital punishment by nitrogen asphyxiation"...

. It has not been used to date.

Nazi Germany


Gas chambers were used in the Third Reich as part of the "public euthanasia program
Action T4
Action T4 was the name used after World War II for Nazi Germany's eugenics-based "euthanasia" program during which physicians killed thousands of people who were "judged incurably sick, by critical medical examination"...

" aimed at eliminating physically
Physical disability
A physical disability is any impairment which limits the physical function of one or more limbs or fine or gross motor ability. Other physical disabilities include impairments which limit other facets of daily living, such as respiratory disorders and epilepsy....

 and intellectually disabled people and political undesirables in the 1930s and 1940s. In June 1942 many hundreds of prisoners of Neuengamme
Neuengamme
The Neuengamme concentration camp, a Nazi concentration camp, was established in 1938 by the SS near the village of Neuengamme in Bergedorf district within the City of Hamburg, Germany. It was in operation from 1938 to 1945. By the end of the war, more than half of its estimated 106,000 prisoners...

 concentration camp, amongst which 45 Dutch communists, were gassed in Bernburg
Bernburg
Bernburg is a town in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, capital of the district of Salzlandkreis. It is situated on the river Saale, approx. 30 km downstream from Halle. The town is dominated by its huge Renaissance castle featuring a museum as well as a popular, recently updated bear pit in its...

. At that time, the preferred gas was carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

, often provided by the exhaust gas
Exhaust gas
Exhaust gas or flue gas is emitted as a result of the combustion of fuels such as natural gas, gasoline/petrol, diesel fuel, fuel oil or coal. According to the type of engine, it is discharged into the atmosphere through an exhaust pipe, flue gas stack or propelling nozzle.It often disperses...

 of gasoline-powered cars, trucks or army tank
Tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

s.

During the Holocaust, gas chambers were designed to accept large groups as part of the Nazi policy of genocide
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 against the Jews. Nazis also targeted the Romani people, homosexuals, physically and mentally disabled, intellectuals and the clergy. In early 1940, the use of hydrogen cyanide produced as Zyklon B
Zyklon B
Zyklon B was the trade name of a cyanide-based pesticide infamous for its use by Nazi Germany to kill human beings in gas chambers of extermination camps during the Holocaust. The "B" designation indicates one of two types of Zyklon...

 was tested on 250 Roma children from Brno
Brno
Brno by population and area is the second largest city in the Czech Republic, the largest Moravian city, and the historical capital city of the Margraviate of Moravia. Brno is the administrative centre of the South Moravian Region where it forms a separate district Brno-City District...

 at the Buchenwald concentration camp. According to Nizkor Project
Nizkor Project
The Nizkor Project is an ongoing Internet-based project run by B'nai Brith Canada which is dedicated to countering Holocaust denial. It was founded by Ken McVay as a central Web-based archive for the large numbers of documents made publicly available by the users of the newsgroup alt.revisionism...

 , on September 3, 1941, 600 Soviet POWs were gassed with Zyklon B at Auschwitz camp I; this was the first experiment with the gas at Auschwitz.
According to a website run by Jürgen Langowski, an anti-Nazi German activist, Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 was also used in large purpose-built gas chambers, like chambers in Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka extermination camp
Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp in occupied Poland during World War II near the village of Treblinka in the modern-day Masovian Voivodeship of Poland. The camp, which was constructed as part of Operation Reinhard, operated between and ,. During this time, approximately 850,000 men, women...

. The gas was in exhaust gas
Exhaust gas
Exhaust gas or flue gas is emitted as a result of the combustion of fuels such as natural gas, gasoline/petrol, diesel fuel, fuel oil or coal. According to the type of engine, it is discharged into the atmosphere through an exhaust pipe, flue gas stack or propelling nozzle.It often disperses...

 from internal combustion engine
Internal combustion engine
The internal combustion engine is an engine in which the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer in a combustion chamber. In an internal combustion engine, the expansion of the high-temperature and high -pressure gases produced by combustion apply direct force to some component of the engine...

s (detailed in the Gerstein Report
Gerstein Report
The Gerstein Report was written by Kurt Gerstein, an Obersturmführer of the Waffen-SS in 1945 who rose to become the Head of Technical Disinfection Services of the SS. In that capacity he witnessed in August 1942 the gassing of some 3,000 Jews in the extermination camp of Belzec...

).


Gas chambers in vans
Gas van
The gas van or gas wagon was an extermination method devised by Nazi Germany to kill victims of the regime. It was also rumored that analog of such device was used by the Soviet Union on an experimental basis during the Great Purge-Nazi Germany:...

, concentration camps
Nazi concentration camps
Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps throughout the territories it controlled. The first Nazi concentration camps set up in Germany were greatly expanded after the Reichstag fire of 1933, and were intended to hold political prisoners and opponents of the regime...

, and extermination camps were used to kill several million people between 1941 and 1945. Some stationary gas chambers could kill 2,000 people at once. The use of gas chambers during the Holocaust was attested to by several sources including the Vrba-Wetzler report
Vrba-Wetzler report
The Vrba-Wetzler report, also known as the Vrba-Wetzler statement, the Auschwitz Protocols, and the Auschwitz notebook, is a 32-page document about the German Auschwitz concentration camp in occupied Poland during the Holocaust...

 and testimony from Rudolf Höss, Commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp
Auschwitz concentration camp
Concentration camp Auschwitz was a network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II...

, and other German soldiers.

The gas chambers were dismantled or destroyed when Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 troops got close, except at Dachau, Sachsenhausen
Sachsenhausen concentration camp
Sachsenhausen or Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May, 1945. After World War II, when Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone, the structure was used as an NKVD...

, and Majdanek
Majdanek
Majdanek was a German Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland, established during the German Nazi occupation of Poland. The camp operated from October 1, 1941 until July 22, 1944, when it was captured nearly intact by the advancing Soviet Red Army...

. The gas chamber at Auschwitz I was reconstructed after the war as a memorial, but without a door in its doorway and without the wall that originally separated the gas chamber from a washroom. The door that had been added when the gas chamber was converted into an air raid shelter was left intact.

Gaswagen



Execution by exhaust gas was performed in specially modified vans, known as gaswagen (variously translated as "gas wagon", "gas van", or "gas car").

Napoleonic France



In his book, Le Crime de Napoléon, French historian Claude Ribbe
Claude Ribbe
Claude Ribbe is a French writer of Caribbean origin.In his book The Crime of Napoleon, Ribbe claimed that Napoleon's regime used sulfur dioxide gas for mass execution of more than 100,000 rebellious black slaves when trying to put down slave rebellions in Haiti and Guadeloupe, nearly 140 years...

 has claimed that in the early 19th century, Napoleon used poison gas to put down slave rebellions in Haiti
Haiti
Haiti , officially the Republic of Haiti , is a Caribbean country. It occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Ayiti was the indigenous Taíno or Amerindian name for the island...

 and Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe is an archipelago located in the Leeward Islands, in the Lesser Antilles, with a land area of 1,628 square kilometres and a population of 400,000. It is the first overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department. As with the other overseas departments, Guadeloupe...

. Based on accounts left by French officers, he alleges that enclosed spaces including the holds
Hold (ship)
thumb|right|120px|View of the hold of a container shipA ship's hold is a space for carrying cargo. Cargo in holds may be either packaged in crates, bales, etc., or unpackaged . Access to holds is by a large hatch at the top...

 of ships were used as makeshift gas chambers where sulfur dioxide
Sulfur dioxide
Sulfur dioxide is the chemical compound with the formula . It is released by volcanoes and in various industrial processes. Since coal and petroleum often contain sulfur compounds, their combustion generates sulfur dioxide unless the sulfur compounds are removed before burning the fuel...

 gas (probably generated by burning sulfur
Sulfur
Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

, which would have been readily available from volcanoes in the area) was used to execute up to 100,000 rebellious slaves
Slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

. These claims remain controversial.