WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 (JTA) — An author says he has discovered the missing link in documenting the connection between IBM and Auschwitz. Journalist Edwin Black caused a stir when he built a case against IBM because of the role the company’s technology played in assisting the Nazis’ “Final Solution” for Europe’s Jews. But until now there had been no direct link to Auschwitz, the most infamous concentration camp and killing center. However, a recent discovery, prompted by a coincidental finding in a phone book from the 1940s, shows that IBM-made Hollerith equipment — such as punch-card machines, sorters and tabulators — were used in Auschwitz’s slave labor section. Auschwitz researchers told Black the IBM machines were used to identify people with certain skills, primarily those needed for construction of buildings in the part of the camp complex known as Auschwitz III. An IBM spokeswoman says it has been known for decades that the Nazis used the company’s technology. But Black, in an update to his book “IBM and the Holocaust,” argues that the new finding is significant. “The infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number,” he wrote. In 1943, camp prisoners were given five-digit Hollerith numbers, which later were tattooed on their forearms. The numbers were intended to track living inmates, but with so many prisoners dying in the camp, a different, Auschwitz-specific identification system was used later. With the use of IBM technology, Black has argued, Hitler was able “to automate his persecution of the Jews.” According to Black, the Nazis used IBM technology to help identify Jews in censuses, registrations and genealogical programs, run railroads and organize concentration camp slave labor, among other uses. Nazi Germany became IBM’s most important customer outside the United States, Black argues. IBM and the Nazis jointly designed — and IBM produced — technological solutions to help exterminate Jews and other enemies of the Nazi regime, he says. “The Nazis were efficient, but they used American innovation,” Black said. IBM says it “categorically condemns any actions” which aided the Nazis. “The Nazi regime used equipment manufactured by IBM’s German subsidiary; that has been well-known for decades,” said Carol Makovich, a spokeswoman for IBM. It has indeed been known that IBM supplied technology to Germany in the 1930s. But IBM had said it cut ties with its German subsidiary in 1941. Black, however, maintains that IBM’s relationship to Nazi Germany was longer and deeper than the company has admitted. Black says he was denied access to IBM files and that the company doesn’t acknowledge its role. “Illumination would be the best reparations we can hope for,” he said. “This latest disclosure removes any pretext of deniability, and completes the puzzle that has been put together about IBM in Poland,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “The picture that emerges is most disturbing,” Hoenlein added. “IBM must confront this matter honestly if there is to be any closure.” Hoenlein made his comments in Black’s update. Makovich said the company turned over its archival materials to two universities several years ago. If additional documents are found IBM will make them available, she said. She did not indicate that the company would issue any sort of public apology. A class-action lawsuit against IBM for its aid to the Nazis was withdrawn last year following German complaints that the lawsuit impeded restitution payments to Holocaust victims.
Journalist links IBM and Auschwitz