Gypsies sue IBM over machines used to aid Holocaust

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IBM must face a lawsuit by Gypsy campaigners who say the computer giant's expertise helped the Nazis commit mass murder more efficiently, a Swiss court has ruled.

IBM must face a lawsuit by Gypsy campaigners who say the computer giant's expertise helped the Nazis commit mass murder more efficiently, a Swiss court has ruled.

The US-based company's possible complicity in the Holocaust "cannot be ruled out", the Geneva appeals court said yesterday, rejecting a decision last year by a lower tribunal that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

The Gypsies filed the lawsuit in Geneva because IBM had its European headquarters in the city during the war. They claim the office in neutral Switzerland was the company's hub for trade with the Nazis.

"IBM's complicity through material or intellectual assistance to the criminal acts of the Nazis during the Second World War via its Geneva office cannot be ruled out,"the appeals court said. It cited "a significant body of evidence indicating that the Geneva office could have been aware that it was assisting these acts".

No immediate reaction to the ruling was available from IBM's Geneva lawyers, who had referred requests for comment to the company's headquarters in Armonk, New York. Company officials did not return calls.

The company has said its German subsidiary, Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen GmbH, known as Dehomag, was taken over by the Nazis before the war, and it had no control over operations there or how the Nazis used IBM machines.

The Gypsies' lawyer, Henri-Philippe Sambuc, said the company's Geneva office continued to co-ordinate Europe-wide trade with the Nazis, acting on clear instructions from world headquarters in New York.

The Gypsies are suing IBM for "moral reparation" and $20,000 (£11,000) each in damages for four Gypsies from Germany and France and a Polish-born Swedish Gypsy. All five were orphaned in the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of up to 1,500,000 Gypsies.

An American author, Edwin Black, claimed in a book in 2001 that IBM punchcard machines enabled the Nazis to make their killing operations more efficient. Black said they codified information about people sent to concentration camps, with the code D4 marking a prisoner for death.

IBM has consistently denied that it was in any way responsible for the way its machines were used.

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