The business of the II World War: Hugo Boss and IBM

More than 142,000 million dollars. This is the value on the stock exchange (Xetra and NYSE) of two companies that saw their profits increase significantly during World War II. Hugo Boss and IBM may not have been the only companies that profited at the expense of the suffering of millions of people, but they have attracted attention today because of their international prominence. Hugo Boss already published a document on its website that tries to explain the company’s past links to the Nazi party, while IBM continues to reject any connection despite persuasive evidence.

Hugo Boss: uniforms of terror

In 1931, Hugo Boss was a company on the verge of bankruptcy. It had been two years since the beginning of the Great Depression and the company were having to renegotiate with creditors to ensure their survival. That same year, Hugo F. Boss decided to join the Nazi party, which transpire to be a turning point for the future of the firm. The fact that Boss joined the Nazi party afforded him the opportunity to interact with Georg Rath, a local leader of the party in Metzingen, where the factory town of Hugo Boss was located. From the time of his enrollment in the party until 1940, the company went from the brink of bankruptcy to annual sales of around one million Reichsmarks. The key to this success is no secret — Hugo Boss was receiving orders for the production of uniforms of the Waffen-SS, the SA and the Hitler Youth. But the story does not end here, as during World War II the company used a total of 180 forced laborers that were drawn mostly from Bielsko (Poland) and others as prisoners from France (October 1940 – April 1941). With regards to the ‘worker’ Poles, they were supplied by the Gestapo both for Hugo Boss as well as to other textile companies in southwestern Germany.

Following laws issued by the Wuttenberg government on August 21st, 1943, which enforced segregation between workers and local residents, Hugo Boss opened a labor camp for forced laborers from Eastern Europe. The hygienic and nutritional conditions were at best questionable, and the conditions were considered to be too much for female workers who instead had to live in the homes of families living in the city of Metzingen. Four workers died nevertheless. The case of Josefa Gisterek deserves special mention. Gisterek was a Polish worker who tried to return to her native Bielsko after her application for a permit was rejected while she was on holiday. Her attempt to return to Poland was blocked by the Gestapo and she was then deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. A year and a half after she was forced to return to work for Hugo Boss, where her foreman denied any medical assistance until she suffered such physical deterioration that they gave her three months off to recover. Right at the end of that period, when she had to return to work for Hugo Boss, she decided to commit suicide in the house of her ‘host family’. After such a tragedy, some moral conscience at Hugo Boss took over and they decided to cover the costs of the funeral and transportation of relatives who attended it, as indicated by the company on its website.

IBM: the management system of death camps

While you might not instantly connect one of America’s largest corporations with the Third Reich, where money is concerned it would seem that nothing is beyond the realm of possibilities. This is especially important when you consider that the Nazis needed to monitor and store information about millions of Jews, political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals … all from different countries. To do this, Adolf Hitler used the services of Thomas J. Watson and his system of IBM drilled cards. This machinery was leased to the center of IBM in New York with the function of speeding up the extermination taking place by taking as a reference the transportations to different concentration camps, the origin of the prisoners and the status thereof.
If we look at the images below, we see the meaning of some of the IBM drilled cards:

Each of the cards belonged to a particular prisoner. Those with code 001 were deported to Auschwitz, in Poland, the code 003 corresponding to Dachau, a concentration camp next to Munich.

In the picture above, we can see the origin of the prisoners of the concentration camps:

  • 2: This literally means ‘Bible Students’ and was the term that was used in Germany between 1933 to 1945 in reference to Jehovas Zeugen (Jehovah’s Witnesses) .
  • 3: Homosexuals .
  • 6: ‘Red Spanish’, that is, the Spanish Republicans. Many of them fled from Franco towards France. But when France was conquered by the Nazis, they were mostly deported to the concentration camp of Mauthausen. At least 7,300 Spaniards passed through this camp and in 1941 and they accounted for 60% of its prisoners.
  • 8: Jews .

In the second block of code in the image above, we find the code that IBM and the Nazis used to record the status of prisoners:

  • A 1: Freed
  • A 2: Moved
  • A 3: Dead
  • A 4: Executed
  • A 5: Suicide
  • A 6: ‘Sonderbehandlung’ or ‘SB’ in its abbreviated version, means ‘special treatment’, ie, the gas chamber .
  • A 7: Escaped

This sophisticated traffic management system required the use of the IBM machine in railway stations and in each of the concentration camps. Similarly, the rented equipment received monthly maintenance inspections by operators of IBM. But the benefits of this business were not limited to rental and maintenance of the machines. If we consider that between 1939 and 1945 between 15 and 20 million prisoners passed through the concentration camp system, and that each of them was registered by drilled cards, it is quite revealing that IBM exclusively printed one each of these cards. A profitable business working at the expense of millions of lives.

Spanish version

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