PETER S. GREEN
PRAGUE, Feb. 4, 2003. -- A Swiss court has cleared the
way for hearings in a $12 billion lawsuit against the
computer giant I.B.M. by a group of Gypsy organizations,
which are arguing that the company helped the Nazis
automate the Holocaust.
About 600,000 Gypsies, mainly from Central and Eastern
Europe, are thought to have been killed by the Nazis and
their allies during the Holocaust, and the Gypsies have
long argued that they are its forgotten victims. In a
ruling made public this week, a Geneva court said
preliminary hearings in the case could go ahead on March
Despite a wave of recent settlements in Germany and
Switzerland involving surviving victims of the Holocaust
and their descendants, Gypsies have been largely excluded
from compensation payments and other funds.
"The point is not to make a profit from the
Holocaust," said Pastor May Bittel, a Swiss Gypsy who is
president of Gypsy International Recognition and
Compensation Action, an association of more than 600
Gypsy organizations, which brought the lawsuit.
"We want this business to be exposed, and we want our
people to taste justice after so many years," Pastor
Bittel said in a telephone interview.
If successful, the suit could bring payments to the
few living Gypsy Holocaust survivors, and could finance
health, social and educational projects for the estimated
1.2 million survivors and their descendants in
As a group, Europe's Gypsies are the poorest of its
poor, and a recent United Nations report said that in
parts of Europe Gypsies live in poverty approaching that
found in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Gypsies are basing their case largely on
accusations in a controversial book by Edwin Black,
"I.B.M. and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between
Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation,"
published in 2001. Mr. Black argues that before and
during World War II, I.B.M. provided the punch-cards and
early computers that allowed Nazi Germany to organize the
attempted extermination of the Jews and Gypsies of
I.B.M., which is based in New York, allegedly ran the
operation to help the Nazis from an office in Geneva,
according to the Gypsies' lawsuit.
Brian Doyle, a spokesman for I.B.M. in New York, said
the company believed the case was "without merit." A
previous lawsuit by Jewish Holocaust survivors against
I.B.M. was dropped when the plaintiffs' lawyer said he
feared the suit would block a settlement with Germany and
Switzerland on other Holocaust compensation.
I.B.M.'s founder, Thomas J. Watson, received a medal
from Hitler in 1937.
"With these machines, the Nazis went much more quickly
and killed far more people," said Pastor Bittel, "and
I.B.M. designed the material for the Nazis and it knew
full well it was aiding the Holocaust."
Reviewing Mr. Black's book in The New York Times,
Gabriel Schoenfeld said Mr. Black was "struggling to
force his evidence into a box in which it does not fit,"
although he added that the book showed there was "room
for a serious study of I.B.M.'s complicated and by no
means innocent relationship with Nazi Germany."