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Power, Ignorance, and Anti-Semitism:
Henry Ford and His War on Jews
by Jonathan R. Logsdon
This paper traces the anti-Semitic activities of automobile manufacturer Henry Ford. Ford first voiced his anti-Semitic leanings in 1915, around the time of his "Peace Ship" episode. Eventually, his belief that the "International Jew" was the source of the world's problems led him to conduct a campaign against them in the pages of his newspaper; The Dearborn Independent. The articles in Ford's newspaper blamed the Jews for everything from the Bolshevik Revolution and the First World War to bootlegged liquor and cheap movies. They also accused the Jews of conspiring to enslave Christianity and destroy the "Anglo-Saxon" way of life. The articles were later gathered into book form and published under the title: The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem. This book was translated into 16 languages, and was to have a profound influence upon the growing Nazi movement in Germany. Eventually, Ford publicly apologized for the articles in light of a legal suit. However; he continued to express his anti-Semitic beliefs in his private circles. In the 1930's, he hired many fascist sympathizers, accepted an award from Hitler; and engaged in business ventures in Nazi Germany. In the 1940's, the Ford Motor Company was transformed into a more tolerant organization through the efforts of Ford's son and grandson. However; Ford himself never abandoned his deep-rooted anti-Semitism. His anti-Semitic literature can still be found in great abundance, more than fifty years after his death. While Ford is considered to be a great man by many Americans, he spawned an ugly legacy of hatred and bigotry that still has ramifications today.
Anti-Semitism has been described as being a disease of the soul. It is a prejudice that has gained particular notoriety in the 20th Century- the century of Treblinka and Auschwitz. However; this phenomenon of hate has not just been confined to the continent of Europe. In 1920, a small newspaper in Dearborn, Michigan began publishing a series of articles entitled: "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem." The newspaper was owned by the famous automobile manufacturer; Henry Ford. Through a combination of influence, power; and ignorance, he was able to unleash the largest and most damaging campaign against Jews ever waged in the United States.
By 1915, the Great War had been going on for well over a year. Henry Ford's attitude towards the conflict was well known to the public. He had told the Detroit Free Press that he would give all of his money to stop it and that the building of armaments by the U.S. was "wasteful and war breeding."1 At the time, the 52 year old Ford was one of the richest and most popular men in America. More than half of the automobiles in the nation came from the Ford Motor Company. Many Americans saw him as a champion of the working class; the previous year; he had made national headlines by raising the minimum wage for his workers to $5 a day. It came as no surprise when a steady stream of pacifists soon began courting Ford, hoping to utilize his finances and his prestige. One such hopeful was a Jewish Hungarian named Rosika Schwimmer; who called upon Ford in November of 1915. Mine. Schwimmer proposed to Ford her plan to stop the war by sending a delegation of pacifists to Europe on a chartered "Peace Ship." Ford was enchanted with the idea, and organized a group to book passage on a Scandinavian-American vessel, the Oscar II. Before he set sail, Ford granted an interview in which he proudly boasted, "We're going to stop the war... We're going to get the boys out of the trenches by Christmas."2 At the same time, however; Ford admitted that that he did not exactly know where the ship was going. Nor did Ford reveal any specific plans of the operation. The ship eventually docked in Oslo, Norway on December 18, 1915. No one greeted the ship in the freezing temperatures of -12 E Ford gave his first, and only, press conference of the "campaign" four days later. It was a confusing speech in which Ford mainly talked about a new tractor he had on the market. He expressed his belief that it would be wiser for the munitions factories of Europe to produce tractors instead of weapons. One newsman sarcastically noted that Ford "must be a very great man indeed who permits himself to utter such foolishness."3 Ford then booked passage on the first steamer returning to New York and returned the next morning, weakened by a nasty cold. The ill-conceived Peace Ship venture, which accomplished nothing, soon ended in disaster and embarrassment.
One of those who came to Ford's defense in the aftermath was Philadelphia rabbi, Joseph Krawkopf, who declared that it was better "a thousand times to be branded a fool in the service of humanity than be hailed a hero for having shed rivers of blood."4 Ironically, Ford had made a strange statement to Mine. Schwimmer before their Peace Ship departure- a statement that she found "cheap and vulgar." "I know who caused the war- the German-Jewish bankers. I have the evidence here," Ford declared, slapping his pocket. "Facts. I can't give them out yet because I haven't got them all. But I'll have them soon."5
1. Carol Gelderman, Henry Ford: The Wayward Captalist, (New York: Sr. Martin's Press, 1981), 93.
2. Robert Lacey, Ford: The Men and the Machine, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1987), 148.
3. Anne Jardin, The First Henry Ford: A Study in Personality and Business Leadership, ~Cambridge: MIT Press, 1970), 129.
4. Lacey, 154.
5. New York Times, 5 September 1927, 17.
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