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710 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1999
"প্রতিটি ঐশ্বর্য্যের পেছনেই রয়েছে একটি বড় অপরাধ"
-অনার দি বালজাক
Mister Watson is the man we’re working for
He’s the leader of the C-T-R
He’s the fairest, squarest man we know
Sincere and true
He has shown us how to play the game
And how to make the dough
Quickly, Cheim learned the method. Every day, transports of slave laborers were received. Prisoners were identified by descriptive Hollerith cards, each with columns and punched holes detailing nationality, date of birth, marital status, number of children, reason for incarceration, physical characteristics, and work skills. Sixteen coded categories of prisoners were listed in columns 3 and 4, depending upon the hole position: hole 3 signified homosexual, hole 9 for anti-social, hole 12 for Gypsy. Hole 8 designated a Jew. Printouts based on the cards listed the prisoners by personal code number as well.8 Column 34 was labeled "Reason for Departure." Code 2 simply meant transferred to another camp for continuing labor. Natural death was coded 3. Execution was coded 4. Suicide coded 5. The ominous code 6 designated "special handling," the term commonly understood as extermination, either in a gas chamber, by hanging, or by gunshot.
One December morning, even as the numbered man Cheim, in his tattered uniform, stepped quickly toward the Bergen-Belsen Hollerith office to stay warm and to stay alive, another man, this one dressed elegantly in a fine suit and warm overcoat, stepped out of a new chauffeured car at 590 Madison Avenue in New York. He was Thomas J. Watson. His company, IBM—one of the biggest in the world—custom-designed and leased the Hollerith card sorting system to the Third Reich for use at Bergen-Belsen and most of the other concentration camps. International Business Machines also serviced its machines almost monthly, and trained Nazi personnel to use the intricate systems. Duplicate copies of code books were kept in IBM's offices in case field books were lost. What's more, his company was the exclusive source for up to 1.5 billion punch cards the Reich required each year to run its machines.
It was an irony of the war that IBM equipment was used to encode and decode for both sides of the conflict.
IBM was in some ways bigger than the war. Both sides could not afford to proceed without the company's all-important technology. Hitler needed IBM. So did the Allies.
After nearly a decade of incremental solutions the Third Reich was ready to launch the last stage. In January 1942, a conference was held in Wannsee outside Berlin. This conference, supported by Reich statisticians and Hollerith experts, would outline the Final Solution of the Jewish problem in Europe. Once more, Holleriths would be used, but this time the Jews would not be sent away from their offices or congregated into ghettos. Germany was now ready for mass shooting pits, gas chambers, crematoria, and an ambitious Hollerith-driven program known as "extermination by labor" where Jews were systematically worked to death like spent matches. For the Jews of Europe, it was their final encounter with German automation.
In many instances, elaborate document trails in Europe were fabricated to demonstrate compliance when the opposite was true. Nonetheless, the true record would be permanently obscured. During the war years, IBM's own internal reviews conceded that correspondence about its European business primarily through its Geneva office was often faked. Dates were falsified. Revised contract provisions were proffered to hide the true facts. Misleading logs and chronologies were kept.
In the years that followed, IBM's worldwide stature became even more of a beacon to the cause of progress. It adopted a corporate motto: "The Solutions Company." Whatever the impossible task, IBM technology could find a solution. The men who headed up the IBM enterprise in Nazi Europe and America became revered giants within the corporation's global community. Chauncey became chairman of the IBM World Trade Corporation, and the European subsidiary managers were rewarded for their loyalty with top jobs. Their exploits during the Nazi era were lionized with amazing specificity in a promotional book entitled The History of Computing in Europe, published in 1967 by IBM itself. However, an internal IBM review decided to immediately withdraw the book from the market. It is no longer available in any publicly accessible library anywhere in the world.
More information also surfaced about IBM president Thomas J. Watson's involvement in Germany. A former IBM employee, now in New York State, discovered a pamphlet in his basement and sent me a copy. It was the commemorative program of a luncheon held in Watson's honor just before Watson received Hitler's medal during the 1937 Berlin International Chamber of Commerce festivities. The program includes a picture of Watson surrounded by grateful Hitler Youth, and the text of toasts by Nazi finance wizard Hjalmar Schacht appealing to Watson to help stop the anti-Nazi boycott.