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IBM and the Holocaust

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IBM and the Holocaust

IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corp.

The Holocaust wasn’t the first time that one ethnic or religious group tried to wipe out another, but among the reasons why it merits special attention is the manner in which modern science, technology, and bureaucracy were marshalled for the effort to eliminate the Jews in as efficient and complete a manner as possible. The Holocaust was coldly rational in a way that other slaughters have not been - and the Nazis benefitted from modern corporate culture in ways that others have not since.

Summary

Title: IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation
Author: Edwin Black
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
ISBN: 0609808990

Pro:
•  Based upon more than 20,000 documents of evidence - very solid research
•  Provides a glimpse of American corporate aid to Nazi Germany
•  Emphasizes how readily corporations may chase profits at the expense of ethics

Con:
•  Deeper questions on the relationships between technology, business, and ethics are not addressed
•  May at times make overly dramatic claims
•  Highly detailed documentation may be overwhelming at times

Description:
•  Exploration of IBM’s role in the Holocaust and Nazi Germany’s hold on power
•  Describes how IBM’s technology made the Holocaust more efficient and easier
•  Argues that IBM made every effort to get around U.S. laws to profit from Nazi Germany

 

Book Review

All over Germany, entire professions were subverted for the cause of mass murder. Major corporations also lent their assistance, and that doesn’t simply include German corporations who made the bombs or ovens. Apparently, America’s own International Business Machines (IBM) played a crucial but largely forgotten role in the Holocaust which murdered around six million Jews.

Was IBM anti-semitic? Was IBM pro-Nazi? No, nothing so awful as that — yet perhaps something far worse. IBM seems to have been a very normal corporation with a very normal desire to make profit and preserve a market. Those desires led them to make a pact with the Nazis which even to this day they have refused to acknowledge, much less apologize for. This is the subject of Edwin Black‘s disturbing book IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation.

What people need to understand is that from an organizational standpoint, the Holocaust was herculean task of unprecedented proportions. Today it might not seem so incredible, but nothing at all like this had been undertaken at the time. How were so many records, people, and plans to be organized in a manner that didn’t descend into complete chaos?

IBM developed the technology for using punch cards to organize large amounts of information about large numbers of people — in particular, census information. Their Hollerith punch card machines were very useful for those who wanted the ability to categorize and control human beings. IBM’s punch card machines allowed the Nazis to identify, watch, and eventually round up Jews with a great deal of ease and efficiency. These machines were the forerunners of computers — not as efficient or productive as computers, but vast improvements over any attempt to keep records with pen and paper.

In many ways, the information age was born not in Silicon Valley but in Berlin — with Hitler as midwife.

    “Only after Jews were identified could they be targeted for asset confiscation, gheottoization, deportation, and ultimately extermination. To search generations of communal, church, and governmental records all across Germany — and later throughout Europe – was a cross-indexing task so monumental, it called for a computer.
IBM and the Holocaust

IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corp.

    ...When the Final Solution sought to efficiently transport Jews out of European ghettos along railroad lines and into death camps, with timing so precise the victims were able to walk right out of the boxcar and into a waiting gas chamber, the coordination was so complex a task, this too called for a computer.”
    “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.”

It appears that IBM experts were intimately involved in this use of their machines, from census offices right down to the death camps where the cards allowed for efficient sorting of those who would be murdered from those who would merely be worked to death. For a time, those infamous tattoos Jews received at Auschwitz were their five-digit IBM Hollerith-machine identification number.

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