Friday March 16, 2007

Secret archive reveals complicity of IBM, insurance companies in Holocaust

by edwin black

Despite all the books and articles that have been written about the Holocaust, even more stories yet to be told have been hidden away in Bad Arolsen, Germany.

It’s taken 60 years for 11 nations to agree that records there should be revealed. Until now these secret documents were available only to survivors and their nuclear families who were tracing the whereabouts of loved ones. But even then the survivors has to go through years of heartbreaking persistence before seeing the files.

The archive is being opened now only because intense pressure — much of it originating from the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Memorial — managed to force an agreement among the 11-nation commission that owns the archive. It’s housed at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen.

Those countries are the United States, France, England, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland and Israel, plus the two former Axis powers, Italy and Germany. The International Red Cross was given custody and control of the archive, but only pursuant to the agreement.

Parts of the archive are expected to be available to the public sometime this year. But the entire archive might not be digitized until 2008 or later.

So what’s in this secret archive?

Only an estimated 25 percent of the prodigious collection relates to Jews. The remainder covers the fate of Gypsies, Poles, Dutch, and other groups targeted for oppression and destruction. Taken as a whole, the documents provide details of how the Nazis masterminded the elimination of European Jewry and other enemies of the Third Reich.

It offers vast additional proof of IBM’s minute-to-minute involvement in the 12-year Holocaust, new insights into the corporate beneficiaries of Germany’s slave and forced labor programs, an explosion of evidence that insurance companies participated in and benefited from the decimation of the Jews, and the dark details of persecution suffered by millions of individuals who would have otherwise disappeared into the bleak vastness of Hitler’s war against humanity.

ITS records number approximately 33.6 million pages divided into four record groups: Section 1, dubbed “Incarceration Records,” concern concentration camps and other forms of imprisonment, totaling about 4.4 million pages, dated 1933 to 1945.

Within Section 1, record subgroup 6 is a trove of prisoner cards organized by numbers and not names. These numbers were by and large assigned according to the Hollerith punch card system designed by IBM engineers. Forty-nine camps and ghettos are listed in this section, most assigned an alphabetically sequential number by the ITS. The Amersfoort police torture camp in Holland leads the list, numbered 1.1.1; the trio of Auschwitz camps in occupied Poland is 1.1.2, but those records hail mainly from the transport camp, with very little from the Birkenau death camp, and almost nothing from the Monowitz labor camp. The Warsaw Ghetto is listed as 1.1.44. Buchenwald is listed as 1.1.5.

Section 1’s subgroup 1.2.1 includes prisoner transport lists which were organized by IBM Hollerith. Subgroup 1.2.3 contains Gestapo registrations.

Section 2, dubbed “Forced Laborers,” with documents dating from 1939 to 1947, includes corporate involvement and insurance matters, and totals about 4.5 million pages. These files include the names of companies that benefited from slave labor. They are divided mainly by the Allied zone of occupation that captured the files.

The American Zone is subgroup 2.1.1; the British Zone is 2.1.2. Nazi employment bureau records, such as the Employment Exchange in Warsaw numbered 2.3.3, are also contained in this collection. An IBM customer site in almost every concentration camp organized slave labor through the Abteilung Hollerith or Hollerith Department in each camp’s Labor Assignment Office. IBM personnel serviced the machines on site in the camps. These documents often carry IBM’s stamp of authenticity, “Hollerith erfasst,” that is, “registered by Hollerith.”

Sources with direct access to ITS files confirm that Hollerith punch cards or other Hollerith designations have been seen in many sections of the archive covering both wartime and postwar years. For example, postwar section bears the notation “Hollerith cards of children.”

Among the millions of pages in Section 2 are many insurance records, covering sickness or health coverage of inmates, especially from local health insurance companies. The local entities operated under disparate names that would not reveal their true ownership. Previously unknown but shown by the documents, wages of some laborers were handed over to local health insurance offices. Slave laborers in camps were, of course, paid no wages. But “forced laborers” taken to occupied lands were often paid a small stipend reduced by a traditional “withholding” to these local health insurance offices.

Section 2 will be one of the most explosive sections because it will not only reveal the extent to which commercial entities, such as manufacturers, profited from the camps but also the extensive, heretofore unexplored, entrenched involvement of insurance companies.

This involvement, once revealed, would catapult claims against the insurance firms far beyond what is now being discussed

by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, whose research has methodically by-passed the most important and incriminating repositories.

The largest collection at Bad Arolsen is Section 3 entitled “Post War Records,” which features about 24.8 million pages. This section includes precious post-war DP camps interviews conducted by British, French and American forces.

Included are so-called “C&M” records, that is, “Care and Maintenance” of survivors. Here, names are named by the victims in the aftermath of their liberation when memories were fresh. This would undoubtedly include testimony and recollections of asset seizures, economic disenfranchisement, Aryanization, property loss, bank savings and insurance claims. It would also provide embarrassing insights into named collaborators.

Section 4, entitled “Child Tracing Bureau,” contains 9,900 pages dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of orphaned and separated youngsters that emerged from the smoke of the Nazi era. However, despite the publicity stoked by the USHMM and hoopla over a recent “60 Minutes” visit, the full transfer of these documents is years away.

As of July 2006, more than 57 percent of the 33.6 million pages had been digitized. But progress has slowed since the initial media reports. By mid-January, only 63 percent of the collection had been readied for transfer.

Section 1 records on camps and ghettos were scheduled to be complete this month. Section 2, involving forced laborers, corporations, and insurance companies, is not expected to be complete until the end of 2007. The post-war documents in Section 3 may take three more years.

A Bad Arolsen source says the archive is eager to complete its work but lacks funding from the German government, which pays for the Bad Arolsen operation. With the needed funding, ITS sources believe the job could be completed by the end of 2008. Without that funding, it might take an extra year or two, relying upon limited technical resources.

Assembling the big picture will be a problem for a host of major and even minor corporations, a gamut of insurance entities, and of course IBM, which automated and organized much of the process.

For IBM, progress at the ITS is both a blessing and curse. When the documents are completely digitized, the historical information will emerge more clearly; but without the originals, IBM’s revealing printed processing data forms and ever-present Hollerith stamps are less obvious.

Ironically, IBM was instrumental in establishing the ITS archive. Because IBM designed and executed the Nazi people tracking systems used throughout Europe, the company was uniquely positioned to provide the tracing information on millions of victims. The company donated sets of Hollerith tabulators to the Red Cross and, as early as 1947, developed special punch cards to trace victims.

The first German punch card was used by the Bavarian Red Cross in 1947 and then modified and extended by the evolving postwar entities that became the ITS.