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©The Hanover Historical Review 1999.   Used by permission.
Power, Ignorance, and Anti-Semitism:
Henry Ford and His War on Jews
by Jonathan R. Logsdon
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          Others, Jews and Gentiles alike, protested Ford's paper by preventing its public distribution. Libraries in Paterson, New Jersey and in Portland, Maine both removed the Independent from their files in February of 1921. Chicago, Columbus, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Cincinnati all temporarily barred the paper from public sale. The American Civil Liberties Union found itself in a particular bind. In some cities, its branches condemned the sale of Ford's paper as promoting anti-Semitism. In others, the ACLU felt compelled to protest bans on the paper as a violation of Ford's freedom of speech. Certain cities allowed the Independent to be sold, but instructed news criers to refrain from quoting its anti-Jewish references. On the corners of Broadway in New York, however; news vendors could be heard shouting, "Read all about the traitor Ford! Read all about the liar Ford!"87 There were riots and fights between those selling Ford's paper and those protesting it. In Michigan, a bill was passed by the House, but defeated in the Senate, which would have made it illegal for a newspaper to attack a religious sect. It was called the Welsh Newspaper Libel Bill and was proposed by Representative George Welsh, who admitted that it was specifically aimed at Ford.88 A New York Times editorial of the day declared that "outside of his business affairs, Mr. Ford is nowhere seriously considered except as a cause of merriment."

          However; this statement seriously underestimated the power of Ford's message on the rural elements of the country. Rabbi Leo Franklin of Detroit underscored its effect when he stated that Ford's publications "have smirched the name of Jews in the minds of the great majority, and especially in the small towns of the country, where Ford's word is taken as gospel."90 While Ford was denounced from the pulpit in many of the East Coast cities, he was often praised from it in the Midwest. A number of ministers sent letters of support and encouragement to Ford and requested copies of his articles. Colonel Charles S. Bryan of the War Department expressed his approval for Ford's attack on "East Side scum" while The Christian Science Monitor, following Ford's lead, published an editorial on "The Jewish Peril."91

          An emerging factor in the country at the this time, whose anti-Semitism seemed to mirror Ford's own, was the Ku Klux Klan. The Grand Lodge Order of B'rith Abraham announced their belief that Ford was behind the organization and was their sponsor.92 It is certainly true that Ford had the Klan's support. Klansmen used his publications in speeches and distributed them at rallies. An official Klan announcement in 1923 proclaimed that the Klan knew of "no better fitted man in America for the office of president than Henry Ford."93 Ford's position on the Klan was more ambiguous. "I think the Ku Klux Klan is un-American," he was quoted as saying, "and if I were to join any organization it would be one that wouldn't require me to wear a mask."94 However, when a reader wrote to the Independent inquiring whether Ford favored the Klan, he was referred to a November 5, 1921 article. The article presented the Klan in a sympathetic light as a misunderstood organization. The Independent had received a personal thank you note from the Imperial Emperor King Kleagle for that particular article.95 Another issue of the Independent pointed out that "it was not without reason" that the Klan was undergoing a revival in Georgia "and that Jews were excluded from membership."96

          The relationship between Ford and the Klan was perhaps best summed up by Patrick H. O'Donnell, in a 1923 editorial for the Chicago anti-Klan publication Tolerance. O'Donnell pointed out that Henry Ford, "by reason of the prestige of his great name and fortune," had fanned the flame of anti-Semitism and made racial hatred bear the false semblance of respectability. "Under his cunning tillage," wrote O'Donnell, "the vast areas of this country that are superstitious have become fertile for the upbuilding of the Ku Klux organization. He has sown broadcast a motive for the Klan's existence. He must stand accused of having sedulously nurtured the development of the Ku Klux power. Futile indeed is it for Henry Ford to declare that he is not of the Invisible Empire after he has furnished by his intolerant publications its strongest weapon and its rallying cry."97 O'Donnell went on to point out that the Klan was "insignificant in numbers" when Ford had begun his campaign. In the two years since, however more than one hundred hate publications had been established.

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End Notes

87. Poliakov, 248.

88. New York Times, 22 April 1921, 19.

89. New York Times, 1 December 1920, 14.

90. New York Times, 6 January 1922, 9.

91. Sachar; 315.

92. New York Times, 29 May 1923, 2.

93. Tolerance, 1 July 1923, 5.

94. Ibid.

95. Lee, 41.

96. International Jew Vol. 4, 181.

97. Tolerance, 8 July 1923, 2.

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