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Business and the Holocaust
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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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          It came on April 23, 1925, when Sapiro sued Ford for $1 million. The case did not actually reach court until almost two years after it was filed. In the meantime, Ford had lost his final bid for the Muscle Shoals. With two lawsuits against him, however; he had more than enough to deal with. Ford's private detectives were soon scrambling across the country in an effort to dig up as much as they could on Sapiro. This time, they would have to produce evidence that would hold up in a court of law and not the type of sensationalism that was published in Ford's newspaper. They went to California, Oregon, North and South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, Minnesota, Idaho, and Maine, eventually compiling 40,000 pages of depositions.179 Back in Dearborn, Ford's office was receiving chilling letters of support: "Sapiro is a shrewd little Jew.... The Bible says Jews will return to Palestine, but they want to get all the money out of America first.... Sapiro should be kicked out because he is trash.... The sooner the leeches are given a dose of 'Go quick' the better."180

          In August of 1926, something happened in the case which Ford had not anticipated. During a celebration for him at the Ford Airport, a man posing as a reporter dropped a document in Ford's lap and calmly announced, "I am serving a subpoena for the United States Circuit Court in the case of Sapiro versus Ford." Ford was mortified, crying, "No, no, no! Take it away!" Ford's bodyguards then chased down and accosted the process server. "You think you're pretty smart, don't you?" smirked one of the guards. "Well, you didn't serve a subpoena on Mr. Ford at all. You served it on Mr. Ford's brother; John Ford." "Then what's all the fuss about," the server innocently replied."181

          By March 1927, the Sapiro case was finally ready to be heard in court. However; Ford and his six expensive attorneys were still contesting the subpoena. The Sapiro counsel grew increasingly irritated, especially when it was revealed that Ford had recently denied in print having ever been served. Finally, Sapiro's attorney threatened to file contempt papers. By this time, Ford had run out of options and reluctantly sent word the following day that he would testify.

          The case was to be tried before Judge Fred M. Raymond in Detroit, because Sapiro wanted it in Ford's "own back yard." Ford had originally planned on being represented by attorney Delancey Nicoll. Nicoll was fired, however; after Ford discovered that he was a smoker.182 Senator James A. Reed of Missouri was then chosen to act as chief of Ford's legal staff. "We have often heard that Henry Ford was just lucky," quipped Will Rogers, "...But when a man goes out and hires Jim Reed for his lawyer- that's inspired genius. The other side needs Moses to compete with him."183 Ford had expected Sapiro to be represented by a "Jew lawyer" from New York. However; much to Ford's chagrin, Sapiro's attorney was revealed to be William Henry Gallagher; who was Detroit based and an Irish Catholic. According to an associate, Ford privately referred to Gallagher as a "Christian front" and was to refer constantly to Catholics in general as "tools of the Jews" after the trial.184

          Early in the trial, the Sapiro counsel was dealt a stunning blow. Senator Reed was somehow able to convince the judge that race was not an issue in the case. "Mr. Ford's ideas of the Jews as a whole and his attitude towards them as a people will be barred," came the ruling from Judge Raymond.185 His reasoning was that Ford was being tried for libeling Sapiro the individual and not the Jewish race as a whole. It was, apparently, irrelevant that the two had often been interchangeable in the pages of the Independent. Now, the defense merely had to prove that Ford had been completely ignorant of the attacks carried out in his paper. They needed a patsy and they found one with William J. Cameron.

          At the beginning of the trial, Ford's attorneys had asserted that Ford had never read the Sapiro articles in The Dearborn Independent, had never spoken of Sapiro, and had never even heard of Sapiro before the suit was launched. Cameron, during a testimony that lasted for over six days, accepted full responsibility for the contents of the paper. "I had no conversation with Mr. Ford on any article on any Jew," he claimed from the witness stand.186

          As Cameron gave his testimony, Sapiro found himself the target of much ridicule and praise in the public spectrum. He received numerous threatening letters, 90% of which were unsigned. Senator Reed also received letters condemning Sapiro. One proclaimed that "every Jew is sworn to knock out three teeth of a Christian when kissing him" while another "blood-curdling" note was anonymously signed by "An American of the Sixteenth Century Blood."187 Some Jews, such as prominent New York attorney Louis Marshall, felt that Sapiro's lawsuit gave the Independent unnecessary publicity. Others, however; shared the view of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who praised Sapiro as "a man ready to face the richest and, in some senses, the most powerful man on earth, and say, 'You may libel me, but you shall not lie about my people."' 188

          In the midst of Cameron's testimony, the Sapiro team called a key witness on their own to the stand. Surprisingly, it was James Martin Miller- author of the earlier pro-Ford biography, The Amazing Story of Henry Ford. When asked if Ford had ever mentioned Sapiro, Miller answered in the affirmative: "Mr. Ford asked me why I didn't write about the Jews in the reserve bank down there and he asked me if I knew Aaron Sapiro... He said that he was organizing the farmers for that bunch of Jews down there. [Ford] said that he was going to expose them....189

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End Notes

179. New York Times, 24 July 1927, 6.

180. Lacey, 226.

181. Sward, 154.

182. Gelderman, 230.

183. New York Times, 24 March 1927, 16.

184. Bennett, 87.

185. New York Times, 22 March 1927, 1.

186. New York Times, 25 March 1927, 1.

187. New York Times, 22 March 1927, 18.

188. New York Times, 21 March 1927, 1.

189. New York Times, 26 March 1927, 4.


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