Notes for Edwin Black IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation

Key concepts: punch card machine, racial census.

Related theorists: .

The book IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black, which American digital humanists ought to be obliged to read as part of their philosophy of computing canon, begins with a reproduction of a 1933 Dehomag (Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft M-B-H-Berlin-Licterfelde) advertisement featuring the word “Überssicht” (oversee), an all-seeing eye enlightening an IBM punch card form of early mechanical computing, a factory sporting a massive smokestack, and the words “mit hollerith Lochkarten” (with Hollerith cards), alluding to the commencement of a horrifying holocaust narrative implicating IBM machinery and its employees and partners in America and Europe with their bureaucratic counterparts in the murderous Nazi regime like Adolf Eichmann, the subject of Hannah Arendt banality of evil; however, I find the human machine situation of WALL-E more indicative of the transformation of humanity by modern digital computing, comical future descendants of what Hayles refers to as the dumbest generation, whose comfortable spaceship utopia plays upon the horrific reality of the movie The Matrix whose human beings are never awake as embodied.

Note hollerith (IBM) is an adjective of punchcards the noun for computing machinery and related products.

The book IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black, a book the author attests was difficult to write and should be just as difficult to read, especially for American digital humanists who include it in their philosophy of computing canon, begins with a reproduction of a 1933 Dehomag advertisement featuring an all-seeing eye enlightening an IBM punch card used by early mechanical computers, a factory sporting a massive smokestack, and the words translated as, see everything with Hollerith punchcards, alludes to the commencement of a horrifying holocaust narrative implicating IBM machinery, its employees, its partners in America and Europe, with their bureaucratic counterparts in the murderous Nazi regime like the infamous Adolf Eichmann, symbolizing the evil latent in apparently benign technological devices.

(vi) A Dehomag (IBM's German subsidiary) poster, circa 1943. Approximate English translation is, “See everything with Hollerith punchcards.”

(1) Ultimately, more than 100 people in seven countries participated, some for months at a time, many for a few weeks between jobs or during school breaks, and some for just a few hours when we needed specific documents translated. For most, their mission was simply to scour record groups or newspaper microfilm looking for certain key words or topics, knowing little about the implications of what they were finding. Once documents were located, they were copied and sent to me for review and analysis. When we discovered a lead, we would ask for follow-up research on a targeted theme or name.
(1) Researchers and translators were recruited through Internet sites, university bulletin boards, Holocaust survivor organizations, archivists, historians, translator-researcher associations, and friends of friends of friends.

(7) This book will be profoundly uncomfortable to read. It was profoundly uncomfortable to write. It tells the story of IBM's conscious involvement—directly and through its subsidiaries—in the Holocaust, as well as its involvement in the Nazi war machine that murdered millions of others throughout Europe.

IBM was gripped by its amoral corporate mantra and dazzled by its universe of technical possibilities; collective intelligence, punch drunk with newly discovered organizational possibilities of automated high speed tabulating, sorting, and printing machinery, materialized in the German populace as what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil, such that actors like Adolf Eichmann would fail to admit any sense of wrongdoing.

(8) Solipsistic and dazzled by its own swirling universe of technical possibilities, IBM was self-gripped by a special amoral corporate mantra: if it can be done, it should be done.

Punch card and sorting systems were used for the automation of human destruction by the Nazis under guidance of IBM Germany, which lucrative business, Black argues with voluminous documentary evidence, the parent company in the United States tolerated if not encouraged with a blind eye to its purposes.

(8) However, another invention did exist: the IBM punch card and card sorting system—a precursor to the computer. IBM, primarily through its German subsidiary, made Hitler's program of Jewish destruction a technologic mission the company pursued with chilling success. IBM Germany, using its own staff and equipment, designed, executed, and supplied the indispensable technologic assistance Hitler's Third Reich needed to accomplish what had never been done before—the automation of human destruction.

Custom-designed complex devices and specialized applications sanctioned by IBM New York bases argument that IBM knew what the Third Reich was doing with its machines and services.

(9) IBM Germany, known in those days as Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft, or Dehomag, did not simply sell the Reich machines and then walk away. IBM's subsidiary, with the knowledge of its New York headquarters, enthusiastically custom-designed the complex devices and specialized applications as an official corporate undertaking.
(10) I was haunted by a question whose answer has long eluded historians. The Germans always had the lists of Jewish names. Suddenly, a squadron of grim-faced SS would burst into a city square and post a notice demanding those listed assemble the next day at the train station for deportation to the East. But how did the Nazis get this lists? For decades, no one has known. Few have asked.

IBM Germany racial census operations and people counting technologies produced lists Nazis used to round up Jews and others for deportation via train to camps.

(10) The answer: IBM Germany's census operations and similar advanced people counting and registration technologies. IBM was founded in 1896 by German inventor Herman Hollerith as a census tabulating company. . . . IBM Germany invented the racial census—listing not just religious affiliation, but bloodline going back generations. This was the Nazi data lust. Not just to count the Jews—but to identify them.

High-speed data sorting via punch cards used by Nazi Germany for people and asset registration, food allocation, slave labor identification, tracking, and managing, and most notably rail scheduling.

(10) People and asset registration was only one of the many uses Nazi Germany found for high-speed data sorters. Food allocation was organized around databases, allowing Germany to starve the Jews. Slave labor was identified, tracked, and managed largely through punch cards. Punch cards even made the trains run on time and cataloged their human cargo.
(10) The work of it IBM preferred not to know--”don't ask, don't tell” was the order of the day. Yet IBM NY officials, and frequently Watson's personal representatives, Harrison Chauncey and Werner Lier, were almost constantly in Berlin or Geneva, monitoring activities, ensuring that the parent company in New York was not cut out of any of the profits or business opportunities Nazism presented. When U.S. law made such direct contact illegal, IBM's Swiss office became the nexus, providing the New York office continuous information and credible deniability.

Confrontation with IBM Hollerith D-11 at US Holocaust Museum, which only mentioned IBM role in 1933 census.

(11) I confronted the reality of IBM's involvement one day in 1993 in Washington at the United States Holocaust Museum. There, in the very first exhibit, an IBM Hollerith D-11 card sorting machine—riddled with circuits, slots, and wires—was prominently displayed. Clearly affixed to the machine's front panel glistened an IBM nameplate. . . . The exhibit explained little more than that IBM was responsible for organizing the census of 1933 that first identified the Jews.
(12) For years I promised myself I would one day answer the question: How many solutions did IBM provide to Nazi Germany? I knew about the initial solution: the census. Just how far did the solutions go?

Narrative of how the research commenced and expertise required, noting degree of difficulty without initial cooperation from IBM.

(12) In 1998, I began an obsessive quest for answers. Proceeding without any foundation funds, organizational grants, or publisher dollars behind me, I began recruiting a team of researchers, interns, translators, and assistants, all on my own dime.
(13) Ultimately, I assembled more than 20,000 pages of documentation from fifty archives, library manuscript collections, museum files, and other repositories.
(13) Complicating the task, many of the IBM papers and notes were unsigned or undated carbons, employing deliberate vagueness, code words, catchphrases, or transient corporate shorthand. I had to learn the contemporaneous lexicon of the company to decipher their content.
(14) In my pursuit, I received extraordinary cooperation from every private, public, and governmental source in every country. Sadly, the only refusal came from IBM itself, which rebuffed by requests for access to documents and interviews. . . . Ultimately, I was able to arrange proper access. Hundreds of IBM documents were placed at my disposal. I read them all.
(15) With few exceptions (see Bibliographical Note), the Holocaust literature is virtually devoid of mention of the Hollerith machines—in spite of its high profile display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
(15) More than the obscurity of the documents, such an investigation would require expertise in the history of the Holocaust before and after the war began, the history of post-Industrial Revolution mechanization, the history of technology, and more specifically the archaic punch card system, as well as an understanding of Reich economics, multi-national corporations, and a grasp of financial collusion. In addition, one would need to juxtapose the information for numerous countries before assembling the complete picture. Just as important is the fact that until I examined the IBM documents, that half of the screen was totally obscured.

Reexamine Holocaust scholarship with contemporary sensitivity to how technology can be utilized in war and peace, examining precursor to modern computing in the process.

(16) The formative years for most Holocaust scholarship was before the computer age, and well before the Age of Information. Everyone now possesses an understanding of how technology can be utilized in the affairs of war and peace. We can now go back and look at the same documentation in a new light.

Black awakens us from this predigital nightmare perpetrated by the German and American government war machines, and more shockingly IBM employees in subsidiaries of this budding transnational, to renewed fears in the Age of Realization that more lists will be compiled against more people, perhaps now dropping smart bombs from drones rather than operating death camps; it is important to think about how information is gathered and processed, whether by human programmers as steeped in evil as the vilest hacker, morally ambivalent like Eichmann, or blind to the purpose of their efforts, or perhaps the lists are already being made by machines on their own, leading to future genocides portrayed in science fiction apocalypses?

(16) Many of us have become enraptured in the Age of Computerization and the Age of Information. I know I have. But now I am consumed with a new awareness that, for me, as the son of Holocaust survivors, brings me to a whole new consciousness. I call it the Age of Realization, as we look back and examine technology's wake. Unless we understand how the Nazis acquired the names, more lists will be compiled against more people.



Connect thinking of US to ancient use by Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius.

Computing lists becomes desire of technological unconscious in defense of retaining rather than Hayles switching to nonconscious.

(398) As early as December 1943, the United States government concluded that Hitler's Holleriths were strategic machines to save not destroy. Dehomag's equipment held the keys to a smooth military occupation of Germany and the other Axis territories.
(399) As late as 1945,
der Fuhrer himself had issued a decree placing a new emphasis on punch card technology for registering and tracking all Germans needed for the defense of the Reich.

Troops objective to save beloved Dehomag IBM machinery, anticipating movie Monuments Men.

Evidence of long history of love of technologies a means of reading as diachrony in synchrony.

(406) When the U.S. military formed its Machine Records Units (MRU), IBM employees, or those IBM had trained, became the backbone of the elite MRU forces. . . . As a result, when IBM Soldiers happened upon Dehomag equipment and factories, they did not see evidence of a war crime to docket or a key Nazi industrial installation to capture. They saw something inspiring and beloved that needed protection and to be returned to its rightful owner. IBM's cause was their cause.
(412) Dehomag, the Berlin company so integral to the Hitler war machine, was never treated as an enemy entity. It was welcomed back as a precious American interest and still under the control of Thomas J. Watson.

Same equipment used by Nazis quickly repurposed for running the defeated government, a government acting upon the very people still operating it as when they did it under the Nazis; Black notes employees from corporations in other industries scrutinized for war crimes, at weak end of continuum with Eichmann at the other end.

(416) By September 1945, more than 320 prior German installations were in operation, including Holleriths at public utilities, insurance companies, and railroads.

Watson and IBM kept out of reparations discourse to quietly continue working on computing machinery, quickly settling restitution resolution.

(419) It wanted restitution for its war-damaged property, not to become a candidate for reparations. IBM did not want to join the roster of all those deemed part of what was termed “Nazi conspiracy and aggression.” Fortunately for IBM, there seemed to be a concerted effort to keep Watson and the company out of the reparations discourse.

Though other businessmen considered war criminals no IBM employees prosecuted, even top German Dehomag employees and shareholders.

(420) Businessmen who cooperated with Hitler were considered to be war criminals or “accessories to war crimes.”
(420) German magnates from the steel, finance, automotive, and chemical industries were also arrested and sent to the Nuremberg dock.
(420) By January 5, 1946, hundreds of German factories were slated to be sold to Americans to effect reparations.

Instead of being implicated in war crimes, IBM provided media services enabling Nuremberg Trials donated by Watson.

Simultaneous translation likely complex human machine cyborg.

(421) Indeed, the trial process was slowed by the necessity of translating all documents, exhibits, and testimony into several languages of the war crime tribunal: French, Russian, German, and English. Justice Jackson turned to a newly invented process called “simultaneous translation.” One company reviewed all the evidence and translated it not only for real time usage at the trial proceedings, but for posterity. That company was International Business Machines. It made the final translated record of all evidence back and forth from French, Russian, German, Polish, and English. Watson offered to undertake the massive evidence handling free of charge.

IBM has so far escaped even debate, so injecting into technology education helps ensure its corporate story not lost; history of computing, software, even programming could probe this primordial technological soup.

(422) But it was a far different story for IBM. It seemed to be immune from the debate itself. . . . Questions about Hitler's Holleriths were never even raised.

SHAEF Bad Nauheim site perfoming social calculations on public reaction to severe bombing against Japan exemplifies collective thinking at national level made plain during war time, today revolving around information collection in concerned alignment with Black but acknowledging less severe outcome of dumbest generation.

Reduction to researchable punch card data shapes thinking.

(422) IBM was more than important to the Allies. It was vital.
(422) Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was the Allied high command in Europe under General Eisenhower. SHAEF had established a classified statistical analysis office in Bad Nauheim, which in summer 1945 was serving the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS). Roosevelt had established the Bombing Survey in November 1944 to evaluate the devastating effects of Allied bombing on Germany. This was to include the effects of civilian morale and whether bombs hardened the national will to fight, or collapsed it.
(422) The Bad Nauheim site was completely dependent upon Hollerith machines and Dehomag operators for its numerous calculations of bomb destruction and predictions of the resulting social disruption. The so-called Morale Division, staffed with a platoon of social scientists, psychologists, and economists relied upon the machines to quantify public reaction to severe bombing. Regular debriefing of civilians and experienced Gestapo agents regarding the dimensions of political dissension, as well as survey questionaires, were all reduced to researchable punch card data.

Political decision to use atomic bombs supplied by forerunner technologies to which Gates applies same reasoning for putatively less lethal purposes.
(423) From its inception, a stated mission of the USSBS was to apply all bombing impact information compiled in Germany to America's air war against Japan. On August 6, a U.S. bomber dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, Nagasaki was bombed. USSBS statistical analysis and predictions of economic and social ruination had been part of the decision-making process.

As IBM enabled USSBS attributed to atomic bombing decision in 1945, Dehomag utilized to perform census of occupation once again on likely many of the same people but for a different customer than the Nazis, the occupying forces, whose collective action also resulted in horrific mass killing in Japan, neither really questioned for their meanness or inhumanity yet constituting significant bodies of both societies.

(424) For Dehomag, the 1946 census of occupation was a project organized quickly and economically. People counting was what they did best. The questions remained the same. Only the client name changed.

America retook Dehomag using rhetoric that is assets and employees were property of an American enterprise, though took years of bureaucratic thrashing like poorly networked computer processes to change name to IBM Deutschland.

(424) A key toward regaining total control was fortifying the argument that Dehomag was not a German company, but an American-owned enterprise.
(425) Before the end of 1947, IBM would finally receive a Treasury License to repurchase the stock of Rottke, Heidinger, and Hummel, thus regaining 100 percent ownership of its German unit. Ownership still did not convey control. It took two years of additional bureaucratic wrangling before IBM could legally change Dehomag's name to IBM Deutschland. That happened in April 1949.

IBM published but quickly withdrew promotional book on history of computing in Europe that detailed the exploits of famous employees on both American and Nazi sides, a very rare book indeed, which Black claims decades ago not even found in Internet libraries.
It is significant that that dreadful IBM publication remains hidden, and poses an example of pursuing philosophies implicitly and explicitly baked into program code statements and comments found in source code revisions of content published under floss licenses like GPL, creative commons, US patent, copyright and finally the absolute freedom of undiscriminated multitudinous public domain.

(425) The men who headed up the IBM enterprise in Nazi Europe and America become revered giants within the corporation's global community. Chauncey became chairman of the IBM World Trade Corporation, and the European subsidiary managers were rewarded for the loyalty with op jobs. Their exploits during the Nazi era were lionized with amazing specificity in a promotional book entitled The History of Computing in Europe, published in 1967 by IBM itself. However, an internal IBM review decided to immediately withdraw the book from the market. It is no longer available in any publicly accessible library anywhere in the world.

Black, Edwin. IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation. New York: Crown Publishers, 2001. Print.