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Power, Ignorance, and Anti-Semitism:
Henry Ford and His War on Jews
by Jonathan R. Logsdon
At the same time Ford was being lauded as an anti-Semite hero in Europe, he was confronted with another lawsuit in America. This one came from Herman Bernstein, the same man who had helped to expose The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion as a forgery. In the August 20, 1921 issue of the Independent, Bernstein had been identified as the source on the Peace Ship who revealed to Ford the supposed worldwide Jewish conspiracy. "He told me most of the things that I have printed," Ford claimed in the article, which labeled Bernstein "the messenger boy of international Jewry."167 An outraged Bernstein denied the allegations and, in 1923, sued Ford for $200,000. He told the press that he was doing a public service by allowing the American people to get a "true picture" of Ford's "diseased imagination."168
Ford, however; was too preoccupied with other matters to pay much attention to the lawsuit. Instead, he was focusing all of his efforts towards acquiring Muscle Shoals. Muscle Shoals was the series of dams and power plants that would later be known as the Tennessee Valley Authority. After World War I, it was decided by the government to open the newly created area to private development. Ford saw it as a chance to create an ordered society away from the big cities, which he despised.
As with all his schemes, Ford took this one to the press, declaring at one point that his plans for the property would "benefit the whole world" and would even "eliminate war...."169 However; he was only offering $5 million for a project that had cost the government $85 million and that was worth $8 million in scrap alone.170 His offer was met with open resistance in the Senate, and his bid for the property was in danger of never gaining government approval. In an effort to win public support, Ford visited farmers living in the Muscle Shoals valley and had the Independent publish articles that championed the "American farmer." However; in order to supply a steady stream of articles and to give Ford a "crusade" for the farmers, a more focused campaign was needed.
On April 23, 1924, the Jewish articles resurfaced on the pages of Ford's paper. "Jewish Exploitation of the American Farmer's Organizations: Monopoly Traps Operate Under the Guise of Marketing Associations," ran the headline. The opening line supplied the tone for the series that was to follow: "A band of Jews-bankers, lawyers, moneylenders, advertising agencies, fruit packers, produce buyers, professional office managers, and bookkeeping experts- is on the back of the American farmer."171 A typical article would show a picture of a celery field, with the accompanying caption reading: "Every stalk of celery.. .pays direct tribute to Jewish domination of the cooperative marketing system in this section of the United States."172 As with the previous series, these articles used a number of prominent Jews as scapegoats for the accusations, including Bernard Baruch, Albert Lasker; Otto Kahn, Eugene Meyer; and Julius Rosenwald. However; the main thrust of the campaign was directed at Chicago lawyer Aaron Sapiro.
Aaron Sapiro was a proud, controversial figure notorious for his short temper. Born in poverty and raised in an orphanage, he had originally studied to become a rabbi. He later switched over to law and eventually worked as a cooperative organizer for fruit growers in California. Most of the Independent's attacks centered on his "Sapiro Plan." This plan involved organizing farmers under cooperatives in an effort to eliminate middlemen and wholesalers and, in the process, increase farm profits. By 1925, the Sapiro Plan possessed a membership of 890,000 farmers nationwide and had the endorsement of the National Council of Farmer's Cooperative Marketing Association. According to The New York Times, Sapiro was the leader "of one of the greatest agricultural movements of modern times."173 He often stated that money meant nothing to him when he was dealing with the farmers. Nonetheless, Sapiro was as famous for his high fees as he was for their productive results.
William J. Cameron, once again, supervised the articles in the campaign. This time, however; they were actually written by a former newspaperman, Henry H. Dunn, under the pen name of Robert Morgan. In his correspondence with the Independent, Dunn said that proving the conspiracy was the hardest story that he had ever handled. Among the obstacles that he encountered was the fact that Jews and Gentiles were both equally active in the cooperatives. Another problem was that, although Dunn was convinced that Sapiro had "skinned the farmers out of thousands," the farmers were actually making more money than ever. Not surprisingly, it was hard to find ones who were willing to condemn Sapiro in print.174
The attacks made on Sapiro were incredible, even by the Independent's standards. Sapiro was charged with leading "a conspiracy of Jewish bankers" who were forcing farmers into the cooperatives. His Sapiro Plan had "turned millions away from the pockets of the men who till the soil and into the hands of the Jews and their followers."175 He was accused of using "strong arm" tactics and squads of Bolshevists in order to inject farm children with the germs of communism, so they would be "modeler's clay" in his hands.176 His non-Jewish associates were nothing more than "Gentile false fronts.., human camouflage of the international ring of professional aliens."177 Even Liebold commented to Ford, "You know, Cameron is going a little bit wild with this fellow, Sapiro." "That's just what I want," Ford responded. "Don't you interfere with Cameron. If he can get me into a lawsuit with Sapiro, that's just what I want. I'd like to see that fellow start a suit against me."178
Ford no doubt recalled his own libel suit and the trouble and ridicule it had brought him. He may have had a case, but it was The Chicago Tribune that had the influence. Now, Ford had influence of his own with The Dearborn Independent. With his newspaper; he seemingly had more than enough money and influence to win a case brought against him. He thought little of the Bernstein libel suit and now welcomed one from Sapiro.
*168. New York Times, 19 July, 1923, 17.
169. Lacey, 223.
170. Ibid., 224.
171. New York Times, 22 March 1927, 1.
172. Sachar; 317.
173. New York Times, 12 March 1927, 17.
174. New York Times, 22 March 1927, 1.
176. New York Times, 15 March 1927, 1.
177. New York Times, 17 March 1927, 1.
178. Collier and Horowitz, 105.
*End Notes #168. New York Times, 9 July, 1923, 17. Return to End Notes #168.
Corrections by Yosef Cohen with the invaluable assistance, courtesy, and research provided by Bruce Brigell from the Skokie Public Library.
Special thanks to Albert S. Cohen, my father, and Janet Holmes for various footnote verifications made at the Gary Public Library.
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