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How the El Paso Border inspired Nazi Concentration Camps

Mexican man being sprayed with DDT powder at the El Paso border

Americans love to throw the term “Nazi” around to describe bad guys. It creates a neat distinction between the terrible, horrible racism of Nazis with the good ol’ American apple pie variety of racism. WWII is one of America’s finest moments of self-congratulation, when they “single-handedly” defeated Nazi Germany, and I’ve been reminded many times that we would all be ruled by Hitler if America hadn’t saved the day. What’s overlooked in this great history is the part America played in building that particularly virulent strain of genocide used by the Nazi Party against peoples they deemed “inferior” and “unclean” – namely Jewish people, POC, homosexuals and disabled people. Many Americans don’t know – because they haven’t been taught – that there’s a direct link of inspiration between US Border policy and Nazi concentration camps. In 1937, German scientist Gerhard Peters wrote a paper for Nazi Party officials recommending the chemical Zyklon B for the “disinfection chambers” in concentration camps. He noted that Zyklon B had been used successfully for decades at the El Paso, TX border to “disinfect” the clothing of Mexican immigrants and migrant workers crossing the border into the US. He even included pictured of El Paso’s “delousing chambers” for reference.

Top left: delousing chamber at El Paso border

The fucked up thing is that the border between El Paso and Juarez was a friendly one before WWI, when fears over a German invasion through Mexico (?) sent America into one of its racist frenzies to prevent immigrants from “infecting” Americans. Mexicans were specifically targeted for “disinfection,” and in 1917 alone more than 100,000 Mexican people crossing the border were subjected to the “delousing” process. Mayor Tom Lea of El Paso was scared that Mexican lice were carrying Typhus into the US, so he instituted a policy of strip-searching Mexican men and women, and forcing them to bathe in kerosene and vinegar while their clothes were treated with Zyklon B. In order to remain working the US, these immigrants had to undergo the baths every 8 days. But this horrific policy didn’t last forever. In the 40s, they switched to stripping them and full-body spraying them with DDT. This dehumanizing and dangerous practice stopped in 1964, after almost 50 years of “disinfections.”

A certificate of delousing

There’s a whole lot to this story, and it’s all detailed in the Vox documentary “The dark history of “gasoline baths” at the border.” It shows how today’s racist and xenophobic border policies are nothing more than a continuation of decades of dehumanizing treatment of immigrants crossing the US border. Watch the full story here:

Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.

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