IBM, the Holocaust and technology

Budynek Auschwitz i logo IBM
fot. Ron Porter z Pixabay

We talk with Edwin Black about IBM’s business with the Nazis, the company’s profit from genocide and the use of technology for war, and about his book ”IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation”.

Edwin Black is a remarkable literary figure whose works have illuminated some of the most obscured aspects of our history and society. He’s taken deep dives into topics like corporate criminality and corruption, human rights. Author of “IBM and the Holocaust…”

Karolina Stolz, Rafał Górski: Let’s imagine that Alfred Hitchcock is alive and wants to make a movie about your book „IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation,” how would the opening scene of that movie look like?

Edwin Black: Well, that’s a fascinating question, and one I’ve never been faced with before. The book is indeed being adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster, however not with Alfred Hitchcock but with Brad Pitt.

First though, I’d like to address Chomsky’s remark that a war of aggression is the highest form of international crime. This goes right to the essence of my investigation and documentation. The highest form of war crime and crime against humanity is not territorial aggression, it’s genocide. Crossing the border or invasion are an entirely different thing. In fact, occupation is not even stressed anywhere in any of the four Geneva Conventions as a war crime, whereas genocide is. „Genocide” was the term coined by a Polish Jew from North Carolina to describe a new form of warfare and aggression. This new form of warfare and aggression involved total war with the determination to destroy whole groups of people, not just Jews but also all Poles who were to be enslaved. This is what faced punishment at the post-war War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremberg.

Now, as for the opening scene. Generally, the people who make films about my books don’t let me suggest an opening scene, so I’m happy you’ve done that. I would suggest that the opening scene would probably consist of nothing more than a display of a single sheet of paper. Then the paper ascends and reveals a horrifying sights of concentration camps, train transports, labour enslavement, gas chambers – everything associated with the Holocaust. All of these IBM helped the Nazis develop, providing support with whatever they could not systematize and industrialize on their own. In other words, the difference between this war of aggression and mass killing was the know-how and IBM that gave Adolf Hitler the gift of Information Technology.

Hence one can ask what characterizes the Information Age. Roughly put, the Information Age is marked by personalization of statistics. Before the emergence of IBM’s Hollerith punched cards you could count on your fingers and toes, but you couldn’t gather any information about the things, people, places, or processes you were counting. Then came IBM’s punched card, used much like a bus ticket or a Charlie ticket, with various rows and columns. These punched cards were then read by a machine, and something entirely new emerged: the information technology. So one can conclude that the Silicon Age, or the information age, was not born in the Silicon Valley but in Berlin in 1933 when IBM approached Hitler’s regime and said, 'We are the solutions company, and there is no solution that we will not provide.

I think that would be a great movie. Well, “Association with the Nazis was a gold mine for IBM,” you write in your book. How did the American corporation IBM profit from the genocide of Jews during World War II? Was war more profitable for IBM than peace? What connection does the US Department of State have with this?

That’s a very important question and it isn’t easy to answer. To IBM, war and peace were merely labels. What truly mattered to them was business. On the surface they had a peaceful business model; they did government work and even invented and organized the social security system in the United States. You probably have a similar system in Poland. This was a peaceful endeavor. Their number one project was giving social security numbers to everyone in the United States.

But their second income source was their involvement with the Nazis. Here, they told the Nazis, 'Not only will we organize your Luftwaffe, not only will we help you conquer countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia, but we’ll also assist you in organizing the destruction of your greatest enemy, the Jews.’

So, what exactly did IBM do for the Nazis? They organized and co-planned all six phases of the Holocaust:

  1. The identification of the Jews.
  2. Their exclusion from society.
  3. The confiscation of their property.
  4. Ghettoization.
  5. Deportation.
  6. Extermination.

Every concentration camp had a unit utilizing IBM’s products. Whether it was a card sorting, data processing in Dachau, or an enormous Hollerith bunker with 24 machines processing information. At Auschwitz. IBM’ technology was heavily involved everywhere.

IBM’s post was in Monowitz, which was Auschwitz III. When IBM denied their presence in Auschwitz, I obtained the Auschwitz phone book and found their exact phone number. When you visit Auschwitz, you can still see the electrical transformers built-in the floor for converting European electricity.

IBM also organized the Wehrmacht (the German Army). So, what did they do? They moved across the continent along the invasion of Europe. As soon as the date was set for the invasion of Poland, not only did General Motors move spare parts along the border, but IBM, under its German daughter-company Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft (Dehomag), set up a subsidiary in Poland. Interestingly, they already had a subsidiary in existence, but it was a mere licensee. The one they established was supposed to be controlled by the German company and work with the General Government (GG).

They set up a huge Dehomag bureau in Krakow and opened a railroad processing centre there. I interviewed a Pole who worked at that station and witnessed all the trains going to Auschwitz full and coming out empty. IBM organized the exploitation of Polish labour and human destruction in the ghettos. For we must bear in mind that all the Polish Jews who died were Polish citizens. My parents were Polish citizens too. My mom jumped out of a train on the way to Treblinka, and my father escaped an execution pit in a small Polish town called Bliżyn.

This is what IBM did, and they hid the profits by lumping it into a giant foreign transaction that included all of their activities from Japan to Great Britain, to Germany, to Brazil. No one could see what it was, but we managed to find the actual department-by-department documentation to show just how much money they had made. However, all the knowledge we have is still just crumbs. The total amount that IBM made from its German business has never been ascertained, especially since they took so much in property. They started with just a few offices, and by the time the Third Reich fell in 1945, they had 25 offices and bureaus, not to mention their presence in concentration camps, at Theresienstadt, Bergen-Belsen, Mauthausen, and many more. There’s been extensive research on this topic.

So, IBM’s main business was social security, which was invented around that time and saved the company from going under. The Nazi business, or rather the Nazi alliance however, was the number one foreign activity, the major income and profit source, dwarfing everything done with the Japanese, in Latin America, or with Russia. It was the genocide — the deliberate planning and facilitation of mass murder — that made IBM millions in one of the most macabre chapters of history.

Did you know they actually gave out bonuses to those who met their quotas? That’s right, IBM managers were required to meet specific quotas related to their dealings with the Third Reich. Additional bonuses were granted based on the amount of lives lost. It’s worth noting that Thomas Watson, the President and Chairman of IBM, who was described as a sociopathic unindicted war criminal, was receiving a share of every dollar and pfennig spent on genocide and the Holocaust in the Third Reich.

History of Computing in Europe” is the title of a book published by IBM in 1967. Why do you mention it in your book?

This publication was a country-by-country review of IBM’s activity in Europe of the time. It was probably created in a way that IBM never suspected it could be used against them because they concealed much of the evidence. For instance, when the FBI attempted to investigate IBM, they discovered that all the information, files, and documents were not centralized in New York but stored in other countries like Brazil, Portugal, and Sweden. This placed them beyond the reach of investigation.

When a good-willed individual working at the IBM complex decided to write the history of these subsidiaries, which was essentially a description of IBM’s business development during the expansion of the Third Reich, IBM confiscated all copies, leaving only a few in technical libraries in the United States. I finally found one that had been forgotten in a technical library in Minnesota. I believe I found another in Germany, possibly one in Manchester. This is just one example of IBM attempting to cover up evidence. The company’s deals with the Third Reich were worth millions of dollars, but there were no written contracts; everything was done orally, agreements were verbal, sealed with handshakes. That’s because Thomas J. Watson was already a convicted criminal by then.

Thomas Watson had a record of executing extortions with the National Cash Register Company (NCR), and he was convicted of blackmail. However, he never went to prison because his sentence was overturned because of a small technicality. So he was cautious about leaving a written record. In his past he was convicted based on his written testimony, but the Germans didn’t fully trust him, so they kept extensive records, detailed memoranda of everything said and done. I managed to obtain these records, which became a significant basis for building a solid case against IBM. Over the past 20 years, IBM has never denied or contradicted any of the statements in my book, and no factual claim has been refuted among any of thousands of my statements about IBM and the Holocaust, in any country and in any language, from Polish to French to Portuguese to Spanish.

How did IBM react to your book?

My book was released on February 9, 2001, simultaneously in 40 countries, all at the same time adjusted for time zones. This was done strategically so that IBM could not prevent its publication. As a result, IBM had only one recourse. When I appeared in the morning on a major news network in the United States, NBC, on a program called “The Today Show” which at that time was the largest book promotion show, they suddenly ran a message.

Across tens of thousands of computers that they controlled among their employees, they displayed a message: “The information that is going to be broadcasted will be very painful and embarrassing, and we have no information about this period.” So here we have a leading information company claiming they have no information about the mass murder of six million Jews, the slaughter of millions of other Europeans, and the invasion, aggression, and conquest of the entire continent.

They were completely defenseless. Did they issue any official statements about this?

Yes, they did make one statement, and it was just this: 'We have no information.’ That was it. But simultaneously they quietly promoted distractions from the book. Certain individuals would constantly provide negative reviews of it, and sometimes people would rely on them and publish false statements. Later, IBM would be obligated to issue public retractions and make an $ 18 000 000 donation to atone for their defamation. They had to donate this sum to an institution, either Yad Vashem or the Holocaust Museum, dedicated to documenting the crimes of the Third Reich.

Today, people worldwide are enthralled by the possibilities of the smartphone era, artificial intelligence, and quantum computers. What lesson should we draw from your book? Is there a real threat that, in the 21st century, new lists of victims would emerge, this time prepared with the help of AI? Will history repeat itself, and will there be genocides even bigger than the Holocaust of Jews and Poles?

Well, here’s the answer. Do you have a pencil and paper?

Yes, I do.

The answer to all your questions is: Yes.

Thank you.

Karolina Stolz, Rafał Górski

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