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"What a drama! Two of the most popular figures in 20th century America - Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh - pitted against a third - Franklin Delano Roosevelt - over what to do about Adolf Hitler. Max Wallace reminds us that the destiny of the republic hung in the balance in the Great Debate of 1940-41." -Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning historian The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich by Max Wallace The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich by Max Wallace
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© Max Wallace 2003.   Used by permission.
The American Axis:
Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and the Rise of the Third Reich

by Max Wallace

Excerpt From Chapter 12

Part One  |  Part Two  |  Part Three  |  Part Four

As the first independent researcher to access the documentation accompanying the report, I spent weeks examining a significant portion of the 98,000 pages of source material deposited by the research team at the Ford Museum archives, following the completion of its investigation. An exhaustive review of these documents raised as many questions as they answered, and I requested an interview with John Rintamaki to clarify some of the claims he made at the December, 2001 press conference. But, although the company made Rintamaki available to reporters on December 6 before any of them had a chance to examine the documentation my request was refused. "Mr. Rintamaki has nothing to add to what has already been released or stated at the briefing with news media on Dec. 6, 2001 when the report was released," responded Ford spokesperson Tom Hoyt. Instead, I was asked to submit any questions I had in writing. When I did so, I still received no direct answers or elaboration, only an email referring me to relevant sections of the report that still did not answer my questions.

One of the most contentious issues raised by the report is the company's claim that it did not profit from forced labor. At the press conference, Rintamaki stated, "The statements that we profited, that Ford U.S. profited, from Ford Germany are just not true." However, a close examination of the documentation accompanying the report appears to suggest otherwise. As part of the investigation, Ford hired the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an independent analysis of the company's financial activities during the war. The results are revealing.

According to its findings, Ford-Werke reaped a substantial net profit of 9,605,519 reichsmarks ($3, 626, 207 US) between 1939-1943. In 1944, the last full year of the war, the company suffered a net loss of 2,731,689 reichsmarks ($1,092,675 US). This means that the company realized an overall net operating profit of $2,533,532 US during the entire war-time period up until the end of 1944. In 1945, Ford-Werke suffered another large operating loss due to the military defeat of its biggest client. However, the company only operated under the Nazis during the first two months of the year so it would be misleading to count its 1945 loss in the wartime calculations. Even if the full 1945 loss is counted, the company still enjoyed a substantial net operating profit of well over one million dollars US during the war years.

The foundation underlying Ford's argument that it did not profit from Ford-Werke stems from losses it allegedly incurred in the heavy Allied bombing of the Cologne plant during the closing months of the war. But in fact, according to the post-war account of Robert Schmidt, the plant suffered relatively minor damage and its production facilities remained largely unaffected. Two decades after the war ended, the United States government implemented a war damages claim commission that allowed Dearborn to submit claims for bombing losses and other lost revenues it sustained at its German and Austrian plants. In 1965, the Ford Motor Company submitted a claim to the commission in the amount of $7,050,052. Two years later, the government awarded the company $785,321 for its share of allowable losses under the program. Ford appears to base part of its claim that it did not profit from Ford-Werke on the fact that it only received ten per cent of its damage claims in compensation. However, this statistic is very misleading.

Some of the company's damage claims stem from Allied bombing of its slave labor barracks. Presumably, these barracks were no longer required after the war ended so these claims are moot.

The question of whether or not Ford profited from its German wartime operations rests on extremely complex accounting principles. When I asked Ford for permission to interview the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant who supervised the financial review, in order to clarify its findings and to confirm Ford's claim that it never profited from Ford-Werke, I was refused. Certainly, nowhere in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report does it explicitly state that Ford did not profit during the war. In March 1998, John Rintamaki told the BBC that Dearborn had looked at the records and "As far as we can tell, Ford did not receive any profits or dividends from its operations in Cologne." But, according to the findings of the research team, the company did indeed collect dividends after the war based on its German subsidiary's wartime profits. When war came, states the report, the German government blocked payment of dividends to Ford-Werke. Instead, the money was safeguarded in an escrow account to be paid to the American parent company after the war. Between 1939-1943, Ford-Werke declared a total of $600,000 US in dividends. Dearborn's share of these were not paid out until 1951. By this time, the German government had established a new currency, the deutschmark, devaluing the old reichsmark by ninety per cent. This left Dearborn's share of Ford-Werke dividends at $60,000 US, which the company used to purchase its outstanding shares back from IG Farben after the chemical conglomerate was liquidated by the courts because of the company's complicity in Nazi war crimes. These additional shares are today worth tens of millions of dollars to Dearborn.

Today, the Ford Motor Company points to this dividend payment as the only direct wartime profit it realized from Ford-Werke. However, the dividend only tells a small part of the story. In the same PricewaterhouseCoopers report, financial investigators revealed that the total value of Ford-Werke had increased an impressive fourteen per cent during the war. It is this statistic that Elsa Iwanowa's attorney Mel Weiss says is most significant. During the war years, Ford-Werke reinvested most of its profits to increase production capacity, which directly benefited Dearborn after the war when it regained control of its German subsidiary. The increased value, he argues, is an indirect profit, much of it derived from the use of forced labor: "If the case had gone to court, it would have been extremely easy to prove that Ford profited, despite all their accounting mumbo jumbo that claims otherwise." Weiss says that Ford was eager to demand compensation from the U.S. government after the war for "losses" due to bomb damage to its German plants and therefore should also be responsible for any benefits derived from forced labor: "They were out to profit, pure and simple, and they didn't care how it was earned or who was abused in the process." Immediately after the war, he notes, "Ford-Werke continued to produce trucks at substantial profit at a time when much of Europe was devastated, benefiting from economic reserves and production capacity that had, in large part, been derived from the work of unpaid, forced laborers." Weiss says that today, Ford-Werke is the headquarters for the Ford Motor Company's entire European operations, which produce billions of dollars in annual revenues.

Even if, as the company dubiously claims, Dearborn didn't profit from Ford-Werke's wartime activities, it fails to acknowledge the profits it realized from other Ford subsidiaries such as Ford France that did significant business with the Nazis during the war. According to business historians Mira Wilkins and Frank Hill in their 1964 study American Business Abroad, "The [Ford] European companies operated at a handsome profit in all years except 1945." They estimated that the Ford family's net paper profit from these operations during the war years came to just under $11 million US. However, the Ford-Werke research team was not asked to determine the extent of profits realized by the company at other Ford companies operating in Nazi-occupied Europe. As a result, the company appears to have ignored the big picture by simply claiming that it did not profit from its wartime Nazi business dealings in Germany.

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"My pick for the most powerful book of the year." -John Loftus, author of The Secret War Against the Jews

"Wallace's extensive investigation probes three and four layers deeper than others, pulls no punches, names names and creates a powerful historical document." -Edwin Black, author of  IBM and the Holocaust

"Eye-opening....A finely wrought, careful, and utterly damning case that ought to prompt a widespread reevaluation of both Ford and Lindbergh." -Kirkus Reviews

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