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Gypsies' Suit Against I.B.M. Is Given Green Light by Swiss Court
By PETER S. GREEN
RAGUE, Feb. 4 — A Swiss court has cleared the way for hearings in a $12 billion lawsuit against the computer giant I.B.M. by a group of Gypsy organizations, which are arguing that the company helped the Nazis automate the Holocaust.
About 600,000 Gypsies, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe, are thought to have been killed by the Nazis and their allies during the Holocaust, and the Gypsies have long argued that they are its forgotten victims. In a ruling made public this week, a Geneva court said preliminary hearings in the case could go ahead on March 20.
Despite a wave of recent settlements in Germany and Switzerland involving surviving victims of the Holocaust and their descendants, Gypsies have been largely excluded from compensation payments and other funds.
"The point is not to make a profit from the Holocaust," said Pastor May Bittel, a Swiss Gypsy who is president of Gypsy International Recognition and Compensation Action, an association of more than 600 Gypsy organizations, which brought the lawsuit.
"We want this business to be exposed, and we want our people to taste justice after so many years," Pastor Bittel said in a telephone interview.
If successful, the suit could bring payments to the few living Gypsy Holocaust survivors, and could finance health, social and educational projects for the estimated 1.2 million survivors and their descendants in Europe.
As a group, Europe's Gypsies are the poorest of its poor, and a recent United Nations report said that in parts of Europe Gypsies live in poverty approaching that found in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Gypsies are basing their case largely on accusations in a controversial book by Edwin Black, "I.B.M. and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation," published in 2001. Mr. Black argues that before and during World War II, I.B.M. provided the punch-cards and early computers that allowed Nazi Germany to organize the attempted extermination of the Jews and Gypsies of Europe.
I.B.M., which is based in New York, allegedly ran the operation to help the Nazis from an office in Geneva, according to the Gypsies' lawsuit.
Brian Doyle, a spokesman for I.B.M. in New York, said the company believed the case was "without merit." A previous lawsuit by Jewish Holocaust survivors against I.B.M. was dropped when the plaintiffs' lawyer said he feared the suit would block a settlement with Germany and Switzerland on other Holocaust compensation.
I.B.M.'s founder, Thomas J. Watson, received a medal from Hitler in 1937.
"With these machines, the Nazis went much more quickly and killed far more people," said Pastor Bittel, "and I.B.M. designed the material for the Nazis and it knew full well it was aiding the Holocaust."
Reviewing Mr. Black's book in The New York Times, Gabriel Schoenfeld said Mr. Black was "struggling to force his evidence into a box in which it does not fit," although he added that the book showed there was "room for a serious study of I.B.M.'s complicated and by no means innocent relationship with Nazi Germany."