Five Holocaust survivors are filing a class-action suit against IBM, charging that the huge technology company "aided and abetted crimes against humanity" by providing the punch-card systems used to catalogue and process victims of the Nazi German genocide against Jews and other groups during World War II.
The plaintiffs, from the US, the Czech Republic and Ukraine, claim that IBM not only profited from the use of its products in the Holocaust, but that it has refused historians and others access to archival evidence of its "complicit role in the Holocaust", the law firm Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll said in a statement.
"We have not yet seen the complaint, so we have no comment on the lawsuit," says Carol Makovich, IBM's vice president of worldwide media relations. She adds, however, that IBM's archives for the period were donated to two universities in September 1999, where they are available to scholars. "I would like to make it very clear that IBM has been very open with its records," she says.
At Dachau concentration camp alone, there were 24 IBM sorters, tabulators and printers, the lawyers say, adding that IBM staff regularly visited its Nazi clients for service and training purposes.
The sensational lawsuit was timed to coincide with the publication of a new book, "IBM and the Holocaust", by Edwin Black, which was being released worldwide last week.
"IBM Germany, using its own staff and equipment, designed, executed, and supplied the indispensable technologic assistance Hitler’s Third Reich needed to accomplish what had never been done before - the automation of human destruction," says publisher Little, Brown & Co in a statement.
Makovich says that at the time the US entered World War II, in 1941, IBM owned 84% of German subsidiary Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen GmbH (Dehomag for short), which sold the punchcard technology invented by the engineer Hermann Hollerith in the 1890s.
"But in practice, beginning around 1933-34 ... the Nazis began to exert control over that operation, and certainly by the war years we had no effective control," she says. She stresses, however, that records for the period are incomplete, many of them having been destroyed in the war.
Dehomag became a wholly-owned subsidiary of IBM in 1947. It was renamed IBM Deutschland Internationale Büro-Maschinen GmbH in 1949, and IBM Germany in 1971.