IBM’s Role in the Holocaust: What the Newly Released Documents Show
Newly-released documents expose more explicitly the details of IBM’s pivotal role in the Holocaust—all six phases: identification, expulsion from society, confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and even extermination. Moreover, the documents portray with crystal clarity the personal involvement and micro-management of IBM president Thomas J. Watson.
IBM’s twelve-year alliance with the Third Reich was first revealed in my book IBM and the Holocaust, published simultaneously in 40 countries in February 2001. It was based on some 20,000 documents drawn from archives in seven countries. IBM never denied any of the information in the book; and despite thousands of media and communal requests, as well as published articles, the company has remained silent. The new expanded edition contains 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State Department and Justice Department memos, and concentration camp documents that graphically chronicle IBM’s actions and what they knew during the Hitler regime.
From the first moments of the Hitler regime in 1933, IBM used its global monopoly on information technology to organize, systematize, and accelerate Hitler’s anti-Jewish program, step by step. The punch cards, machinery, training, servicing, and special census were was managed directly by IBM headquarters in New York and later through its subsidiaries in Germany, Poland, Holland, France, Switzerland, and other European countries.
Among the photographs of the punch cards published are two for the SS, including one for the SS Rassenamt, or Race Office. A third was custom-crafted by IBM for Richard Korherr, a top Nazi statistician and expert in Jewish demographics who reported directly to Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler and who also worked with Adolf Eichmann. Himmler and Eichmann were architects of the extermination phase of the Holocaust. All three punch cards bear the proud indicia of IBM’s German subsidiary, DEHOMAG. They illustrate the nature of the end users who relied upon IBM’s information technology.
A newly released copy of a company letter dated June 10, 1941 confirms that IBM headquarters directly managed the activities of its Dutch subsidiary set up in 1940 to identify and liquidate the Jews of Holland. Similar subsidiaries, sometimes named as a variant of “Watson Business Machines,” were set up in Poland, Vichy France, and elsewhere on the Continent in cadence with the Nazi takeover of Europe.
Particularly powerful are the newly-released copies of the IBM concentration camp codes. IBM maintained a customer site, known as the Hollerith Department, in virtually every concentration camp. Auschwitz was coded 001, Buchenwald 002, Dachau 003, and so on. Prisoners were coded, with 3, signifying homosexual, and 12 for Gypsy. The IBM number 8 designated a Jew. Inmate death was also reduced to an IBM digit: 3 represented death by natural causes, 4 by execution, 5 by suicide, and code 6 designated “special treatment”—in gas chambers. Therefore, IBM engineers had to create Hollerith codes to differentiate between a Jew who had been worked to death and one who had been gassed, then print the cards, configure the machines, train the staff, and continuously maintain the fragile systems every two weeks on site in the camps.
Two telling U.S. government memos are remarkable for their irony. The first is a State Department memo, dated December 3, 1941, just four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor and as the Nazis were being openly accused of genocide in Europe. On that day in 1941, IBM’s top attorney, Harrison Chauncey, visited the State Department to express qualms about the company’s extensive involvement with Hitler. The State Department memo recorded that Chauncey feared “that his company may some day be blamed for cooperating with the Germans.”
The second is a Justice Department memo generated during a federal investigation of IBM for trading with the enemy. Economic Warfare Section chief investigator Howard J. Carter wrote: “What Hitler has done to us through his economic warfare, one of our own American corporations has also done … Hence IBM is in a class with the Nazis.” He ended his memo: “The entire world citizenry is hampered by an international monster.”
At a time when the Watson name and the IBM image is being laundered by whiz computers that can answer questions on TV game shows, it is important to remember that Thomas Watson and his corporate behemoth were guilty of genocide. The Treaty on Genocide, Article 2, defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy … a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Article 3 cites “complicity in genocide“ as a crime. As for who shall be punished, Article 4 specifies: “Persons committing genocide … shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials, or private individuals.”
IBM and Thomas J. Watson committed genocide by any standard. It was never about the anti-Semitism. It was never about the National Socialism. It was always about the money. Business was their middle name.