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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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          On July 1, it was ruled that the retrial for the case of Sapiro vs. Ford would be held in September. However; exactly one week after this announcement, Ford made a public declaration of his own that surprised everyone. Desiring an immediate end to the ongoing case, Ford had Joseph Palma, a New York government agent, contact Louis Marshall and ask for his assistance in making amends. "I wish this wrong could be righted," he was quoted as saying.199 Ford was informed that he must make a formal apology and retract his anti-Semitic accusations. Marshall, along with Arthur Brisbane and a few other members of the American Jewish Committee, drew up the apology for Ford to give to the press. Ford investigator Harry Bennett received the apology and called up his boss. "It's pretty bad, Mr. Ford," Bennett informed him. "I don't care how bad it is," Ford replied, "you sign it and settle the thing up." Bennett tried to read the contents to Ford over the phone, but Ford cut him off, reiterating, "I don't care how bad it is, you just settle it up. The worse they make it, the better."200 Bennett then forged Ford's signature to the document and sent it back to Marshall.

        Although it was Marshall's goal to humble Ford somewhat with the apology, it actually was not as bad as it could have been. The apology went along with what Ford's attorneys had argued during the trial in that he had been totally ignorant of what his newspaper had been printing. The apology acknowledged that Ford was the publisher of The Dearborn Independent and The International Jew. However; in his "multitude of activities," he had been unable to pay attention to what made up their contents. "To my great regret," read the apology, "I have learned that Jews generally, and particularly those of the country, not only resent these publications as promoting anti-Semitism, but regard me as their enemy." The document went on to defend such an assessment, in light of the "mental anguish" the articles had caused. This led Ford to direct his "personal attention" to the subject and claimed to be "deeply mortified" by what he had found. "Had I appreciated even the general nature, to say nothing of the details of those utterances, I would have forbidden their circulation without a moment's hesitation." The document praised the Jewish culture for its vast contributions to civilization, and for its sobriety, diligence, benevolence, and "unselfish interest in public welfare." "Those who know me," the document asserted, "can bear witness that it is not in my nature to inflict injury upon and occasion pain to anybody, and that it has been my effort to free myself from prejudice." Therefore, he was "greatly shocked" by the publications done in his name. He saw it as his duty as an "honorable man" to make amends to his Jewish brothers by "asking their forgiveness for the harm I have unintentionally committed." The statement then presented a retraction of Ford's charges against the Jews and a promise that, henceforth, they may look to him for friendship and goodwill.201

          This statement was a remarkable attempt at public image revisionism. In order for the public to accept it, they would conveniently have to forget all of the press interviews in which Ford had condemned the Jews. They would have to forget the anti-Semitic statements found in his own autobiography. They would have to forget his proclamation in 1921 that he had a "five years' course in sight" of anti-Jewish articles.202 They would have to forget the press releases that announced:
"The Dearborn Independent is Henry Ford's own paper and he authorizes every statement incurred therein."203 They would have to forget Cameron's boast at a 1924 Ford branch manager's convention that "We never step out on any unusual program without first getting his guidance."204

         Ford was trying to get away with an obvious fabrication of the truth. Liebold himself would later state, "Mr. Ford knew everything that was going on.... There was no one who could get by with putting anything over on Mr. Ford such as conducting a campaign against the Jews. As long as Mr. Ford wanted it done, it was done. "205

          Remarkably, however; the statement was largely embraced by the press. The New York Herald Tribune praised Ford for conducting himself "in a manner which handsomely emphasizes his regret" and his intent to end his anti-Semitic publications.206 The Des Moines Register proclaimed that "It takes size to do a grand thing in a grand way."207

          Ford received the most praise, however; from Jewish publications. The Jewish New York Tribune expressed "profound satisfaction," while The American Hebrew declared that the statement "breathes honesty and sincerity." The Jewish Daily proclaimed its belief that Ford acted out of sincere regret, rather than for any business or political motives.

          Even the music industry cashed in on Ford's apology. Future theatrical producer; Billy Rose, published a ditty entitled "Since Henry Ford Apologized to Me":

"I was sad and I was blue
But now I'm just as good as you
Since Hen-ry Ford a-pol-ogized to me
I've thrown a-way my lit-tie Che-vro-let
And bought my-self a Ford Cou-pe
I told the Sup-'rin-tendent that
The Dearborn In-de-pen-dent
Does-n't have to hang up where it used to be
I'm glad he changed his point of view
And I even like Edsel too,
Since Hen-ry Ford a-pol-o-gized to me
My mother says she'll feed him if he calls
'Ge-fil-re-fish' and Mat-zah balls
And if he runs for President
I would-n't charge a sin-gle cent
I'll cast my hal-lot ab-so-lute-ly free
Since Hen-ry Ford a-pol-o-gized to me."208

         The outpouring of Jewish praise was so great that Louis Marshall publicly warned against exaggerated expressions of felicity. Marshall was amazed by how the Jewish community could go from one extreme to the other; "Only last week Henry Ford was regarded as a Hamen and they are almost willing now to declare him a Mordecai."209 The Jewish Telegraphic Agency agreed, stating that there was a limit to every manifestation of joy. Ford's apology, therefore, did not need to be greeted with such an "hysteric outburst."

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End Notes

199. Richards, 99.

200. Bennett, 97.

201. A Century's Jewish Progress (New York: Civic Press, 1933) Copy from Anti-Defamation League.

202. New York Times, 5 December 1921, 33.

*203. New York Times, 10 June 1921, 3.

204. Gelderman, 232.

205. Ibid.

206. New York Times, 9 July 1927, 1.

207. John Bell Rae, ed., Henry Ford (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1969), 113.

208. Lewis, 147.

209. New York Times, 14 July 1927, 26.


Corrections:

*End Notes #203. New York Times, 9 June 1921, 3. Return to End Notes #203.

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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