IBM and Auschwitz


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The infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number.

In August 1943, a timber merchant from Bendzin, Poland, arrived at Auschwitz. He was among a group of 400 inmates, mostly Jews. First, a doctor examined him briefly to determine his fitness for work. His physical information was noted on a medical record. Second, his full prisoner registration was completed with all personal details. Third, his name was checked against the indices of the Political Section to see if he would be subjected to special punishment. Finally, he was registered in the Labour Assignment Office and assigned a characteristic five-digit IBM Hollerith number, 44673.

The five-digit Hollerith number was part of a custom punch card system devised by IBM to track prisoners in Nazi
concentration camps, including the slave labour at Auschwitz.

The Polish timber merchant's punch card number would follow him from labour assignment to labour assignment as Hollerith systems tracked him and his availability for work, and reported the data to the central inmate file eventually kept at Department DII. Department DII of the SS Economics Administration in Oranienburg oversaw all camp slave labour assignments, utilizing elaborate IBM systems. 


Later in the summer of 1943, the Polish timber merchant's same five-digit Hollerith number, 44673, was tattooed on his forearm. Eventually, during the summer of 1943, all non-Germans at Auschwitz were similarly tattooed.

Tattoos, however, quickly evolved at Auschwitz. Soon, they bore no further relation to Hollerith compatibility for one reason: the Hollerith number was designed to track a working inmate-not a dead one. Once the daily death rate at Auschwitz climbed, Hollerith-based numbering simply became outmoded. Soon, ad hoc numbering systems were inaugurated at Auschwitz. Various number ranges, often with letters attached, were assigned to prisoners in ascending sequence. Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed cruel experiments, tattooed his own distinct number series on "patients." Tattoo numbering schemes ultimately took on a chaotic incongruity all its own as an internal Auschwitz-specific identification system.

However, Hollerith numbers remained the chief method
Berlin employed to centrally identify and track prisoners at Auschwitz. For example, in late 1943, some 6,500 healthy, working Jews were ordered to the gas chamber by the SS. But their murder was delayed for two days as the Political Section meticulously checked each of their numbers against the Section's own card index. The Section was under orders to temporarily reprieve any Jews with traces of Aryan parentage.


Sigismund Gajda was another Auschwitz inmate processed by the Hollerith system. Born in Kielce, Poland, Gajda was about 40 years of age when on May 18, 1943, he arrived at Auschwitz. A plain paper form, labelled "Personal Inmate Card," listed all of Gajda's personal information. He professed Roman Catholicism, had two children, and his work skill was marked "mechanic." The reverse side of his Personal Inmate Card listed nine previous work assignments. Once Gajda's card was processed by IBM equipment, a large indicia in typical Nazi Gothic script was rubber-stamped at the bottom: "Hollerith erfasst," or "Hollerith registered." Indeed, that designation was stamped in large letters on hundreds of thousands of processed Personal Inmate Cards at camps all across Europe.


The Extermination by Labour campaign itself depended upon specially designed IBM systems that matched worker skills and locations with labour needs across Nazi-dominated Europe. Once the prisoner was too exhausted to work, he was murdered by gas or bullet. Exterminated prisoners were coded "six" in the IBM system.


The Polish timber merchant's Hollerith tattoo, Sigismund Gajda's inmate form, and the victimization of millions more at Auschwitz live on as dark icons of IBM's conscious 12-year business alliance with Nazi Germany. IBM's custom-designed prisoner-tracking Hollerith punch card equipment allowed the Nazis to efficiently manage the hundreds of concentration camps and sub-camps throughout Europe, as well as the millions who passed through them. Auschwitz' camp code in the IBM tabulation system was 001.


Nearly every Nazi concentration camp operated a Hollerith Department known as the Hollerith Abteilung. The three-part Hollerith system of paper forms, punch cards and processing machines varied from camp to camp and from year to year, depending upon conditions.


In some camps, such as Dachau and Storkow, as many as two dozen IBM sorters, tabulators, and printers were installed. Other facilities operated punchers only and submitted their cards to central locations such as Mauthausen or Berlin. In some camps, such as Stuthoff, the plain paper forms were coded and processed elsewhere. Hollerith activity, whether paper, punching or processing, was frequently-but not always--located within the camp itself, consigned to a special bureau called the Labor Assignment Office, known in German as the Arbeitseinsatz. The Arbeitseinsatz issued the all-important life-sustaining daily work assignments, and processed all inmate cards and labor transfer rosters.


IBM did not sell any of its punch card machines to Nazi Germany. The equipment was leased by the month. Each month, often more frequently, authorized repairmen, working directly for or trained by IBM, serviced the machines on-site-whether in the middle of Berlin or at a concentration camp. In addition, all spare parts were supplied by IBM factories located throughout Europe. Of course, the billions of punch cards continually devoured by the machines, available exclusively from IBM, were extra.


IBM's extensive technological support for Hitler's conquest of Europe and genocide against the Jews was extensively documented in my book, IBM and the Holocaust, published in February 2001 and updated in a paperback edition. In March of this year, the Village Voice broke exclusive new details of a special IBM wartime subsidiary set up in Poland by IBM's New York headquarters shortly after Hitler's 1939 invasion. In 1939, America had not entered the war, and it was still legal to trade with Nazi Germany. IBM's new Polish subsidiary, Watson Business Machines, helped Germany automate the rape of Poland. The subsidiary was named for its president Thomas J. Watson.


Central to the Nazi effort was a massive 500-man Hollerith Gruppe, installed in a looming brown building at 24 Murnerstrasse in Krakow. The Hollerith Gruppe of the Nazi Statistical Office crunched all the numbers of plunder and genocide that allowed the Nazis to systematically starve the Jews, meter them out of the ghettos and then transport them to either work camps or death camps.


The trains running to Auschwitz were tracked by a special guarded IBM customer site facility at 22 Pawia in Krakow. The millions of punch cards the Nazis in Poland required were obtained exclusively from IBM, including one company print shop at 6 Rymarska Street across the street from the Warsaw Ghetto. The entire Polish subsidiary was overseen by an IBM administrative facility at 24 Kreuz in Warsaw.


The exact address and equipment arrays of the key IBM offices and customer sites in Nazi-occupied Poland have been discovered. But no one has ever been able to locate an IBM facility at, or even near, Auschwitz. Until now. Auschwitz chief archivist Piotr Setkiewicz finally pinpointed the first such IBM customer site.


The newly unearthed IBM customer site was a huge Hollerith Büro. It was situated in the I.G. Farben factory complex, housed in Barracks 18, next to German Civil Worker Camp 7, about two kilometres from Auschwitz III, also known as Monowitz Concentration Camp.


Auschwitz' Setkiewicz explains, "The Hollerith office at IG Farben in Monowitz used the IBM machines as a system of computerization of civil and slave labor resources. This gave Farben the opportunity to identify people with certain skills, primarily skills needed for the construction of certain buildings in Monowitz."


By way of background, what most people call "Auschwitz" was actually a sprawling hell comprised of three concentration camps, surrounded by some 40 subcamps, numerous factories and a collection of farms in a surrounding captive commercial zone. The original Auschwitz became known simply as Auschwitz I, and functioned as a diversified camp for transit, labour and detention. Auschwitz II, also called Birkenau, became the infamous extermination centre, operating gas chambers and ovens. Nearby Auschwitz III, known as Monowitz, existed primarily as a slave labour camp. Monowitz is where IBM's bustling customer site functioned.


Many of the long-known paper prisoner forms stamped Hollerith Erfasst, or "registered by Hollerith," indicated the prisoners were from Auschwitz III, that is, Monowitz. Now Auschwitz archivist Setkiewicz has also discovered about 100 Hollerith machine summary printouts of Monowitz prisoner assignments and details generated by the I.G. Farben customer site.


For example, Alexander Kuciel, born August 12, 1889, was in 1944 deployed as a slave carpenter, skill coded 0149, and his Hollerith printout is marked "Sch/P," the Reich abbreviation for Schutzhäftling/Pole. Schutzhäftling/Pole means "Polish political prisoner."


The giant Farben facilities, also known as "I.G. Werk Auschwitz," maintained two Hollerith Büro staff contacts, Herr Hirsch and Herr Husch. One key man running the card index systems was Eduard Müller. Müller was a fat, aging, ill-kempt man, with brown hair and brown eyes. Some said, "He stank like a polecat." A rabid Nazi, Müller took special delight in harming inmates from his all-important position in camp administration.


Comparison of the new printouts to other typical camp cards shows the Monowitz systems were customized for the specific coding Farben needed to process the thousands of slave workers who labored and died there. The machines were probably also used to manage and develop manufacturing processes and ordinary business applications. The machines almost certainly did not maintain extermination totals, which were calculated as "evacuations" by the Hollerith Gruppe in Krakow. At press time, the diverse Farben codes and range of machine uses are still being studied.


It is not known how many additional IBM customer sites researchers will discover in the cold ashes of the expansive commercial Auschwitz zone.


A Hollerith Büro, such as the one at Auschwitz III, was larger than a typical mechanized concentration camp Hollerith Department. A Büro was generally comprised of more than a dozen punching machines, a sorter and one tabulator. Leon Krzemieniecki was a compulsory worker who operated a tabulator at the IBM customer site at the Polish railways office in Krakow that kept track of trains going to and from Auschwitz. He recalls, "I know that trains were constantly going from Krakow to Auschwitz--not only passenger trains, but cargo trains as well." Krzemieniecki, who worked for two years with IBM punchers, card sorters and tabulators, estimates that a punch card operation for so large a manufacturing complex as Farben "would probably require at least two high-speed tabulators, four sorters, and perhaps 20 punchers." He added, "The whole thing would probably require 30-40 persons, plus their German supervisors."


The new revelation of IBM technology in the Auschwitz area constitutes the final link in the chain of documentation surrounding Big Blue's vast enterprise in Nazi-occupied Poland, supervised at first directly from its New York headquarters, and later through its Geneva office. Jewish leaders and human rights activists were again outraged. "This latest disclosure removes any pretext of deniability and completes the puzzle that has been put together about IBM in Poland," declared Malcolm Hoenlein, vice president of the New York-based Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. "The picture that emerges is most disturbing," added Hoenlein. "IBM must confront this matter honestly if there is to be any closure."


Marek Orski, state historian of the museum at Poland's Stuthoff Concentration Camp, has distinguished himself as that country's leading expert on the use of IBM technology at Polish concentration camps. "This latest information," asserts Orski, "proves once more that IBM's Hollerith machines in occupied Poland were functioning in the area of yet another concentration camp, in this case Auschwitz-Monowitz-something completely unknown until now. It is yet another significant revelation in what has become the undoubted fact of IBM's involvement in Poland. Now we need to compile more documents identifying the exact activity of this Hollerith Büro in Auschwitz Monowitz."


Krzemieniecki is convinced obtaining such documents would be difficult. "It would be great to have access to those documents," he said, "but where are they?" He added, "Please remember, I witnessed in 1944, when the war front came closer to Poland, that all the IBM machines in Krakow were removed. I'm sure the Farben machines were being moved at the same time. Plus, the Germans were busy destroying all the records. Even still," he continues, "what has been revealed thus far is a great achievement."


Auschwitz historians were originally convinced that there were no machines at Auschwitz, that all the prisoner documents were processed at a remote location, primarily because they could find no trace of the equipment in the area. They even speculated that the stamped forms from Auschwitz III were actually punched at the massive Hollerith service at Mauthausen concentration camp. Indeed, even the Farben Hollerith documents had been identified some time ago at Auschwitz, but were not understood as IBM printouts. That is, not until the Hollerith Büro itself was discovered. Archivists only found the Büro because it was listed in the I.G. Werk Auschwitz phone book on page 50. The phone extension was 4496. "I was looking for something else," recalls Auschwitz' Setkiewicz, "and there it was." Once the printouts were reexamined in the light of IBM punch card revelations, the connection became clear.


Setkiewicz says, "We still need to find more similar identification cards and printouts, and try to find just how extensive was the usage in the whole I.G. Farben administration and employment of workers. But no one among historians has had success in finding these documents."


In the current climate of intense public scrutiny of corporate subsidiaries, IBM's evasive response has aroused a renewed demand for accountability. "In the day of Enron and Tyco," says Robert Urekew, a University of Louisville professor of business ethics, "we now know these are not impersonal entities. They are directed by people with names and faces." Prof. Urekew, who has studied IBM's Hitler-era activities, continued, "The news that IBM machines were at Auschwitz is just the latest smoking gun. For IBM to continue to stonewall and hinder access to its New York archives flies in the face of the focus on accountability in business ethics today. Since the United States was not technically at war with Nazi Germany in 1939, it may have been legal for IBM to do business with the Third Reich and its camps in Poland. But was it moral?"


Even some IBM employees are frustrated by IBM's silence. Michael Zamczyk, for example, is a long-time IBM employee in San Jose, California, working on business controls. A loyal IBMer, Zamczyk has worked for the company for some 28 years. He is also probably the only IBM employee who survived the Krakow ghetto in 1941 and 1942. Since revelations about IBM's ties to Hitler exploded into public view in February 2001, Zamczyk has been demanding answers-and an apology--from IBM senior management.


"Originally," says Zamczyk, "I was just trying to determine if it was IBM equipment that helped select my father to be shipped to Auschwitz, and if the machines were used to schedule the trains to Auschwitz."


Zamczyk started writing letters and emails, but to no avail. He could not get any concrete response about IBM's activities during the Hitler era. "I contacted senior management, all the way up to the president, trying to get an answer,"states Zamczyk. "Since then, I have read the facts about IBM in Poland, about the railroad department at 22 Pawia Street in Krakow, and I read about the eyewitnesses. Now I feel that IBM owes me, as an IBM employee, an apology. And that is all I am looking for."


Zamczyk was met by stony silence from IBM executives. "The only response I got," he relates, "was basically telling me there would be no public or private apology. But I am still waiting for that apology and debating what to do next."


Repeated attempts to obtain IBM reaction to the newest disclosure were rebuffed by IBM spokesman Carol Makovich. I phoned her more than a dozen times, but she did not respond, or grant me permission to examine Polish, Brazilian and French subsidiary documents at the company's Somers, New York archives. Nor has the company been forthcoming to numerous Jewish leaders, consumers and members of the media who have demanded answers.


At one point, Makovich quipped to a Reuters correspondent, "We are a technology company, we are not historians."




Edwin Black is author of IBM and the Holocaust, The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (Crown Publishers 2001 and Three Rivers Press 2002). This article is drawn from his just released and updated German paperback edition.


Probing IBM's Nazi connection

By Paul Festa

Staff Writer, CNET
June 28, 2001

Since its publication in February, Edwin Black's book "IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation" has stirred unprecedented controversy among students of the Holocaust, American enterprise and information technology.


On the book's release, Holocaust survivors filed suit against IBM for its alleged role in the Holocaust; Gypsies earlier this month threatened their own lawsuit.


Though the first suit was withdrawn and the second has yet to be filed, hundreds of critics and historians have weighed in against the company, with others coming to its defense. The range of the controversy can be gleaned from the pages of BusinessWeek alone, which in a March review excoriated the "illogical, overstated, padded, and sloppy" book for fostering "a new myth--the automated Holocaust," and in an April commentary said the "enlightening" book "should be required reading for every first-year MBA student."


At the heart of Black's argument is that information technology--in the form of IBM's Hollerith punch-card machines--provided the Nazis with a unique and critical tool in their task of cataloguing and dispatching their millions of victims.


As the book's title suggests, Black attempts to establish that IBM didn't merely vend its products to Hitler--as did many American companies--but maintained a strategic alliance with the Third Reich in which it licensed, maintained and custom-designed its products for use in the machinery of the Holocaust.


IBM has responded to questions about its relationship with the Nazis largely by characterizing the information as old news.


"The fact that Hollerith equipment manufactured by (IBM's German unit) Dehomag was used by the Nazi administration has long been known and is not new information," IBM representative Carol Makovich wrote in an e-mail interview. "This information was published in 1997 in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing and in 1998 in Washington Jewish Week."


 IBM also maintains, in a February statement to which it refers most questions on the matter that the Nazis took control of its German unit before and throughout the war, and that the company "does not have much information about this period or the operations of Dehomag." Black vehemently disputes both claims.
IBM also defended Chairman Thomas Watson for his dealings with Hitler and his regime.


"As chairman of a major international company and a strong supporter of international trade, he met and corresponded with senior government officials from many, many countries, Hitler and Germany among them, in the 1930s," Makovich wrote. "As far as we know, the nature of the contacts between IBM executives and German government officials during the 1930s were similar to those with other government officials in other countries and consistent with IBM practices in the various countries in which the company did business during that era."


CNET 's Paul Festa discussed the issues with Black in a recent interview:


What first got you interested in this subject?


When I first went to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., I went with my parents, both of whom are Holocaust survivors. The first thing you see in the Holocaust museum is IBM's Hollerith tabulator. And on the front of the Hollerith is a large nameplate: IBM. For me these two words, IBM and Holocaust, did not compute.


I was literally frozen for some time staring at the machine, thinking of IBM and looking back at the map of Europe. And then it came to me. We have investigated the military intelligence, the diplomatic dispatches, the financial dealings, and the actual mechanisms of genocide, but no one has yet explored information technology. Indeed, until the current age in which we find ourselves, the Computer Age, where we have an understanding that information technology can make the pivotal difference in any campaign of peace or persecution--until the Computer Age, we could not even formulate the questions.


How did you go about researching IBM's role?

We assembled a team of 100, including researchers, historians, translators, archivists, children of Holocaust survivors, and World War II intelligence people. They worked in seven countries in some 50 archives and yielded 20,000 documents, which I organized and cross-indexed. Then some 35 historians reviewed every line of my manuscript before publication.


But I finally assembled this dark puzzle that had eluded the 15 million people who have seen this machine in the Holocaust museum. I finally connected the dots. And those dots are that IBM engineered a strategic business alliance and joint planning program with Nazi Germany from the very first moment in 1933 and extending right through the war that endowed the Hitler regime with the technology and the tools it needed to expedite and, in many ways, automate, all six phases of Hitler's war against the Jews. Those six phases are identification, expulsion, confiscation, ghettoization, deportation and ultimately even extermination.


Five years ago I started working on this seriously and two years ago went 24/7 with the team of 100. I spent those first years in the project finding out that virtually nothing's been written on IBM's role in the Holocaust. Indeed, many of the documents and facts I discovered seem to be boring, innocuous corporate details. It's only when juxtaposed with other facts from other countries and archives that these shards of glass come together to form this heartbreaking picture window, exposing the tremendous vista of IBM's global relationship with Nazi Germany.


IBM claims that its German subsidiary came under Nazi control both before and during World War II

We're not just talking about the German subsidiary. We're talking about the Swiss, the Swedish, the Italian, the Spanish, the Polish, the Romanian and Brazilian subsidiaries--more than 20 subsidiaries located across Europe and elsewhere. This was, in fact, a global commitment by IBM to support the Hitler machine as it conquered Europe and as it destroyed ethnic peoples: Gypsies, Jews and others.


IBM would want to say they lost control of their German subsidiaries. That's clearly false. Thomas Watson and the New York office micromanaged every aspect of their subsidiaries in Europe and especially in Germany, their most profitable foreign operation. The New York office was aware of all uses for their machines in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe from the moment Hitler came to power in 1933 until about the fall of 1941, two years after World War II started.


Remember, IBM custom-designed the machines, custom-designed the applications and custom-printed the punch cards. There were no universal punch cards or machine wiring. Programs to identify Jews, Jewish bank accounts, barrels of oil, Luftwaffe flights, welfare payments, train schedules into camps, and even the concentration camp information--all these had to be tailored for each application.


Even after America entered the war, when the Nazis appointed the custodian, all the original IBM managers were in place. The Reich just locked the profits for a few years just as any receiver would be for any company in receivership. IBM collected all the money after the war.


Do you have examples following the start of World War II in 1939?

Look at some facts. In September 1939, Germany invades Poland. It's a bloody, heinous invasion. The rape of Poland was known everywhere. The starvation and brutalization of the Polish people was Page 1 news everywhere, including The New York Times. War had been predicted for years. It was no surprise.


On September 13, 1939, The New York Times reports on Page 1 that 3 million Jews are going to be "immediately removed" from Poland, and they appear to be candidates for "physical extermination." On September 9, the German managers of IBM Berlin send a letter to Thomas Watson with copy to staff in Geneva via phone that, due to the "situation," they need high-speed alphabetizing equipment. IBM wanted no paper trail, so an oral agreement was made, passed from New York to Geneva to Berlin, and those alphabetizers were approved by Watson, personally, before the end of the month.


That month he also approved the opening of a new Europe-wide school for Hollerith technicians in Berlin. And at the same time he authorized a new German-based subsidiary in occupied Poland, with a printing plant across the street from the Warsaw Ghetto at 6 Rymarska Street. It produced some 15 million punch cards at that location, the major client of which was the railroad.


We have a similar example involving Romania in 1941, and The Sunday Times has actually placed the IBM documents up on their Web site. You can get to the URL through at either Reviews or Media. When Nazi Germany went into France, IBM built two new factories to supply the Nazi war machine. This is the 1941-'42 era, in Vichy, France, which was technically neutral. When Germany invaded Holland in May 1940, IBM rushed a brand-new subsidiary into occupied Holland. And it even sent 132 million punch cards in 1941, mainly from New York, to support the Nazi activity there. Holland had the highest rate of Jewish extermination in all of Europe; 72 percent of Jews were killed in Holland, compared to 24 percent in France, where the machines did not operate successfully.


What exactly did the Nazis need IBM's equipment for?

When Hitler came to power in 1933, his desire to destroy European Jewry was so ambitious an enterprise, it required the resources of a computer. But in 1933 no computer existed. What did exist was the Hollerith punch-card system. It was invented by a German-American in Buffalo, New York, for the Census Bureau. This punch-card system could store all the information about individuals, places, products, inventories, schedules, in the holes that were punched or not punched in columns and rows.


This is the same technology we saw in Florida in the presidential election. The Hollerith system reduced everything to number code. Over time, the IBM alphabetizers could convert this code to alphabetical information. IBM made constant improvements for their Nazi clients.


What was IBM's involvement with the Nazis once America had entered the war?

In October of '41, the whole world knew America was about to enter the war. We had been preparing to enter since 1933, debating it. War fever became most intense from 1937. The question was always, "Can we stay out of the war?" No one knew exactly when. Our entry was of course precipitated by the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7. Shortly before that, with sudden new trading-with-the-enemy regulations in force--this is October 1941--Watson issued a cable to all IBM's European subsidiaries, saying in effect: "Don't tell us what you're doing and don't ask us any questions." He didn't say, "Don't send machines into concentration camps." He didn't say, "Stop organizing the military forces of Nazi Germany." He didn't say, "Don't undertake anything to harm innocent civilians."


 He then bifurcated the management of IBM Europe--one manager in Geneva, named Werner Lier, and the other one in New York, in his office, named J.L. Schotte. So all communications went from Switzerland to New York. Ultimately there was a Hollerith Department called Hollerith Abteilung--German for department--in almost every concentration camp. Remember, the original Auschwitz tattoo was an IBM number.


Watson stopped all communications with Nazi Germany directly. And in point of fact, he danced on the head of a pin to obey U.S. law. It was the legal participation in genocide--legal because it was pursued through foreign subsidiaries from 1942 to 1945.


Do you contend that IBM played a role beyond the concentration camps--that it was part of the German war effort against the U.S. and other allies?

IBM's role in organizing the German war machine is well documented in the book. IBM put the blitz in Blitzkrieg. The whole war effort was organized on Hollerith machines from 1933 to 1945. This is when information technology comes to warfare. At the same time, IBM was supporting the entire German war machine directly from New York until the fall of 1941, and through its overseas subsidiaries thereafter, Big Blue was supporting the Allied war machine to the hilt.


IBM was in charge of the draft. IBM was one of the few outside the Pentagon who knew the exact date of the Normandy invasion; they were calculating the weather. IBM machines broke the Enigma Code. Much of what could do with a computer during the late 20th century could be done with Hollerith machines, but slower.


Describe your relationship with IBM as you were researching this book

When I first contacted IBM, I said I would share all my documentation with them and, in exchange, I'd like to see their archive. Originally, I was approved. The PR people overruled the archivist, Paul Lasewicz. Then a group of historians wrote to IBM CEO Lou Gerstner, demanding I be allowed access and calling IBM's refusal an obstruction of Holocaust history.


Rather than destroy the documents, IBM said it was giving them to "an academic institution" for study. But where did these documents end up? Not the Holocaust Museum in Washington, not the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan, not the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati. An IBM PR man gave them to New York University, to a Biblical archaeologist. They gave them to professor Lawrence Schiffman, a Dead Sea Scrolls expert. He had six boxes in his closet, unaware of what was in them. But he was familiar with my prior Holocaust work and immediately arranged to let me see the materials.


I also arranged to view documents in Stuttgart, and IBM blocked that and closed the facility the day I got there. When word got out about my book they transferred those Stuttgart documents to an archive in Germany, but they can't be seen until some elaborate inventory is completed.


IBM still refuses to open archives concerning France, Holland, Brazil, Poland, Italy and Spain, and other units. In other words, all their archives are still closed. As I told IBM corporate PR, "Make me work hard, make me work harder, I will get all this information."


Is your research ongoing, or is this case closed as far as you're concerned?

I'm constantly getting new information. Just a few days ago, I received extraordinary documents from Poland about something called the Hollerith Gruppe. These were unveiled on June 25 to scholars at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. The Hollerith Gruppe organized every single aspect of Polish existence and Jewish existence. These Krakow machines depended upon a guaranteed supply of millions of punch cards. The Hollerith machines did far more than identify people.


My book is not about census. The machines also ran the railroads. They organized the "extermination by labor" campaign, where people were worked to death based on their job skills and location. Slaves were shuttled from place to place based on Hollerith cross-tabulations. Millions and millions of people went through Nazi concentration camps during the 12-year Reich. But at the height of the Hitler regime, the entire camp capacity was three to five hundred thousand. That's extraordinary traffic management.

After publication, we also obtained the names of prisoners IBM trained to work in the extermination by labor program, and we discovered that a two-story building at
Dachau still standing is the Hollerith Building where at least two dozen machines were stationed. Really, there is quite a bit, and it all only deepens the documentation.


How has IBM responded to your book?

With virtual silence and an initial press release designed to confuse people. First the company said they hadn't read the book, but at the same time it said there was nothing new in the book. Can't have it both ways. My book was five weeks on the best-seller list, and they said they hadn't read it almost two months after publication. And yet IBM PR declined to make a statement when asked by Public Radio in Washington. That initial statement, by the way, claimed historians have known about this for decades. That's not true. There is not a single book or scholarly paper anywhere in existence that even mentions the Hollerith Department in concentration camps. This murder system was unknown.


 IBM PR also said the company lost control of their German subsidiary when the Nazis came to power. That's completely false. The book quotes the incidents chapter and verse.


The architect of IBM's denial of Holocaust involvement is PR manager Carol Makovich. She has developed a carefully crafted, confidential, 12-page memo that she faxes or e-mails to reviewers and writers. CNET received a copy. There are a few elderly historians who are skeptical about the book. They don't understand the power of relational databases, and information technology confuses them. IBM quotes this handful, hoping that message will influence reporters on deadline. We have indeed received about six negative reviews in newspapers, but also about 380 positive ones through the world. At least 100 of these laudatory reviews are up on my Web site. IBM won't even deny a single fact in my book. They just hope the subject will go away. It won't.


On Holocaust Day, in April of this year, an article ran in about 20 papers across the U.S. saying that IBM must apologize, that IBM should learn from its past and open archives. But IBM refuses to open the archives and confront its own past. I think IBM's corporate PR has given ruinous advice to IBM about handling this. No one wants to blame the current IBM for what happened 60 years ago. Why not just come clean and move on?


What do you think accounts for IBM's association with the Nazis? What was their motivation?

It was never about the Nazism. It was never about the anti-Semitism. It was only about the money. They didn't hate Poles when they opened up a subsidiary in war-torn Poland. They didn't hate the Dutch when they opened up the subsidiary in Holland just before the Nazis moved in, or the French when they ramped up the subsidiary in occupied France. They didn't hate the Brits or the Americans when Hollerith machines were used to target the V2 rockets. It wasn't personal--it was just business.


Why single out IBM out of all the other companies, American and otherwise, that did business with the Nazis?

I haven't singled anyone out. IBM was virtually the only supplier of punch-card technology. There were many people supplying oil, supplying weapons. It wasn't me who singled IBM out. IBM distinguished itself as the dominant provider of this special technology and sued any company which tried to horn in on their profit stream. During the war, IBM litigated against Bull in France, Powers in Europe, and even sued the German printer Euler in 1942, trying to stop them from printing cards.


IBM is circulating a review by The New York Times that argues you failed to "demonstrate that IBM bears some unique or decisive responsibility for the evil that was done." What's your response to that statement?

The gentleman who wrote that review is a social commentator--he's not a historian. He just wasn't sure. No problem. But some 380 reviews thus far have said that we have indeed made our case, and many historians and other experts use the term "ironclad" and "incontrovertible." In fact, 35 leading historians and Holocaust experts unanimously endorsed the book and its findings on the date of publication. And their comments are up on my Web site. I wonder why IBM doesn't circulate the reviews of Newsweek, The Washington Post, Midstream, The Sunday Times, and dozens more. It's sad.


IBM only had a unique and decisive role for what they were involved in. There was a distinct difference between trading with the enemy, which many companies engaged in, and the strategic alliance and joint planning campaign that IBM engaged in. For example, Standard Oil planned and built a complete petroleum supply line for Nazi Germany and supplied it well into the war--throughout the war. But Hitler knew about the combustion engine and about fuel before Standard Oil ever sold him gasoline. A British company was selling uniforms to the Third Reich. Hitler knew how to sew a uniform.


IBM did more than just sell equipment. Watson and IBM controlled the unique technical magic of Hollerith machines. They controlled the monopoly on the cards and the technology. And they were the ones that had to custom-design even the paper forms and punch cards--they were custom-designed for each specific purpose. That included everything form counting Jews to confiscating bank accounts, to coordinating trains going into death camps, to the extermination by labor campaign.


That's why even the paper forms in the prisoner camps had Hollerith notations and numbered fields checked. They were all punched in. For example, IBM had to agree with their Nazi counterparts that Code 6 in the concentration camps was extermination. Code 1 was released, Code 2 was transferred, Code 3 was natural death, Code 4 was formal execution, Code 5 was suicide. Code 7 was escape. Code 6 was extermination.


All of the money and all the machines from all these operations was claimed by IBM as legitimate business after the war. The company used its connections with the State Department and the Pentagon to recover all the machines and all the bank accounts. They never said, "We do not want this blood money." They wanted it all.


What's your opinion of the various lawsuits that have been brought against IBM on behalf of Holocaust survivors?

I read about seven such lawsuits--in the U.S., Poland, France, Switzerland. If they all disappeared it would be fine with me because I believe that IBM's responsibility is not a matter of money reparations, it's a matter of revealing its innermost secrets. But IBM prefers hiding behind the image of defending lawsuits to coming clean about their documentation.

Everyone approaches the Holocaust in their way. Some prefer memorials, others ignore what happened and wish it would go away, and some prefer lawsuits. I'm an investigative reporter and believe the best reparation is illumination. Interestingly, the reason the Gypsies said they sued was that IBM has continuously ignored their requests for information. IBM has never apologized and never opened up their archives. The company is arrogant with all who demand answers, and then these people turn to the courts. Once again, someone is giving IBM terrible advice.


How IBM Helped Automate the Nazi Death Machine in

Final Solutions

by Edwin Black

March 27 - April 2, 2002

When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, most of the world saw a menace to humanity. But IBM saw Nazi Germany as a lucrative trading partner. Its president, Thomas J. Watson, engineered a strategic business alliance between IBM and the Reich, beginning in the first days of the Hitler regime and continuing right through World War II. This alliance catapulted Nazi Germany to become IBM's most important customer outside the U.S. IBM and the Nazis jointly designed, and IBM exclusively produced, technological solutions that enabled Hitler to accelerate and in many ways automate key aspects of his persecution of Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and others the Nazis considered enemies. Custom-designed, IBM-produced punch cards, sorted by IBM machines leased to the Nazis, helped organize and manage the initial identification and social expulsion of Jews and others, the confiscation of their property, their ghettoization, their deportation, and, ultimately, even their extermination.

Recently discovered Nazi documents and Polish eyewitness testimony make clear that IBM's alliance with the Third Reich went far beyond its German subsidiary. A key factor in the Holocaust in Poland was IBM technology provided directly through a special wartime Polish subsidiary reporting to IBM New York, mainly to its headquarters at 590 Madison Avenue.


And that's how the trains to Auschwitz ran on time.


Thousands of IBM documents reviewed for the first edition of my book 'IBM and the Holocaust,' published early last year and focused mainly on IBM's German subsidiary, revealed vigorous efforts to preserve IBM's monopoly in the Nazi market and increase contracts to meet wartime sales quotas.


Since then, continued research and interviews have uncovered details, described here for the first time, of IBM's work for the Nazis in Poland through the separate subsidiary and of the Polish subsidiary's direct contact with IBM officials on Madison Avenue.


Documents were obtained from IBM files shipped to NYU for processing and from scores of other archival sources here and abroad. Not a single sentence written by IBM personnel has been discovered in any of the documents questioning the morality of automating the Third Reich, even when headlines proclaimed the mass murder of Jews.


IBM's German subsidiary was Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft, known by the acronym Dehomag. (Herman Hollerith was the German American who first automated U.S. census information in the late 19th century and founded the company which became IBM. Hollerith's name became synonymous with the machines and the Nazi "departments" that operated them.)


Watson tightly managed the lucrative German operation, traveling to Berlin at least twice annually from 1933 until 1939 to personally supervise Dehomag. Major German correspondence was translated for review by the New York office and often for Watson's personal comment. Before big new accounts were accepted, Watson had to assent. For deniability, he insisted on making direct verbal instructions to his German managers the rule rather than exception—even in place of major contracts. Once, when German managers wanted to paint a corridor, they awaited his specific permission. Watson's auditors continuously tracked the source and status of every Reichsmark and Pfennig—in one typical case, exchanging numerous transatlantic letters over the disposition of just a few dollars. Not infrequently, Dehomag managers objected to his "domination." Understandably, IBM's lawyers and managers in Berlin personally updated Watson constantly, and generally signed their reports, "Awaiting your further instructions."


No machines were sold to the Nazis—only leased. IBM was the sole source of all punch cards and spare parts, and it serviced the machines on-site—whether at Dachau or in the heart of Berlin—either directly or through its authorized dealer network or field trainees. There were no universal punch cards. Each series was custom-designed by IBM engineers not only to capture the information going in, but also to tabulate the information the Nazis wanted to come out.


IBM constantly updated its machinery and applications for the Nazis. For example, one series of punch cards was designed to record religion, national origin, and mother tongue, but by creating special columns and rows for Jew, Polish language, Polish nationality, the fur trade as an occupation, and then Berlin, Nazis could quickly cross-tabulate, at the rate of 25,000 cards per hour, exactly how many Berlin furriers were Jews of Polish extraction. Railroad cars, which could take two weeks to locate and route, could be swiftly dispatched in just 48 hours by means of a vast network of punch-card machines. Indeed, IBM services coursed through the entire German infrastructure in Europe.


The IBM Response

Asked about IBM's Polish subsidiary's involvement with the Nazis, IBM spokeswoman Carol Makovich in
New York repeated the same official statement she issued more than a year ago: "IBM does not have much information about this period." Asked a dozen times, Makovich simply repeated the phrase.


The war broke out on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Germany annexed northwestern Poland; the remaining Polish territory in Nazi hands was treated as "occupied" and called the "General Government." That annexed northwestern quadrant was serviced by IBM's German subsidiary, Dehomag, mainly to handle the payrolls of Silesian coal mines and heavy industry. At about that time, IBM New York established a special subsidiary, Watson Business Machines, to deal with the General Government. It remained completely legal for IBM to service the Third Reich until just before America entered the war in December 1941.


The savaging of Poland was no secret to IBM executives. From the outset, worldwide headlines reported barbarous massacres, rapes, purposeful starvation, systematic deportations, and the resulting unchecked epidemics. As early as September 13, 1939, The New York Times reported the Reich's determination to make Polish Jewry disappear, a headline declaring, "Nazis Hint Purge of Jews in Poland." A subhead added, "3,000,000 Population Involved." The article quoted the German government's plan for the "removal of the Polish Jewish population from the European domain." The Times added, "How . . . the 'removal' of Jews from Poland [can be achieved] without their extermination . . . is not explained."


Germany had plans. Polish Jews, during a sequence of sudden relocations, were to be catalogued for further action in a massive cascade of repetitive censuses and registrations with up-to-date information being instantly available to various Nazi planning agencies and occupation offices. How much usable forced labor for armament factories could they generate? How many thousands would die of starvation each month? A spectrum of Nazi census, registration, and statistical tabulation was performed on custom-designed IBM punch-card programs and machinery.


On September 9, 1939, Dehomag general manager Hermann Rottke wrote directly to Watson in New York, asking for advanced equipment. Rottke reminded Watson, "During your last visit in Berlin at the beginning of July, you made the kind offer to me that you might be willing to furnish the German company machines from Endicott [an IBM factory near Binghamton] in order to shorten our long delivery terms. . . . You have complied with this request, for which I thank you very much, and have added that in cases of urgent need, I may make use of other American machines. . . . You will understand that under today's conditions, a certain need has arisen for such machines, which we do not build as yet in Germany. Therefore, I should like to make use of your kind offer and ask you to leave with the German company . . . the alphabetic tabulating machines. . . . "


Eighteen days later, a vanquished Warsaw formally capitulated. The next day, September 28, IBM's general manager in Geneva, J.W. Schotte, telephoned Berlin to confirm Watson's permission for the new equipment.


Meanwhile, Reinhard Heydrich, chief of Heinrich Himmler's Security Service, the SD, had already circulated a top-secret letter to the chiefs of his Einsatzgruppen, which evolved into mobile killing units. Heydrich's September 21 memo, titled "The Jewish Question in the Occupied Territory," laid out a plan of population control through a sequence of strategic censuses and registrations. It began, "I would like to point out once more that the total measures planned (i.e., the final aim) are to be kept strictly secret." First, Jews were to be relocated to so-called concentration towns at "either railroad junctions or at least on a railway." Addressing the zone from east of Kraków to the former Czechoslovakian-Polish border, Heydrich directed, "Within this territory, only a temporary census of Jews need be taken." Heydrich demanded that "the chiefs of the Einsatzgruppen report to me continually regarding . . . the census of Jews in their districts. . . . "


Shortly thereafter, Heydrich sent a follow-up cable to his occupying forces in Poland, Upper Silesia, and Czechoslovakia, outlining how a new December 17 census would escalate the process from mere identification and cataloguing to deportation and execution. Heydrich's memo entitled "Evacuation of the New Eastern Provinces" decreed, "The evacuation of Poles and Jews in the new Eastern Provinces will be conducted by the Security Police. . . . The census documents provide the basis for the evacuation. All persons in the new provinces possess a copy. The census form is the temporary identification card giving permission to stay. Therefore, all persons have to hand over the card before deportation. . . . Anyone caught without this card is subject to possible execution. . . . "


Quantifying and organizing the deportation of millions of people from various regions across Eastern Europe could take years using pencils and paper. Relying upon the lightning speed of Hollerith machines, it took just days. Heydrich assured, "That means the large-scale evacuation can begin no sooner than around January 1, 1940." Nazi Germany employed only one method for conducting a census: IBM punch-card processes, each one designed for the specific census.


In Nazi Poland, railroads constituted about 95 percent of the IBM subsidiary's business, using as many as 21 million punch cards annually. Watson Business Machines was headquartered at Kreuz 23 in Warsaw. And one of its important customer sites, newly discovered since the first edition of my book was published a year ago, was the Hollerith department of Polish Railways, at 22 Pawia Street in Kraków. This office kept tabs on all trains in the General Government, including those that sent Jews to their death in Auschwitz.


Leon Krzemieniecki is probably the only man still living who worked in that Hollerith department. It must be emphasized that Krzemieniecki did not understand any of the details of the genocidal train destinations. His duties required tabulating information on all trains, from ordinary passenger to freight trains, but only after their arrival.


The high-security five-room office, guarded by armed railway police, was equipped with 15 punchers, two sorters, and a tabulator "bigger than a sofa." Fifteen Polish women punched the cards and loaded the sorters. Three German nationals supervised the office, overseeing the final tabulations and summary statistics in great secrecy. Handfuls of printouts were reduced to a small envelope of summary data, which was then delivered to a secret destination. Truckloads of the preliminary printouts were then regularly burned, along with the spent cards, Krzemieniecki told me in an interview.


As a forced laborer, Krzemieniecki was compelled to work as a "sorter and tabulator" 10 hours per day for two years. He never realized that his work involved the transportation of Jews to gas chambers.


"I only know that this very modern equipment made possible the control of all the railway traffic in the General Government," he said.


Krzemieniecki recalled 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, performing major maintenance monthly.


IBM's tailored railroad-management programs, several million custom-designed punch cards printed at IBM's print shop at 6 Rymarska Street, across from the Warsaw Ghetto, and the railway's leased machines were under the New York-controlled subsidiary in Warsaw, not the German subsidiary, Dehomag. The distinction is important. Since the disclosures about IBM's involvement in the Holocaust first surfaced in February 2001, the company has continually pointed to supposed lack of control of its German subsidiary. But Watson Business Machines was established in Poland by IBM New York itself, at the time of Germany's invasion.


"I knew they were not German machines," recalled Krzemieniecki. "The labels were in English. . . . The person maintaining and repairing the machines spread the diagrams out sometimes. The language of the diagrams of those machines was only in English."


I asked Krzemieniecki if the machine logo plates were in German, Polish, or English. He answered, "English. It said, 'Business Machines.' " I asked, "Do you mean 'International Business Machines'?" Krzemieniecki replied, "No, 'Watson Business Machines.' "


Dwarfing the railroad operation in Poland described by Krzemieniecki was a massive Hollerith statistical center at 24 Murner Street in Kraków, staffed by more than 500 punching and tabulating employees and equipped with dozens of machines. New research has uncovered the existence of a previously unknown Berlin agency, the Central Office for Foreign Statistics and Foreign Country Research, which continuously received detailed data from the Kraków statistical center.


By late 1939, the Reich's Jewish-population statistics wizard, Fritz Arlt, had been appointed head of the Population and Welfare Administration of the General Government. A Hollerith expert and colleague of Adolf Eichmann, Arlt edited his own statistical publication, Political Information Service of the General Government, which featured such data as Jews per square meter, with projections of decrease from forced labor and starvation.


"We can count on the mortality of some subjugated groups," one Arlt article asserted. "These include babies and those over the age of 65, as well as those who are basically weak and ill in all other age groups."


The data-hungry Nazis created an expanded Statistics Office in Kraków in 1940. The expansion was dependent on more leased machines, spare parts, company technicians, and a guaranteed continued supply of millions of additional IBM cards. IBM's European general manager, Werner Lier, visited Berlin in early October 1941 to oversee IBM New York's deployment of machines in Poland and other countries. In two detailed reports, written from Berlin and sent to Watson, as well as to other senior staff in New York, Lier reported moving a small group of Polish machines into Romania for the Jewish census there. The Polish machines would soon be replaced by others.


The expanded Statistics Office assured Berlin in a November 30, 1941, report that its Hollerith operation would employ equipment more modern than the old IBM machinery found in most pre-war Polish data agencies, thus allowing the Nazis to launch a plethora of "large-scale censuses." Also planned was a long list of "continuous statistical surveys," including those for population, domestic migration, and causes of death. Moreover, regular surveys of food and agriculture were "coupled with summary surveys of the population and ethnic groups." Tabulating food supplies against ethnic numbers allowed the Nazis to ration caloric intake as they subjected the Jewish community to starvation.


The Statistics Office's report concluded, "Our work is just beginning to bear fruit."


Once the U.S. Entered the war in December 1941, Germany appointed a Nazi devoted to IBM, Hermann Fellinger, as enemy-property custodian. He maintained the original staff and managers of Watson Business Machines, keeping it productive for the Reich and profitable for IBM. The subsidiary now reported to IBM's Geneva office, and from there to New York. The company was not looted, its leased machines were not seized. "Royalties" were remitted to IBM through Geneva. Lease payments and profits were preserved in special accounts. After the war, IBM recovered all its Polish profits and machines.


Since the war, IBM, having left Madison Avenue for new headquarters in suburban Armonk, has obstructed, or refused to cooperate with, virtually every major independent author writing about its history, according to numerous published introductions, prefaces, and acknowledgments.


But silence cannot alter the historical documentation. A tangle of subsidiaries throughout Europe helped IBM reap the benefits of its partnership with Nazi Germany. After all, "business" was IBM's middle name.