176 of 191 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important Questions Unraised Before Now
This book is the most important new work on the Nazi era in the last two decades. The book is even more significant for the questions it raises about what the purpose of a corporation is and should be, what role companies and governments should play in directing cutting edge technology, and the danger that misuses of advanced information technology bring to...
Published on March 16, 2001 by Donald Mitchell
21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well researched but too peppered with unimportant details
When I saw this book's title, I was immediately intrigued to learn what IBM's role in the Holocaust was, and eagerly began reading. Once I started the book I learned most of the facts about IBM's involvement in the Holocaust in the first chapter of the book with the author's introductory summary. I continued to labor through further chapters of the book to learn...
Published on February 2, 2005 by T. S. Flanery
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176 of 191 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important Questions Unraised Before Now,
This review is from: IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (Hardcover)This book is the most important new work on the Nazi era in the last two decades. The book is even more significant for the questions it raises about what the purpose of a corporation is and should be, what role companies and governments should play in directing cutting edge technology, and the danger that misuses of advanced information technology bring to individuals.
The core of the story is how a key IBM technology, the Hollerith-based card tabulating machines, became available for the Nazi war and Holocaust efforts. Although the details are murky (and may remain so), it is fairly clear that the use of this technology was sustained during the war years in part by shipments of customized (for each end user) tabulating cards from IBM in neutral countries for everything from blitzkriegs to slave camp scheduling to transportation to the death camps. There was not enough paper capacity to make the cards in Europe (that the Nazi and IBM records show were used), and there is no evidence that Nazis created substitutes for these essential supplies.
As Mr. Black warns, "This book will be profoundly uncomfortable to read." I agree. My sleep will not be the same for some time after experiencing this powerful story.
Mr. Black makes an even stronger statement. "So if you intend to skim, or rely on selected sections, do not read the book at all." I took him at his word, and did not even read the book quickly. I also arranged to read it in several sittings, so I could think about what I had read in between. I recommend that you do the same.
The reason for my recommendation is that your thinking will change very fundamentally through reading the book. Having read dozens of books by fine historians about the Nazi period, and knowing a great deal about the history of data processing, I assumed that there would be little new to the story here. But the title intrigued me. By the fourth time I saw the book, I could no longer resist it.
What I found inside the book surprised, shocked, and amazed me.
First, many authors claim that it was not clear in the United States that Jews were losing their lives in Europe during the Nazi years until just before the end of the war. This book documents many articles that appeared in the New York Times that certainly seemed to be saying that this systematic killing was going on from very near the time when it began. Anyone who ignored these reports just didn't want to know.
Second, the book makes many connections between Thomas Watson, Sr. and Nazi Germany. Many things surprised me about this. One, he was there once or twice a year until just before World War II began. The horrible human abuses were probably observed first hand by him then. Two, he had friends who were victimized by the Nazis. Three, he accepted a very prestigious medal from Hitler in 1937 (which he returned in June 1940). Four, he spoke in favor of making U.S. policy pro-German until just before the United States entered World War II. Five, it appeared that he had a lot more concern about IBM's profits and machines in Europe than about any people there.
Third, although I was very familiar with the improvements in industrial and transportation effectiveness in Germany during the Nazi years, I did not realize that IBM's design of Hollerith machines for card tabulation was a breakthrough technology that enabled this progress.
Fourth, I had always been amazed that the Nazis had such detailed records of the geneologies of European Jews. What I did not realize was that much of this information was provided by Jewish citizens in government censuses, and was quickly processed into records used by oppressors on Hollerith machines leased from IBM or its subsidiaries.
In France, where the use of these machines was subverted by the Resistance, the percentage rate of Jewish deaths was one-third of what occurred in Holland where this technology was well applied. It is hard to avoid the feeling that millions of people died because these machines were available and kept supplied with parts and punch cards for the Nazis.
One cannot help but draw the comparison between this historical example and the companies and countries (including, apparently, the United States) that have more recently allowed critical nuclear, rocket, and satellite technology to become available to repressive regimes. It seems that by not asking questions about IBM and the Holocaust, we may be continuing to make many of the same mistakes today.
I salute the incredible imagination and back-breaking effort that went into assembling this astonishing set of documents and perspectives. I hope that many people will read the book, that scholars will look for more information to expand our understanding, and that the fundamental questions raised by this book will be debated wherever free people live.
Remember: Your freedom is only as good as that of the least free person, who is most vulnerable.
"Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee."
60 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IBM and the Holocaust,
This review is from: IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (Paperback)I did not want to read this book.
My grandfather worked for International Time Recording (ITR) in Endicott, NY before IBM was formed and Mr. Watson came on board. My father's first job, at the age of seventeen, was caretaker of the Watson Homestead. My family has had a hand in virtually every product that issued from the IBM manufacturing effort since its inception in 1924. I have deep affection for the company my family labored to build.
I approached "IBM and the Holocaust" with a high degree of skepticism. The book sat on my nightstand for two months before I opened it. Finally picked it up for the sake of completing my 14-book IBM historical reading cycle.
This book is astounding. It is impeccably researched, artfully written, highly detailed, painstakingly documented, remarkably objective and thoroughly engaging.
"IBM and the Holocaust" has finally exposed the undeniable truth: IBM became the world's most powerful corporation largely because it assisted in identifying, cataloging and exterminating millions of innocent people for Hitler. The evil that lurks in IBM history was not exposed previously only because IBM management was smart enough and powerful enough to "hide its tracks" in Nuremburg. No investigator has ever dug deeper into IBM history than Edwin Black.
A close reading of the book makes it absolutely clear that Mr. Watson (IBM CEO) knew the exact purpose, goal and expected outcome of the IBM solution in Europe. The book details the fact that unlike previous IBM engagements for the Third Reich that were completed by Dehomag (IBM's German subsidiary), the engagement in Romania (1941) was conducted directly under the management of IBM New York. That engagement resulted in the swift identification, transportation and extermination of hundreds of thousands of innocent Jews. All in the name of "IBM."
As a result of reading "IBM and the Holocaust", I no longer view Mr. Watson as the glamorous benevolent industrial icon depicted in hollywoood newsreels. Though the affectionate "shop talk" tossed through the air when I was young still captures my imagination, Mr. Watson is no longer the focus of my unqualified admiration.
Watson, for me, now stands beside Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Mellon, Jeffrey Skilling, Kenneth Lay and all the other American Industrialists throughout history who had many fine qualities yet are outrageously flawed--so good yet so very, very bad.
This book is remarkable. Have since read "Internal Combustion", Banking on Baghdad" and "War Against the Weak."
Edwin Black is "the bomb."
If you have an interest in history, corporations, corruption, good, bad, evil or fine nonfiction; you will appreciate the works of Edwin Black.
December 7, 2006
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Story from the Past and a Tech Warning for the Future,
This review is from: IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (Hardcover)I just came upon this book this past week, but I have read research on the Holocaust for over 30 years and always wondered how the Nazis could be so efficient in rounding up people, how they could exactly know so much as they took over Poland and France, etc., etc., Now I think I know and the knowledge is most disturbing.
Reading this book made me stop and think about where technology is going today in our world where all the bits of information about everybody are carefully stored, collated, and applied to "appropriate" use. I think there is a warning from the book about having too much data about individuals. I for one will never answer census questions completely again, certainly not the petty questions that inquire into the specifics of my personal life.
A few months ago, I watched the HBO Movie Conspiracy which was an exact dramatization of the Wannesee Conference in 1942 in Berlin. The script was based on the sole transcript of that meeting found after the war and belonging to one of the attendees. As I was watching the movie and later when I poured over the actual transcript which I found on the net, I wondered, "How did they have such exact figures for each country and group? So exact that the numbers were down to the single digits. How did they find these people?" It puzzled me. In reading IBM and the Holocaust, I found my answer.
History has an ostentatous way of rationalizing what actually happened to fit current viewpoints that are acceptable to people and institutions. We don't want to think that a company like IBM could be so dreadful for profit or that our Government refused to bomb camps or take in refugees when they knew horror was happening. There was a rationalization that there " must have been other circumstances", mitigating circumstances, and today simply bad historical recollection. It is much easier to go forward and forget and rationalize and look for "reasonable" solutions, that is, until it all happens again and we have to say once more, "but that simply couldn't be possible."
A n important and courageous book that every young person especially should read as the years pass and the witnesses of that time leave us.
69 of 83 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing book,
This review is from: IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (Hardcover)Thomas Watson (IBM's president during Nazi Germany) was both a personal confidant to FDR and decorated with the highest Nazi medal possible to a non-German (though after proudly accepting the award, several years later he returned it). He had personal correspondence with Hitler, and IBM America controlled 90% (i.e. had complete control) of the German subsidiary, Dehomag, and in fact exported to the German subsidiary much of the supplies needed during the first year or two of Nazi leadership (~1933-35). IBM produced practially ALL of the tools needed for Nazi efficiency in any type of statistical manner, and IBM was responsible (though no directly) for finding the names of Jews, their anscestry, etc. The list goes on, and the author has IBM and other documents to prove it, all in a well written and organized, intriguing book.
As a side, it's funny to read other reviews (denying IBM's involvement) who either 1) didn't read the book, or 2) don't want to believe the truth when it's in front of their face. I question wether the person who said the author being an OS/2 advocate is the reason he wrote this book even read the preface. The author's parents are both Holocaust survivors, and he is himself a Jew, which is a far more logical reason to write this book than having a personal vendetta against IBM. I also question another reviewer's knowledge of this book when the person said "the premise that IBM knew at any point in the 30s that the Holocaust was going on is simply not true." There are many quotations of contemporary news papers (i.e. The New York Times) in this book, which show contemporaries were perfectly aware of the atmosphere in Germany, and of the Nazi agenda to "cleanse" Germany of the Jews. Hitler didn't hide his agenda, but broadcast it loud and clear for all to know. Wether knowledge of specific concentration camps was known is totally irrelevant. IBM was still creating specialized statistical devices to determine the "Jewry" of each German citizen, knowing full well what the information was for.
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Technological power is everyone's concern.,
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Technology without a conscience is the ruin of the soul,
This review is from: IBM and the Holocaust : The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (Paperback)The Exhibits in the German Historical Museum, which opened in Berlin last week, are indicative that many ordinary Germans had often celebrated Hitler; they enabled him to carry out his military objectives and the extermination of Jews and others. The German people nurtured and empowered Hitler. Viewing the compelling exhibits at the Museum, Germans will no longer be comfortable to say "We didn't know." In fact is that the mainstream of German people indeed became co-criminals in the implementation of the Holocaust. We see in many documentaries cheering crowds, marching students and other demonstrations of popular support; images of young and old adoring Hitler. Young Germans who have seen the museum's exhibits wonder why their parents and grandparents had not rejected Hitler. In the book IBM AND THE HOLOCAUST we see how IBM, a prestigious American company, had helped Hitler. Read this book and you will understand how the Nazis tracked down generations back of the Jews in Germany proper and in the occupied lands. The answers are as illuminating but disturbing to compassionate people.
The author, Edwin Black, knew that IBM's punch cards - directly and through its subsidiaries - enabled implementation of the 1933 census which identified and located Jews living in Germany. During a visit, with his parents, Holocaust survivors, to the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C, he questioned his parents how Germans obtained their names. He got no satisfying explanation from them; neither from the exhibits. So, he promised them that he would find out. He did indeed. Every author acknowledges the help rendered by others to write his or her work. The nature of Black's work necessitated help from many resources. Evidently Black succeeded to get the cooperation from archives, in Britain, Frances, Germany, Israel, Poland and other countries. Historians, Holocausts survivors, volunteers and others rendered continuing assistance testifying, researching, verifying and translating captured Nazi documents pertaining to the strategic alliance between Germany and IBM "Big Blue." Black's untiring efforts deserve our appreciation for his important historical work. His book is very comprehensive and well written.
Germans have a reputation to be very efficient. As a victim in Nazi occupied Poland and in Nazi concentration camp, I can attest that Germany's efficiency had been a vital factor in their military strength and brutal oppression. The Germans utilized the cutting edge of IBM's technology to identify, incarcerate, and eventually exterminate the Jews. It became a powerful weapon in the Nazis' war. While IBM profits were swelling the Holocaust victims were emaciating. Mr. Watson, IBM president, did not care. Ironically, there is a silver lining here. IBM equipment enabled the Nazis to keep files on their victims. Those archives streamlined the processing of Holocaust survivors' claims for reparations Wiedergutmchung.
Advanced technology is a blessing to society. However, an unconscientiously society will endow the human race with the ability to destroy itself. Without a moral foundation all the energies, talents and ideas might do more harm than good. It is the conscience that separates civilization from madness, the ability to think about right and wrong. "Science without a conscience is the ruin of the soul". (Rabelais, French humanist 1490-1553)
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate Research--Even a Widget has its Evil Side,
45 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A note on IBM,
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How IBM business development priorities put the "blitz" in "blitzkreig",
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This review is from: IBM and the Holocaust : The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (Paperback)As a consultant, I often hear complaints from others in the workforce about IBM's WebSphere product line, but the objects of these complaints pale in comparison to the history of IBM that Black presents in this work. While IBM is barely mentioned in McKenna's "The World's Newest Profession: Management Consulting in the Twentieth Century" (see my review), Black presents the history of IBM from its beginnings through the second world war, with an intensive focus on IBM's connection with the National Socialists. In addition, during this journey the author brings the reader step-by-step through the historical events surrounding the second world war, with a concentration on Germany, a journey that is written so well that this book outshines many other books that cover this period of history in this aspect alone.
Black explains that the visit with his parents in 1993 to the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. caused him to ask question after question, beginning with questions surrounding National Socialist obtainment of his parents' names (his parents are Jewish survivors of the Holocaust). The Holocaust Museum exhibit at the time had an IBM Hollerith D-11 card sorting machine (one of the predecessors of modern computing equipment), but the exhibit did not explain much more than provide indication that IBM had been responsible for organizing the census of 1933 that first identified Jews living in Germany. To discover the details behind this lack of explanation, Black assembled a host of researchers across the globe in search of documents that explain how IBM equipment was used by Germany during that time period, resulting in approximately 20,000 pages of such documentation, and based on this effort Black estimates in his introduction to this book that five times this amount in additional documentation is yet to be discovered.
Thomas Watson, who eventually headed IBM, came from National Cash Register (NCR), a firm where Watson excelled for seventeen years, but where he felt business development opportunities were lacking. To broaden his opportunities at an international level, Watson joined the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR), from where Hollerith machines originated, the name of which Watson changed to International Business Machines (IBM) after he became chief executive. Dehomag, a German firm, was a licensee of Hollerith equipment from IBM, but the monetary crisis in Germany during the early-1920s made it impossible for Dehomag to pay royalties and other monies it owed to IBM, which controlled all of Hollerith's patents, so Dehomag became a subsidiary of IBM.
Black explains that while many European countries were slow to adopt Hollerith technology, more than half of IBM's overseas income came from Dehomag alone, and there were about seventy IBM subsidiaries and foreign branches worldwide at the time. In 1933, the business world questioned whether it was worth economic risk or moral descent trading with Germany. IBM was in an interesting position, because it exported American technology rather than import German goods, and while Dehomag was renamed IBM Germany following the second world war, it did not carry the name of IBM or Watson at the time, permitting it to fly below the radar. Unfortunately, in the pure pursuit of business development, Watson chose to risk moral descent, seeing many opportunities in the plans of the National Socialists, beginning with a census of Poland to identify those of Jewish origin, and later working with German statisticians to trace Jewish bloodlines back to the early 1800s.
The space available here is simply lacking for a thorough review of this book. In my opinion, the content that Black provides is as much an account of IBM and its enablement of ethnic cleansing as it is a warning to the modern world not to follow in the footsteps of early-IBM or the National Socialists. As other reviewers here have indicated, morality should not take a back seat to the demands of stockholders seeking a profit. And Black's mentions of Germany's "The Law for Simplification of the Health System" and "The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Sick Offspring" of 1934 together with the article for the German statistical journal written by Friedrich Zahn that same year, "The Economic Value of Man as an Object of Statistics", should be remembered by modern society as avenues which we should not travel again. But are we not as a global society moving in this direction again? Well recommended text to everyone seeking insight into how IBM, in the words of Black, put the "blitz" in "blitzkreig".
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read!,
By A Customer
IBM employees designed and implemented systems that enabled the Reich to relentlessly slaughter human beings even in the midst of a two-front war. IBM's employees designed census forms which were entered onto Hollerith punchcards and processed to find Jews. Concentration camp prisoners were tracked relentlessly using Hollerith punchcards, which tracked everything from a prisoner's birth date and occupation to which physical punishments and tortures had been meted out. Hollerith punchcard systems were essential to the Reich's war machine and to keeping the machinery of death moving smoothly.
At that time, IBM had a virtual stranglehold on punchcard technology. The machines were leased from IBM, and the cards could only be purchased from IBM. The cards for each job had to be custom-designed - by IBM. IBM profited handsomely from the deaths of millions. By using Watson's influence with Government officials judiciously and becoming as indispensable to the Allies as they were to the Germans, IBM got to keep the millions it made in Nazi-controlled Europe during the war.
I've heard that there are lawsuits against IBM pending. If the IBM lawyers are smart, they'll settle. No amount of money can bring the dead back to life, but reparations are in order. IBM made millions making the Holocaust work, and simple justice demands that they forfeit that money, with punitive interest.
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IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation-Expanded Edition by Edwin Black (Paperback - February 16, 2012)