The children of Nazi scientists attended El Paso schools for four years at the outset of the Cold War, a fascinating and largely forgotten part of history. Jonna Perrillo’s book “Educating the Enemy: Teaching Nazis and Mexicans in the Cold War Borderlands” is a long overdue exploration of a key moment in El Paso and world history.
This University of Chicago Press book is gripping in large part because Perrillo, an associate professor of English education at the University of Texas at El Paso, centers both the German children brought to the United States after the end of World War II, and the Mexican American children who were attending El Paso schools at the same time.
Put simply, the German children received vastly better treatment and a superior education than their Mexican American counterparts. As Perrillo makes clear, this disparity was driven by a history of white supremacy that diminished – and continues to diminish – Black and Mexican American children.
That the children of Nazi scientists benefitted from American white supremacy is chilling, if unsurprising to those familiar with our country’s history.
As World War II ended, the United States and the Soviet Union raced to capture German scientists who had helped build the Nazi war machine, particularly its missile program. The U.S. government conducted its efforts through a program dubbed Operation Paperclip.
The crown jewel of the U.S. effort was the Nazi team, led by Werner von Braun, who had developed the V-2 rocket, the first long-range guided ballistic missile. Von Braun and his fellow scientists would go on to play key roles in building both the U.S. military ballistic missile system and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration program that would lead to landing man on the moon.
Shortly after the war, U.S. officials began bringing the German rocket scientists to Fort Bliss to continue their work. Starting in 1946, they were allowed to bring their families.