Dehomag's Willy Heidinger Touts IBM Machines Later Used to Manage the Holocaust

Dehomag's Willy Heidinger Touts IBM Machines Later Used to Manage the Holocaust

Map of the Holocaust in Europe under Nazi Germany
Source: Wikipedia

Willy Heidinger, manager of the IBM subsidiary Dehomag, gives a tour of his facilities to Nazi Party leaders. During a speech he argues that the state is like a human body which can get sick and that Germany is being treated by Adolf Hitler, the nation's physician.

According to Heidinger:

"The physician examines the human body and determines whether ...all organs are working to the benefit of the entire organism. We [Dehomag] are very much like the physician, in that we dissect, cell by cell, the German cultural body. We report every individual characteristic ...on a little card. These are not dead cards, quite the contrary, they prove later on that they come to life when the card are sorted at a rate of 25,000 per hour according to certain characteristics.

These characteristics are grouped like the organs of our cultural body and they will be calculated and determined with the help of our tabulating machine. ... We are proud that we may assist in such a task, a task that provides our nation's Physician [Adolf Hitler] with the material he needs for his examination. Our Physician can then determine whether the calculated values are in harmony with the health of the people. It also means that if such is not the case, our Physician can take corrective procedures to correct the sick circumstances. ... Our characteristics are deeply rooted in race.

Therefore, we must cherish them like a holy shrine which we will - and must - keep pure. We have the deepest trust in our Physician and will follow his instructions in blind faith, because we know that he will lead our people to a great future. Hail to our German people and der Führer!"

The importance of IBM's German subsidiary Dehomag and the IBM machines in the Nazi persecution of Jews, as well as their later extermination efforts, probably cannot be overestimated. IBM's Hollerith machines and their punch cards make it possible for the Nazis to determine who was and was not Jewish, to trace people's racial lineage, to calculate how much they owned, to track their movements, and much more.

By mid-1944, the Nazis have Hollerith Departments (Hollerith Abteilung) "installed at the main concentration camps at Mauthausen, Ravensbrück, Flossenbürg and Buchenwald." The SS Hollerith cards include codes for the grounds for confinement (Jehovah's Witness = 01, homosexuals = 02, Jews = 05), birth date, gender, ethnicity (Reich German = 0, Ethnic German = 1, Foreigner = 2), labor capacity, occupation, and reason for departure (i.e. execution = 3, escape = 4, special treatment = 6). This information is sorted and tabulated to make the administration of the massive camp system possible. Dachau alone will be using 24 IBM machines by the end of the war.

These machines are, in many ways, both the origin of the "surveillance society" and an example of everyone's fears about what happens when powerful authoritarians have too much access to too much information about us.

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