Tuesday, October 30, 2007

ARTICLE: Nazis Learned About Zyklon B From US Treatment of Mexicans

How America inspired the Third Reich

The Nazis learned about Zyklon B from the US treatment of Mexicans, writes Paul Spike

A brilliant new book by a Mexican-American historian documents how, in the Twenties and Thirties, the Nazis were inspired by what the United States had been doing to their Mexican neighbours since 1917.

In Ringside at the Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez, David Dorado Romo establishes the US Immigration Department's systematic brutality along the Rio Grande border.

Mexican visitors were forced to strip naked and subjected to 'screening' (for homosexuality, low IQ, physical deformities like 'clubbed fingers') and to 'disinfection' with various toxic fumigants, including gasoline, kerosene, sulfuric acid,


DDT and, after 1929, Zyklon-B (hydrocyanic acid) - the same gas used in the Holocaust's death camps.

The ostensible reason for the US fumigation was the fear of a typhus epidemic. Yet in 1916, the year before such 'baths' were enforced, only two cases of typhus had occurred in the poorest El Paso slum.

"This is a huge black hole in history," Romo told me. "Unfortunately, I only have oral histories and other anecdotal evidence about the harmful effects of the noxious chemicals used to disinfect and delouse the Mexican border crossers - including deaths, birth defects, cancer, etc. It may well go into the tens of thousands. It's incredible that absolutely no one, after all these years, has ever attempted to document this."

What Romo does have is shocking proof of the influence of US immigration techniques on Nazi


thinking. Romo quotes Hitler writing in 1924, "The American union itself... has established scientific criteria for immigration... making an immigrant's ability to set foot on American soil dependent on specific racial requirements on the one hand as well as a certain level of physical health of the individual himself."

In 1938, three years before the first death camps of the Final Solution, Nazi chemist Dr Gerhard Peters published a full account, in German science journal Anzeiger fur Sahahlinskund, of the El Paso 'disinfection' plant. He included two photos and diagrams of the machinery which sprayed Zyklon B on railroad cars. (Peters went on to acquire Zyklon B's German patent.)

It should be noted that while the Americans sprayed their victims with toxic chemicals, they restricted use of Zyklon B to freight and clothes. As the Nazis understood, spraying it

Romo’s book comes at a time when
Mexican immigration is at the top of
the list of US political issues

directly on a human caused almost immediate death. We can only guess what effect it had on the thousands of Mexican men, women and children who, after a 'bath' in DDT or gasoline, were sent away in clothes drenched with Zyklon B.

Romo's book comes at a time when Mexican immigration is at the top of the list of US political issues. There are 12m illegals in the United States by official count, and certainly twice that unofficially. Among the solutions is the right wing's vociferous call to build a 'Berlin wall' 2,000 miles long across the entire Rio Grande border.

Unsurprisingly, Mexican Americans hate this idea. Their memories - the emerging truth of Mexican-American history - and their votes seem certain to undermine it.

Article Above Reposted:


Ringside Seat to a Revolution:
An Underground Cultural History
of El Paso and Juarez: 1893-1923

by David Dorado Romo published by
Cinco Puntos Press


The Bath Riots: Indignity Along the Mexican Border


The Bath Riots

MY INTEREST IN the El Paso-Juárez Bath Riots didn't start with something I read in any history book. Most historians have forgotten about this obscure incident that took place on the border in 1917. I first heard of the U.S. government's policy that provoked these riots while I was still in high school. One evening, during a family dinner, my great-aunt Adela Dorado shared her memories with us about her experiences as a young woman during the Mexican Revolution. She recalled that American authorities regularly forced her and all other working-class Mexicans to take a bath and be sprayed with pesticides at the Santa Fe Bridge whenever they needed to cross into the United States. My great-aunt, who worked as a maid in El Paso during the revolution, told us she felt humiliated for being treated as a "dirty Mexican." She related how on one occasion the U.S. customs officials put her clothes and shoes through a large secadora (dryer) and her shoes melted.

Many years later, as part of my research for this book at the National Archives in the Washington, D.C. area, I came upon some photographs taken in 1917 in El Paso. The pictures, which were part of the U.S. Public Health records, showed large steam dryers used to disinfect the clothes of border crossers at the Santa Fe Bridge. Here it was.

But I also unexpectedly uncovered other information at the National Archives that took my great-aunt's personal recollections beyond family lore or microhistory. These records point to the connection between the U.S. Customs disinfection facilities in El Paso-Juárez in the 20s and the Desinfektionskammern (disinfection chambers) in Nazi Germany. The documents show that beginning in the 1920s, U.S. officials at the Santa Fe Bridge deloused and sprayed the clothes of Mexicans crossing into the U.S. with Zyklon B. The fumigation was carried out in an area of the building that American officials called, ominously enough, "the gas chambers." I discovered an article written in a German scientific journal written in 1938, which specifically praised the El Paso method of fumigating Mexican immigrants with Zyklon B. At the start of WWII, the Nazis adopted Zyklon B as a fumigation agent at German border crossings and concentration camps. Later, when the Final Solution was put into effect, the Germans found more sinister uses for this extremely lethal pesticide. They used Zyklon B pellets in their own gas chambers not just to kill lice but to exterminate millions of human beings. But that's another story.

Our story, instead, begins with the account of the 1917 Bath Riots at the Santa Fe Bridge. It is the story of a traumatic separation, an event that perhaps best epitomizes the year that the border between El Paso and Juárez, in the memories of many of its citizens, shut down for good.

Revolt of the Mexican Amazons at the Santa Fe Bridge

"The soldiers were powerless."
--The El Paso Herald

THE EL PASO TIMES described the leader of the Bath Riots as "an auburn-haired Amazon." She sparked an uprising against a policy that would change the course of the history in El Paso and Juárez for decades. Some even consider her a fronteriza Rosa Parks, yet her name has been mostly forgotten. The "Amazon" was Carmelita Torres, a 17-year old Juárez maid who crossed the Santa Fe International Bridge into El Paso every morning to clean American homes. At 7:30 a.m. on January 28, 1917, when Carmelita was asked by the customs officials at the bridge to get off the trolley, take a bath and be disinfected with gasoline, she refused. Instead, Carmelita got off the electric streetcar and convinced 30 other female passengers to get off with her and demonstrate their opposition to this humiliating process. By 8:30 a.m. more than 200 Mexican women had joined her and blocked all traffic into El Paso. By noon, the press estimated their number as "several thousand."

The demonstrators marched as a group toward the disinfection camp to call out those who were submitting themselves to the humiliation of the delousing process. When immigration and public health service officers tried to disperse the crowd, the protesters hurled bottles, rocks and insults at the Americans. A customs inspector was hit in the head. Fort Bliss commander General Bell ordered his soldiers to the scene, but the women jeered at them and continued their street battle. The "Amazons," the newspapers reported, struck Sergeant J.M. Peck in the face with a rock and cut his cheek.

The protesters laid down on the tracks in front of the trolley cars to prevent them from moving. When the street cars were immobilized, the women wrenched the motor controllers from the hands of the motormen. One of the motormen tried to run back to the American side of the bridge. Three or four female rioters clung to him while he tried to escape. They pummeled him with all their might and gave him a black eye. Another motorman preferred to hide from the Mexican women by running into a Chinese restaurant on Avenida Juárez.

Carrancista General Francisco Murguía showed up with his death troops to quell the female riot. Murguía's cavalry, known as "el esquadrón de la muerte," was rather intimidating. They wore insignia bearing a skull and crossbones and were known for taking no prisoners. The cavalrymen drew their sabers and pointed them at the crowd. But the women were not frightened. They jeered, hooted and attacked the soldiers. "The soldiers were powerless," the El Paso Herald reported.

The Bath Riots, Revolt of the Mexican Amazons at the Santa Fe Bridge Reposted:


Zyklon B on the US Border

Alexander Cockburn

Article Posted in The Nation (July 9, 2007 issue)


Courtesy of: Ne74