IBM can't delete its Nazi ties

Papers: Company remains reticent - and unrepentant - about its Holocaust role.

April 15, 2001|By Edwin Black

The revelations in my book "IBM and the Holocaust" sprang upon the world on Feb. 12, 2001. The book documented IBM's strategic business and consultative alliance with Nazi Germany beginning at the first moment of the Hitler regime in 1933 and continuing right into the war. It was this joint planning and custom production of billions of punch cards per year that endowed the Third Reich with the technology it needed to dramatically accelerate and automate all phases of its Jewish persecution.

Despite the revelations, IBM has refused to apologize for its role in the Holocaust, refused to even explain its actions. Instead, IBM has stonewalled all questioners with deflection and distraction.

Examining IBM's distractions in context shows their transparency. IBM began by claiming it was unaware of its own history. In truth, IBM has known for 60 years what it did in the Holocaust. It has understood that since 1993, some 15 million people have seen its machine on display at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington. The company has read since 1995 numerous articles on the Web and in several academic computer journals, including one by historians Sybil Milton and David Luebke, raising serious questions about its technologic cooperation with the Hitler regime. Moreover, I reviewed the outlines of my findings with IBM spokesmen long before publication, which is why I was barred from company archives. And of course, IBM has scrutinized its own documents.

IBM also hopes to deflect questions by claiming it has already shared its documents from the period with scholars. Its argument sounds good until probed. In fact, when historians, such as Sybil Milton and Robert Wolfe, wrote IBM in mid-1999 demanding I be admitted to their archives, IBM rush-transferred about 1,000 pages to an academic institution. But these did not go to any Holocaust or history archive where they could be shared with scholars. They went to the custody of a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, Lawrence Schiffman at New York University. The boxes were in Schiffman's office closet - but he quickly shared them with me.

In 1999, at about the same time IBM was moving documents to Professor Schiffman at NYU, the IBM public relations executives overruled the German company's archivist who had granted me permission to see the files in Stuttgart. Although I flew to Germany for my appointment, IBM barred my entry. This year, just weeks before my book was released and as rumors began to spread throughout the publishing community, IBM reportedly delivered several thousand pages of German subsidiary documents and newsletters to a business archive at Hohenheim University in Stuttgart. These are closed and will not be open until IBM approves an inventory. That process is not expected to be completed anytime this year.

However, IBM has yet to open its archives in Somers, N.Y., relating to the numerous interlocking subsidiaries involved in the Holocaust, including the Dutch, French, Swiss, Swedish, Romanian, Italian and numerous other involved business units. By the same token, IBM has not opened its numerous repositories in Europe and Latin America, including Brazil, Switzerland and Warsaw.

In reality, scores of thousands of IBM documents on the period remain hidden from view. It is time for IBM to face up to its history, open its archives and apologize for aggressively helping the Reich plan during its 12-year war against the Jews. Instead, IBM hopes it can distract the media long enough with nonsensical arguments that the issue might go away. IBM needs to understand that the Holocaust - and the issue of its involvement - will not disappear.

Edwin Black is the author of the international best-seller, "IBM and the Holocaust" (Crown, 2001).

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