A lawsuit filed against IBM for allegedly assisting the Nazis indicates a renewed focus on the potential culpability of American companies that helped Germany during World War II.
IBM provided technology that aided Hitler in the persecution and genocide of millions of people during the Holocaust, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in New York on Saturday. The company was intimately involved with the actions of its German subsidiary, profited from the work and covered up its actions, the lawsuit alleges.
"IBM USA understood that its equipment, information and services were being used in concentration camps, where information about Jews and others was recorded, tabulated and sorted for purposes of perpetuating slave labor and ultimately extermination," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit represents the latest stage of Holocaust restitution efforts.
Filed on behalf of five plaintiffs and others, the lawsuit seeks the forcible opening of IBM archives and an acknowledgment from the company that human rights were violated.
The lawsuit is also demanding an undisclosed sum of money.
IBM's German subsidiary was not named in the lawsuit; the subsidiary contributed to the German restitution foundation, gaining legal immunity.
Just as the lawsuit begins wending its way through the court system, a new book that delves into IBM's technology and the role it played in the Holocaust hit the shelves.
It has been known that IBM supplied technology to Germany in the 1930s, but Edwin Black's "IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation" still is causing quite a stir.
Part of a machine marked with the letters "IBM" is on permanent display in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Adjacent text explains that the equipment was used in census-taking in Germany in the mid- to late 1930s. The museum does not know where the machine was actually used, a museum spokesperson said.
In the Dachau concentration camp alone, however, there were 24 IBM sorters, tabulators and printers, according to the lawsuit.
IBM long has contended that it cut ties with its German subsidiary in 1941, but both the lawsuit and the book try to show that IBM's relationship to Nazi Germany was longer and deeper than it previously appeared or than the company has admitted.
The Nazis were a lucrative market for IBM, Black said.
IBM recently sent a memo to its employees alerting them about Black's book and its accusations that the company provided data-processing technology to the Nazis.
"If this book points to new and verifiable information that advances understanding of this tragic era, IBM will examine it and ask that appropriate scholars and historians do the same," the company said.
Other American companies also have come under scrutiny for their roles in the Holocaust. Some, such as General Motors and Ford, face pending litigation.
Michael Hausfeld, lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the IBM lawsuit, said his firm has identified 100 U.S. companies that had operations in Germany during the Nazi era. He would not say if he thought any of the other cases merited legal action.
The amount of money demanded by the plaintiffs is not specified, but it is believed to be approximately $100 million. The lawsuit does not ask for compensation to be paid to individuals but asks that any money won be used to promote human rights and assist future victims of human rights violations.
The attorneys also are seeking fees, a point that disturbs Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress. Steinberg said the WJC is not supporting the lawsuit and added that no one should profit from the Holocaust.
Steinberg said he is not surprised by the information in Black's book but said the matter should be investigated.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called the documentation in the book "shocking."
"It was IBM ingenuity that provided the wherewithal for the Nazi extermination machine," Foxman said in a statement.
Which other American companies and institutions will be called to account for their roles in the Holocaust remains to be seen.
A presidential commission examining Holocaust assets in the United States reported last month that the U.S. government made mistakes that hurt restitution efforts. As a result, some Holocaust victims or their heirs never received their assets, the commission said.
The commission recommended that a foundation be formed to identify assets taken from victims of the Holocaust that came into the possession of the U.S. government.
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