The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/auschwitz/Hollerith-machines-located

Source: FORWARD, October 11, 2002

At Death's Door: Archivist Finds IBM Site Near Auschwitz

The infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number. 

In August 1943, a timber merchant from Bendzin, Poland, 
arrived at Auschwitz. He was among a group of 400 
inmates, mostly Jews. First, a doctor examined him 
briefly to determine his fitness for work. His physical 
information was noted on a medical record. Second, his 
full prisoner registration was completed with all 
personal details. Third, his name was checked against 
the indices of the Political Section to see if he would 
be subjected to special punishment. Finally, he was 
registered in the Labor Assignment Office and assigned 
a characteristic five-digit IBM Hollerith number, 44673. 

The five-digit Hollerith number was part of a custom 
punch card system devised by IBM to track prisoners in 
Nazi concentration camps, including the slave labor at 

The Polish timber merchant's punch card number would 
follow him from labor assignment to labor assignment 
as Hollerith systems tracked him and his availability 
for work, and reported it to the central inmate file 
eventually kept at Department DII. Department DII of 
the SS Economics Administration in Oranienburg oversaw 
all camp slave labor assignments, utilizing elaborate 
IBM systems. 

Later in the summer of 1943, the Polish timber 
merchant's same five-digit Hollerith number, 44673, was 
tattooed on his forearm. Eventually, during the summer 
of 1943, all non-Germans at Auschwitz were similarly tattooed. 

Tattoos, however, quickly evolved at Auschwitz. Soon, 
they bore no further relation to Hollerith 
compatibility for one reason: the Hollerith number was 
designed to track a working inmate - not a dead one. 
Once the daily death rate at Auschwitz climbed, 
Hollerith-based numbering simply became outmoded. Soon, 
ad hoc numbering systems were inaugurated at Auschwitz. 
Various number ranges, often with letters attached, were 
assigned to prisoners in ascending sequence. Dr. Josef 
Mengele, who performed cruel experiments, tattooed his 
own distinct number series on "patients." Tattoo 
numbering schemes ultimately took on a chaotic 
incongruity all its own as an internal 
Auschwitz-specific identification system. 

However, Hollerith numbers remained the chief method 
Berlin employed to centrally identify and track 
prisoners at Auschwitz. For example, in late 1943, some 
6,500 healthy, working Jews were ordered to the gas 
chamber by the SS. But their murder was delayed for two 
days as the Political Section meticulously checked each 
of their numbers against the Section's own card index. 
The Section was under orders to temporarily reprieve any 
Jews with traces of Aryan parentage. 

Sigismund Gajda was another Auschwitz inmate processed 
by the Hollerith system. Born in Kielce, Poland, Gajda 
was about 40 years of age when on May 18, 1943, he 
arrived at Auschwitz. A plain paper form, labeled 
"Personal Inmate Card," listed all of Gajda's personal 
information. He professed Roman Catholicism, had two 
children, and his work skill was marked "mechanic." The 
reverse side of his Personal Inmate Card listed nine 
previous work assignments. Once Gajda's card was 
processed by IBM equipment, a large indicia in typical 
Nazi Gothic script was rubber-stamped at the bottom: 
"Hollerith erfasst," or "Hollerith registered." Indeed, 
that designation was stamped in large letters on 
hundreds of thousands of processed Personal Inmate 
Cards at camps all across Europe. 

The Extermination by Labor campaign itself depended upon 
specially designed IBM systems that matched worker 
skills and locations with labor needs across 
Nazi-dominated Europe. Once the prisoner was too 
exhausted to work, he was murdered by gas or bullet. 
Exterminated prisoners were coded "six" in the IBM system. 

The Polish timber merchant's Hollerith tattoo, Sigismund 
Gajda's inmate form, and the victimization of millions 
more at Auschwitz live on as dark icons of IBM's conscious 
12-year business alliance with Nazi Germany. IBM's 
custom-designed prisoner-tracking Hollerith punch card 
equipment allowed the Nazis to efficiently manage the 
hundreds of concentration camps and sub-camps throughout 
Europe, as well as the millions who passed through them. 
Auschwitz' camp code in the IBM tabulation system was 001. 

Nearly every Nazi concentration camp operated a Hollerith 
Department known as the Hollerith Abteilung. The three-part 
Hollerith system of paper forms, punch cards and processing 
machines varied from camp to camp and from year to year, 
depending upon conditions. 

In some camps, such as Dachau and Storkow, as many as two 
dozen IBM sorters, tabulators, and printers were installed. 
Other facilities operated punchers only and submitted their 
cards to central locations such as Mauthausen or Berlin. In 
some camps, such as Stuthoff, the plain paper forms were 
coded and processed elsewhere. Hollerith activity, whether 
paper, punching or processing, was frequently --but not 
always--located within the camp itself, consigned to a 
special bureau called the Labor Assignment Office, known in 
German as the Arbeitseinsatz. The Arbeitseinsatz issued the 
all-important life-sustaining daily work assignments, and 
processed all inmate cards and labor transfer rosters. 

IBM did not sell any of its punch card machines to Nazi 
Germany. The equipment was leased by the month. Each month, 
often more frequently, authorized repairmen, working 
directly for or trained by IBM, serviced the machines 
on-site -- whether in the middle of Berlin or a 
concentration camp. In addition, all spare parts were 
supplied by IBM factories located throughout Europe. Of 
course, the billions of punch cards continually devoured 
by the machines, available exclusively through IBM, were extra. 

IBM's extensive technological support for Hitler's 
conquest of Europe and genocide against the Jews was 
extensively documented in my book, IBM and the Holocaust, 
published in February 2001 and updated in a paperback 
edition. In March of this year, the Village Voice broke 
exclusive new details of a special IBM wartime 
subsidiary set up in Poland by IBM's New York 
headquarters shortly after Hitler's 1939 invasion. In 
1939, America had not entered the war, and it was still 
legal to trade with Nazi Germany. IBM's new Polish 
subsidiary, Watson Business Machines, helped Germany 
automate the rape of Poland. The subsidiary was named 
for its president Thomas J. Watson.

Central to the Nazi effort was a massive 500-man 
Hollerith Gruppe, installed in a looming brown 
building at 24 Murnerstrasse in Krakow. The 
Hollerith Gruppe of the Nazi Statistical Office 
crunched all the numbers of plunder and genocide that 
allowed the Nazis to systematically starve the Jews, 
meter them out of the ghettos and then transport them 
to either work camps or death camps. 

The trains running to Auschwitz were tracked by a 
special guarded IBM customer site facility at 22 Pawia 
in Krakow. The millions of punch cards the Nazis in 
Poland required were obtained exclusively from IBM, 
including one company print shop at 6 Rymarska 
Street across the street from the Warsaw Ghetto. The 
entire Polish subsidiary was overseen by an IBM 
administrative facility at 24 Kreuz in Warsaw.

The exact address and equipment arrays of the key 
IBM offices and customer sites in Nazi-occupied 
Poland have been discovered. But no one has ever 
been able to locate an IBM facility at, or even near, 
Auschwitz. Until now. Auschwitz chief archivist Piotr 
Setkiewicz finally pinpointed the first such IBM 
customer site. 

The newly unearthed IBM customer site was a huge 
Hollerith Büro. It was situated in the I.G. Farben 
factory complex, housed in Barracks 18, next to 
German Civil Worker Camp 7, about two kilometers 
from Auschwitz III, also known as Monowitz 
Concentration Camp. 

Auschwitz' Setkiewicz explains, "The Hollerith 
office at IG Farben in Monowitz used the IBM 
machines as a system of computerization of civil and 
slave labor resources. This gave Farben the 
opportunity to identify people with certain skills, 
primarily skills needed for the construction of 
certain buildings in Monowitz." 

By way of background, what most people call "Auschwitz" 
was actually a sprawling hell comprised of three 
concentration camps, surrounded by some 40 subcamps, 
numerous factories and a collection of farms in a 
surrounding captive commercial zone. The original 
Auschwitz became known simply as Auschwitz I, and 
functioned as a diversified camp for transit, labor 
and detention. Auschwitz II, also called Birkenau, 
became the infamous extermination center, operating 
gas chambers and ovens. Nearby Auschwitz III, known 
as Monowitz, existed primarily as a slave labor camp. 
Monowitz is where IBM's bustling customer site functioned.

Many of the long-known paper prisoner forms stamped 
Hollerith Erfasst, or "registered by Hollerith," 
indicated the prisoners were from Auschwitz III, that 
is, Monowitz. Now Auschwitz archivist Setkiewicz has 
also discovered about 100 Hollerith machine summary 
printouts of Monowitz prisoner assignments and details 
generated by the I.G. Farben customer site. 

For example, Alexander Kuciel, born August 12, 1889, 
was in 1944 deployed as a slave carpenter, skill 
coded 0149, and his Hollerith printout is marked 
"Sch/P," the Reich abbreviation for 
Schutzhäftling/Pole. Schutzhäftling/Pole means 
"Polish political prisoner." 

The giant Farben facilities, also known as "I.G. Werk 
Auschwitz," maintained two Hollerith Büro staff 
contacts, Herr Hirsch and Herr Husch. One key man 
running the card index systems was Eduard Müller. 
Müller was a fat, aging, ill-kempt man, with brown 
hair and brown eyes. Some said, "He stank like a 
polecat." A rabid Nazi, Müller took special 
delight in harming inmates from his all-important 
position in camp administration. 

Comparison of the new printouts to other typical 
camp cards shows the Monowitz systems were 
customized for the specific coding Farben needed 
to process the thousands of slave workers who 
labored and died there. The machines were probably 
also used to manage and develop manufacturing 
processes and ordinary business applications. The 
machines almost certainly did not maintain 
extermination totals, which were calculated as 
"evacuations" by the Hollerith Gruppe in Krakow. 
At press time, the diverse Farben codes and range 
of machine uses are still being studied. 

It is not known how many additional IBM customer 
sites researchers will discover in the cold ashes 
of the expansive commercial Auschwitz zone.

A Hollerith Büro, such as the one at Auschwitz III, 
was larger than a typical mechanized concentration camp 
Hollerith Department. A Büro was generally comprised 
of more than a dozen punching machines, a sorter and one 
tabulator. Leon Krzemieniecki was a compulsory worker 
who operated a tabulator at the IBM customer site at 
the Polish railways office in Krakow that kept track of 
trains going to and from Auschwitz. He recalls, "I know 
that trains were constantly going from Krakow to 
Auschwitz--not only passenger trains, but cargo trains 
as well." Krzemieniecki, who worked for two years with 
IBM punchers, card sorters and tabulators, estimates 
that a punch card operation for so large a manufacturing 
complex as Farben "would probably require at least two 
high-speed tabulators, four sorters, and perhaps 20 
punchers." He added, "The whole thing would probably 
require 30-40 persons, plus their German supervisors." 

The new revelation of IBM technology in the Auschwitz 
area constitutes the final link in the chain of 
documentation surrounding Big Blue's vast enterprise in 
Nazi-occupied Poland, supervised at first directly from 
its New York headquarters, and later through its Geneva 
office. Jewish leaders and human rights activists were 
again outraged. "This latest disclosure removes any 
pretext of deniability and completes the puzzle that 
has been put together about IBM in Poland," declared 
Malcolm Hoenlein, vice president of the New York-based 
Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. 
"The picture that emerges is most disturbing," added 
Hoenlein. "IBM must confront this matter honestly if 
there is to be any closure." 

Marek Orski, state historian of the museum at Poland's 
Stuthoff Concentration Camp, has distinguished himself 
as that country's leading expert on the use of IBM 
technology at Polish concentration camps. "This latest 
information," asserts Orski, "proves once more that 
IBM's Hollerith machines in occupied Poland were 
functioning in the area of yet another concentration 
camp, in this case Auschwitz-Monowitz -- something 
completely unknown until now. It is yet another 
significant revelation in what has become the undoubted 
fact of IBM's involvement in Poland. Now we need to 
compile more documents identifying the exact activity 
of this Hollerith Büro in Auschwitz Monowitz." 

Krzemieniecki is convinced obtaining such documents 
would be difficult. "It would be great to have access 
to those documents," he said, "but where are they?" He 
added, "Please remember, I witnessed in 1944, when the 
war front came closer to Poland, that all the IBM 
machines in Krakow were removed. I'm sure the Farben 
machines were being moved at the same time. Plus, the 
Germans were busy destroying all the records. Even 
still," he continues, "what has been revealed thus far 
is a great achievement." 

Auschwitz historians were originally convinced that there 
were no machines at Auschwitz, that all the prisoner 
documents were processed at a remote location, primarily 
because they could find no trace of the equipment in 
the area. They even speculated that the stamped forms 
from Auschwitz III were actually punched at the massive 
Hollerith service at Mauthausen concentration camp. 
Indeed, even the Farben Hollerith documents had been 
identified some time ago at Auschwitz, but were not 
understood as IBM printouts. That is, not until the 
Hollerith Büro itself was discovered. Archivists only 
found the Büro because it was listed in the 
I.G. Werk Auschwitz phone book on page 50. The phone 
extension was 4496. "I was looking for something else," 
recalls Auschwitz' Setkiewicz, "and there it was." 
Once the printouts were reexamined in the light of 
IBM punch card revelations, the connection became clear.

Setkiewicz says, "We still need to find more similar 
identification cards and printouts, and try to find 
just how extensive was the usage in the whole I.G. 
Farben administration and employment of workers. But 
no one among historians has had success in finding 
these documents." 

In the current climate of intense public scrutiny of 
corporate subsidiaries, IBM's evasive response has 
aroused a renewed demand for accountability. "In the 
day of Enron and Tyco," says Robert Urekew, a 
University of Louisville professor of business ethics, 
"we now know these are not impersonal entities. They 
are directed by people with names and faces." 
Prof. Urekew, who has studied IBM's Hitler-era 
activities, continued, "The news that IBM machines 
were at Auschwitz is just the latest smoking gun. 
For IBM to continue to stonewall and hinder access 
to its New York archives flies in the face of the 
focus on accountability in business ethics today. 
Since the United States was not technically at war 
with Nazi Germany in 1939, it may have been legal for 
IBM to do business with the Third Reich and its camps 
in Poland. But was it moral?" 

Even some IBM employees are frustrated by IBM's silence. 
Michael Zamczyk, for example, is a long-time IBM 
employee in San Jose, California, working on business 
controls. A loyal IBMer, Zamczyk has worked for the 
company for some 28 years. He is also probably the only 
IBM employee who survived the Krakow ghetto in 1941 and 
1942. Since revelations about IBM's ties to Hitler 
exploded into public view in February 2001, Zamczyk has 
been demanding answers--and an apology--from IBM 
senior management. 

"Originally," says Zamczyk, "I was just trying to 
determine if it was IBM equipment that helped select my 
father to be shipped to Auschwitz, and if the machines 
were used to schedule the trains to Auschwitz." 

Zamczyk started writing letters and emails, but to no 
avail. He could not get any concrete response about IBM's 
activities during the Hitler era. "I contacted senior
 management, all the way up to the president, trying to 
get an answer,"states Zamczyk. "Since then, I have read 
the facts about IBM in Poland, about the railroad 
department at 22 Pawia Street in Krakow, and I read 
about the eyewitnesses. Now I feel that IBM owes me, as 
an IBM employee, an apology. And that is all I am looking for." 

Zamczyk was met by stony silence from IBM executives. 
"The only response I got," he relates, "was basically 
telling me there would be no public or private apology. 
But I am still waiting for that apology and debating 
what to do next." 

Repeated attempts to obtain IBM reaction to the newest 
disclosure were rebuffed by IBM spokesman Carol Makovich. 
I phoned her more than a dozen times, but she did not 
respond, or grant me permission to examine Polish, 
Brazilian and French subsidiary documents at the company's 
Somers, New York archives. Nor has the company been 
forthcoming to numerous Jewish leaders, consumers and 
members of the media who have demanded answers. 

At one point, Makovich quipped to a Reuters correspondent, 
"We are a technology company, we are not historians." 

* * *

Edwin Black is author of IBM and the Holocaust, The 
Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most 
Powerful Corporation (Crown Publishers 2001 and Three 
Rivers Press 2002). This article is drawn from his just 
released and updated German paperback edition. Information 
relating to the new Auschwitz discovery will be appended 
to his English language editions at the next reprinting 
in the new future.

Copyright 2002 Edwin Black
All Rights Reserved

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