The Challenge of Legacy


Photo from Wikipedia.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a transcript of Edwin Black’s April 11, 2018 keynote address in the Michigan Capitol Rotunda for that state’s official Holocaust Commemoration.

Today, I come not just to mourn nor to scorn but rather to warn our world, that is, the world of today whose memories are still whistling and bristling with the torments and tribulations of a generation now passing before our eyes. But also, for the world of tomorrow — and the day after — pulsed by a generation whose torments and tribulations may yet be in store. The outrages are audible just over the horizon. But in many cases the horizon is speeding toward us like an unstoppable tsunami preparing to crash.

Many of us dwell in the dark past hoping to immunize our future from the maniacal and ideological fires that immolated six million Jews and so many others— and left a world’s hands and souls smoke-singed in the process. The Holocaust was unique among history’s great cruelties for it was a 12-year international persecution and murder machine perpetrated in the glare of broad daylight as well as the dim of night… emboldened by its own German Ministry of Propaganda advertising it and amid incessant media coverage that bled across the front pages of newspapers, crackled into regular radio reports, flickered in newsreels, and even saddened the whispers and diaries of children hiding in an Amsterdam attic. The world knew.

With study, revelation, and investigation, many now understand how we got here. Make no mistake. The Germans did it. Their allies and accomplices did it. Hitler did it.

But Hitler had help.

Der Fuhreradopted the Jew-hating ideology of Henry Ford, whose car company distributorships mass-circulated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Dearborn Independent so often quoted and lionized by Hitler. Nazism was driven by the American pseudoscience of eugenics that called for the elimination and even the chamber gassing of so-called inferior social groups, a murderous medical discipline developed in America by our great universities in the first two decades of the twentieth century, but then transplanted into Nazi Germany and even into Mengele’s Auschwitz laboratory by the million-dollar charitable programs of the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation. Hitler’s troops dismounted their WWI-era horses and stormed into Poland and the rest of Europe in a never-before-seen Blitzkrieg, driving the Blitz truck and flying JU-88 bombers both manufactured under corporate camouflage by General Motors under the direct supervision of its offices in Detroit. And it was up to IBM—the solutions company—to organize all six phases of the Holocaust: identification, exclusion, asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and even extermination. With its advanced punch card technology, IBM knowingly conducted the census to identify the Jews, religious or not, made the railroads run on time, and pinpointed Jewish bank accounts to seize. Every concentration camp had its own IBM customer site. The infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number before it morphed into other serial systems.

Profit was the perfidious ally of the perpetrators of the Holocaust because whether it was the Aryanization of the corner grocery store in Berlin or the millions hidden by IBM in cloaked bank accounts in Prague, the malice and the murder was made all the more morally manageable by the tintinnabulation of money. For some, the clatter of the coins could drown out the screams of the victims

So, today we know more about how we came here… but how many truly understand where we really are. Do not believe that the Holocaust is a mere scar from afar. Yes, it is a sickness but one that has re-abrupted like an irrepressible plague. We have seen the infection in Rwanda with the Tutsis, in Syria with the Yazidis and Christians, in Darfur with Black Africans.

We warn, we write poetry, we assemble in Rotundas, publish books, we solemnly chant “never again.” Now, we know better. We silently whisper, not just “never again,” but … “oh, no… not again.”

There is no hate without fear. But hate cannot triumph in a world of enlightenment. So, what is the true challenge to both our legacy and our future. Is it men with Nazi emblems and burning crosses or is it really something else? Flags, white sheets hoods, and venomous marches, we can see. Less visible is the new emerging enemy of enlightenment, and purifying spotlight.

Inscribe their names upon your notepads and your desktops. Facebook, Google, Amazon and many more who in their misguided algorithms decide what shall be seen and what shall be shuttered, who will be heard and who shall be demurred.

The triumph of ignorance with all its well-intended coding rises to a level of censorship only imagined by George Orwell. Last Christmas, Amazon quietly informed publishers that history books about the Holocaust and even the Third Reich could no longer display a swastika on the cover when sold outside North America. So, my book Nazi Nexus about Ford, General Motors, Carnegie, Rockefeller and IBM was re-designed without the swastika for European sale. Many more famous books chronicling the hell of Nazi Germany are now being re-designed without swastikas on the covers for overseas.

A mere photo of a Holocaust history book on Facebook recently was cautioned with a warning tab to be clicked that the topic might be distressing; that book was the recently published Czech language edition of my book IBM and the Holocaust. It is now possible for routine computer programs now in use at Twitter and Facebook to create zombie accounts where the users think they are communicating with the world—but their message in quarantined and no one sees it. Goebbels needed minders sitting in newsrooms. Facebook and Twitter only to click a few keys—and most will never even know they have been muffled.

Now, nations are re-inventing their history. Poland has criminalized the discussion of the involvement and collaboration of its citizen with the Nazi killing machine. The Poles were involved. When a town’s Jews were publicly marched and trucked to the shooting pits, who took their property and auctioned it off the next day in the school yard or town square? Just hours after the new law took effect, the first Polish lawsuit was filed against an Argentinian newspaper that used a war-time photograph.

Lithuania has followed suit quickly with a pending amendment to its “Law on Consumer Protection” that would outlaw books critical of the country during the Holocaust—Lithuania where 90 percent of Jews perished, and many at the hands of their Lithuanian neighbors. These laws will be used by misguided programmers in Silicon Valley to avoid liability by simply quietly shutting out the history.

What if a tree falls and no one hears the sound? What if six million people perish and no one is reminded?

Hitler declared who will remember the Armenians? When my mother was pushed thru the vent in the boxcar en route to Treblinka, her mother said, “tell someone.” My father fought as a partisan in the woods for two years with her to ensure that I would be here to “tell someone.”

What if we tell the world and the world cannot hear us. How sad that we have struggled with Holocaust denial and belief? Might we next struggle with induced collective amnesia? Ask not what you remember. Ask what your children’s children will know.

The new battleground is not in some basement or backyard where hate is brewing. It’s not on the street. It’s in your phone and on your screen where history, anguish, and the rallying cry of “never again” to all humankind will be a muffled echo within an Internet algorithm. We must fight back against the electronic ghetto, the digital ghetto, and the algorithm ghetto. This is the new Challenge of Legacy.


Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust and Nazi Nexus.

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