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IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation by Edwin Black
ISBN: 0609607995 | AUDIO & PDF | Pages: 528 | 270MB | UploadJockey
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?
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 Appelo
Summary: the most important book on the holocaust
I must have read by now several hundreds of books on the holocaust, and I think this book, IBM and the Holocaust, is by far the most important one. Starting from completely different premisses, it places holocaust research on its head, placing everything we know in a new and fascinating context. Forget for a moment about the horrors of the holocaust (to which countless books have already been devoted), and consider the following question: What made the holocaust possible? -- Not in terms of the horrifying human experience, but rather as statistics and data management problem that exceeded, by orders of magnitude, anything that has been tackled before. How can millions of people be "processed" so effectively, in the 1930's: How could their ancestry be tracked down generations back, how could their assets be mapped, how could their future be plotted and directed so precisely?
The answers provided in Edwin Black's book are as disturbing as they are illuminating. The centralized government of Nazi Germany provided IBM the perfect testing ground for pushing the limits of statistics-gathering and data processing equipment. The rest doesn't matter. It was clear that no matter what would happen, no matter who won the war, the post-WW2 market for data processing would be enormous, and the insights gained from working with the German government were just what the people at IBM needed in order to gain the knowledge, experience, and know-how that would put them in the lead of the data processing revolution. To the good folks at IBM, the holocaust, as well as the other data processing needs of Nazi Germany, were just that -- data processing problems, to be solved by a clever application of their technology. In other words, the holocaust was incidental to them, a by-product of an application in organization: tabulation, counting, sorting, collating, report-generation, etc. One of the most illuminating examples given in the book is the way the Nazi racial laws, which attempted to define "who was a Jew", were created to match the kind of data that could be produced using IBM equipment. In other words. The Nazi definition of who was a Jew matched neither the [Jewish] religious criteria, or the cultural realities. It was an approximation, something that the Nazi statisticians were able to get out of the equipment they had. It was technology that defined, in this case, who would be singled out for special treatment. Another point that comes out is that the holocaust progressed slower in countries that were not as technologically advanced, and progressed faster in countries that already had data processing equipment in active government use.
Finally, a fascinating aspect that comes out of the book concerns the loyalties of multi-national corporations. Edwin Black describes the many ways by which IBM managed to circumvent any rule against trading with enemy countries, and out-manoeuvre any State Dept official who tried investigating IBM's dealings throughout the war. Can we expect national loyalty from a multi-national firm such as IBM? -- Clearly not. May we assume that a multi-national, or shall I say "trans-national" firm, will attempt anything in order to further its financial interests, in the face of any legal or moral restrictions? -- Surely the answer is positive. Google censures information on behalf of the Peoples' Highly Democratic Republic of China, and Yahoo discloses information (to officials of the PRoC) that leads to the arrest of a freedom-fighting Chinese journalist.
I like the book precisely because it let me look at the holocaust from a totally technological, non-sentimental point of view. It shows what where the technological issues involved in answering the various kinds of queries, and how IBM went about solving them. It demonstrates that the "right" questions to ask, and the "right" definitions to use were precisely those that could be processed effectively by the tabulating machines of the time. It also shows how one determined company can circumvent any government and get away with it. This book presents a unique perspective on the holocaust, and its lessons are as timely as ever.
Summary: Very Interesting History
This book, extremely well documented, gives interesting insight into the ethics of big business. Enron cost investors and employees their life savings; Deomag (the German subsidiary of IBM) cost many Jews their lives. It permits a stark view of corporate decision making.
I used scenarios, pulled from this book, as part of a course on ethics and professional practice for computer scientists. It was interesting to try applying modern engineering codes of ethics to work in Nazi occupied Europe (and contemporary IBM New York offices).
Given the stigma of associating a company with Hitler's Final Solution, I held the book to a fairly high standard of proof; the book certainly delivered. Documentation, public where possible, from private interviews where not, is meticulously presented and thoroughly cross referenced. If this topic holds interest for you, this book is a compelling, informative read.
Summary: Shame on IBM
This book should be required reading in every history class in America. The fact is the numbers tattooed on the Jews were their punch card numbers the Nazis used to keep track of them. The behavior and cover up of what they did in the war is a crime that has gone unpunished.
Summary: IBM and the Holocaust
I did not want to read this book.
My grandfather worked for International Time Recording (ITR) in Endicott, NY before IBM was formed and Mr. Watson came on board. My father's first job, at the age of seventeen, was caretaker of the Watson Homestead. My family has had a hand in virtually every product that issued from the IBM manufacturing effort since its inception in 1924. I have deep affection for the company my family labored to build.
I approached "IBM and the Holocaust" with a high degree of skepticism. The book sat on my nightstand for two months before I opened it. Finally picked it up for the sake of completing my 14-book IBM historical reading cycle.
This book is astounding. It is impeccably researched, artfully written, highly detailed, painstakingly documented, remarkably objective and thoroughly engaging.
"IBM and the Holocaust" has finally exposed the undeniable truth: IBM became the world's most powerful corporation largely because it assisted in identifying, cataloging and exterminating millions of innocent people for Hitler. The evil that lurks in IBM history was not exposed previously only because IBM management was smart enough and powerful enough to "hide its tracks" in Nuremburg. No investigator has ever dug deeper into IBM history than Edwin Black.
A close reading of the book makes it absolutely clear that Mr. Watson (IBM CEO) knew the exact purpose, goal and expected outcome of the IBM solution in Europe. The book details the fact that unlike previous IBM engagements for the Third Reich that were completed by Dehomag (IBM's German subsidiary), the engagement in Romania (1941) was conducted directly under the management of IBM New York. That engagement resulted in the swift identification, transportation and extermination of hundreds of thousands of innocent Jews. All in the name of "IBM."
As a result of reading "IBM and the Holocaust", I no longer view Mr. Watson as the glamorous benevolent industrial icon depicted in hollywoood newsreels. Though the affectionate "shop talk" tossed through the air when I was young still captures my imagination, Mr. Watson is no longer the focus of my unqualified admiration.
Watson, for me, now stands beside Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Mellon, Jeffrey Skilling, Kenneth Lay and all the other American Industrialists throughout history who had many fine qualities yet are outrageously flawed--so good yet so very, very bad.
This book is remarkable. Have since read "Internal Combustion", Banking on Baghdad" and "War Against the Weak."
Edwin Black is "the bomb."
If you have an interest in history, corporations, corruption, good, bad, evil or fine nonfiction; you will appreciate the works of Edwin Black.
December 7, 2006
Summary: a tale of two maniacs
Once upon a time in America there was a tabulating company executive who had almost done time for illegal business practices. This executive believed that the only way that he could stay in business was by selling the best tabulating machines on the market, and mercilessly crushing his competitors. Unfortunately for humanity, this maniac was doing business in a country run by another maniac, who had come to power by fomenting ethnic hatred. Even as things went down the drain, and the persecution of the Jews and other minorities reached loathsome heights, the American business executive didn't want to terminate his activities in Germany, and was supportive enough of the Nazis to accept the highest medal the Nazis could give him.
Even worse, by the time the war was in full swing, and the Nazis began the Holocaust the maniac of which I write, Tom Watson of IBM, saw no need to terminate IBM's business relationships with the Nazi governments, and, provided irreplaceable services in organizing the Holocaust. In France, where a courageous IBM employee refused to cooperate, the Nazis were "only" able to murder 25% of the Jews. Where IBM cooperated, as in the Netherlands, rates of 75% resulted. Life isn't fair; the brave Frenchman who refused to cooperate died at Dachau, the company that gladly cooperated wasn't punished. The horror, the horror.
Edwin Black has done a superb job of documenting (most of) this horror story in indisputable detail. Nevertheless I suspect that he doesn't tell the entire story, particularly when he claims that nobody guessed what was going on. Anyone who understands just how indispensable IBM's punch card machines were to the Allies during the war, "our ability to organize wouldn't have been remotely near what it was without them" to paraphrase one mathematician involved, must have wondered how the Germans were able to coordinate the logistics of their Blitzkrieg. Anyone in the punch card industry would have known of IBM's presence in Germany.
All in all this is a great book illustrating the banality of evil.
Mirrors are welcomed!