IBM's Watson Approves Transfer of High-Tech Sorting Machines to Nazi Germany Hot

IBM's Watson Approves Transfer of High-Tech Sorting Machines to Nazi Germany

Thomas J. Watson, 1936

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Thomas J. Watson, president of IBM, approves of the transfer of more than a dozen high-tech alphabetical sorting machines from Austria to Nazi Germany. They will be used to sort out Jews from Poles in the newly conquered territories.

The importance of IBM's German subsidiary Dehomag and these high-tech IBM machines in the Nazi persecution of Jews, as well as their later extermination efforts, probably cannot be overestimated.

IBM technology, especially the use of punch cards, is making it possible for the Nazis to determine who is and is not Jewish, to trace people's racial lineage, to calculate how much they own, to track their movements, and more. By mid-1944, the Nazis will have Hollerith Departments installed at the main concentration camps at Mauthausen, Ravensbrück, Flossenbürg and Buchenwald.

On all SS Hollerith cards used in the concentration camps, the Nazis have codes for the reason for confinement (Jehovah's Witness = 01, homosexuals = 02, Jews = 05), birth date, gender, ethnicity (Reich German = 0, Ethnic German = 1, Foreigner = 2), labor capacity, occupation, and reason for leaving (i.e. execution = 3, escape = 4, special treatment = 6). Because of the IBM machines, it's possible to sort and tabulate with this data, making the administration of the massive camp system possible. Dachau alone will be using 24 IBM machines by the end of the war. These machines are, in many ways, both the origin of the "surveillance society" and an example of everyone's fears about what happens when powerful authoritarians have too much access to too much information about us.


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