10 Great Moments in Corporate Malfeasance

IBM's Tech Support for the Holocaust
An IBM Hollerith punch card used to catalog a Russian slave laborer captured by the Nazis during WWII is photographed outside of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
An IBM Hollerith punch card used to catalog a Russian slave laborer captured by the Nazis during WWII is photographed outside of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
AP Images/Jens Meyer

While most American companies withdrew trade with Germany during World War II, a few, Coca-Cola, Ford and IBM among them, chose to ignore trade restrictions imposed by the federal government and continued doing business with the Third Reich.

Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, has long been known to have allowed his company to sell early punch card computers to Nazi Germany. Indeed, in 1937, Watson received the highest honor the country could bestow upon non-Germans, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle [source: Maney]. The company's German subsidiary, Dehomag, leased the IBM Hollerith punch card machines to the ruling Nazi party before and during the war.

In the months leading to World War II, citizens were cataloged using these cards; eventually, these catalogs were used to identify individuals based on their race, religion and sexual preference. These selections became the basis for the annihilation of millions of people during the Holocaust. Eventually, IBM computers came to be used in death camps like Auschwitz to systematically track the arrival, detention and death of Jews, Roma and other groups.

IBM admits that the company's computers were used to carry out the logistics of the Holocaust, but denies awareness of this use at the time [source: Festa].

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