IBM’s role in WWII and the Holocaust

September 16, 2008

More food for thought…

In 2001, author Edwin Black published IBM and the Holocaust (ISBN 0-609-80899-0), a book that documented how IBM’s New York headquarters and CEO Thomas J. Watson acted through its overseas subsidiaries to provide the Third Reich with punch card machines that could help the Nazis to track down the European Jewry (especially in newly conquered territory). The book quotes extensively from numerous IBM and government memos and letters that describe how IBM in New York, IBM’s Geneva office and Dehomag, its German subsidiary, were intimately involved in supporting Nazi oppression. The book also includes IBM’s internal reports that admit that these machines made the Nazis much more efficient in their efforts. A 2003 documentary film The Corporation showed close-ups of several documents including IBM code sheets for concentration camps taken from the files of the National Archives. Prisoner Code 8 was Jew, Code 11 was Gypsy. Camp Code 001 was Auschwitz, Code 002 was Buchenwald. Status Code 5 was executed by order, code 6 was gas chamber. One extensively quoted IBM report written by the company’s European manager during WWII declared “in Germany a campaign started for, what has been termed … ‘organization of the second front.’” The memo added, “In military literature and in newspapers, the importance and necessity of having in all phases of life, behind the front, an organization which would remain intact and would function with ‘Blitzkrieg’ efficiency … was brought out. What we had been preaching in vain for years all at once began to be realized.”

Although IBM actively worked with the Hitler regime from its inception in 1933 to its demise in 1945, IBM has asserted that since their German subsidiary came under temporary receivership by the Nazi authorities from 1941 to 1945, the main company was not responsible for its role in the latter years of the holocaust.[23] Shortly after the war, the company worked aggressively to recover the profits made from the many Hollerith departments in the concentration camps, the printing of millions of punchcards used to keep track of the prisoners, the custom-built punchcard systems, and its servicing of the Extermination through labour program. The company also paid its employees special bonuses based on high sales volume to the Nazis and collaborator regimes. As in many corporate cases, when the US entered the war, the Third Reich left in place the original IBM managers who continued their contacts via Geneva, thus company activities continued without interruption. IBM has consistently refused calls by Jewish, Gypsy, survivor, and veterans groups to apologize for its involvement with the Nazi regime. The book won two major 2001 awards from the American Society of Journalists and Authors: Best Book of the Year and Best Investigative Article of the Year for IBM and Auschwitz which was based on the book. IBM has never contradicted any of the evidence or facts in the books or the many documentaries, but claimed it has no real information on the period. IBM and the Holocaust has been featured in hundreds of news articles, magazine stories, TV shows and documentaries, virtually none with rebuttal from IBM. The company has stated that Black’s case “is long and heavily documented, and yet he does not demonstrate that I.B.M. [sic] bears some unique or decisive responsibility for the evil that was done.”[

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