IBM and the Nazis

As the Third Reich embarked upon its plan of conquest and genocide, a way of identifying and cataloguing Jews had to be found straight away, so they were targeted for efficient asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, enslaved labour, and, ultimately, annihilation. It was a cross-tabulation and organisational challenge so monumental, it called for a specialised system.

International Business Machine (IBM) founder Thomas Watson cooperated with the Nazis, despite international calls for an economic boycott, and leased IBM’s Herman Hollerith punchcard technology for very high fees, to automate Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. The data generated employing counting and alphabetization equipment supplied by IBM through its German subsidiary Dehomag, and other national subsidiaries, was instrumental in the efforts of the German government to concentrate and ultimately destroy ethnic Jewish populations across Europe.

Thomas J Watson, Sr.

It was first used in Germany, and then rolled out across Nazi Europe, recording the identification of the Jews in the 1933 censuses, registrations, and ancestral tracing programmes, to the running of railroads, and the organisation of concentration camp slave labour.

IBM and Dehomag custom-designed complex solutions, one by one, as required by the needs of Reich, with continuous upkeep and service. The machines became the sole source of the billions of punch cards Hitler needed. IBM and its subsidiaries helped create enabling technologies, step-by-step, from the identification and cataloguing programmes of the 1930s to the selections of the 1940s.

Thomas J Watson Sr. image copyright free from IBM Corporate Archives.

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