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On 25 January, SS headquarters in Berlin sent a ten-page list containing 850 numerical codes – the first of its kind – to Buchenwald. It had been created with a punch card machine made by the Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft, a subsidiary of IBM. From mid-1943 onwards, the SS registered the professional profiles of the inmate labourers in a Hollerith card index that was to serve as an aid in the management of forced labour. Every last miner was to be put to work in the SS’s underground projects, where 20,000 Buchenwald inmates were already employed.

121 649 26 03 25 15 323 stood for Alexej Iwanow. The 16-year-old school pupil had been deported from Donbass to Zwickau to work in a hard coal shaft. After a failed attempt to escape he was committed to Buchenwald, where he found refuge among political inmates in the carpentry shop.

The exaggerated hopes the SS placed in modern computer technology foundered on the realities in the camps. For one thing, the inmates in the labour administration put little effort into processing the Hollerith list. It never had the expected impact.

(Harry Stein)