IBM during World War II

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Both the United States government and Nazi German government used IBM punched card technology for some parts of their camps operation and record keeping.

By country[edit]


In Germany, during World War II, IBM engaged in business practices which have been the source of controversy. Much attention focuses on the role of IBM's German subsidiary, known as Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft, or Dehomag. Topics in this regard include

  • documenting operations by Dehomag which allowed the Nazis to better organize their war effort, and in particular the Holocaust and use of Nazi concentration camps;
  • comparing these efforts to operations by other IBM subsidiaries which aided other nations' war efforts;
  • and ultimately, assessing the degree to which IBM should be held culpable for atrocities which were made possible by its actions.

United States[edit]

In the United States IBM was, at the request of the government, the subcontractor for the Japanese internment camps' punched card project:

His grand design for 1943 was a locator file in which would appear a Hollerith alphabetic punch card for each evacuee. These cards were to include standard demographic information about age, sex, education, occupation, family size, medical history, criminal record, and RC location. However, additional data categories about links to Japan were also maintained, such as years of residence in Japan and the extent of education received there... The punch card project was so extensive and immediate that the War Relocation Authority subcontracted the function to IBM.[1]

Critics of IBM's actions during World War II[edit]

A book by Edwin Black, entitled IBM and the Holocaust, reaches the conclusion that IBM's commercial activities in Germany during World War II make it morally complicit in the Holocaust.

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 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 IBM denied admitting liability with its contribution.[2]

In 2004, GIRCA filed suit against IBM in Switzerland. The case was dismissed in 2006, as the statute of limitations had expired.[3]

Responses to critics[edit]

In an "IBM Statement on Nazi-era Book and Lawsuit", IBM responded in February 2001 that:

It has been known for decades that the Nazis used Hollerith equipment and that IBM's German subsidiary during the 1930s – Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen GmbH (Dehomag) – supplied Hollerith equipment. As with hundreds of foreign-owned companies that did business in Germany at that time, Dehomag came under the control of Nazi authorities prior to and during World War II. It is also widely known that Thomas J. Watson, Sr., received and subsequently repudiated and returned a medal presented to him by the German government for his role in global economic relations. These well-known facts appear to be the primary underpinning for these recent allegations.[4]

Richard Bernstein, writing for The New York Times Book Review, pointed out that "many American companies did what I.B.M. did. ... What then makes I.B.M. different?" He states that Black's case in his book IBM and the Holocaust "is long and heavily documented, and yet he does not demonstrate that I.B.M. bears some unique or decisive responsibility for the evil that was done."[5] IBM quoted this claim in a March 2002 "Addendum to IBM Statement on Nazi-era Book and Lawsuit":

Mr. Black is asserting that IBM is withholding materials regarding this era in its archives. There is no basis for such assertions and we deplore the use of such claims to sell books.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tyson, Thomas N; Fleischman, Richard K. (June 2006). "Accounting for interned Japanese-American civilians during World War II: Creating incentives and establishing controls for captive workers". Accounting Historians Journal. Thomson Gale. 33 (1): 167. 
  2. ^ "A Swiss court allows Gypsies' Holocaust lawsuit to proceed". 2004-07-08. Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  3. ^ "Swiss high court rejects Gypsy Holocaust suit versus IBM, cites time limit". The Sydney Morning Herald. August 19, 2006. Retrieved April 13, 2010. 
  4. ^ "IBM Press room - 2001-02-14. "IBM Statement on Nazi-era Book and Lawsuit"". 2001-02-14. Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  5. ^ "'I.B.M. and the Holocaust': Assessing the Culpability". 2001-03-07. Retrieved 2011-06-16. 
  6. ^ "IBM Press room - 2002-03-29 Addendum to IBM Statement on Nazi-era Book and Lawsuit - United States". 2002-03-29. Retrieved 2011-06-16.