on May 5, 2003
Who would have anticipated that a speedy card-sorter, the Hollerith machine, would evolve into a tool of one of the most evil schemes of all time? Yet, this patented machine, devised by a little-known man of German descent, made it possible to conduct a census in a short time period, and turned counting into a tool useful on a mass scale. Black's book is a page-burner, containing information that will surprise the reader paragraph by paragraph. In my generation, the "Do Not Spindle, Fold, or Mutilate" written on each IBM punchcard was the introduction to the computer and information age (and often the butt of jokes). A scant 25 to 30 years earlier, similar punch cards became the currency on which the Holocaust was based. A truly groundbreaking piece of research that, fortunately, has already appeared in German translation. In the days where vast amounts of personal information are being reduced to a series of ones and zeros carried electronically and stored digitally, this saga may be the harbinger of horrors much worse than were conceived by the progenitors of the 1000-year Reich. We should pay close attention to the uses of such personal information, lest humans lose complete control of their humanity. Here we find a true fable (that's an oxymoron) with much more to teach than Aesop could have imagined.
To what end should profit be more important than morality? This is the main question readers should ask after reading Edwin Black's thoughtful, thorough look at IBM's economic history with Nazi Germany before - and especially, during - World War II. Although Black is not the most lyrical of writers, he does make a very persuasive case for IBM's primary role in mechanizing Hitler's Holocaust agains the Jews, Gypsies and other racial, religious and sexual minorities in Nazi-occupied Europe. One important unanswered question from World War II has been the extent of IBM's involvement in Nazi genocide; judging from Black's evidence that involvement was substantial, to say the least. Indeed, it is Black's premise that IBM's counting machines made it possible for Germany to perfect the crime of genocide as a mere matter of industrial mechanization. Black shows how IBM's Hollerith counting machines were used to identify, round up, and then deport hundreds of thousands of Jews from Poland to Holland into the Nazi regime's nightmarish network of labor and death camps.
Black's book is also a fascinating look into corporate politics. One wonders how much IBM's New York office knew of its German affiliate's activities. Without gaining access to IBM's archives, Black shows that IBM was aware and choose not to know, concerning itself only with the profits earned by Dehomag, its German affiliate, throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.
on April 2, 2002
For a scholar of Nazi Germany, there is an unending series disquieting relizations when yet another horrifying fact becomes crystal clear. I had thought that there was little that could truely shock me anymore, after seeing hours of footage from the camps, or walking through railroad cars which still reak of death more than a half century later.
Nothing can compare however, to what this book forces one to see.
No one is claiming, not even the author, that the holocaust would not have happened without the efforts of IBM's German branches, but the facts remain. The transport and tracking of millions of people across Europe is normally attributed to tutonic efficiency. The tatooing of numbers is similarly attributed to simple dehumanization. It is Black who paints a picture of the wonderously nerdish enthusastic joy for solving a problem which I have always associated with Big Blue as the true face of evil.
The bureaucray of the Final Solution ran on IBM punch cards. Just as a tatooed number is seen as a universal symbol of the concentration camps, it is the punch card that can and should be viewed with new eyes, not only as harbinger of a new computer age, but convayer of death.
on January 20, 2002
While reading this book, I shared it with co-workers.
I'm amazed that two people's first reaction was to ask me
"Sure, IBM helped Hitler build his Nazi war machine, but IBM didn't really know what he was doing to the Jews, did they?"
It angers me when this generation actually makes excuses for America's past financial plundering of the world. What's even harder for people to accept today, is that IBM got help from the U.S. State Department. This book is a tour de force of research. If you've never opened your eyes to the reality of financial exploitation that war brings, this will snap you out of your slumber. "Plausible Deniability" is the term used by bureaucrats to describe the lengths taken to cover up government, corporate and personal wrong doing. Relating to this book, I flatly call it wholesale murder. Hitler never would have achieved the numbers he did while decimating not only Jews, but Europe itself. IBM's technology was THE sole driving force that allowed Nazi Germany to build, organize and maintain it's war machine. The sad reality is, an unknowing American public thought IBM's president and owner was a hero. Quite simply, IBM prostituted it's technology to Germany, 6 million Jews perished, and an American corporation made millions of dollars in profit. The author is the son of Holocaust survivors. This book deserves nothing less than top shelf treatment in your collection.
on January 18, 2002
IBM and the Holocaust is not the first Holocaust book I have read--but what an eye-opener. Why has this topic not been covered in any of the thousands of books or papers presented over the years? And when I ask questions of professors and museums seeking more information, no one has any answers.
In his book, the author has perfected the art of recreating the moment and the context, as well as making the undeniable case for IBM's complicity in the murder of millions of Jews and other Europeans during the Hitler regime--both before and after America's entrance in the war. When Watson rides down the dusty turn of the century backroads of upstate NY making sales in saloons, I see it before me. When Hitler crowns him with a medal in Berlin in 1937 for serving the Reich's goals, I see the banquets and the frivolity.
Ironically, instead of actually forming conclusions, the author pulls back and forces the reader to reach the inescapeable conclusion on his own. Yes, IBM technology and corporate power helped organize the Holocaust and escalate the numbers. IBM did not cause the Holocaust, but its involvement was essential to the scale we know today.
Black's documentation is superb. I found myself actually reading footnotes, just to verify the astonishing revelations filling every page. To the scores of historians who have endorsed this book, I hope you will now carry on this important research. To those few with sour grapes, read the book.
on November 7, 2001
Edwin Black's book is crucial to our collective conscience, and is emotionally draining and exhaustively researched. Working as I do in the corporate landscape of large information systems made it doubly terrifying to read.
This book is a contrast to the book "Holocaust Journey" by Martin Gilbert which details the Holocaust from the perspective of individuals. This book describes the massive machinery of extermination from the perspective of the Nazi and corporate leadership of the IBM German subsidiary and details luridly how nothing about the Nazi evil was allowed to intrude on the IBM corporate profit focus.
Black visibly restrains himself from emotional outbursts and summarises his chapters with devastating irony. He carefully chooses the timing of his revelations to convey his conclusions and one sinks utterly into the desparate revenue and market protection IBM employed.
Where there is little or no direct evidence Black is true to his word: he quotes the available information in context. What he can't say is sometimes more damning than the evidence he presents.
This book is essential reading for anyone working in a corporate environment who has a heart.
on September 10, 2001
Edwin Black has done heroic, scholarly, vital work. This book must
exist.It's a cautionary monument against corporate amorality and
the certainty that high tech population control is
a 60 year old fact.
Problem with monuments is they don't always make engaging reading. Third Reich and IBM practices were effective because
they were predictable and formulaic. To recount these practices in convincing detail is fascinating at first. But Black moves from occupied country to occupied country
telling essentially the same tale of punch cards and profit margins. Reading his book is a bit like listening
to the same song over and over, only in a dozen different
languages. Eventually you go numb, no matter how visceral your
have liked to have read more first person accounts from surviving Jews
who were rounded up. Did they sense that their cooperation in
filling out census forms was spelling doom? What were the other paper work signs
that so many failed to see? That kind of knowledge could
benefit us all.
on September 4, 2001
I just came upon this book this past week, but I have read research on the Holocaust for over 30 years and always wondered how the Nazis could be so efficient in rounding up people, how they could exactly know so much as they took over Poland and France, etc., etc., Now I think I know and the knowledge is most disturbing.
Reading this book made me stop and think about where technology is going today in our world where all the bits of information about everybody are carefully stored, collated, and applied to "appropriate" use. I think there is a warning from the book about having too much data about individuals. I for one will never answer census questions completely again, certainly not the petty questions that inquire into the specifics of my personal life.
A few months ago, I watched the HBO Movie Conspiracy which was an exact dramatization of the Wannesee Conference in 1942 in Berlin. The script was based on the sole transcript of that meeting found after the war and belonging to one of the attendees. As I was watching the movie and later when I poured over the actual transcript which I found on the net, I wondered, "How did they have such exact figures for each country and group? So exact that the numbers were down to the single digits. How did they find these people?" It puzzled me. In reading IBM and the Holocaust, I found my answer.
History has an ostentatous way of rationalizing what actually happened to fit current viewpoints that are acceptable to people and institutions. We don't want to think that a company like IBM could be so dreadful for profit or that our Government refused to bomb camps or take in refugees when they knew horror was happening. There was a rationalization that there " must have been other circumstances", mitigating circumstances, and today simply bad historical recollection. It is much easier to go forward and forget and rationalize and look for "reasonable" solutions, that is, until it all happens again and we have to say once more, "but that simply couldn't be possible."
A n important and courageous book that every young person especially should read as the years pass and the witnesses of that time leave us.
on August 5, 2001
I took the authors advice and did read the book in itï¿½s entirety and as I did a compelling story unfolded, a chilling account of calculated genocide. Whilst the passages describing the fate of the Jewish people were as harrowing as in any other document or film describing this dark chapter, it was the knowledge that in all likelihood many IBM employees knew what was going on and had enabled the company to amass a fortune in assisting the Nazi war machine with itï¿½s ï¿½Final Solutionï¿½ that caused me most concern.
There was one memorable, heartening story of French Resistance member Carmille and of how he duped the Nazis - they contracted him to sift the census information for their anti-Semitic purposes, he used the data to prepare his countrymen for effective mobilisation. The comparison of how differently the French and Netherlands Jews fared under German occupation was enlightening and perhaps hinted at how sometimes a healthy disregard for authority can prove beneficial. When coupled to a bureaucratic and very much localised government infrastructure I (like the author) feel that it probably saved many lives.
This book should serve as a warning to the common man that large business corporations can be as ruthless as dictator-led regimes and worry little about the niceties of whom they are dealing with when thereï¿½s a profit to be made!
One perturbing moment for me was when on turning a page I spotted my precise initials and surname in the textï¿½
T. J. Watson
on July 16, 2001
Other reviewers have already pointed out that, contrary to the book's title, in the 1930s and 40s IBM was not "America's most powerful corporation." Edwin Black admits that "the dynamics and context of IBM's alliance with Nazi Germany changed throughout the 12-year Reich"; indeed, the book shows that the firm's German subsidiary Dehomag was trying to break free from its parent early in World War II, that the Nazis were trying to build their own automation center of excellence based on the French firm Bull and others, and that IBM executives likely knew little of Dehomag's involvement in the Nazi concentration camp system.
However, the most interesting part of the book for many readers is not the relations between IBM, Dehomag, and the Nazi regime, but how punch-card automation technology, the precursor to modern computing, supported the Nazi policies of persecution and extermination and the German war effort. Dehomag's IBM-designed Hollerith machines were found in government ministries throughout Nazi-occupied Europe and in the Labor Service Office in each concentration camp.
Black shows how the Holleriths were used to support Nazi policies from the initial census to identify the German Jewish population to supporting the Final Solution. As he states, "People and asset registration was only one of the many uses Nazi Germany found for high-speed data sorters. 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." One of Dehomag's directors, Edmund Veesenmayer, acted as a Nazi troubleshooter in southeastern Europe and participated in the deportation of Serbian, Slovakian and Hungarian Jews.
Black states up front that genocide would have taken place without IBM technology. However, automation played a crucial role in murdering so many millions of Jews, members of other ethnic groups, political prisoners, Christians, and homosexuals. Black compares the highly automated Netherlands, where 73% of the Jewish population was killed, with France, which was poorly automated and whose census head was working secretly for the Resistance, resulting in the deaths of 25% of French Jews.
Holleriths also scheduled movements of troops and war materiel throughout Europe, organized military manpower, and tracked aircraft sorties, ammunition useage, and other vital statistics.
While Dehomag was meeting the automation needs of the Axis, IBM's own Holleriths were supporting the Allied war effort. This included the detailed US Strategic Bombing Survey conducted at the end of the war, at the same time as IBM officials returned to Europe to reclaim Dehomag's machines and the profits made from Nazism.
Canadian philosopher Mark Kingwell notes that Nazism, with its "mass manipulation, armored Panzer divisions and systematic racial murder", marks an apotheosis of the "peculiar logic of techno-modernity". IBM and the Holocaust contributes to our understanding of totalitarianism and technology, although this topic awaits a definitive treatment.