IBM and the Nazi regime

History Essay

Introduction

Science and business have held a close relationship since time immemorial. The turn of events took place during the cold war when science and technology was used by the Nazi regime in carrying out their atrocities. There have been speculations of how Nazi regime took over power and swiftly carried out their activities in a manner that could be impossible to deny involvement of technology. Science is meant to make life easy for people but in cases where science does the opposite, it brings up various issues concerning the good and bad sides of science. The paper will look at several effects

IBM and the Nazi regime

During Hitler’s regime, many atrocities were committed and among them was killing of about 60 million Jews and almost the same number of Europeans. Most of these killings at that time would have been tedious and impossible, but with the technology he had, he easily carried out these crimes. International Business Machines (IBM), ranked among the world’s largest companies, played an important role during Hitler’s regime. IBM had started out as a census taking the company by use of punch cards, a service that was unrivalled at that time. It would take nations relatively a long time and a huge amount of money in taking the census as it was done manually. IBM founder Herman Hollerith had invented an automated machine that was to be used in recording the population and doing analysis. The technology was soon on demand from every nation including Germans to ease their census process (Black, 2001).

The new technology could take various information about their population including race, number of children, their sexuality, education level and many more, which would be stored for the census process. In the years to follow, when the Nazi were hunting for the Jews, the records that had been taken by IBM during the census process were the ones that were being used. The efficiency at which the Nazi got the Jews’ names always left many wondering. Every now and then the Nazi officials would pin names of all the Jews and indicate that they were needed at the station the following day to be transported to their camps. The Nazi always targeted anyone with the Jewish blood regardless of the fact whether one had assimilated or not, they were all sent to camps (Warburg, 1939).

IBM had openly showed its friendly relationship with the Nazis, and yet it was based in the United States of America. A policy that was passed forced IBM to toughen its relationship with Germany and opened up a subsidiary in Berlin that would overlook German operations. The head office was in New York and it monitored all the activities that took place in their branches including the Berlin subsidiary, which was named as Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft (DEHOMAG). The new branch was expected to monitor all the activities and report them back to New York branch (Black, 2001).

For its successful operations, IBM had hired a ruthless businessman Thomas Watson, who conducted business with nothing else but with the purpose of making money. It was due to Thomas Watson that the Nazi were able to get their hands fully on the IBM technologies for which they handsomely paid for as they needed the technology. IBM’s technology could be identified throughout the six phases the Nazi employed on Jews, which included identification, Jews expulsion from society, confiscation of their properties, ghettoization of all Jews, deportation, and even extermination through various automated methods. The IBM technology was integrated with the transportation system that the Nazi largely used in transporting the Jews to their concentration camps. The ghettoization process, where all the Jews were marginalized into a crowded area with no social amenities, had been greatly influenced by the IBM technology in identification of the Jews. Jewish property confiscation was among the many processes that IBM had gladly given out their technology and even helped the Nazis in carrying out their actions (Warburg, 1939).

Through its technology, IBM had reduced people merely to numbers by the use of the punch cards. They released concentration camp codes that were used in identifying different people in the concentration camps. The cards were also used to track the prisoners. IBM developed specific numerical designation for the several camps that existed. Auschwitz was assigned 001, Buchenwald 002, Dachau 003 and so on. Different prisoner types were assigned numbers with 3 identifying homosexuals, 12 for gypsies, 9 for anti-social prisoners, 8 indicated a Jew. The deaths of inmates were also assigned in the punch, and code 6 identified “special treatment” that was in gas chambers. IBM engineers worked tirelessly on the machines to ensure that they were working properly and efficiently.

Social Darwinism

The theory of Social Darwinism is well illustrated in the relationship between IBM and the Nazis. The theory states, “survival for the fittest,” and, therefore, it does not matter what kind of methods one uses as long as they survive. The theory has received a number of criticisms as people feel that it is not good to be compared to the animal kingdom from which the theory was derived from. The theory states that those with the best features, skills, experience and other desirable qualities have higher chances of surviving than their counterparts with undesirable qualities. Only the best wins no matter the situation presented with (Robert, 1970).

IBM entered the market as a monopoly, and controlled most of the business activities that it conducted. The census machine was on demand, and the supply was low, which created a gap that IBM used to benefit itself. A few years later, suddenly IBM is faced with competitors who wanted to oust it out of its leading position both locally and internationally. Back in New York, Simeon North the new Director of the Census Bureau discovered anomalies with the payment to IBM and had threatened to cancel the contracts they had with the government. Few years later, North developed another machine that was adopted by the government in conducting the census hence dropping the IBM technology. With the home market gone, IBM had to ensure that they had to take critical measures in order to survive in the market. IBM was forced in making a deal with the Nazi government that had also threatened to replace their machines with their own productions. In the deal made, the Nazi government had an upper hand in the dealings of IBM and, therefore, easily manipulated its production. The fact that is to be considered is that IBM ensured this dangerous deal stayed relevant in the market (Black, 2001).

Hitler also used the theory of social Darwinism as he promised Germans that he would create a superior race with the best qualities only. Hitler believed that to achieve his superior race, he had to do away with the Jews. At this point, the theory merges as both Hitler and IBM conduct their actions based on the “survival for the fittest” theory. Because of its desire to stay in business, IBM went ahead and helped Hitler in committing the worst crimes that have ever been recorded in history. The theory is practically applied by Watson while at the National Cash Register Company (NCR) offices as a deputy manager. In the company, Watson employed devious methods of dealing away with his competitors by literally running them out of their businesses. Many shops that could not withstand the pressure had to close up and soon NCR was the only surviving company that was selling cash registers. Watson and his group later faced charges for their indecent method of carrying out business and promoting monopoly. Watson maintained that he did not regret what he did, and he was proud of his actions (Black, 2001).

It is to be noted that Darwin did not come up with the social Darwinism; he had created a concept that was to be related later to humans and hence used in the social description. Darwin’s theory had been centered majorly on the animal kingdom with humans excluded. The idea of social Darwinism was promoted by Herbert Spencer a 19th century philosopher (James, 1972).

Conclusion

In the case discussed above, effects are seen when science and business meets. Both these disciplines are meant to better the life of a person, and if used appropriately they do have a positive tremendous effect on people’s lives. It is rather sad as the same cannot be said when the disciplines are used for personal gains. Disasters and deaths are some of the results when business and science are negatively used. In this case study, it is evident of the several losses that were made due to both technology and business applied in the wrong direction. Therefore, in ensuring that the same does not happen again, several regulations and policies were placed that govern both the science and business disciplines. They monitor all the activities carried out, and those who are caught and guilty of committing these crimes are persecuted. It is undeniable that IBM technology played a significant role in helping the Nazi regime commit the numerous crimes.

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