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Jewish and IBM
WSWS : Book Reviews
How IBM helped the Nazis
IBM and the Holocaust By Edwin Black, Little Brown, ISBN 0-316-85769-6, Hardback, ÂŁ20
Book review by Peter Reydt
27 June 2001
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IBM and the Holocaust tells the story of the involvement of this major US corporation in the establishment of Hitlerâ€™s Third Reich and the destruction of European Jewry.
Author Edwin Black shows how technology developed in America by Herman Hollerithâ€”a punch card and punch card sorting systemâ€”enabled the Nazis to organise their war machine and carry through the efficient and systematic genocide of the Jews. At the time of the Nazi dictatorship, IBM had a near worldwide monopoly over the technology and the production of its vital ingredientâ€”the punch cards.
Edwin Black is not new to the subject of the Holocaust. His parents were both Jews of European decent and survivors of the Holocaust. Black first encountered the punch card technology at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, where he saw a Hollerith card sorting machine on exhibition. He explains that it was then that questions started to nag at himâ€”what role did this machine play for the Nazis? What was the role of IBM? This became the starting point for his investigation. In 1998, he began to pursue these questions vigorously, recruiting a team of researchers, interns, translators and assistants, until it comprised more than 100 people.
In his introduction, Black explains â€śI was fortunate to have an understanding of Reich economics and multi-national commerce from my earlier book, The Transfer Agreement, [which dealt with the secret pre-war agreement between Zionism and the Nazis that enabled a limited number of Jews to leave Germany for Palestine] as well as a background in the computer industry, and years of experience as an investigative journalist specialising in corporate misconduct. I approached this project as a typical if not grandiose investigation of corporate conduct with one dramatic difference: the conduct impacted on the lives and deaths of millions.â€ť (p15)
Black explains that ultimately, IBM helped the Nazis carry through their policy of genocide. Without this assistance, Hitlerâ€™s regime would not have been able to carry through its extermination plan with such efficiency. IBMâ€™s machines were used at all stages of the persecution of the Jews. They collected the necessary information to identify the Nazisâ€™ victims, first to enforce the bar on Jews working in certain academic, professional and government jobs and later to carry out mass evictions from their homes and into the ghettoes.
IBM technology was used to organise the railways, so that millions of Naziâ€™ victims could be transported to the concentration camps, where they were immediately led into the gas chambers. There were Hollerith departments at nearly every concentration camp, which registered the arrival of inmates, organised the allocation of slave labourers, and even kept tallies on the deaths of prisoners.
IBM was involved in virtually every aspect of the Third Reichâ€™s operations. The book explains that the company leased, serviced and upgraded more than 2,000 IBM multi-machine sets throughout Germany, and thousands more throughout Nazi occupied Europe. IBM developed custom-designed cards used by the Nazis; with as many as 1.5 billion punch cards being produced in Germany annually.
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