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Gypsy campaigners who allege IBM expertise helped the Nazis commit mass murder more efficiently filed a lawsuit in Switzerland on Thursday seeking “moral reparation” and tens of thousands of dollars in damages. Gypsy International Recognition and Compensation Action is suing IBM on behalf of four Gypsies from Germany and France and one Polish-born Swedish Gypsy, said May Bittel, the head of the Geneva-based group. All five plaintiffs were orphaned in the Holocaust. The Gypsy campaigners — who use the name Roma for their community — began planning the lawsuit after U.S. author Edwin Black claimed in a book published last February that IBM punch-card machines enabled the Nazis to make their killing operations more efficient. An IBM Europe spokesman in Paris, Ian Colley, told The Associated Press that he could not comment on the lawsuit because the company had not received a copy. IBM has said its German subsidiary, Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen GmbH, was taken over by the Nazis before World War II, like other companies operating in Germany. “The fact that the Hollerith machines were used by the Nazis has been known for many years — but we have very little information about what happened,” Colley said. He said IBM “abhors the Nazi atrocities.” The lawsuit was filed in Geneva because IBM’s wartime European headquarters were in the city. “Swiss law is clear — selling goods and services destined to be used in a crime is itself criminal,” Bittel said. The plaintiffs are seeking $20,000 each in damages from IBM. Bittel said the suit was “based on moral reparation” and that he expected more Holocaust survivors to join the suit. “Our aim is to achieve recognition of IBM’s complicity in crimes against humanity,” he said. According to Black’s book, the punch-card machines were used to codify information about people sent to concentration camps. The number 12 represented a Gypsy inmate, while Jews were recorded with the number 8. The code D4 meant a prisoner had been killed. IBM’s German division has paid into Germany’s government-industry initiative to compensate people forced to work for the Nazis during the war. The German parliament cleared the way last May for payments to begin from the $4.6 billion fund. Gypsies are one of the groups covered. Last April, a class action lawsuit against IBM in New York was dropped after lawyers said they feared it would slow down payments from the German Holocaust fund. German companies had sought freedom from legal actions before committing to the fund. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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