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Wartime Nazi ghosts return to haunt IBM. A new edition
of a book claims the computer giant took a businesslike approach to collaboration
with Hitler’s death machine. Dominic Rushe reports from New York.
March 31, 2002.
FROM 1942 to 1944 Leon Krzemieniecki drew up train timetables for the Polish railways in a three-roomed office at 22 Pawia Street, Krakow. A forced labourer, Krzemieniecki worked 10 hours a day under high security, guarded by armed railway police.
The office was equipped with 15 machines to punch holes in cards, two that sorted them, and a tabulator “bigger than a sofa” to make sense of the information stored on the cards. The equipment was state of the art.
All day, 15 women punched the cards to record information on them, then loaded them into the sorters. They were supervised by three German officials who calculated the machines’ final tallies amid great secrecy.
All the information was eventually reduced to a small envelope of summary data, which was delivered to a secret destination. The preliminary print-outs were burned, along with the spent cards.
Unbeknown to Krzemieniecki, the tables he drew up, the cards he saw punched and sorted, and the summary data that were dispatched to who knows where, were not concerned with the smooth running of the trains. The Krakow office was being used to co- ordinate the mass extermination of Jews, gypsies and others in Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.
It was time-consuming and labour-intensive work. Krzemieniecki recalls that an “outside technician”, who spoke German and Polish and “did not work for the railroad”, was almost constantly on site to keep the machines running.
The manuals were in English. “I knew they were not German machines,” recalls Krzemieniecki. “The labels were in English . . . the person maintaining and repairing the machines spread out the diagrams sometimes. The language of the diagrams of those machines was only in English.”
The machine logo plates were also in English, he recalls. They read “Watson Business Machines” — a subsidiary of IBM, the computer giant. Genocide’s adding machines carried the name of the company’s president, Thomas Watson.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, many people saw a threat to humanity; Watson saw a business opportunity. IBM’s involvement with the Third Reich, its largest wartime client outside America, has been well documented.
But this week a new edition of a book reveals the true extent of the company’s involvement and argues that the relationship grew even after America joined the war.
The book — Edwin Black’s IBM and The Holocaust — looks set to reignite the debate over the computer giant’s involvement in the Holocaust. IBM is already the target of legal action from gypsies seeking billions of pounds in reparation and has narrowly avoided, for now, another class action from Jewish Holocaust survivors.
Since the book was first published last year, thousands of documents have been discovered that further reveal IBM’s involvement with Nazi Germany. The first edition of Black’s book concentrated mainly on IBM’s German division and its relationships before the war.
But his latest research shows that IBM’s New York office and Hitler’s regime remained close even after America had entered the war. The Polish subsidiary, far from being a unit taken over by the Nazis, was set up by IBM solely to aid and abet Hitler, says Black.
One of the most explosive new revelations is that, in 1942, IBM’s chief American lawyer, Harrison Chauncey, met the manager of the company’s Czech division in Berlin. They met, Black says, to set up a scheme to sanitise the American company’s Nazi links.
One scheme was to place Czech machine tags on Nazi tabulators, says Black. The machines were then leased to the Nazis as if they belonged to the Czech division but a royalty payment made its way back to IBM in New York through a bank account in neutral Switzerland.
Until recently most of IBM’s involvement was thought to be through its German subsidiary — Dehomag. Black says his latest revelations show IBM and its subsidiaries throughout Europe were involved in keeping the wheels of the Nazi war machine running.
He says an Enron-like maze of subsidiary companies was used to obscure what was going on. “The purpose was to make sure that, when the smoke cleared, nobody would be able to identify which machine and which dollar of profit belonged to which subsidiary,” he says.
“We are looking at globalisation before that word even existed in the English language. And that globalisation was established to make money from the Nazi regime.
“Watson didn’t hate Jews. He didn’t hate the Poles. He didn’t hate the British, nor did he hate the Americans. It was always about the money. You can say it, but you almost can’t believe it.”
The machines the Nazis used to co-ordinate the Final Solution were not sold to them, only leased. IBM provided the punch cards and spare parts. It serviced the machines on-site — whether at Dachau or in Berlin — directly or through its authorised dealer network or field trainees. Each series of cards was custom-designed by IBM engineers to collate the information going in and to tabulate the information the Nazis wanted to come out.
Using IBM’s machines, for example, the Nazis were able to work out how many Jews would die of starvation per square metre in the ghettos. Black says that, because the machines were tailored to each job, IBM must have been aware of the horrific nature of the calculations they were designed to perform.
IBM constantly updated its machinery and applications for the Nazis, says Black. One series of punch cards was designed to record religion, national origin and mother tongue.
Special columns were added to identify Polish speakers or Polish nationals. The Nazis could cross-reference the fur trade as an occupation, for example, with, say, Berlin.
IBM machines would keep a tally of how prisoners died in the camps. There were six main categories of prisoner, including code 1, released; code 4, suicide; and code 6, exterminated.
“Some Nazi client had to consult with his IBM representative to agree that code 6 would be extermination of some Jew or Jehovah’s Witness in the gas chamber. Those cards were exclusively printed by IBM and the machines maintained by IBM,” says Black.
Holocaust scholars and leaders of international Jewish groups have called on IBM to apologise officially for the role its technology and former officials played in aiding Hitler.
“This negates all the excuses. IBM has to look at what its role should be in light of these revelations,” says Malcolm Hoenlein, a prominent Jewish spokesman.
Black says IBM escaped prosecution after the war because it had successfully
portrayed itself as a loyal American company. “This is a company that helped
plan the Normandy invasion with its weather calculations while at the same
time supplying code-breaking equipment to the German military to help them
find out where that invasion would be.”
Carol Makovich, an IBM spokeswoman, says: “The conclusions in the original books were questioned at the time they came out. A number of experts questioned the research methods used and the conclusions that were reached. We look to historians and experts in this era to evaluate the book and they have raised some serious questions.”
IBM and the Holocaust, £9.99, is re-published by Time Warner on April 4