Final Solutions

How IBM Helped Automate the Nazi Death Machine in Poland

As a forced laborer, Krzemieniecki was compelled to work as a "sorter and tabulator" 10 hours per day for two years. He never realized that his work involved the transportation of Jews to gas chambers.

"I only know that this very modern equipment made possible the control of all the railway traffic in the General Government," he said.

Krzemieniecki recalled that an "outside technician," who spoke German and Polish and "did not work for the railroad," was almost constantly on-site to keep the machines running, performing major maintenance monthly.

illustration: Mirko Ilic

IBM's tailored railroad-management programs, several million custom-designed punch cards printed at IBM's print shop at 6 Rymarska Street, across from the Warsaw Ghetto, and the railway's leased machines were under the New York-controlled subsidiary in Warsaw, not the German subsidiary, Dehomag. The distinction is important. Since the disclosures about IBM's involvement in the Holocaust first surfaced in February 2001, the company has continually pointed to supposed lack of control of its German subsidiary. But Watson Business Machines was established in Poland by IBM New York itself, at the time of Germany's invasion.

"I knew they were not German machines," recalled Krzemieniecki. "The labels were in English. . . . The person maintaining and repairing the machines spread the diagrams out sometimes. The language of the diagrams of those machines was only in English."

I asked Krzemieniecki if the machine logo plates were in German, Polish, or English. He answered, "English. It said, 'Business Machines.' " I asked, "Do you mean 'International Business Machines'?" Krzemieniecki replied, "No, 'Watson Business Machines.' "

Dwarfing the railroad operation in Poland described by Krzemieniecki was a massive Hollerith statistical center at 24 Murner Street in Kraków, staffed by more than 500 punching and tabulating employees and equipped with dozens of machines. New research has uncovered the existence of a previously unknown Berlin agency, the Central Office for Foreign Statistics and Foreign Country Research, which continuously received detailed data from the Kraków statistical center.

By late 1939, the Reich's Jewish-population statistics wizard, Fritz Arlt, had been appointed head of the Population and Welfare Administration of the General Government. A Hollerith expert and colleague of Adolf Eichmann, Arlt edited his own statistical publication, Political Information Service of the General Government, which featured such data as Jews per square meter, with projections of decrease from forced labor and starvation.

"We can count on the mortality of some subjugated groups," one Arlt article asserted. "These include babies and those over the age of 65, as well as those who are basically weak and ill in all other age groups."

The data-hungry Nazis created an expanded Statistics Office in Kraków in 1940. The expansion was dependent on more leased machines, spare parts, company technicians, and a guaranteed continued supply of millions of additional IBM cards. IBM's European general manager, Werner Lier, visited Berlin in early October 1941 to oversee IBM New York's deployment of machines in Poland and other countries. In two detailed reports, written from Berlin and sent to Watson, as well as to other senior staff in New York, Lier reported moving a small group of Polish machines into Romania for the Jewish census there. The Polish machines would soon be replaced by others.

The expanded Statistics Office assured Berlin in a November 30, 1941, report that its Hollerith operation would employ equipment more modern than the old IBM machinery found in most pre-war Polish data agencies, thus allowing the Nazis to launch a plethora of "large-scale censuses." Also planned was a long list of "continuous statistical surveys," including those for population, domestic migration, and causes of death. Moreover, regular surveys of food and agriculture were "coupled with summary surveys of the population and ethnic groups." Tabulating food supplies against ethnic numbers allowed the Nazis to ration caloric intake as they subjected the Jewish community to starvation.

The Statistics Office's report concluded, "Our work is just beginning to bear fruit."

Once the U.S. Entered the war in December 1941, Germany appointed a Nazi devoted to IBM, Hermann Fellinger, as enemy-property custodian. He maintained the original staff and managers of Watson Business Machines, keeping it productive for the Reich and profitable for IBM. The subsidiary now reported to IBM's Geneva office, and from there to New York. The company was not looted, its leased machines were not seized. "Royalties" were remitted to IBM through Geneva. Lease payments and profits were preserved in special accounts. After the war, IBM recovered all its Polish profits and machines.

Since the war, IBM, having left Madison Avenue for new headquarters in suburban Armonk, has obstructed, or refused to cooperate with, virtually every major independent author writing about its history, according to numerous published introductions, prefaces, and acknowledgments.

But silence cannot alter the historical documentation. A tangle of subsidiaries throughout Europe helped IBM reap the benefits of its partnership with Nazi Germany. After all, "business" was IBM's middle name.

Edwin Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (Crown Books, 2001, and Three Rivers Press, 2002), just released in paperback with new information. He can be reached at

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