Longtime IBM worker pushing for disclosure of its WWII role

Michael Zamczyk was 6 years old when he saw his father, along with several other prominent Polish Jews living in the Krakow ghetto, whisked off to the train station under Nazi orders. It was 1942.

Today, Zamczyk is haunted by the belief that IBM, the company for which he has worked nearly 30 years, helped the Nazis kill his father and 6 million others in the concentration camps. At age 67, the Monterey resident has put his retirement plans on hold in order to push for an internal investigation at IBM.

So far, his e-mails to IBM executives asking for full disclosure haven't gotten anywhere. As a result, he says, he has all the more reason to believe that one of the world's biggest technology companies has something to hide.

"They think I'll give up or go away," says Zamczyk. "I'm very frustrated and disappointed, because I think IBM is basically a good company. I can't believe they won't step up to the plate like Ford." The automaker conducted a study of its German subsidiary's wartime affairs, which it released last year.

When he started working at IBM's Silicon Valley offices in 1974, he was aware that "Big Blue" had had business dealings with the Nazis. "Unquestionably, I knew that IBM wasn't totally clean," says Zamczyk, who majored in Slavic languages and international relations as an undergraduate at Boston University. "No major corporation was during the 1940s and 1930s — particularly the early multinationals like Ford and many of the banks."

But after reading a book called "IBM and the Holocaust," published last year, Zamczyk became convinced that there was a closer link. The book by Edwin Black discusses how IBM's German subsidiary Dehomag supplied equipment to the Nazis.

"It didn't dawn on me, until I read the book, how easy it was for the Germans to schedule transports from all over Europe to Auschwitz," says Zamczyk. "I never thought about what it took to run an operation that could kill 6 million people — and in a short period of time. It was a tremendous job. They must have had technology to help them."

While computers didn't exist during World War II, there were precursors called Hollerith machines, which read punch cards, an early form of data input. Each punch card had to be customized for its application (for example, tallying census data), and the machines, primitive as they were, had to be configured correctly and maintained by a skilled technician.

In his book, Black asserts that IBM not only supplied Hollerith machines and punch cards, it consciously established a strategic business alliance with Nazi Germany which began in 1933 and extended through to the end of the war, giving Hitler the means to expedite the Holocaust.

In an interview published in the Bulletin, a spokesperson for IBM said that company records from the war years had been turned over to universities in New York and Germany. IBM also issued a memo saying, "If this book points to new and verifiable information that advances understanding of this tragic era, IBM will examine it and ask that appropriate scholars and historians do the same."

From what he knows, Zamczyk says IBM has only released a few papers instead of opening up its complete archives. These archives would include all of then-CEO Thomas Watson's correspondence with the European subsidiaries, he believes. He has tried to access these records himself without success.

Zamczyk has written two sets of e-mails to senior executives at IBM, asking them to respond to the allegations in the book. If the charges are true, he wrote, they should apologize to every IBM employee and retiree, and underwrite a chair in business ethics at a university.

His first series of e-mails resulted in a call from the IBM legal department.

"What they basically said was that IBM is not going to apologize, there's tremendous liability and they could be sued."

He sent another round of e-mails three months ago, after Sam Palmisano became the new CEO of IBM in March of this year. He suggested that IBM do an internal investigation — a corporate audit of IBM in the 1930s and '40s — to answer the question about IBM's level of involvement with the Nazis.

Zamczyk is familiar with internal audits. As a business controls adviser for one of IBM's laboratories in San Jose, he ensures that his division follows all of IBM's internal regulations and requirements. He believes an internal, private audit would address the company's legal concerns. To date, he has not received a response to his proposal.

Although IBM has 240,000 employees, Zamczyk feels like a lone voice in the crowd. He has no knowledge of anyone else in the company expressing concern about the matter. After his 29 years in Silicon Valley, he says that the stereotype of programmers being politically oblivious is true. "Technologists have no social conscience," he says. "Their only concern is what's going on in technology. There's really very little discussion about life outside of that."

"Some people might say that 60 years have gone by, but I'm learning more about [the Holocaust] 60 years afterwards," he adds. "There are still people alive who witnessed what happened. It's not history yet — it only becomes history when we're dead."