IBM, Hitler,
Jurassic Park
and More!
Did IBM Help Nazis in WWII?
Some dispute claims that U.S. technology played key role in Holocaust

By Michael Dobbs

WASHINGTON, February 11, 2001 — In June 1937, Thomas J. Watson, founder of International Business Machines Corp., accepted an honor that would come to haunt him, a medal created by Adolf Hitler for foreign citizens “who made themselves deserving of the German Reich.” Embedded with swastikas and eagles, the medal was dramatic confirmation of IBM’s contribution to the automation of Nazi Germany.

At the time, Germany was second only to the United States as IBM’s best customer. Historians have since documented how IBM punch-card technology, the precursor to the computer, did everything from helping to make German trains run on time to facilitating Hitler’s rearmament program to tabulating the census data that were an important element in the Nazi leader’s murderous racial politics.

A new book takes the case against Watson and IBM a big step further, and argues that custom-built IBM technology helped fuel the Holocaust by permitting Hitler to automate his persecution of the Jews and by generating lists of groups slated for deportation to Nazi death camps. It relates how, after IBM lost control over its German operation in 1941 and Watson returned his medal, its technology was used in Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps to register inmates and track slave labor.

"IBM technology put the blitz into the blitzkrieg and the fantastical numbers into the Holocaust,” argued Edwin Black, a former journalist and son of Holocaust survivors who spent three years studying IBM’s involvement in Nazi Germany for his book, “IBM and the Holocaust.” “The Holocaust would have occurred with or without IBM — but the Holocaust that we know of, the Holocaust of the fantastic numbers, this is the Holocaust of IBM technology. It enabled the Nazis to achieve scale, velocity, efficiency.”

Black’s conclusions have stirred debate among Holocaust scholars and experts even before his 500-page book becomes widely available Monday. Some historians have endorsed Black’s findings that IBM and its German subsidiary played a critical role in Nazi persecution. Others insist that IBM technology had little to do with the Holocaust, and that the Nazis used predominantly conventional methods to keep track of Jews.

“The notion that the Nazis needed sophisticated technology to be efficient is wrong,” said Raul Hilberg, author of “The Destruction of the European Jews” and widely regarded as a leading scholar on the Jewish deportation process. “Efficiency can be produced by people, with what we regard as very primitive means, like pencil and paper. You have to be very careful. The Nazis had machines, they were efficient. That is fine, but this is not a cause-and-effect proposition.”


An IBM spokeswoman, Carol Makovich, said it was difficult for IBM to comment on Black’s book as the company was not permitted to see it before publication. She said IBM was eager to cooperate with independent researchers and had deposited relevant archives with New York University and Hohenheim University in Stuttgart, Germany. But she said that records regarding the company’s activities in Nazi Germany were “incomplete and inconclusive.”

“Of course, IBM deplores the Nazi regime and its atrocities,” she said.

The publication of “IBM and the Holocaust” has been shrouded in secrecy on the grounds of protecting “journalistic exclusivity.” Instead of circulating the book among reviewers, Crown Publishers arranged for excerpts to appear in Newsweek magazine and foreign publications and for Black to appear on talk shows. An advance copy of “IBM and the Holocaust” was made available to The Washington Post under embargo until today. Publishers sometimes use such a strategy to heighten commercial demand for a provocative book while shielding it from unfavorable reviews or rebuttal.

The most controversial allegation in Black’s book is that IBM punch-card technology was used to generate lists of Jews and other victims who were then targeted for deportation. While there is no question that IBM New York permitted its technology to be used in Nazi census operations, including the German censuses of 1933 and 1939, there is debate over how useful the census data were in locating individuals.


Punch-card technology, which gained dubious fame in the November U.S. presidential election, can be traced to 1884. Herman Hollerith, a 20-year-old German American engineer, invented a device for storing data on cards through a series of holes, each representing a different piece of information, such as age, education, location and religion. The cards were sorted by machine to produce cross-tabulated data.

In the pre-computer era, Hollerith machines were the most sophisticated information technology available. They were put to thousands of uses, from cracking enemy codes to tracking military equipment to compiling census data. From the mid-1920s, punch cards were the principal vehicle for IBM’s worldwide expansion. IBM patented the technology and guarded it from competitors, leasing machines to customers and keeping tight control over the supply of punch cards.

Hollerith technology offered the Nazis a powerful tool of social control, as IBM officials quickly recognized. A few weeks after Hitler came to power in 1933, the head of IBM’s German subsidiary, Willy Heidinger, boasted that the machines would help the Fuhrer maintain the “purity” and “health” of the German body politic. “We have the deepest trust in our Physician [Hitler] and will follow his instructions in blind faith,” Heidinger pledged.

By the outbreak of World War II in 1939, IBM was supplying Nazi Germany with more than a billion punch cards a year, according to Black’s research. The German government “needs our machines,” a senior IBM official reported in March 1941, nine months before the United States declared war on Hitler. “The army is using them presently for every conceivable purpose.”


The once-warm relations between IBM and Nazi Germany deteriorated sharply after June 1940, when Watson returned his Eagle with Star medal to Hitler with the explanation that he could no longer support “the policies of your government.” Over the next year, records show, Watson lost control of IBM’s German subsidiary to Heidinger, a Nazi party member who had long feuded with IBM New York over profits and operations.

IBM spokeswoman Makovich said it was unclear precisely when IBM New York lost control over its German subsidiary, Dehomag. She said the Nazis became increasingly involved in Dehomag’s operations starting in 1933, even though IBM still had an 84 percent stake in the company when the United States declared war on Germany in December 1941. She added that Watson was awarded the Nazi medal as president of the International Chamber of Congress for “promoting world peace through world trade” rather than as head of IBM.

After 1941, Dehomag became brazen about the licensing of Hollerith technology for the persecution of Nazi victims. Records show that the Hollerith machines were used in at least a dozen concentration camps, including Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau. Prisoners were assigned individual Hollerith numbers and given a designation based on 16 categories, such as 3 for homosexual, 8 for Jew and 13 for prisoner of war.

While there is no evidence that IBM New York knew Hollerith machines were being used in places such as Auschwitz, Black maintains that the company profited from Dehomag’s activities and was fully reimbursed after the war.

“IBM was paid for the cards,” Black said. “They did not say that these cards were issued without their permission. The last Reichmark paid to IBM was a check handed to a U.S. military officer.”


William Seltzer, an expert in demographic statistics at Fordham University in New York City and a former consultant to the U.N. war crimes tribunal, said: “To me there is no doubt that [IBM] technology was used for evil ends. To me that is not the issue. The issue is whether Watson knew; I am not saying that Watson was a Nazi. He was out for his company and out for his technology, and pretty blind to the way it was being used.”

Historians differ on whether the information collected through punch-card technology gave the Nazis an ability they otherwise would not have had to persecute Jews and other minorities. Black argues that the census data permitted the Nazis to establish detailed deportation quotas for individual localities and divide the Jewish population into full Jews, half Jews, quarter Jews, and so on. These classifications frequently determined the fate of individuals.

But Hilberg pointed out that the Nazis had numerous sources of information about the Jewish population, including police registrations and records collected from Jewish communities by the Gestapo.

The strongest case for the use of Hollerith technology in detaining Jews is probably Holland following the 1940 Nazi takeover. Black unearthed records showing that Dutch population experts acting under Nazi instructions used the punch-card system to tabulate lists of Jews who were later slated for deportation. Black pointed out that the death rate among Dutch Jews during the Nazi period was 73 percent, compared to around 25 percent in France, where the punch-card system was less common.

Other experts caution that it is too simplistic to attribute the differing death rates to the use of punch-card technology.

“There were other factors involved,” said Bob Moore, a Holocaust historian at the University of Sheffield in England. “There was no general population registration in France, as there was in the Netherlands. Furthermore, the Dutch are traditionally much more respectful of authority than the French. If someone sends you a form in Holland, you fill it in properly. In France, it is the opposite.”

Some historians are troubled by the lack of scholarly review of Black’s work, and note that a 1984 book he wrote on relations between Nazi Germany and Zionist officials in Palestine, “The Transfer Agreement,” generated similar controversy. While Black’s manuscript was circulated to some experts, including Moore and Seltzer, it has not been reviewed by other leading Holocaust historians.

Jurassic Park Found In Patagonia!
Archaeologists turn up previously unknown species of dinosaurs

By Simon Gardner

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, Feb. 14 — Paleontologists declared Wednesday that they had found a sprawling “Jurassic Park” of dinosaur fossils in the heart of Patagonia they dubbed “possibly the most significant find ever.”

The find in the province of Chubut, on an arid plateau 950 miles south of Buenos Aires, includes four unknown species of dinosaurs from the Jurassic period around 150 million to 160 million years ago, one of the world’s oldest-known mammals and a host of fossils of reptiles and ancient sea turtles.

Experts estimated they had unearthed only around 2 percent of the contents of the vast fossil deposit, which sprawls over hundreds of square miles in southern Argentina.

“It is a veritable Jurassic Park,” said Gerardo Cladera of the Egidio Feruglio Paleontology Museum in Trelew, whose team of experts made the find. “What we have found is very important, firstly because of the range of the fossils found, and secondly because of the age.”

“Jurassic-period fossils are very, very rare. They have only been found in China and Madagascar ... so we know very little about the evolution of the dinosaurs, (winged) pterosauri, and mammals from this key period.”

High sea levels during the tropical Jurassic period — which extended from 213 million to 144 million years ago — meant there was relatively little land on which dinosaur remains could remain intact, and not be washed away into the oceans, Cladera added.


The new species found — which the experts have yet to classify and name — include two herbivorous sauropods 10 yards long, and larger carnivorous theropods. The mammal fossil found — the size of a rat, although it isn’t a rodent — was also unknown.

One of the sauropod fossils was also believed to be complete, something very rare for dinosaur remains.

Argentina is renowned for its dinosaur finds. The name “Jurassic Park” is taken from a popular Steven Spielberg movie about a park of living dinosaurs cloned from fossil material.

Last week paleontologists in the province of Neuquen, southwest of Buenos Aires, found the 95-million-year-old remains of a previously unknown herbivore.

Neuquen, which was a steaming swap millions of years ago and has been dubbed “Dinosaur Valley” thanks to the myriad fossils found there, also yielded the remains of the largest dinosaur known to have roamed the earth, the Argentinosaurus, discovered in 1990.

The area of Chubut where the latest discovery has been made was originally explored in the 1970s and ’80s, when the remains of two dinosaurs were found. But the area was then left unstudied until six months ago, when a local farmer found bones emerging from a rock on the plain.

On closer inspection, the Trelew museum’s paleontology team found a very well preserved backbone of a large herbivore. They will start excavating the remains at the beginning of March.

Electric Company Bills Ancient Pictish Stone

EDINBURGH February 14, 2001 (Reuters) - An electricity company confessed to trying to get blood out of a stone on Wednesday after sending a bill to an ancient Pictish monument in the Scottish Highlands.

Instead of a letter box, the postman asked to deliver a bill addressed to the Suenos Stone, Finhorn Road, Forres, would have been surprised to find a 1,200-year-old, 20 foot (6.5 metre) high cenotaph covered in swirling Pictish hieroglyphs.

"The stone has been floodlit for some years and so it does attract electricity bills but they more often arrive at our Northern regional office," a spokeswoman for conservation group Historic Scotland said.

Electricity operator Scottish & Southern Energy said the mix-up had been a one-off error and the stone should not receive any more bills in the future.

Iceland DNA Promising For Schizophrenia Drug
AP National Writer

February 14, 2001 - Pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche will try to develop a schizophrenia drug using information gathered from the Icelandic gene pool, the company is announcing Wednesday.

The drug development effort was spurred by research done by deCODE genetics, a Reykjavik, Iceland-based company that has been hunting for disease genes by using the entire Icelandic population as a study subject.

In February 1998, Roche agreed to pay deCODE up to $200 million for information culled from Icelanders' DNA. Since the deal was signed, deCODE has found genes related to about eight different diseases.

"It confirms our initial optimism,'' said Klaus Lindpaintner, director of Roche Genetics.

The schizophrenia gene, discovered last year, is a promising lead for drug development because it encodes a protein that appears to be involved with the disease itself, said deCODE CEO Kari Stefansson. Another protein that interacts with the one made by the gene may also provide a target for a drug, he said.

Schizophrenia affects about 1 percent of the world's population, and usually appears during adolescence or young adulthood. Current drugs can control the hallucinations, delusions and emotional disturbance caused by the disease, but so little is known about it that no treatments address the cause.

In a second project to be announced Wednesday, deCODE has identified a gene associated with peripheral arterial occlusive disease, a blockage of the arteries that mostly affects a small percentage of people older than 65. Again, the gene appears to encode a protein critical to the development of the disease.

"We have given them a significant number of possibilities to work with,'' Stefansson said.

It is still far too early to say whether those possibilities will lead to drugs. Though gene-hunting companies have discovered thousands of promising genes, "all these projects are in very early stages,'' said Ravi Mehrotra, a London-based biotechnology industry analyst with SG Cowen Securities.

Stefansson's company, founded in 1996, is creating a genetic database containing most of Iceland's 270,000 people. The company hopes that the information, once collected, will help identify difficult-to-find genes for common ailments like cancer, heart disease and alcoholism. The genes identified by deCODE so far have come from smaller-scale projects involving dozens or hundreds of individuals.
Satellite Mapping Finds Soil Damage
AP Farm Writer

WASHINGTON February 15, 2001 (AP) — Much of the world's farmland is in such poor condition that farmers will have to find better ways to grow crops or else their production won't keep pace with the growing population, scientists say.

About 16 percent of the world's farmland is free of fertility problems, or "constraints,'' such as chemical contamination, acidity, salinity or poor drainage, according to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute. The report was based on satellite maps.

In parts of Asia, as little as 6 percent of farmland is free of such problems. North America has the largest share of the best land at 29 percent.

"The basic story is that agriculture is being pretty successful at keeping the world in food. It's been somewhat less successful in nurturing the natural resources that underpin that production capacity,'' said Stanley Wood, the report's lead author.

Aluminum contamination is high enough on 17 percent of the farmland worldwide that it's toxic to plants, and salt deposits are a significant problem on irrigated land. Nearly 4 million acres of farmland is lost to excessive salt every year, or about 1 percent of irrigated area worldwide, the report said.

Depletion of organic matter in soil also is widespread, reducing fertility and moisture retention and increasing emissions of carbon dioxide into the air, which is believed a factor in global warming, the report said.

The report also cited "an urgent need'' to use irrigation water more efficiently. Irrigation accounts for 70 percent of the fresh water withdrawn, and 30 to 60 percent is returned for downstream use, the report said.

"We must find ways to increase food production'' without putting significant amounts of new land under cultivation, said Ian Johnson, a vice president of the World Bank and chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

Putting more land into production would require cutting down forests and otherwise damage the diversity of animal and plant life, he said. The world's population is expected to grow by 1.5 billion over the next 20 years.

Biotechnology could help boost production, if crops were genetically engineered to need less water and to grow in poorer soil, but that alone won't be enough, Wood said.

In many areas, the problem is that there isn't an economic incentive for farmers to change the way they farm.

In Kenya, the soil is so poor that corn yields are 20 percent or less of what they are in the American Midwest, partly because farmers can't afford to leave stalks and other plant debris in the soil to improve its fertility. They feed the plant material to animals or use it as fuel.

Chemical fertilizers aren't effective unless sufficient organic matter remains in the ground, Wood said.

Poor transportation systems also make it difficult for poor farmers to sell crops or obtain the chemicals they need.

The report is among a series of studies being done on the condition of various ecosystems, the forests and marine areas.


On the Net: Research institute:

Moving The Planet Earth
By Dr David Whitehouse, Science Editor
BBC News Online

February 5, 2001 - Mankind will soon have the ability to move the Earth into a new orbit, say a team of astronomers. The planetary manoeuvre may more than double the time life can survive on our planet, they believe.

Our Sun will increase its brightness in the next billion years or so, and if the Earth stays in its present orbit it will be fried and all life eliminated.

Using the well-understood "gravitational sling shot" technique that has been employed to send space probes to the outer planets, the researchers now think a large asteroid could be used to reposition the Earth to maintain a benign global climate.

It is an "alarmingly simple" technique, the astronomers say. It could ensure humanity's survival and even allow our descendants to alter our Solar System to move moons and planets to make new Earths.

The astonishing idea has been put forward by Don Korycansky, of the University of California, along with Gregory Laughlin, of the US space Agency Nasa, and Fred Adams, of the University of Michigan.

End of life

Astronomers believe that in a billion years from now our Sun will be over 10% brighter than it is today. Global climate models indicate that the Earth will react to this increase by at first becoming a "moist greenhouse".

Looking even further ahead, the Sun will increase its luminosity by about 40% in three billion years. This will force the Earth into a "runaway greenhouse" state, such as exists currently on the planet Venus.

According to the authors of a new study, this will "spell a definite end to life on our planet". But there is a way to counter the increasing brightness of the Sun, the scientists believe - just increase the radius of the Earth's orbit!

"Our initial analysis shows that the general problem of long-term planetary engineering is almost alarmingly feasible," they say.

All that is required is for a large asteroid, about 100 km (62 miles) across, to fly past the Earth transferring some of its orbital energy to our planet. The asteroid would then move out to encounter Jupiter where it would acquire more energy that it could impart to the Earth on a subsequent encounter.

Humans would have many thousands of years to select the appropriate asteroid and develop the necessary technology to deflect the giant rock in the direction of Earth.

Favourable position

To expand the Earth's orbit around the Sun at a rate that compensates for the increasing brightness of the star would require an asteroid encounter every 6,000 years, or about every 240 generations.

Earth's gradual outward migration may require adjustments to be made to the orbits of other planets as well. Recent calculations of the Solar System's stability indicate that if the Earth was removed then Venus and Mercury would become destabilised in a relatively short time.

Perhaps, the authors suggest, many moons and planets could be moved into more favourable positions in the Solar System where their climates might support life.

In the past, some astronomers have suggested that Mars could be terraformed to make it more like the Earth. The Earth-orbital-migration technique, say the researchers, is a far easier way to provide living space for humans in a changing Solar System.

But it would be a procedure that required some care. If the 100 km asteroid was to collide with the Earth then it would wipe out all life on our planet. "This danger cannot be overemphasised," the researchers stress.

However, "as a way of preserving the entire biosphere of the Earth, this method is promising and efficient," they say.

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