IBM and the Holocaust

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IBM and the Holocaust
IBM and the Holocaust (cover).jpg
Paperback edition cover
Author Edwin Black
Country United States
Language English
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Crown Books
Publication date
Pages 551
OCLC 49419235

IBM and the Holocaust is a book by investigative journalist Edwin Black which details the business dealings of the American-based multinational corporation International Business Machines (IBM) and its German and other European subsidiaries with the government of Adolf Hitler during the 1930s and the years of World War II. In the book Black outlines the way in which IBM's technology helped facilitate Nazi genocide through generation and tabulation of punch cards based upon national census data.[1]


In the early 1880s, Herman Hollerith (1860–1929), a young employee at the U.S. Census Bureau, conceived of the idea of creating readable cards with standardized perforations, each representing specific individual traits such as gender, nationality, and occupation. The millions of punched cards created for the population counted in the national census could then be sorted on the basis of specific bits of information they contained—thereby providing a quantified portrait of the nation.[2] In 1910, the German licensee Willy Heidinger established the Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft (German Hollerith Machine Corporation), known by the acronym "Dehomag."[3] The next year, Hollerith sold his American business to industrialist Charles Flint (1850–1934) for $1.41 million ($34 million in 2012 dollars).[4] The counting machine operation was made part of a new conglomerate called the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR).[4] Flint chose Thomas J. Watson (1874–1956), the star salesman of the National Cash Register Corporation, to head the new operation.[5] The German licensee Dehomag later became a direct subsidiary of the American corporation CTR.[6] In 1924, Watson assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer of CTR and renamed the company International Business Machines (IBM).

Black details the ongoing business relationship between Watson's IBM and the emerging German regime headed by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Hitler came to power in January 1933; on March 20 of that same year he established a concentration camp for political prisoners in the Bavarian town of Dachau, just outside the city of Munich. Repression against political opponents and the country's substantial ethnic Jewish population began at once. By April 1933, some 60,000 had been imprisoned.[7] Business relations between IBM and the Hitler regime continued uninterrupted in the face of broad international calls for an economic boycott.[8] Indeed, Willy Heidinger, who remained in control of Dehomag, the 90%-owned German subsidiary of IBM, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Hitler regime.[9]

On April 12, 1933, the German government announced plans to conduct a long-delayed national census.[10] The project was particularly important to the Nazis as a mechanism for the identification of Jews, Gypsies, and other ethnic groups deemed undesirable by the regime. Dehomag offered to assist the German government in its task of ethnic identification, concentrating upon the 41 million residents of Prussia.[11] This activity was not only countenanced by Thomas Watson and IBM in America, Black argues, but was actively encouraged and financially supported, with Watson himself traveling to Germany in October 1933 and the company ramping up its investment in its German subsidiary from 400,000 to 7,000,000 Reichsmark—about $1 million.[12] This injection of American capital allowed Dehomag to purchase land in Berlin and to construct IBM's first factory in Germany, Black charges, thereby "tooling up for what it correctly saw as a massive financial relationship with the Hitler regime."[12]

Black also asserts that a "secret deal" was made between Heidinger and Watson during the latter's visit to Germany which allowed Dehomag commercial powers outside of Germany, enabling the "now Nazified" company to "circumvent and supplant" various national subsidiaries and licensees by "soliciting and delivering punch card solution technology directly to IBM customers in those territories."[13] As a result, Nazi Germany soon became the second most important customer of IBM after the lucrative US market, Black notes.[14] The 1933 census, with design help and tabulation services provided by IBM through its German subsidiary, proved to be pivotal to the Nazis in their efforts to identify, isolate, and ultimately destroy the country's Jewish minority. Machine-tabulated census data greatly expanded the estimated number of Jews in Germany by identifying individuals with only one or a few Jewish ancestors. Previous estimates of 400,000 to 600,000 were abandoned for a new estimate of 2 million Jews in the nation of 65 million.[15]

As the Nazi war machine occupied successive nations of Europe, capitulation was followed by a census of the population of each subjugated nation, with an eye to the identification and isolation of Jews and Gypsies. These census operations were intimately intertwined with technology and cards supplied by IBM's German and new Polish subsidiaries, which were awarded specific sales territories in Poland by decision of the New York office following Germany's successful Blitzkrieg invasion.[16] Data generated by means of counting and alphabetization equipment supplied by IBM through its German and other national subsidiaries was instrumental in the efforts of the German government to concentrate and ultimately destroy ethnic Jewish populations across Europe, Black demonstrates.[17] Black reports that every Nazi concentration camp maintained its own Hollerith-Abteilung (Hollerith Department), assigned with keeping tabs on inmates through use of IBM's punchcard technology.[18] In his book, Black charges that "without IBM's machinery, continuing upkeep and service, as well as the supply of punch cards, whether located on-site or off-site, Hitler's camps could have never managed the numbers they did."[19]

Company response[edit]

While not directly contradicting Black's evidence, IBM has questioned Black's research methodology and conclusions.[20] IBM indicates it does not have much information about this period or the operations of Dehomag, as most documents were destroyed or lost during the war. IBM also claimed that a lawsuit, which was dismissed, was filed to coincide with the book launch.[21]

In 2002, IBM disputed Edwin Black's claim that IBM is withholding materials regarding this era in its archives.[22] Nevertheless, IBM subsequently turned over a substantial portion of its corporate records of the period to academic archives in New York and Stuttgart, for review by independent scholars.[23]

Edwin Black, in an article published in George Mason University's History News Network, explicitly accused IBM advocates of systematic elimination of references to IBM's role in the Holocaust in the Wikipedia article History of IBM.[24]

Critical response[edit]

Richard Bernstein, writing for The New York Times Book Review, wrote that Black's case "is long and heavily documented, and yet he does not demonstrate that IBM bears some unique or decisive responsibility for the evil that was done."[25] IBM quoted this claim in a March 2002 press release "Addendum to IBM Statement on Nazi-era Book and Lawsuit".[22]

Others have seen Black's work as a revelatory piece of historical scholarship. In 2003, the American Society of Journalists and Authors acknowledged IBM and the Holocaust with its award for Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year.[26]

Legal actions[edit]

In February 2001, an Alien Tort Claims Act claim was filed in U.S. federal court against IBM for allegedly providing the punched card technology that facilitated the Holocaust, and for covering up German IBM subsidiary Dehomag's activities. In April 2001, the lawsuit was dropped. Lawyers said they feared proceeding with the suit would slow down payments from a special German Holocaust fund created to compensate forced laborers and others who had suffered due to the Nazi persecution. IBM's German division paid $3 million into the fund, although the corporation made clear that it was not admitting liability with its contribution.[27]

In 2004, the human rights organization Gypsy International Recognition and Compensation Action (GIRCA) filed suit against IBM in Switzerland. However, the case was dismissed in 2006 due to time limitations.[28]

Derivative works[edit]

American actor and producer Brad Pitt is reportedly developing a feature film based on the book.[29]

Brazilian composer Christian Benvenuti, inspired by Black's book, is staging an opera called P-U-N-C-H to be premiered in March 2014.[30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Preston, Peter (February 18, 2001). "Six million and counting". The Observer ( Retrieved June 14, 2001. 
  2. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 25.
  3. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 30.
  4. ^ a b Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 31.
  5. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pp. 38–39.
  6. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 44.
  7. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pp. 44–45.
  8. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 45.
  9. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 50.
  10. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 54.
  11. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 55.
  12. ^ a b Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 60.
  13. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 61.
  14. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 111.
  15. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 110.
  16. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 193.
  17. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 198.
  18. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 351.
  19. ^ Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 352.
  20. ^ Michael J. Bazyler, Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America's Courts. New York: New York University Press, 2005; pg. 303.
  21. ^ IBM Press Room (February 14, 2001). "IBM Statement on Nazi-era Book and Lawsuit". Press Release. Armonk, New York. 
  22. ^ a b IBM Press Room (March 29, 2002). "Addendum to IBM Statement on Nazi-era Book and Lawsuit". Press Release. Armonk, New York. 
  23. ^ Grace, Francie (March 27, 2002). "IBM And Nazi Germany: Researcher Has New Documents On World War II Conduct". CBS News. 
  24. ^ Edwin Black. Wikipedia—The Dumbing Down of World Knowledge. History News Network. [1]
  25. ^ Bernstein, Richard (March 7, 2001). "'IBM and the Holocaust': Assessing the Culpability". Arts section (The New York Times). 
  26. ^ ASJA Award Recipients, American Society of Journalists and Authors. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
  27. ^ Ramasastry, Anita (July 8, 2004). "A Swiss court allows Gypsies' Holocaust lawsuit to proceed, Case questions role of corporate giant IBM in World War II". Law Center, Find Law. 
  28. ^ Sydney Morning Herald staff (August 19, 2006). "Swiss high court rejects Gypsy Holocaust suit versus IBM, cites time limit". The Sydney Morning Herald. AP Digital. Retrieved April 13, 2010. 
  29. ^ Franklin, Garth (September 13, 2012). "Brad Pitt Developing "Ibm & The Holocaust"". Dark Horizons. 
  30. ^ Tribolê Produtora. "PUNCH". Retrieved December 30, 2013. 
  31. ^ "Oficina de Composição Coreográfica seleciona bailarinos e atores para a ópera ‘P-U-N-C-H’" [Choreographic Composition Workshop holds auditions for opera 'P-U-N-C-H' open to actors and dancers] (in Portuguese). Fundação Nacional de Artes. October 16, 2013. 

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