IBM faces new Nazi lawsuit

A group representing Gypsy victims of the Holocaust has filed suit against IBM, accusing it of complicity in Nazi atrocities.

Gypsy International Recognition and Compensation Action (GIRCA) is suing in a Geneva court on behalf of five Gypsy survivors of the Holocaust, seeking an average of 20,000 Swiss francs (US$11,622) in compensation per victim.

The suit, the second of its kind in the last year, builds on claims published in the recent book "IBM and the Holocaust," by Edwin Black. The book charged that IBM and its subsidiaries leased and maintained the punchcard data-processing machines the Nazis used to categorize and track concentration camp victims, and that Big Blue was well aware of how its equipment was being used.

"To reach the goals of the regime, to destroy millions of people by first identifying them, the productivity was increased, improved, rendered more efficient by IBM," said Henri-Philippe Sambuc, attorney for the plaintiffs.

IBM spokesman Ian Colley said his company has not yet received the complaint. "Because we haven't seen it, it's hard for us to comment on it," he said.

The plaintiffs include a woman identified only as "Carmen," a member of the Sinti clan of Gypsies, who as a young girl fled German forces on foot with her family, said May Bittel, the president of GIRCA.

"They hid in the forest, and at a certain point the girl and one brother went to look for something to eat. While they were gone some troops found the parents; the children heard gunshots, and when they came back they saw with their own eyes the people who had killed their parents and two brothers," he said.

"I know that the U.S. (and IBM) have spoken out against the Nazi barbarism," Bittel continued. "We respect what they say, and we have nothing against the IBM of today. But what we want to see is not just a statement that they're against it, but proof."

In response to a lawsuit early last year, led by U.S. attorney Michael Hausfeld on behalf of Jews and other Holocaust victims, IBM responded that the Nazis had taken over control of the company's German subsidiary, then known as Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen GmbH (Dehomag), and that many records from the period have been lost.

Hausfeld's firm later withdrew its suit, which was seen as an obstacle to an agreement by German businesses to pay 5 billion marks ($2.19 billion) to a fund for former forced laborers.

But Sambuc said his plaintiffs' case is broader and, because it is filed in Switzerland and not the U.S., unlikely to face such opposition.

"We opened the case not only to the Gypsies, but to non-Gypsies, Jews, (those imprisoned for their) political opinions, homosexuals; technically speaking, the case is open to any person who lost a family member in the Holocaust, and/or any person who was detained by the Nazis," he said.

Bittel added that other victims and survivors have contacted GIRCA since plans for the suit were made public last June, but that no new plaintiffs will be added until the first round is decided in court.

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