Was IBM, "The Solutions Company," partly responsible
for the Final Solution? That's the question raised by Edwin Black's
IBM and the Holocaust, the most controversial book on the
subject since Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's
Willing Executioners. Black, a son of Holocaust survivors,
is less tendentiously simplistic than Goldhagen, but his thesis
is no less provocative: he argues that IBM founder Thomas Watson
deserved the Merit Cross (Germany's second-highest honor) awarded
him by Hitler, his second-biggest customer on earth. "IBM,
primarily through its German subsidiary, made Hitler's program of
Jewish destruction a technologic mission the company pursued with
chilling success," writes Black. "IBM had almost single-handedly
brought modern warfare into the information age [and] virtually
put the 'blitz' in the krieg."
The crucial technology was a precursor to the computer, the IBM
Hollerith punch card machine, which Black glimpsed on exhibit at
the U.S. Holocaust Museum, inspiring his five-year, top-secret book
project. The Hollerith was used to tabulate and alphabetize census
data. Black says the Hollerith and its punch card data ("hole
3 signified homosexual ... hole 8 designated a Jew") was indispensable
in rounding up prisoners, keeping the trains fully packed and on
time, tallying the deaths, and organizing the entire war effort.
Hitler's regime was fantastically, suicidally chaotic; could IBM
have been the cause of its sole competence: mass-murdering civilians?
Better scholars than I must sift through and appraise Black's mountainous
evidence, but clearly the assessment is overdue.
The moral argument turns on one question: How much did IBM New
York know about IBM Germany's work, and when? Black documents a
scary game of brinksmanship orchestrated by IBM chief Watson, who
walked a fine line between enraging U.S. officials and infuriating
Hitler. He shamefully delayed returning the Nazi medal until forced
to--and when he did return it, the Nazis almost kicked IBM and its
crucial machines out of Germany. (Hitler was prone to self-defeating
decisions, as demonstrated in How
Hitler Could Have Won World War II.)
Black has created a must-read work of history. But it's also a
fascinating business book examining the colliding influences of
personality, morality, and cold strategic calculation. --Tim
IBM and the Holocaust is the stunning story of IBM's
strategic alliance with Nazi Germany -- beginning in 1933 in the
first weeks that Hitler came to power and continuing well into World
War II. As the Third Reich embarked upon its plan of conquest and
genocide, IBM and its subsidiaries helped create enabling technologies,
step-by-step, from the identification and cataloging programs of
the 1930s to the selections of the 1940s.
Only after Jews were identified -- a massive and complex task that
Hitler wanted done immediately -- could they be targeted for efficient
asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, enslaved labor,
and, ultimately, annihilation. It was a cross-tabulation and organizational
challenge so monumental, it called for a computer. Of course, in
the 1930s no computer existed.
But IBM's Hollerith punch card technology did exist. Aided by the
company's custom-designed and constantly updated Hollerith systems,
Hitler was able to automate his persecution of the Jews. Historians
have always been amazed at the speed and accuracy with which the
Nazis were able to identify and locate European Jewry. Until now,
the pieces of this puzzle have never been fully assembled. The fact
is, IBM technology was used to organize nearly everything in Germany
and then Nazi Europe, from the identification of the Jews in censuses,
registrations, and ancestral tracing programs to the running of
railroads and organizing of concentration camp slave labor.
IBM and its German subsidiary custom-designed complex solutions,
one by one, anticipating the Reich's needs. They did not merely
sell the machines and walk away. Instead, IBM leased these machines
for high fees and became the sole source of the billions of punch
cards Hitler needed.
IBM and the Holocaust takes you through the carefully crafted
corporate collusion with the Third Reich, as well as the structured
deniability of oral agreements, undated letters, and the Geneva
intermediaries -- all undertaken as the newspapers blazed with accounts
of persecution and destruction.
Just as compelling is the human drama of one of our century's greatest
minds, IBM founder Thomas Watson, who cooperated with the Nazis
for the sake of profit.
Only with IBM's technologic assistance was Hitler able to achieve
the staggering numbers of the Holocaust. Edwin Black has now uncovered
one of the last great mysteries of Germany's war against the Jews
-- how did Hitler get the names?
the Back Cover
"Edwin Black has given Holocaust history an extraordinary
new dimension. Clearly, the destruction of six million Jewish lives,
and countless non-Jews, could not have been possible without IBM's
Hollerith machines. Nor could the Third Reich have perfected the
roundup of Jews throughout Europe, their deportation to concentration
camps, and the statistics that measured their final agonies in the
Final Solution without custom-designed IBM equipment. These revelations
are troubling enough, but Black has crafted a monumental history
that goes beyond such horrific revelations. He has discovered the
enormous corruptive power of an international enterprise that saw
itself above the laws of man and God."
-- Abraham Peck, director of research, American Jewish Historical
"IBM and the Holocaust is a tremendous, timely work.
Neglected for more than 50 years, the sordid records disclosing
the global conglomerate IBM's collaboration with the Nazi regime,
in pursuit of market monopoly, have now been exhumed by Edwin Black.
His comprehensive and detailed account shows how the blessings of
punch card technology can become a curse to human rights, as it
did in enabling the Holocaust."
-- Robert Wolfe, former chief National Archives expert for captured
German records and Nuremberg documentation
"In this carefully researched, yet chilling book, Edwin Black
relates step-by-step how the corporate and technological zeal of
IBM, and its CEO, Thomas J. Watson Sr., contributed to Nazi power
and advanced the Holocaust. This book is an awesome warning for
-- William Seltzer, author of Population Statistics and the Holocaust,
and former director, UN Office of Statistics
The son of Polish survivors, Washington-based writer Edwin
Black is the author of the award-winning Holocaust finance investigation,
The Transfer Agreement, and is an expert on commercial relations
with the Third Reich.
A note on IBM, February 23, 2001
Reviewer: benevolentdictator from Phx, Az
As a serious academic scholar of the Holocaust, I find thatBlack's
book posts many potential problems for IBM. True, IBM was notat
the Wannsee conference that organized the Final Solution, but theHollerith
machines did exist at the camps, with the Germansubsidiaries name
printed on the electronic punchcard. At Mauthausen,they were called
'Haeftlingkarten', or prisoner cards. IBM main triedto buy out Dehomag
because they were making money hand over fist, butthat is not the
crime. The crime exists when Dehomag WENT TO THE CAMPSTO SERVICE
THE MACHINES AND DELIVER MORE PUNCHCARDS. There is no waynot to
know what is going on in a concentration camp that is fullyoperational.
The stench of burning bodies is a bit difficult tomiss. No, IBM
is probably not criminally liable for participating inthe murder
of Jews and others, but like other companies that workedwith the
German government (such as Ford, Bayer, Krupp, Daimler-Benzand Volkswagen)that
used forced labor they surely profited off of thetreatment of enemies
of the Reich. Yes, IBM knew what was going on,but they were making
too much money, yet they didnt want to causetrouble with the Americans
or the Nazis by saying something. It wassimply convenient for them
to continue to sell millions of punchcardsto the German government,
and not ask what they were used for, knowingfully well what they
used them for when they saw the same cards whenthe technicians serviced
the Hollerith machines at the camps. Blackgoes a bit far in trying
to prove that IBM was a willing participantin the murder of the
Jews. We can not look back and say that IBM knewwhat would happen
when they introduced this technology. But they didproduce it for
the German government in fast order, and they chose tobe silent
when they found out what it was being used for....because itwas
financially worth it to be silent. IBM did not create the gun, butthey
created the better ammunition that helped to make a system ofkilling
more efficient. If you doubt this, research IBM in Europe from1900-present,
as virtually every book that discusses it does not talkat all about
the war years.....IBM has done well in wiping out thatpart of its
history. Black has documented his information thoroughly,but IBM
is not as guilty of murder, but they are accomplices to thecrime....
For those that chalk this up to the Holocaust industry, staywith
your accounting job, and leave history to the historians.
Don't Blame IBM USA for what German Dehomag
Hollerith did!, February 24, 2001
Reviewer: Richard Arlen from Indianapolis, Indiana
Author Black has slanted this book and readers should understand
this as they read it. First, the Hollerith machines were shipped
to Germany long before IBM became IBM in 1924. His emphases on "IBM"
in the leading chapters of the history shows he is bent on blaming
IBM. In reality, the machines were designed to record and digest
data, and it was wholly in the minds and hands of those businesses
and governmental agencies throughout Germany how these machines
were used. Black's pitch is like what is going on here in this country,
i.e. blame the gun manufacturers because someone shot someone with
their product, not the owner of the gun.
During the 1930's the knowledge and card products to program and
run the Dehomag company machines was self-contained in Germany and
did not have to rely upon support from USA. Comments in the book
also confirms this.
The original card manufacturing plant was in Georgetown, Washington,
D.C., and later started in Endicott, New York. These two plants
were supporting all of the card production for the United States
sales at the time.
Was Watson interested in selling these machines once he entered
what later became IBM? Certainly, that was the objective of the
corporation. That is the objective of any corporation, to sell its
The book is interesting to read and provides much information on
what took place in Germany and the rest of Europe under the Nazi
takeover and subversion of the various societies. But, Dehomag Hollerith
was a German company, run by Germans, controlled by Nazi overseers
who dictated the design of the cards and the use of the machines!
The book should have been called "Germany and the Holocaust."
But, then it probably would not sell too many copies and support
the intended objective.