Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

News & Supplemental  

Devastating Update to the Story of IBM and the Holocaust



COMMENT: For decades, we have scru­ti­nized the pro­found con­nec­tions between U.S. and West­ern indus­try and finance and the Axis pow­ers of World War II, the Third Reich in par­tic­u­lar. An out­growth of transna­tion­al cor­po­rate rela­tion­ship, this con­nec­tion is cen­tral to the caus­es and nar­ra­tive of the Sec­ond World War and the crimes that char­ac­ter­ized that blood­bath.

Among the most impor­tant and strik­ing of these rela­tion­ships is the piv­otal rela­tion­ship between IBM and Nazi Ger­many.

Using IBM’s Hol­lerith tech­nol­o­gy to quan­ti­fy, cat­e­go­rize, seg­re­gate, exploit and exter­mi­nate their vic­tims, the Ger­mans could not have real­ized their geno­ci­dal pro­gram to the same extent with­out the assis­tance of the Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tion.

Hav­ing seen the role of IBM with the foun­da­tion of the Holo­caust, a clos­er view of that cor­po­rate giant’s involve­ment with Auschwitz and the oth­er Nazi death fac­to­ries instructs us about the nature of the forces that impinge direct­ly on our world.

Regard­ing the rapid ero­sion of pri­va­cy and seri­al­iza­tion of vir­tu­al­ly all aspects of peo­ple’s behav­ior through the use of the inter­net and social media, we might remem­ber this dis­turb­ing, instruc­tive his­tor­i­cal les­son before we embrace the vir­tu­al panop­ti­con of insti­tu­tions like Face­book.

With con­tem­po­rary fas­cists such as the fab­u­lous­ly wealthy and seem­ing­ly ubiq­ui­tous Peter Thiel financ­ing polit­i­cal affairs in order to real­ize his belief that “free­dom and democ­ra­cy are incom­pat­i­ble,” being quan­ti­fied, iden­ti­fied and locat­ed by the tech­nol­o­gy con­trolled by such peo­ple may prove to be a bad idea.

Author Edwin Black has updat­ed his IBM inves­ti­ga­tion with a stark­ly bru­tal analy­sis and pre­sen­ta­tion of just how the indus­tri­al­ized mass slaugh­ter real­ized by the Third Reich was imple­ment­ed.

“IBM at Auschwitz, New Doc­u­ments”; By Edwin Black; Read­er Sup­port­ed News; 2/29/2012.

New­ly-released doc­u­ments expose more explic­it­ly the details of IBM’s piv­otal role in the Holo­caust — all six phas­es: iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, expul­sion from soci­ety, con­fis­ca­tion, ghet­toiza­tion, depor­ta­tion, and even exter­mi­na­tion. More­over, the doc­u­ments por­tray with crys­tal clar­i­ty the per­son­al involve­ment and micro-man­age­ment of IBM pres­i­dent Thomas J. Wat­son in the com­pa­ny’s co-plan­ning and co-orga­niz­ing of Hitler’s cam­paign to destroy the Jews.

IBM’s twelve-year alliance with the Third Reich was first revealed in my book IBM and the Holo­caust, pub­lished simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in 40 coun­tries in Feb­ru­ary 2001. It was based on some 20,000 doc­u­ments drawn from archives in sev­en coun­tries. IBM nev­er denied any of the infor­ma­tion in the book; and despite thou­sands of media and com­mu­nal requests, as well as pub­lished arti­cles, the com­pa­ny has remained silent.

The new “expand­ed edi­tion” con­tains 32 pages of nev­er-before-pub­lished inter­nal IBM cor­re­spon­dence, State Depart­ment and Jus­tice Depart­ment mem­os, and con­cen­tra­tion camp doc­u­ments that graph­i­cal­ly chron­i­cle IBM’s actions and what they knew dur­ing the 12-year Hitler regime. . . .

. . . Among the new­ly-released doc­u­ments and archival mate­ri­als are secret 1941 cor­re­spon­dence set­ting up the Dutch sub­sidiary of IBM to work in tan­dem with the Nazis, com­pa­ny Pres­i­dent Thomas Wat­son’s per­son­al approval for the 1939 release of spe­cial IBM alpha­bet­iz­ing machines to help orga­nize the rape of Poland and the depor­ta­tion of Pol­ish Jews, as well as the IBM Con­cen­tra­tion Camp Codes includ­ing IBM’s code for death by Gas Cham­ber. Among the new­ly pub­lished pho­tos of the punch cards is the one devel­oped for the sta­tis­ti­cian who report­ed direct­ly to Himm­ler and Eich­mann.

The sig­nif­i­cance of the incrim­i­nat­ing doc­u­ments requires con­text.

Punch cards, also called Hol­lerith cards after IBM founder Her­man Hol­lerith, were the fore­run­ner of the com­put­ers that IBM is famous for today. These cards stored infor­ma­tion in holes punched in the rows and columns, which were then “read” by a tab­u­lat­ing machine. The sys­tem worked like a play­er piano — but this one was devot­ed to the dev­il’s music. First designed to track peo­ple and orga­nize a cen­sus, the Hol­lerith sys­tem was lat­er adapt­ed to any tab­u­la­tion or infor­ma­tion task.

From the first moments of the Hitler regime in 1933, IBM used its exclu­sive punch card tech­nol­o­gy and its glob­al monop­oly on infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy to orga­nize, sys­tem­atize, and accel­er­ate Hitler’s anti-Jew­ish pro­gram, step by step facil­i­tat­ing the tight­en­ing noose. The punch cards, machin­ery, train­ing, ser­vic­ing, and spe­cial project work, such as pop­u­la­tion cen­sus and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, was man­aged direct­ly by IBM head­quar­ters in New York, and lat­er through its sub­sidiaries in Ger­many, known as Deutsche Hol­lerith-Maschi­nen Gesellschaft (DEHOMAG), Poland, Hol­land, France, Switzer­land, and oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries.

Among the punch cards pub­lished are two for the SS, includ­ing one for the SS Rasse­namt, or Race Office, which spe­cial­ized in racial selec­tions and coor­di­nat­ed with many oth­er Reich offices. A third card was cus­tom-craft­ed by IBM for Richard Korherr, a top Nazi sta­tis­ti­cian and expert in Jew­ish demo­graph­ics who report­ed direct­ly to Reichs­führer Hein­rich Himm­ler and who also worked with Adolf Eich­mann. Himm­ler and Eich­mann were archi­tects of the exter­mi­na­tion phase of the Holo­caust. All three punch cards bear the proud indi­cia of IBM’s Ger­man sub­sidiary, DEHOMAG. They illus­trate the nature of the end users who relied upon IBM’s infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy.

In 1937, with war loom­ing and the world shocked at the increas­ing­ly mer­ci­less Nazi per­se­cu­tion of the Jews, Hitler bestowed upon Wat­son a spe­cial award — cre­at­ed specif­i­cal­ly for the occa­sion — to hon­or extra­or­di­nary ser­vice by a for­eign­er to the Third Reich. The medal, the Order of the Ger­man Eagle with Star, bedecked with swastikas, was to be worn on a sash over the heart. Wat­son returned the medal years lat­er in June 1940 as a reac­tion to pub­lic out­rage about the medal dur­ing the bomb­ing of Paris. The return of this medal has been used by IBM apol­o­gists to show Wat­son had sec­ond thoughts about his alliance with the Reich. But a new­ly released copy of a sub­se­quent let­ter dat­ed June 10, 1941, draft­ed by IBM’s New York office, con­firms that IBM head­quar­ters per­son­al­ly direct­ed the activ­i­ties of its Dutch sub­sidiary set up in 1940 to iden­ti­fy and liq­ui­date the Jews of Hol­land. Hence, while IBM engaged in the pub­lic rela­tions maneu­ver of return­ing the medal, the com­pa­ny was actu­al­ly qui­et­ly expand­ing its role in Hitler’s Holo­caust. Sim­i­lar sub­sidiaries, some­times named as a vari­ant of “Wat­son Busi­ness Machines,” were set up in Poland, Vichy France, and else­where on the Con­ti­nent in cadence with the Nazi takeover of Europe.

Par­tic­u­lar­ly pow­er­ful are the new­ly-released copies of the IBM con­cen­tra­tion camp codes. IBM main­tained a cus­tomer site, known as the Hol­lerith Depart­ment, in vir­tu­al­ly every con­cen­tra­tion camp to sort or process punch cards and track pris­on­ers. The codes show IBM’s numer­i­cal des­ig­na­tion for var­i­ous camps. Auschwitz was 001, Buchen­wald was 002; Dachau was 003, and so on. Var­i­ous pris­on­er types were reduced to IBM num­bers, with 3 sig­ni­fy­ing homo­sex­u­al, 9 for anti-social, and 12 for Gyp­sy. The IBM num­ber 8 des­ig­nat­ed a Jew. Inmate death was also reduced to an IBM dig­it: 3 rep­re­sent­ed death by nat­ur­al caus­es, 4 by exe­cu­tion, 5 by sui­cide, and code 6 des­ig­nat­ed “spe­cial treat­ment” in gas cham­bers. IBM engi­neers had to cre­ate Hol­lerith codes to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between a Jew who had been worked to death and one who had been gassed, then print the cards, con­fig­ure the machines, train the staff, and con­tin­u­ous­ly main­tain the frag­ile sys­tems every two weeks on site in the con­cen­tra­tion camps.

New­ly-released pho­tographs show the Hol­lerith Bunker at Dachau. It housed at least two dozen machines, main­ly con­trolled by the SS. The fore­bod­ing con­crete Hol­lerith block­house, con­struct­ed of rein­forced con­crete and steel, was designed to with­stand the most intense Allied aer­i­al bom­bard­ment. Those famil­iar with Nazi bomb-proof shel­ters will rec­og­nize the advanced square-cor­nered pill­box design reserved for the Reich’s most pre­cious build­ings and oper­a­tions. IBM equip­ment was among the Reich’s most impor­tant weapons, not only in its war against the Jews, but in its gen­er­al mil­i­tary cam­paigns and con­trol of rail­way traf­fic. Wat­son per­son­al­ly approved expen­di­tures to add bomb shel­ters to DEHOMAG instal­la­tions because the cost was born by the com­pa­ny. Such costs cut into IBM’s prof­it mar­gin. Wat­son’s approval was required because he received a one-per­cent com­mis­sion on all Nazi busi­ness prof­its.

Two telling U.S. gov­ern­ment mem­os, now pub­lished, are remark­able for their telling irony. The first is a State Depart­ment memo, dat­ed Decem­ber 3, 1941, just four days before the attack on Pearl Har­bor and as the Nazis were being open­ly accused of geno­cide in Europe. On that day in 1941, IBM’s top attor­ney, Har­ri­son Chauncey, vis­it­ed the State Depart­ment to express qualms about the com­pa­ny’s exten­sive involve­ment with Hitler. The State Depart­ment memo record­ed that Chauncey feared “that his com­pa­ny may some day be blamed for coop­er­at­ing with the Ger­mans.”

The sec­ond is a Jus­tice Depart­ment memo gen­er­at­ed dur­ing a fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tion of IBM for trad­ing with the ene­my. Eco­nom­ic War­fare Sec­tion chief inves­ti­ga­tor Howard J. Carter pre­pared the memo for his super­vi­sors describ­ing the com­pa­ny’s col­lu­sion with the Hitler regime. Carter wrote: “What Hitler has done to us through his eco­nom­ic war­fare, one of our own Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions has also done... Hence IBM is in a class with the Nazis.” He end­ed his memo: “The entire world cit­i­zen­ry is ham­pered by an inter­na­tion­al mon­ster.” . . .


4 comments for “Devastating Update to the Story of IBM and the Holocaust”

  1. A movie by Mark Achbar, The Cor­po­ra­tion, touch­es on that sub­ject. I pre­sent­ed the extract where the sub­ject is summed up in an ear­li­er post. There is a link to the whole movie if you want to watch it. By the way, Edwin Black inter­venes in this extract.


    Posted by Claude | March 10, 2012, 6:43 pm
  2. [...] was in fact some­thing real­ly prac­ti­cal. For more infor­ma­tion on this, check this ear­li­er post or this post by radio host and antifas­cist researcher Dave Emory. If Rom­ney wins the Rebubli­can Nom­i­na­tion and [...]

    Posted by Mitt Romney: The art and science of corporatism in its finest | Lys-d'Or | April 21, 2012, 5:50 pm
  3. [...] author of IBM and the Holo­caust, in Mark Achbar’s film The Cor­po­ra­tion. Check as well this blog post by Dave Emory on the [...]

    Posted by Photo album of Auschwitz debunks holocaust deniers for good…but they will continue anyway, won’t they? | Lys-d'Or | April 27, 2012, 11:34 am
  4. The Reich knows how to return favours:


    A pret­ty good invest­ment, no?

    Posted by John Laws | September 27, 2015, 5:49 am

Post a comment