Thursday, October 10, 2002

[...] Thanks to the new discoveries, researchers can now trace how Hollerith numbers assigned to inmates evolved into the horrific tattooed numbers so symbolic of the Nazi era. (Herman Hollerith was the German American who first automated U.S. census information in the late 19th century and founded the company that became IBM. Hollerith's name became synonymous with the machines and the Nazi "departments" that operated them.) In one case, records show, a timber merchant from Bendzin, Poland, arrived at Auschwitz in August 1943 and was assigned a characteristic five-digit IBM Hollerith number, 44673. The number was part of a custom punch-card system devised by IBM to track prisoners in all Nazi concentration camps, including the slave labor at Auschwitz. Later in the summer of 1943, the Polish 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. [...] Central to the Nazi effort was a massive 500-man Hollerith Gruppe, installed in a looming brown building at 24 Murnerstrasse in Krakow, Poland. The Hollerith Gruppe of the Nazi Statistical Office crunched all the numbers of plunder and genocide that allowed the Nazis to systematically starve the Jews, meter them out of the ghettos, and then transport them to either work camps or death camps. The trains running to Auschwitz were tracked by a specially guarded IBM customer site facility at 22 Pawia in Krakow. The millions of punch cards the Nazis in Poland required were obtained exclusively from IBM, including from one company print shop at 6 Rymarska Street across the street from the Warsaw Ghetto. The entire Polish subsidiary was overseen by an IBM administrative facility at 24 Kreuz in Warsaw.

The exact addresses and equipment arrays of the key IBM offices and customer sites in Nazi-occupied Poland had already been uncovered. But no one had ever been able to determine whether there was an IBM facility at, or even near, Auschwitz—until now. Auschwitz chief archivist Piotr Setkiewicz finally pinpointed the first such IBM customer site.

[...[ The newly unearthed IBM customer site was a huge Hollerith Büro. It was situated in the I.G. Farben
factory complex, housed in Barracks 18, next to German Civil Worker Camp 7, about two kilometers from Monowitz. Archivists found the Büro only because it was listed in the I.G. Werk Auschwitz phone book on page 50. The phone extension was 4496. "I was looking for something else," recalls Auschwitz's Setkiewicz, "and there it was."

Many of the long-known paper prisoner forms stamped Hollerith Erfasst, or "registered by Hollerith," indicated the prisoners were from Monowitz. Now Auschwitz archivist Setkiewicz has discovered about 100 Hollerith machine summary printouts of Monowitz prisoner assignments and details generated by the I.G. Farben customer site. Comparison of the new printouts to other typical camp cards shows the Monowitz systems were customized for the specific coding Farben needed to process the thousands of slave workers who labored and died there. The machines were probably also used to manage and develop manufacturing processes and ordinary business applications. The machines almost certainly did not maintain extermination totals, which were calculated as "evacuations" by the Hollerith Gruppe in Krakow. "The Hollerith office at IG Farben in Monowitz used the IBM machines as a system of computerization of civil and slave labor resources," said Setkiewicz. "This gave Farben the opportunity to identify people with certain skills, primarily skills needed for the construction of certain buildings in Monowitz." At press time, the diverse Farben codes and range of machine uses were still being studied. [...]
Village Voice

"By 1945, the factory system -- which, more than any piece of machinery, was the real and major result of the Industrial Revolution -- had been extended to include the Manhattan Project, the German long-range rocket program and the death camps, such as Auschwitz."
Thomas Pynchon