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Mainstream, VOL LV No 33 New Delhi August 5, 2017

Nazism and Corporate Power

Saturday 5 August 2017

by Arup Kumar Sen

Very recently, I chanced upon a book, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation, written by Edwin Black (Crown Books, New York, 2001). The book “tells the story of IBM’s conscious involvement...in the Holocaust, as well as its involvement in the Nazi war machine that murdered millions of others throughout Europe”. The book was born out of a moral quest. The author’s parents were Holocaust survivors, uprooted from their homes in Poland. One of the relevant questions that propelled the author’s journey is: The Nazis had my parents’ names. How?

The author reminds us that when Hitler came to power in Germany, “a central Nazi goal was to identify and destroy Germany’s 600,000-member Jewish community”. There was no existence of computer in 1933. But, how did the Nazis fulfil their goal of identifying and executing the Jews? To put it in the words of Edwin Black,

However, another invention did exist: the IBM punch card and card sorting system- a precursor to the computer. IBM, primarily through its German subsidiary, made Hitler’s program of Jewish destruction a technologic mission the company pursued with chilling success. IBM Germany, using its own staff and equipment, designed, executed, and supplied the indispensable technologic assistance Hitler’s Third Reich needed to accomplish...the automation of human destruction.

In his introduction to the book, the author shared with the readers his valuable self-realisation: “Many of us have become enraptured by the Age of Computerisation and the Age of Information. I know I have. But now I am consumed with a new awareness that, for me, as the son of Holocaust survivors, brings me to a whole new consciousness. I call it the Age of Realisation, as we look back and examine technology’s wake. Unless we understand how the Nazis acquired the names, more lists will be compiled against more people.”

The above story warns us about the impending dangers of corporate power and technology fetishism in the 21st century.

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