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ibm and the holocaust


Over the past two days I've read Edwin Black's IBM and the Holocaust: how America's most powerful corporation helped Nazi Germany count the Jews. Quite simply, a shocking book. Incredibly well-researched. Virtually Every single paragraph of its 600-plus pages is backed up by references.

The Nazis used punch-card machines (IBM's Hollerith machines) to tabulate their various "censuses" that helped them organize the massive requirements of a wartime economy (and war itself), plan logistics, and, yes, identify the Jews for extermination, among other things. The Nazis tabulated everything. For example, after invading Belgium, they did a census on cattle. Afterwards, cows were required to wear an ID card. Blitzkrieg, the Nazi's "lightning war" was possible only because IBM's machines helped them organize the logistics and troop movements. Rhat, and everything else.

One has to doubt how much of their massive growth, conquest, and murder would have been possible without IBM's help. Not only the Nazis were the original Big Brother, IBM was the original super-sleazy high-tech company (only they didn't get caught). For example, During the first 6 years of the Third Reich, IBM's German subsidiary Dehomag (under IBM NY control with 85% of the stock) paid no taxes at all to the Germans, since it reported zero profits all the while IBM NY was reporting Germany as its second biggest market worldwide after the US. They used all sorts of accounting tricks to "cancel out" the earnings in the subsidiary while in reality they were funneling the money to IBM NY in the form of (among other things) "royalty payments". It was made all the more an "achievement" considering the environment of tight government control and paranoia that the Nazis fostered. TJ Watson was constantly looking for an edge in what everyone expected to be the new "German Empire" in Europe. The ultimate capitalist (if not a closet Fascist): profits at any cost. IBM employees helped the Nazis design efficient punch card systems to process people as if they were assets, mark them for displacement or anihilation, intimately involved into every detail to best help their 'customer'. Watson was informed of every decision, and right up to Dec. 7, 1941, when the US entered the war against the Axis powers, he micromanaged the germany operation as if it was a sales office right next to him in Manhattan, getting information on everything from market strategy, use of the machines, ongoing projects, and expenses--sometimes as little as a few dollars. As late at 1939, after Germany had invaded Checkoslovakia, Watson was still advocating for Germany to receive natural resources from other countries. He even received a medal from Hitler himself in 1937 for his many efforts (which he later returned with a public, open letter to Hitler, after the tide of public opinion in the US had turned virulently anti-Nazi). Regardless of his private stand for 'world peace', privately, he continued excercising control of IBM Germany, even using the US State Department to transfer his correspondence with the subsidiary. Though most of the stratospheric profits were in frozen accounts in Germany or in real estate, a lot of that would be recovered by IBM after the war.

Quite incredible that this remained in the shadows for so many years. Highly recommended.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 25 2003 at 5:43 PM

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