IBM and the Holocaust

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This article is about the book. For the historical background, see IBM during World War II.
IBM and the Holocaust
IBM and the Holocaust (cover).jpg
Paperback edition cover
Author Edwin Black
Original title IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation
Country United States
Language English
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Crown Books
Publication date
2001
Pages 551
OCLC 49419235

IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (2001), by Edwin Black, is an investigation of the business dealings among the American corporation International Business Machines (IBM), the Dehomag company, IBM's German subsidiary, and the Nazi government of Chancellor Adolf Hitler, during the 1930s and the Second World War (1939–45).

The investigation outlines and explains how the tabulation technology of the IBM company facilitated the Nazi Holocaust; how the genocide of the Jews and other peoples, was realised by using the national census data to identify, locate, and isolate the people whom the Nazi regime wanted socially excluded from the German Reich.[1]

Synopsis[edit]

In the 1880s, Herman Hollerith (1860–1929), an employee at the United States Bureau of the Census, conceived of the idea of creating readable cards with standardized perforations, each representing specific, individual traits such as the sex, nationality, and occupation of the person. The millions of punched cards, created for the population counted in the national census, could then be sorted according to the specific information they contained — thereby producing a quantitative national portrait of the U.S.[2]

In 1910, Hollerith's German licensee, Willy Heidinger, established the Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft (German Hollerith Machine Corporation, LLC), known by the German acronym Dehomag.[3] In 1911, Hollerith sold his American business, The Tabulating Machine Company, to the industrialist Charles Flint (1850–1934) for $1.41 million dollars ($34m in 2012).[4] Subsequently, Hollerith's tabulating-machine company was integrated to the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR), a new conglomerate.[4] Flint chose Thomas J. Watson (1874–1956), the leading salesman of the National Cash Register Corporation, to head the new operation.[5] Later, the German licensee company, Dehomag, became a direct subsidiary of the American corporation CTR.[6] In 1924, Watson became the chief executive officer of CTR, and renamed the company as: International Business Machines (IBM).

The narrative details the continuing business relationship between Thomas Watson's IBM company and the regime of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP), which assumed government of Germany, in January 1933. Moreover, on March 20, 1933, Hitler established a concentration camp for political prisoners in the Bavarian town of Dachau, near the city of Munich. Soon afterwards, the Nazis began the repressions of their political opponents (Communists, Socialists, democrats, et al.) and of Germany's population of ethnic Jews; thus, by April 1933, there were approximately 60,000 people imprisoned in Dachau.[7] Meanwhile, the business relationship between IBM and the Nazi regime continued uninterrupted — despite the international community's calls, to business and government, for a joint economic boycott of Nazi Germany.[8] Indeed, Willy Heidinger, CEO of Dehomag, the 90-percent-IBM German subsidiary of IBM, was an enthusiastic Nazi and supporter of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist regime of Germany.[9]

On April 12, 1933, the Nazi government announced the long-delayed national census of Germany.[10] The census was especially important, because it was an accurate means for locating, identifying, and classifying the Jews, the Romani people (gypsies), and every other ethnic group whom the Nazi government deemed socially undesirable Untermenschen (subhumans) to be excluded from German society. To that end, the Dehomag company offered to assist the Nazi government in tabulating the census data about the ethnic populations of Germany — especially the 41 million people in populous Prusia.[11] In the U.S., that German-census function was countenanced, actively supported, and financed by CEO Thomas Watson and IBM; moreover, when Watson went to Germany, in October 1933, the company subsequently increased capital investment to Dehomag, from 400,000 to 7,000,000 Reichsmark, approximately one million dollars.[12] The increased investment of American capital allowed Dehomag to buy land in Berlin, and to construct IBM's first factory in Germany; the company was “tooling up for what it correctly saw as a massive financial relationship with the Hitler regime.”[12]

In the event, during Watson's visit to Germany, he and Heidinger agreed a secret deal, which granted Dehomag commercial powers outside Germany, thus enabling the "now Nazified" company to "circumvent and supplant" national subsidiaries and licensees, by "soliciting and delivering punch-card solution technology directly to IBM customers in those territories."[13] As a result, besides the U.S. market, Nazi Germany became the second-most-important customer of the IBM company, worldwide.[14] In Europe, the Dehomag company had a contract to provide business services to the Reich government; graphic-design assistance (data-collection means) and tabulation services (data assembly), the precision of which made the 1933 census of Germany the pivot point for the Nazi's ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population from the German Reich. The census data produced with Dehomag tabulation machines increased the initial estimation of the number of Jews in Germany, by also identifying persons with only one Jewish ancestor or a few Jewish ancestors; the initial estimate, 400,000–600,000 Jewish people, increased to 2 million Jews, among a German nation of 65 million people.[15]

In the Nazi conquest of a country, capitulation was followed by a German census of the local populace, specifically to identify, isolate, and remove the populations of Jews and Gypsies. Those census operations depended upon the tabulation machine and punch cards supplied by the Dehomag company, the German subsidiary of IBM. In that wartime business-climate, the German and Polish subsidiary companies of IBM were awarded specific sales-territories in Poland, all determined and decided at the corporate HQ, in New York City, and assigned after the German conquest of Poland, in September 1939, was a fait accompli.[16] The population data, generated with the Dehomag counting and alphabetization machines was instrumental to the Nazi government's ethnic cleansing of the Jewish populations of conquered Europe.[17] Therefore, to perform with industrial efficiency, every Nazi concentration camp had a Hollerith-Abteilung (Hollerith Department), the staff of people responsible for tracking the whereabouts of every prisoner in the camp, using information generated with the punch card machinery leased from the IBM company.[18] In IBM and the Holocaust (2001), Edwin Black concludes 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 [of people] they did [manage to process]”.[19]

Company response[edit]

The IBM company never directly denied the validity of the evidence presented in book IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (2001); but has criticized the research methodology of and the accusatory conclusions drawn by the author, Edwin Black.[20] Moreover, IBM said that they do not have any other information about the business activities of the IBM company during the WWII period, or any information about the operations of their German subsidiary company, Dehomag (Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft), because most of such documents likely were destroyed or lost during the war. Furthermore, the company also claimed that an earlier lawsuit against IBM, which was dismissed, was filed to coincide with the publication of the book IBM and the Holocaust, and so increase sales.[21]

In 2002, the IBM company rejected Edwin Black's claim that IBM was hiding information and records regarding their business operations during WWII.[22] However, IBM later gave much of their corporate records about that period to academic archives in New York and in Stuttgart, Germany, for independent scholars to review.[23]

In the History News Network article Wikipedia—The Dumbing Down of World Knowledge (19 April 2010), Edwin Black accused IBM advocates of systematically censoring the History of IBM article in the English Wikipedia, specifically obscuring the sections about the IBM company's role in the Holocaust.[24]

Critical opinion[edit]

Newsweek called the book "explosive" adding, "backed by exhaustive research, Black's case is simple and stunning." 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.[25]

However, 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."[26] IBM quoted this claim in a March 2002 press release "Addendum to IBM Statement on Nazi-era Book and Lawsuit".[22]

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 an expiration of time under the statute of limitations.[28]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Preston, Peter (February 18, 2001). "Six million and counting". The Observer (guardian.co.uk). 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. ^ ASJA Award Recipients, American Society of Journalists and Authors. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
  26. ^ Bernstein, Richard (March 7, 2001). "'IBM and the Holocaust': Assessing the Culpability". Arts section (The New York Times). 
  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. 

External links[edit]