IBM and the Holocaust

IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation is a book by investigative journalist Edwin Black which details the business dealings of the American-based multinational corporation International Business Machines (IBM) and its German and other European subsidiaries with the government of Adolf Hitler during the 1930s and the years of World War II. In the book, published in 2001, Black outlined the way in which IBM's technology helped facilitate Nazi genocide through generation and tabulation of punch cards based upon national census data.[1]

IBM and the Holocaust
Paperback edition cover
AuthorEdwin Black
Original titleIBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation
CountryUnited States
PublisherCrown Books
Publication date
2001, 2002, and 2012 (expanded edition)


In the early 1880s, Herman Hollerith (1860–1929), a young employee at the U.S. Census Bureau, conceived of the idea of creating readable cards with standardized perforations, each representing specific individual traits such as gender, nationality, and occupation. The millions of punched cards created for the population counted in the national census could then be sorted on the basis of specific bits of information they contained—thereby providing a quantified portrait of the nation and its citizens.[2]:25 In 1910, the German licensee Willy Heidinger established the Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft (German Hollerith Machine Corporation), known by the abbreviation "Dehomag".[2]:30 The next year, Hollerith sold his American business to industrialist Charles Flint (1850–1934) for $1.41 million ($34 million in 2012 dollars).[2]:31 The counting machine operation was made part of a new conglomerate called the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR).[2]:31 Flint chose Thomas J. Watson (1874–1956), the star salesman of the National Cash Register Corporation, to head the new operation.[2]:38–39 The German licensee Dehomag later became a direct subsidiary of the American corporation CTR.[3] In 1924, Watson assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer of CTR and renamed the company International Business Machines (IBM).

Black details an ongoing business relationship between Watson's IBM and the emerging German regime headed by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Hitler came to power in January 1933; on March 20 of that same year he established a concentration camp for political prisoners in the Bavarian town of Dachau, just outside the city of Munich. Repression against political opponents and the country's substantial ethnic Jewish population began at once. By April 1933, some 60,000 had been imprisoned.[2]:44–45 Business relations between IBM and the Hitler regime continued uninterrupted in the face of broad international calls for an economic boycott.[4] Willy Heidinger, who remained the chief executive of Dehomag, the German subsidiary that IBM owned 90% of, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Hitler regime.[2]:50

On April 12, 1933, the German government announced plans to conduct a long-delayed national census.[2]:54 The project was particularly important to the Nazis as a mechanism for the identification of Jews, Gypsies, and other ethnic groups deemed undesirable by the regime. Dehomag offered to assist the German government in its task of ethnic identification, concentrating upon the 41 million residents of Prussia.[2]:55 This activity was not only countenanced by Thomas Watson and IBM in America, Black argues, but was actively encouraged and financially supported, with Watson himself traveling to Germany in October 1933 and the company ramping up its investment in its German subsidiary from 400,000 to 7,000,000 Reichsmark—about $1 million.[2]:60 This injection of American capital allowed Dehomag to purchase land in Berlin and to construct IBM's first factory in Germany, Black charges, thereby "tooling up for what it correctly saw as a massive financial relationship with the Hitler regime".[2]:60

Black also asserts that a "secret deal" was made between Heidinger and Watson during the latter's visit to Germany which allowed Dehomag commercial powers outside of Germany, enabling the "now Nazified" company to "circumvent and supplant" various national subsidiaries and licensees by "soliciting and delivering punch card solution technology directly to IBM customers in those territories".[2]:61 As a result, Nazi Germany soon became the second most important customer of IBM after the lucrative U.S. market.[2]:110 The 1933 census, with design help and tabulation services provided by IBM through its German subsidiary, proved to be pivotal to the Nazis in their efforts to identify, isolate, and ultimately destroy the country's Jewish minority. Machine-tabulated census data greatly expanded the estimated number of Jews in Germany by identifying individuals with only one or a few Jewish ancestors. Previous estimates of 400,000 to 600,000 were abandoned for a new estimate of 2 million Jews in the nation of 65 million.[2]:110

As the Nazi war machine occupied successive nations of Europe, capitulation was followed by a census of the population of each subjugated nation, with an eye to the identification and isolation of Jews and Romani. These census operations were intimately intertwined with technology and cards supplied by IBM's German and new Polish subsidiaries, which were awarded specific sales territories in Poland by decision of the New York office following Germany's successful Blitzkrieg invasion.[2]:193 Data generated by means of counting and alphabetization equipment supplied by IBM through its German and other national subsidiaries was instrumental in the efforts of the German government to concentrate and ultimately destroy ethnic Jewish populations across Europe.[2]:198 Black reports that every Nazi concentration camp maintained its own Hollerith-Abteilung (Hollerith Department), assigned with keeping tabs on inmates through use of IBM's punchcard technology.[2]:351 In his book, Black charges that "without IBM's machinery, continuing upkeep and service, as well as the supply of punch cards, whether located on-site or off-site, Hitler's camps could have never managed the numbers they did."[2]:352

Major changes were made for the 2002 paperback editions on Three Rivers Press/Time Warner Paperbacks[5][6][7] and the 2012 expanded edition on Dialog Press.[8] In the updated 2002 paperback edition, the author included new evidence of the connection between IBM's United States headquarters and its Polish subsidiary during Nazi occupation.[5][6][7] In 2012 Black published a second expanded revision with more documents. The 2012 expanded edition provides 32 pages of new photographic and document evidence.[8]

IBM's post-invasion Polish subsidiary

A revised 2002 paperback edition provides additional evidence that IBM New York established a special subsidiary in Poland called Watson Business Machines to deal with railway traffic in the General Government. Edwin Black asserts that IBM did so after the Sept 1, 1939 Nazi Invasion of Poland, and continued this business relationship during the Holocaust in Poland. Watson Business Machines operated a punch card printing shop near the Warsaw Ghetto.[5]

In a 2002 editorial in the SFGate, Black maintains that this Polish subsidiary reported to IBM Geneva which in turn reported to IBM New York. Black further states that IBM's European general manager reported directly to Thomas Watson, Sr., that some machines in Poland were sent to Romania to assist in the Jewish census there, and that these Polish machines were later replaced.[6]

In his book, Black quotes Leon Krzemieniecki, the last surviving person involved in the Polish administration of the rail transportation to Auschwitz and Treblinka, as stating he knew the punched card machines were not German machines, because the labels were in English. Black claims that income from the machines leased in Poland was sent through Geneva to IBM in New York.[5][6]

Ongoing sales

Edwin Black does not merely claim that IBM sold Nazi Germany the machines and then were done with it. He also claims that IBM provided continuous maintenance service, and sold the spare parts and the special paper needed for the customized punch cards.[9]

No machines were sold – only leased. IBM was the sole source of all punch cards and spare parts. It serviced the machines on site either directly or through its authorized dealer network or field trainees. There were no universal punch cards. Each series of cards was custom-designed by IBM engineers to capture information going in and to tabulate information the Nazis wanted to extract.

Edwin Black, on updates in 2002[6]

After the publication of Black's 2012 expanded edition, he wrote for the Huffington Post, "The punch cards, machinery, training, servicing, and special project work, such as population census and identification, was managed directly by IBM headquarters in New York, and later through its subsidiaries in Germany, known as Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft (DEHOMAG), Poland, Holland, France, Switzerland, and other European countries." He added that the punch cards bore the indicia of the German subsidiary Dehomag.[10]


IBM's response

While IBM has never directly denied any of the evidence posed by the book, it has criticized Black's research methodology and accusatory conclusions.[11] IBM claimed it does not have any other information about the company during its World War II period or the operations of Dehomag, as it argued most documents were destroyed or lost during the war.[12]

IBM also claimed that an earlier dismissed lawsuit, initiated by lawyers representing concentration camp survivors, was filed in 2001 to coincide with Black's book launch.[12] Lawyers for the Holocaust victims acknowledged the timing of the lawsuit to coincide with Black's book release, explaining their public relations strategies played an important role in their record of achieving Nazi-era settlements totaling more than $7 billion without winning a judgment.[13]

After the publication of Black's updated 2002 paperback edition, IBM responded by stating they weren't convinced there were any new findings and there was no proof IBM had enabled the Holocaust.[5][7] IBM rejected Black's claim that IBM was hiding information and records regarding its World War II era.[14] Several years previously IBM had given its corporate records of the period to academic archives in New York and Stuttgart, Germany, for review by independent scholars.[7]

Wikipedia Editing Controversy

In 2010 Black reported on Wikipedia article editing aimed at marginalizing his research on IBM's role in the Holocaust. It is not clear whether the people involved were IBM employees, but Black states that, "[they were] openly fortified by official IBM corporate archivist Paul Lasewicz using his real name, and others"; however, Black nevertheless calls Lasewicz a "man of integrity" and points out that he deferred taking the lead because of potential conflict of interest and then recused himself entirely.[15][16][17]

Critical response

Newsweek called the book "explosive" adding, "backed by exhaustive research, Black's case is simple and stunning".[18] In 2003, the American Society of Journalists and Authors acknowledged IBM and the Holocaust with its award for Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year.[19]

Richard Bernstein, writing for The New York Times Book Review on the original 2001 first edition, wrote that Black's case "is long and heavily documented, and yet he does not demonstrate that IBM bears some unique or decisive responsibility for the evil that was done".[20] IBM quoted this claim in a March 2002 press release "Addendum to IBM Statement on Nazi-era Book and Lawsuit".[14]

However, after the publication of the updated paperback edition in 2002, Oliver Burkeman wrote for The Guardian, "The paperback provides the first evidence that the company's dealings with the Nazis were controlled from its New York headquarters throughout the second world war."[5]

In a 2015 article, the Electronic Frontier Foundation described Black's book as "well-researched and well-regarded".[21]

Social economist and professor Ross Honeywill wrote about Black's investigative research for a 2015 book, citing Black's 2012 expanded edition. Honeywill described how Black revealed IBM's Hollerith system was used to identify, sort, assign, and transport millions in Europe during the Holocaust, particularly in the death camps.[22]

Several reviews of the 2001 first edition made the criticism that Black made valid points, but also overstated at times.

In a 2001 review in the Los Angeles Times, historian and UCLA professor Saul Friedlander wrote, "The author convincingly shows the relentless efforts made by IBM to maximize profit by selling its machines and its punch cards to a country whose criminal record would soon be widely recognized. Indeed, Black demonstrates with great precision that the godlike owner of the corporation, Thomas Watson, was impervious to the moral dimension of his dealings with Hitler's Germany and for years even had a soft spot for the Nazi regime."[23] However, Friedlander pointed to the fact of the near total deportation of foreign Jews from France as contrasted with the majority of French Jews surviving the Holocaust, and made the point that if IBM's role was so essential, this may not have been the case. He was also critical of Black's claim that IBM continued to engage in illegal transactions all through WWII by using Geneva as a base of operations, because Black only provided two New York Times articles to buttress this claim.[23]

In another review of the first edition, David Cesarani of Southampton University stated that Black made valid points but also overstated at times. He agreed that Black provided "shocking evidence" that IBM in America continued to provide punch cards and other services to the Nazis "in defiance of Allied regulations against trading with the enemy." Yet Cesarani also thought Black de-emphasized other important facts.[24]

In a 2001 review of the first edition in The Atlantic, Jack Beatty wrote, "I have read four other negative reviews of this book, and they all share what to me is a surprising feature: they are more critical of Edwin Black (with The Times pointing out that he has written for Redbook magazine and another reviewer that he is not a college graduate) who wrote a book, than of Thomas Watson, who made the damnable choices recorded in that book." Beatty did, however, criticize the subtitle of Black's book "The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation", pointing out that in the 1930s and 1940s, IBM was nowhere near the most powerful corporation in the United States.[9] On the other hand, Beatty stated that Black did provide evidence to qualify his claim that IBM punch card technology made a large difference between Holland and France. Holland had long included religion in census information, whereas France did not. In addition, Holland had an energetic bureaucrat doing their census, and France, in contrast had a moral hero who obstructed the Nazis, and in fact ended up losing his life for this effort. Beatty says that Black was honest in including these facts.[9]

Oliver Burkeman's 2002 review for The Guardian, published after the updated paperback edition, stated that the earlier first edition of Black's book was more sketchy in tracing the connection between the U.S. headquarters of IBM and its European operations, but that the updated edition resolved some of those criticisms.[5]

Reuters reported in 2002 that historians on Black's research team stated the paperback edition had used newly discovered Nazi documents and Polish eyewitness testimony to link IBM's U.S. operations directly to the Third Reich operations in Poland. The updated paperback edition was published after Black's first edition opened up debate on how central IBM technology may have been during the Holocaust. The paperback edition pieced together the previously fragmented story.[7]

In February 2001, an Alien Tort Claims Act claim was filed in U.S. federal court against IBM for allegedly providing the punched card technology that facilitated the Holocaust, and for covering up German IBM subsidiary Dehomag's activities.[13][25] There was no evidence in the suit that IBM officials in New York explicitly ordered that technology be supplied to the Nazis with the understanding it would be used in concentration camps; however, lawyers representing victims of Nazi oppression claimed Dehomag's founder Heidinger expressed pride in giving Hitler data that could be used in "corrective interventions", and pledged to "follow his orders blindly".[13] In April 2001, the lawsuit was dropped after lawyers feared the suit would slow down payments from a German Holocaust fund for Holocaust survivors who had suffered under Nazi persecution.[25] IBM's German division had paid $3 million into the fund, while making it clear they were not admitting liability.[25]

In 2004, the human rights organization Gypsy International Recognition and Compensation Action (GIRCA) filed suit against IBM in Switzerland.[25] However, the case was dismissed in 2006 due to an expiration of time under the statute of limitations.[26]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) stated in 2015 about a similar but unrelated case they filed in U.S. federal court against IBM, "We point out the disturbing parallels between IBM’s actions vis-à-vis South Africa and Nazi Germany: IBM New York purposefully 'facilitated gross human rights abuses by the Third Reich.'"[21][27]

See also


  1. Preston, Peter (February 18, 2001). "Six million and counting". The Observer. Retrieved June 14, 2001.
  2. Black, Edwin (2009). IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (Paperback) (Second ed.). Washington, DC: Dialog Press. OCLC 958727212.
  3. Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, page 44.
  4. Black, IBM and the Holocaust, Second paperback edition, pg. 45.
  5. Burkeman, Oliver (March 29, 2002). "IBM 'dealt directly with Holocaust organisers'". The Guardian . Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  6. Black, Edwin (May 19, 2002). "The business of making the trains to Auschwitz run on time". Editorial. SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  7. Grace, Francie (March 27, 2002). "IBM And Nazi Germany: Researcher Has New Documents On World War II Conduct". CBS News.
  8. "Edwin Black Seeks to Prove IBM's Involvement in Holocaust". William S. Boyd School of Law. University of Nevada, Las Vegas. November 13, 2012. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  9. Beatty, Jack (April 2001). "Hitler's Willing Business Partners". The Atlantic.
  10. Black, Edwin (2012). "IBM's Role in the Holocaust — What the New Documents Reveal". Huffington Post. Retrieved October 23, 2017.
  11. Michael J. Bazyler, Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America's Courts. New York: New York University Press, 2005; pg. 303.
  12. IBM Press Room (February 14, 2001). "IBM Statement on Nazi-era Book and Lawsuit". Press Release. Armonk, New York.
  13. Feder, Barnaby (February 11, 2001). "Lawsuit Says I.B.M. Aided The Nazis In Technology". The New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  14. IBM Press Room (March 29, 2002). "Addendum to IBM Statement on Nazi-era Book and Lawsuit". Press Release. Armonk, New York.
  15. Black, Edwin (April 12, 2010). "Wikipedia—The Dumbing Down of World Knowledge". Editorial. History News Network. George Washington University. Retrieved May 23, 2019.
  16. Black, Edwin (April 12, 2010). "Wikipedia—The Dumbing Down of World Knowledge". The Cutting Edge News. Retrieved May 23, 2019.
  17. Barillas, Martin (April 9, 2010). "Martin Barillas: Wikipedia Blocks Users in Response to Edwin Black Article". History News Network. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  18. Hirsh, Michael (February 18, 2001). "'Dark Questions For IBM". Newsweek. Retrieved October 23, 2017.
  19. "2003 ASJA Writing Awards Recipients". American Society of Journalists and Authors. 2003. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  20. Bernstein, Richard (March 7, 2001). "'IBM and the Holocaust': Assessing the Culpability". Books. The New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  21. Kayyali, Dia (February 5, 2015). "EFF Files Amicus Brief in Case That Seeks to Hold IBM Responsible for Facilitating Apartheid in South Africa". Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
  22. Honeywill, Ross (1 December 2015). The Man Problem: Destructive Masculinity in Western Culture. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 48. ISBN 978-1137551689.
  23. Friedlander, Saul (May 20, 2001). "Was IBM good for the Jews?". Los Angeles Times.
  24. Cesarani, David (July 13, 2001). "Tricky trading with the enemy: IBM and the Holocaust". Times of Higher Education. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
  25. Ramasastry, Anita (July 8, 2004). "A Swiss court allows Gypsies' Holocaust lawsuit to proceed, Case questions role of corporate giant IBM in World War II". Law Center, Find Law. Retrieved October 26, 2004.
  26. Sydney Morning Herald staff (August 19, 2006). "Swiss high court rejects Gypsy Holocaust suit versus IBM, cites time limit". The Sydney Morning Herald. AP Digital. Retrieved April 13, 2010.
  27. Ruble, Kayla (February 25, 2015). "South African Plaintiffs Are Using an 18th Century Law to Take IBM to Task For Allegedly Facilitating Apartheid". Vice News. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
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