February 22, 2007
Millions of Shoah records will finally be revealed
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Sources with direct access to ITS files confirm that Hollerith punch cards or other Hollerith designations have been seen in many sections of the archive covering both wartime and postwar years. For example, postwar section 220.127.116.11 bears the notation "Hollerith cards of children."
Among the millions of pages in Section 2 are many insurance records, covering sickness or health coverage of inmates, especially from local health insurance companies. Many of these so-called local health companies were, of course, part of larger, multinational insurance conglomerates. The local entities operated under disparate names that would not reveal their true ownership. Previously unknown but shown by the documents, wages of some laborers were handed over to local health insurance offices. Slave laborers in camps were, of course, paid no wages. But "forced laborers" taken to occupied lands were often paid a small stipend reduced by a traditional "withholding" to these local health insurance offices. This record section also features an abundant group of documents from a number of state-owned insurance firms, especially Austrian, Ukrainian and Belgian firms.
Section 2 will be one of the most explosive sections in Bad Arolsen's cavernous collection because it will not only reveal the extent to which commercial entities -- such as manufacturers -- profited from the camps, but also the extensive, heretofore unexplored, entrenched involvement of insurance companies. This involvement, once revealed, would catapult claims against the insurance firms far beyond what is now being discussed by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, whose research has methodically by-passed the most important and incriminating repositories.
The largest collection at Bad Arolsen is Section 3, titled "Post War Records," which features about 24.75 million pages, or 71 percent of the holdings. This section includes precious postwar interviews conducted at Displaced Persons camps by British, French and American forces. Included are so-called "C&M" records, that is "Care and Maintenance" of survivors. Here, names are named by the victims in the aftermath of their liberation, when memories were fresh. This would undoubtedly include testimony and recollections of asset seizures, economic disenfranchisement, aryanization, property loss, bank savings and insurance claims. It would also provide embarrassing insights into named collaborators.
Section 4, titled "Child Tracing Bureau," contains 9,900 pages dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of orphaned and separated youngsters that emerged from the smoke of the Nazi era.
However, despite the publicity stoked by the USHMM and the hoopla over a recent "60 Minutes" visit, the full transfer of these documents is years away. As of July 2006, more than 57 percent of 33.6 million pages had been digitized. But progress has slowed since the initial media reports. By mid-January 2007, only 63 percent of the collection had been readied for transfer. Section 1 records on camps and ghettos are scheduled to be complete by March 2007. Section 2, involving forced laborers, corporations, and insurance companies, is not expected to be complete until the end of 2007. The postwar documents in Section 3 may take three more years. A Bad Arolsen source says the archive is eager to complete its work but lacks funding from the German government, which, by intergovernmental agreement, pays for the Bad Arolsen operation. With the needed funding, ITS sources believe the job could be completed by the end of 2008. Without that funding, it might take an extra year or two, relying upon limited technical resources.
Because the ITS had previously focused only on individual victims, it never assembled the larger picture of which companies or entities were involved in Hitler's industrial-scale oppression. With digitizing, that is now possible. Assembling the big picture will be a problem for a host of major and even minor corporations, a gamut of insurance entities, and of course IBM, which automated and organized much of the process. Indeed, the slow pace is good news for them.
For IBM, progress at the ITS is both a blessing and curse. When the documents are completely digitized, the historical information shall emerge more clearly; but without the originals, IBM's revealing printed processing data forms and ever-present Hollerith stamps will be less obvious. That said, as the larger picture comes into focus, including labor and insurance information, the extent of IBM's involvement will become more detailed.
Ironically, IBM was instrumental in establishing the ITS archive. Because IBM designed and executed the Nazi's people-tracking systems used throughout Europe, the company was uniquely positioned to provide the tracing information on millions of victims. The company donated sets of Hollerith tabulators to the Red Cross and, as early as 1947, developed special punch cards to trace victims. The first German punch card was used by the Bavarian Red Cross in 1947 and then modified and extended by the evolving postwar entities that became the ITS.
Without the power of IBM technology, the terrible details of Nazi crimes embedded within the ITS archives could not been preserved, and could not have been revealed with such stunning depth.
Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling author of the award-winning "IBM and the Holocaust." His latest bestseller is "Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives." He can be reached at www.edwinblack.com.
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