Nearly a decade ago, I had the good fortune of being one of the last people to interview the founder of Commodore International, Jack Tramiel (famous for Commodore computers and the popular C64), before he passed away. At 83 he died from heart failure after pioneering the consumer market for personal computers and home gaming, and working toward changing people’s lives for the better through technology.
What few people knew, and what I discovered in our interview, was that the foundational concept driving the Commodore 64 was Tramiel’s vision for a future in which the Holocaust and its concentration camps (from which Jack survived but his father did not) would never be able to happen again.
In our interview Mr. Tramiel told me:
I made the market for the computer youth-driven. I went around the world meeting young people in computer clubs and showing them what the computer can do.
And I concentrated on a special country which is called Germany. Because I am a Holocaust survivor.
And because of that I wanted to make sure that the German youth will learn from the computer what the Holocaust was all about. And we had a piece of software which did that.
At the same event I also interviewed Bill Lowe, father of IBM PC. While Jack Tramiel was rounded up at the age of 11 and shipped with his parents to Auschwitz in 1944, IBM and its subsidiaries helped create enabling technologies for the Third Reich; from identification of Jews in censuses, registrations, and ancestral tracing programs, to the running of railroads and organizing of concentration camp slave labor. IBM founder Thomas Watson’s custom-designed complex data solutions are how Hitler got everyone’s names, identities, and locations for his brownshirts to round up, put in work camps, torture, and murder.
You have to wonder what kind of people worked for IBM during this time. It’s possible to suggest that they weren’t completely aware of what they were really part of. Especially considering IBM’s structured denials and, as the New York Times self-describes as its “staggering, staining failure [of The New York Times] to depict Hitler’s methodical extermination of the Jews of Europe as a horror beyond all other horrors.”
(The reporting was there, but it was couched in softened language, ran against the paper’s incorrect opinion that Hitler couldn’t really be a racist, and buried deep behind culture features about Hitler and his positive polling numbers.)
More than asking what kind of people would work in a tech capacity to provide technical solutions for genocide, it’s interesting to wonder how they felt about it. Was the suffering of others an abstract, or were they more like former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, mocking and pointedly indifferent? Perhaps they felt like Microsoft employees, some of whom this week repudiated the company between news of the US government’s human rights violations in regard to immigrants and asylum-seekers, and Microsoft’s role