Final Solutions

How IBM Helped Automate the Nazi Death Machine in Poland

The savaging of Poland was no secret to IBM executives. From the outset, worldwide headlines reported barbarous massacres, rapes, purposeful starvation, systematic deportations, and the resulting unchecked epidemics. As early as September 13, 1939, The New York Times reported the Reich's determination to make Polish Jewry disappear, a headline declaring, "Nazis Hint Purge of Jews in Poland." A subhead added, "3,000,000 Population Involved." The article quoted the German government's plan for the "removal of the Polish Jewish population from the European domain." The Times added, "How . . . the 'removal' of Jews from Poland [can be achieved] without their extermination . . . is not explained."

Germany had plans. Polish Jews, during a sequence of sudden relocations, were to be catalogued for further action in a massive cascade of repetitive censuses and registrations with up-to-date information being instantly available to various Nazi planning agencies and occupation offices. How much usable forced labor for armament factories could they generate? How many thousands would die of starvation each month? A spectrum of Nazi census, registration, and statistical tabulation was performed on custom-designed IBM punch-card programs and machinery.

On September 9, 1939, Dehomag general manager Hermann Rottke wrote directly to Watson in New York, asking for advanced equipment. Rottke reminded Watson, "During your last visit in Berlin at the beginning of July, you made the kind offer to me that you might be willing to furnish the German company machines from Endicott [an IBM factory near Binghamton] in order to shorten our long delivery terms. . . . You have complied with this request, for which I thank you very much, and have added that in cases of urgent need, I may make use of other American machines. . . . You will understand that under today's conditions, a certain need has arisen for such machines, which we do not build as yet in Germany. Therefore, I should like to make use of your kind offer and ask you to leave with the German company . . . the alphabetic tabulating machines. . . . "

illustration: Mirko Ilic

Eighteen days later, a vanquished Warsaw formally capitulated. The next day, September 28, IBM's general manager in Geneva, J.W. Schotte, telephoned Berlin to confirm Watson's permission for the new equipment.

Meanwhile, Reinhard Heydrich, chief of Heinrich Himmler's Security Service, the SD, had already circulated a top-secret letter to the chiefs of his Einsatzgruppen, which evolved into mobile killing units. Heydrich's September 21 memo, titled "The Jewish Question in the Occupied Territory," laid out a plan of population control through a sequence of strategic censuses and registrations. It began, "I would like to point out once more that the total measures planned (i.e., the final aim) are to be kept strictly secret." First, Jews were to be relocated to so-called concentration towns at "either railroad junctions or at least on a railway." Addressing the zone from east of Kraków to the former Czechoslovakian-Polish border, Heydrich directed, "Within this territory, only a temporary census of Jews need be taken." Heydrich demanded that "the chiefs of the Einsatzgruppen report to me continually regarding . . . the census of Jews in their districts. . . . "

Shortly thereafter, Heydrich sent a follow-up cable to his occupying forces in Poland, Upper Silesia, and Czechoslovakia, outlining how a new December 17 census would escalate the process from mere identification and cataloguing to deportation and execution. Heydrich's memo entitled "Evacuation of the New Eastern Provinces" decreed, "The evacuation of Poles and Jews in the new Eastern Provinces will be conducted by the Security Police. . . . The census documents provide the basis for the evacuation. All persons in the new provinces possess a copy. The census form is the temporary identification card giving permission to stay. Therefore, all persons have to hand over the card before deportation. . . . Anyone caught without this card is subject to possible execution. . . . "

Quantifying and organizing the deportation of millions of people from various regions across Eastern Europe could take years using pencils and paper. Relying upon the lightning speed of Hollerith machines, it took just days. Heydrich assured, "That means the large-scale evacuation can begin no sooner than around January 1, 1940." Nazi Germany employed only one method for conducting a census: IBM punch-card processes, each one designed for the specific census.

In Nazi Poland, railroads constituted about 95 percent of the IBM subsidiary's business, using as many as 21 million punch cards annually. Watson Business Machines was headquartered at Kreuz 23 in Warsaw. And one of its important customer sites, newly discovered since the first edition of my book was published a year ago, was the Hollerith department of Polish Railways, at 22 Pawia Street in Kraków. This office kept tabs on all trains in the General Government, including those that sent Jews to their death in Auschwitz.

Leon Krzemieniecki is probably the only man still living who worked in that Hollerith department. It must be emphasized that Krzemieniecki did not understand any of the details of the genocidal train destinations. His duties required tabulating information on all trains, from ordinary passenger to freight trains, but only after their arrival.

The high-security five-room office, guarded by armed railway police, was equipped with 15 punchers, two sorters, and a tabulator "bigger than a sofa." Fifteen Polish women punched the cards and loaded the sorters. Three German nationals supervised the office, overseeing the final tabulations and summary statistics in great secrecy. Handfuls of printouts were reduced to a small envelope of summary data, which was then delivered to a secret destination. Truckloads of the preliminary printouts were then regularly burned, along with the spent cards, Krzemieniecki told me in an interview.

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