Never again

In this age of Enron, we are reminded how malfeasance in the executive suite can wound individuals and the corporation itself. But consider IBM's relationship with Adolph Hitler and the Nazis' treatment of Jews in the 1930s and '40s.

"The Enron situation is an immorality in the way they disregarded the law," said Edwin Black, author of IBM and the Holocaust. "The IBM situation was amoral because they danced on the head of a pin to observe the law."

According to Black, IBM legally sold its Hollerith punch-card tabulating system to help Germans not only make their trains run on time, but also to track, round up, enslave and exterminate Jews.

"It was never about Nazism, it was never about anti-Semitism, it was only about the money," Black said.

The money. Before the word "globalization" was coined, IBM Chairman Thomas Watson proclaimed his company "was greater than a nation, greater than a corporation," said Black. The guiding principle, if you can call it that, was making money. Even at the apparent expense of human lives.

The dawn of the information age coincided with the sunset of human decency, Black writes. As each of us becomes computerized bits stored in databases, we should ponder how easily information was used to herd Jews to the gas chambers.

Black, the Rabbi Albert T. Bilgray Scholar-in-Residence this weekend, will speak at UA's Hillel Center and Temple Emanu-El. His piece on how we might proceed in our new war on terrorism and a schedule of his local appearances are on page 34.

Black's book is compelling, and sobering. It is a reminder of how easily the horrors of the 20th century could follow us into the new one, unless we are vigilant.

Never Again is not showing in any theaters in the area.