Hermann Hollerith
Born in Germany 1860
Moved to US 1875
Degree in Engineering with perfect
grades 1879
Assistant in US Census Bureau 1879
1880 Census predicted to take 10
years to count
Hollerith designed a punch card
system to automate the census
First prototype 1884
Won a contest for 1890 census.
Hollerith machines saved a third of
Census Bureau’s budget in 1890
1870 – 5 questions asked on census
1890 – 235 questions asked
Census Bureau only needed machines
once every 10 years. What to do in
From Hollerith to IBM
• 1910 Hollerith licensed patents to Deutsche Hollerith
Maschinen Gesellschaft (Dehomag) — the German Hollerith
Machine Corporation
Machines never sold, only leased
Monopoly on cards and paper necessary for cards
Thomas J Watson joins as CEO in 1922
1924 company renamed as International Business Machines
• Is history of computing relevant to us?
• What can we learn from history?
– Edmund Burke - "Those who don't know history
are doomed to repeat it.“
• Which ethical issues might have faced IBM in
• Any problems with what IBM has done?
• Dehomag pay royalties to IBM
• 1923 hyperinflation
• Dehomag unable to pay
Watson buys 90%
• Watson a micro-manager. Set
sales quotas for Dehomag and
benefited from improvements
made to machines by German
Using the Machines
• Each system unique, designed by engineers
• Each card custom-designed
– Specific column and corresponding hole for each piece of information.
– Dummy cards in pen & pencil to ensure categories and placement
acceptable to Dehomag and reporting agency.
– Information could only be input if it met Dehomag specifications.
– Customers tailored data collection to match Hollerith requirements.
– Dehomag only source to purchase the cards
– Generally sold in lots of 10,000, often pre-printed with project names.
• Employees needed to be trained to use cards
• Dehomag (and IBM) knew everything recorded by cards
– Sound familiar?
Hitler takes power in Germany
20-3-33 - first concentration camp Dachau
27-3-33 - 20,000 protest in Madison Sq Gdns
1-4-33 - 60,000 Jews imprisoned, 10,000 fled
12-4-33 - Census of all Germans announced
• Heidinger, head of Dehomag, a keen Nazi
• Dehomag takes the contract
• Not just census
• Dehomag’s German clients included:
– Aircraft engines: 10
– Coal mining: 7
– Chemical plants: 18
– Electrical products: 10
– Iron and steel: 19
– Railways, post, air force and navy
– Massive part of future German war effort
• Law for Simplification of the Health System
– Coordination of medical records
• The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Sick
– Enforced sterilization of undesirables
– Included low IQ, epileptic, bi-polar
• Law for the Protection of German Blood and Reich
Citizenship Law
– Deprive all Jews of German citizenship
• NY Times front page:
– “National Socialist Germany ... decreed a series of laws
that put Jews beyond the legal and social pale of the
German nation.”
• Jews continue to flee Germany
– 125,000 refugees, many to US
• 16 September 1936:
– NY Times: Nazi announces “that in the last
analysis, extermination is the only real solution to
the Jewish problem. Mr. Streicher made it clear in
his address that he was not discussing the
question in regard to Germany alone … but of a
world problem.”
• 1937: new census scheduled for 1938
Thomas Watson
• More than a business partner of Nazis
• Holleriths enabled rearmament on massive
• Refused to join boycotts, advocating free trade
• Reich responded with highest honour for a
non-German: Merit Cross of the German Eagle
with Star
• 1938 Census delayed
• 13-3-38 - Germany marched into Austria
• Nazis knew exactly where to find the Jews
– How?
Adolf Eichmann
1938 Eichmann sent to Austria to organize
Jewish emigration
Found Holleriths in place and used these.
“For weeks in advance … every able-bodied man
they could find was put to work in three shifts:
writing file cards for an enormous circular card
file, several yards in diameter, which a man
sitting on a piano stool could operate and find
any card he wanted thanks to a system of punch
holes. All information important for Austria was
entered on these cards. The data was taken
from annual reports, handbooks, the
newspapers of all the political parties,
membership files; in short, everything
imaginable. . . . Each card carried name, address,
party membership, whether Jew, Freemason or
practicing Catholic or Protestant; whether
politically active, whether this or whether that.
During that period our regular work was put on
ice.“ Eichmann
• Census delayed a year to cope with data from Austria
• 6-7-38: Dehomag to IBM NY: “IBM [retains] unlimited power
to dispose of such new products, and in view of its [IBM’s]
position within Dehomag, is absolutely in a position, even
without our express declaration of assent, on its part to
formulate the conditions for the inclusion of Dehomag in such
new business. ”
• 30 September: Sudetenland, then Czechoslovakia
• 17 May: New census of 80m people in Reich
– NY Times: census would “provide detailed information on the ancestry,
religious faith and material possessions of all residents. Special blanks
will be provided on which each person must state whether he is of
pure ‘Aryan’ blood. The status of each of his grandparents must be
given and substantiated by evidence in case of inquiry.”
• 1 September: Germany invades Poland
• Dehomag worked overtime: 450,000 cards a day to 1m cards a
day to meet deadline: 10 November 1939
• Nazis found expansion had increased Jewish population in
Reich by c.100,000
– Needed a “better” solution than expulsion
• IBM providing equipment through Dehomag
to Nazis for census – is this a problem?
– IBM’s business what Nazis asked on census?
– Or is the customer always right?
• Any problems with what IBM has done?
Reinhard Heydrich
• Needed to relocate Jews in
ghettos near railways
• Relocation needed Holleriths:
food needed, labour provided,
annual deaths predicted
• Watson approved transfer of
latest Holleriths from Austria to
Dehomag. Worked 20 times
faster than predecessors.
• Ordered census in ghettos
1940 Schotte’s Memo to IBM
IBM’s general manager for Europe (based in NY)
“Up to about one and a half years ago [about the time of Kristallnacht in 1938], our
negotiations with the war ministries of the twenty-four countries which are under the
jurisdiction of IBM European headquarters in Geneva, had not been very successful. This was
due to several reasons, but mainly to the fact that in military circles administration was
considered a ‘necessary evil’ of little importance for the defense of the country.”
Late ‘38, “in Germany a campaign started for, what has been termed . . . ‘organization of the
second front.’ … In military literature and in newspapers, the importance and necessity of
having in all phases of life, behind the front, an organization which would remain intact and
would function with ‘Blitzkrieg’ efficiency … was brought out. What we had been preaching in
vain for years all at once began to be realized.”
“Lectures on the punched card system were held by our representatives before officials of
the general staff of various countries ... with our men. The study of possible applications was
begun … progress was rather slow, and it was not until about eight or nine months ago
[summer 1939] when conditions in Europe clearly indicated that a war was more or less
unavoidable, that the matter became acute.”
“The War Ministries of Yugoslavia, Rumania, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Holland and France
(these are the ones that I remember very distinctly from memory) sent us orders for punched
card equipment, some of which is already installed, others being installed when the war
started, and further equipment not yet installed or still in transport.”
Schotte on IBM and Nazi Military
All Luftwaffe missions recorded.
War injuries analyzed by Holleriths
Decrypting of UK dispatches carried out by Holleriths
Every combat order, bullet, and troop movement was
tracked on a Hollerith
• 1940, IBM NY - exact location of every machine in
the Greater Reich on an updated basis.
• Nazis too reliant on IBM? IBM would know of innermost Nazi
• Needed millions of cards each week. Cards printed on special
paper owned by IBM
• Expected card use of 1.5bn/year by 1943, but took 6 months
to build a press in a good year. Clients had just 30-day stock
of cards. IBM owned the cards.
• Precision maintenance needed on machines. New factories to
make parts would take 6-12 months. IBM controlled the
• IBM monopoly could be replaced, but it would take years.
Nazis relied on Holleriths, so no choice.
• Military and Jewish transport
• IBM systems ran nearly all railways of Nazi-dominated Europe
• Holleriths had exact location of every freight car, its capacity
and most efficient schedule
• Freight car locations updated every 48 hours. Without
Holleriths these locations would generally be more than two
weeks out of date and useless in war.
• In 1938 more than 200 million punch cards were printed for
European railroads. In Nazi Poland, the railroads (95% IBM
Poland’s business) used more than 21 million cards annually.
General Ruling 11 (1941)
US knew war imminent
GR 11 prevented trade with Nazi Germany
Would not affect neutral countries
IBM’s response:
Cabled all subsidiaries involved with Axis nations.
Did not order them to stop producing cards for Nazi Germany.
Did not order them to cease all operations.
Did not set limits on which projects they could participate in.
Did not require offices in neutral companies to stop supporting Hitler’s
– Did not demand that spare parts no longer be sent to machines in
concentration camps.
– Cable merely directed managers not to “call on us for any advice or
assistance until further notice.” Black, 289
• Is this a computing problem or a business
– Can you separate the two?
• Any problems with what IBM has done?
– What has changed your mind?
• Nearly every concentration camp had a
• Dachau had at least 24 IBM sorters, tabulators
and printers
• The major camps were assigned Hollerith code
numbers for their paperwork: Auschwitz …
001; Buchenwald . . . 002; Dachau … 003
In August 1943, a timber merchant from Poland, arrived at Auschwitz, one of 400
(mostly Jewish) inmates.
– First, a Polish doctor examined him to determine his fitness for work. His
physical information was noted on a medical record for the “camp hospital
– 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 cruelty.
– Finally, he was registered on Hollerith equipment in the labor index of the
Arbeitseinsatz and assigned a characteristic five-digit Hollerith number, 44673.
Later in the summer of 1943, the 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.
Political Prisoner
Bible Researcher
Dishonorable Military Discharge
Communist Spaniard
Foreign Civilian Worker
Habitual Criminal
Major Felons
Prisoner of War
Covert Prisoner
Hard Labor Detainee
Diplomatic Consul
Death by natural causes
Special Treatment
Allied Response
• 17 Dec 1942, Allies declare there would be “war
crime” trials and punishment for all involved with
• The Allies’ declaration of war crimes for genocide
broadcast and published as top news item in more
than 23 languages across the world.
“Never once was a word of restraint uttered by
Watson about Dehomag’s indispensable
activities in support of Jewish persecution. No
brakes. No cautions. Indeed, to protest
Germany’s crusade against Jewish existence
would be nothing less than criticizing the
company’s number two customer. Despite the
innumerable opportunities to disengage or
decline to escalate in the war against the
Jews, IBM never backed away.” Black, 115
• I won’t ever run somewhere like IBM. What
difference can one person make anyway?
Netherlands – Jacobus Lentz
• Holland surrendered 15 May ’40
• Nazis needed statistician to deal
with Jews
• Inspector of Population Registries
Lentz their man
• Not a Nazi, but on a crusade to
catalogue people
• 1936: “Theoretically the
collection of data for each person
can be so abundant and
complete, that we can finally
speak of information representing
the natural human. ”
3-7-40: ID’d 20,000 Jewish refugees in Amsterdam
17-8-40: Introduced tamper-proof ID cards
10-1-41: All Jews to register
Lentz reassured Nazis that, thanks to Hollerith
technology, he could cope with Jewish census.
• 14-6-41: Lentz offered first draft survey to Nazis
• 16-6-41: Lentz almost complete. Did Nazis want him
to concentrate on particular groups (e.g. artists or
• 5-9-41: 159,806 Jews identified
France – Rene Carmille
• France had not asked about
religion in a census since
• September ’40, census
• Decentralised architecture
led to a mess. No use of
technology, but typewriters
• Carmille offered his services
• Had kept Holleriths from
before war
• 14-11-40 started
Demographic Service
• March ’41 informed Central Office of Jewish Affairs in
France that their statistics were wrong
• Readying for July ’41 census of all French citizens.
Q11 asked for Jews to identify themselves by religion
and grandparents.
• Existing French systems couldn’t cope with census.
Gave information to Carmille on 11-10-41, who
formed the National Statistical Service.
• 2-12-41: Census of 140,000 persons handed to
• Carmille charged 400,000 francs for services
• 4-5-42: Carmille complains 30,000 records
• July ’42: Eichmann commands deportation of
Jews, but information insufficient
• Nazis reliant on Carmille. No duplicates of
• 8-11-42: Allies land in Algeria, supported by
French Resistance.
• 5-12-42: French forces seize NSS office in
Algiers. Use Holleriths to mobilize thousands
of French fighters by 17-1-43.
• Late January ’43: Nazis discover Carmille
working for French Resistance
Worked in counter-intelligence since 1911
Developed mobilization database of 800,000 soldiers
Holes never punched for census Question 11
100,000 cards of Jews unprocessed in his office
Carmille’s use of Holleriths still important to Nazis
Finally arrested on 3-2-44
Died in Dachau on 25-1-45
Lentz vs. Carmille
• Holland
• 11-6-42: Germany wanted
15,000 Jews
• 22-6-42: quota raised to
• So efficient that too many
Jews arrived at transports to
concentration camps
• Of 140,000 Jews, 107,000
deported, 102,000
murdered (73%)
• France
• 11-6-42: Germany wanted
100,000 Jews
• 22-6-42: quota lowered to
• Of 300,000-350,000 Jews,
85,000 deported, 82,000
murdered (25%)
How much difference can one person make?
• What can we learn from this?
• What responsibility did proto-computer
scientists have to the Holocaust?
• Is the computer scientist morally neutral?
IBM Refuses to Comment
• Brad Pitt film reference?

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