Author Shrugs Off IBM's Accusations

Edwin Black IBM Holocaust AP

The author of a book about IBM and the Holocaust on Thursday shrugged off accusations by the company that its publication was timed to coincide with a new lawsuit filed by Holocaust survivors.

"I wish all these lawsuits would disappear; I'm not here to help out any lawsuits," Edwin Black said at a Berlin news conference promoting the German-language version of IBM and the Holocaust, published earlier this month in the United States.

In the book, Black cites documents showing IBM's German subsidiary provided and serviced punch-card machines used to keep records on Nazi prisoners. The cards kept track of whether the inmates were Jewish, homosexual or communist, also listing their eventual fate, from escape to "special handling" — a euphemism for anything from torture to execution.

The new class-action lawsuit filed earlier this month in New York accuses IBM of being an accomplice in the Holocaust because it was aware its machines were used at death camps. It is seeking to force IBM to open its archives and to pay "ill-gotten gains."

But even the lead attorney in the IBM lawsuit, Michael Hausfeld of Washington, has said that he doesn't yet have the documents proving IBM in the United States knew its machines were being used in Nazi death camps.

Black acknowledged he hadn't yet found documents directly linking IBM to participating in the Holocaust, and has also called on the company to open archives. But he alleges they would have known how the machines were being used.

"While most people didn't understand the technology behind this, I think some did," he said.

IBM has said the subsidiary, Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen GmbH, was taken over by the Nazis before World War II, like other companies operating in Germany, and the use of the machines is well-known. One of the punch-card counters is on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

The company also acknowledges that the head of IBM at the time, Thomas J. Watson, was awarded a medal by Hitler for his role in global economic relations, which he later returned.

But Black said documents from archives in Germany and the United States show IBM maintained further contact with its subsidiary in Germany through other European branches and didn't lose administrative control of Hollerith until 1942.

"It was never about anti-Semitism, it was never about Nazis, it was always about the money," Black said.

"We've gone after the men in the camps, we've gone after the German companies," he said. "The final frontier of Holocaust accountability is the United States. Yes, German efficiency — American inventiveness."


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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