IBM Put Its Technology at the Nazis’ Disposal, Facilitating the Holocaust
In 2001, a bombshell of a book by Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust, drew on over 20,000 documents unearthed from archives in numerous countries, to describe a twelve year old alliance between IBM and the Third Reich. While numerous American companies had done business in Germany, even after Hitler and his Nazi crowd took over, they cut their business once the war broke out. Not so IBM, which continued doing business with the Third Reich, putting its cutting edge technology to facilitate the administrative aspects of carrying out the Holocaust.
The Final Solution – exterminating Europe’s Jews – was, in addition to being monstrously horrific, also monstrously complex from an administrative perspective. It involved the management and cross referencing of huge databases of financial records, criminal files, and what interested the Nazis the most, Jews. In the Nazi era, the only way to do that was via a complicated punch card system, similar to that used in libraries until relatively recently.
IBM was the leader in punch card and data management technology, and in 1933, soon after Hitler and the Nazis took power, the company’s president travelled to Germany. He oversaw the building of an IBM factory, and the establishment of a local subsidiary that was hired by the Nazis to conduct a detailed census. That census focused on identifying Jews, Gypsies, and other undesirables marked for future extermination. IBM supplied a punch card system that allowed the Nazis to easily sort through the gathered data.
After WWII began in 1939, IBM’s president personally approved a request to supply Germany with specialized machines to help in the exploitation of the recently conquered Poland, and in the deportation of Polish Jews. The process was repeated for each country conquered by the Nazis, with IBM supplying the capabilities for easily identifying undesirables.
The US joined the war in 1941, but even that late, archival records reveal secret correspondence of IBM higher ups to set up a Dutch subsidiary, in lieu of the German one, through which the company could continue to supply the Nazis. By then, it was clear just how the Nazis were using IBM’s technology, but the company continued to supply them with the capabilities to easily identify Jews and other undesirables.
The company furnished the Germans with the means to keep track of millions of their targeted victims from their home and work addresses, through arrest, to transportation, to ultimate fate in the concentration or extermination camps. IBM’s role continued even within the death camps, for which it set up special codes such as Camp Code 001 for Auschwitz, and 002 was Buchenwald. Prisoner Code 8 was for Jews, and 11 was for Gypsies. Status Code 5 mean execution by order, and Status Code 6 was for death by gas chamber. The archives include punch cards developed for the statistician who reported to SS leader Heinrich Himmler, and Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer in charge of the Holocaust’s logistics. IBM has criticized the research underlying IBM and the Holocaust, but it has not denied the explosive charges contained in the book.