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1930's, The Ford Motor Company was notorious for its ruthless practices.
Ford's chief investigator, Harry Bennett, had emerged as a major influence
on company policy. Bennett created a Gestapo-like agency of thugs and spies
to crack down on potential threats to Ford, such as union men. "To those
who have never lived under a dictatorship," reflected one employee, "it
is difficult to convey the sense of fear which is part of the Ford system."236
In 1937, Upton Sinclair presented a sinister depiction of the company in
a book entitled Flivver King: A Story of Ford-America. The book, a combination
of fact and fiction, told of a naive Ford easily influenced by such extremist
groups as The Ku Klux Klan, The Black Legion, The Silver Shirts, The Crusader
Whiteshirts, The American Liberty League, and The Anglo-Saxon Federation.
His Dearborn Independent influences the main character Abner Shutt, to
join The Klan and to teach his children to have nothing to do with "this
evil race" known as Jews. Later, Nazis swarm at Ford and start a new anti-Semitic
campaign. Ford finds all of this good, for he remains what he had been
born, "a super-mechanic with the mind of a stubborn peasant."237
It is true that
the Ford Motor Company was a haven for Nazi sympathizers. Detective Casmir
Paler wrote to Professor Nathan Isaacs in 1937 that "Henry Ford and his
subordinates Ernest G. Liebold, WJ. Cameron, and others have turned the
Ford Motor Company Chemical Department into the headquarters of the Nazis
here."238 Ford tool and die maker; John
T. Wiandt, distributed literature of the pro-Nazi National Worker's League
to his fellow Ford workers. "I have an audience every lunch hour," he proudly
told an interviewer.239 Signs were left
in various employee areas which proclaimed that "Jews are traitors to America
and should not be trusted- Buy Gentile," "Jews destroy Christianity," and
"Jews Control The Press."240 The American
Nazi Party's first president, Heinz Spanknoebel, had been an employee at
the Ford Motor Company. Fritz Kuhn, leader of the pro-Nazi German-American
Bund, worked at Ford off and on from 1928 until 1936. Harry Bennett once
confessed to the FBI that Kuhn had been caught during work hours "practicing
speeches in a dark room. "241
To combat growing
public criticism, The Ford Company issued a statement in 1937 which declared
"that inasmuch as Mr. Ford has always extended to Ford employees the fullest
freedom from any coercion with respect to their views on political, religious,
or social activities, they cannot be reproved by us for exercising such
liberties."242 Ford's active anti-Semitism
had been quite disturbing throughout the 1920's. However; he was equally
unsettling in the 1930's due to his passive behavior towards its consequences.
further controversy through his business ventures in Germany. In 1938,
The German Ford Motor Company opened a plant in Berlin whose "real purpose,"
according to U.S. Army Intelligence, was producing "troop transport-type"
vehicles for the German Army. Ford, however; refused an offer to build
aircraft engines in England.243 According to Harry Bennett, Ford became
anti-British after he overheard Winston Churchill ridicule farming. However;
he considered the German people to be "clean, thrifty, hard-working, and
technologically advanced and he admired them for that."244 The German Ford
worker's employee publication contained such propaganda as: "At the beginning
of this year we vowed to give our best and utmost for final victory, in
unshakable faithfulness to our Fuhrer. Today we say with pride that we
succeeded."245 On Hitler's birthday in
1939, the German Ford Company sent him a gift of 50,000 marks as a token
of its loyalty.246
Ford, however; received the loudest criticism for becoming the first,
and only, American to be awarded the German Eagle Order. Hitler had created
the award himself as the highest honor a foreigner could receive from the
Nazi government. Ford shared his award with only four other men, including
Mussolini. The award consisted of a Maltese cross studded with four eagles
and four swastikas, and came with Hitler's personal congratulations. It
was presented to Ford, in honor of his seventy fifth birthday, in July
of 1938 by German consuls Fritz Heiler and Karl Kapp. Newspaper pictures
of the event showed a smiling Ford shaking the Heiler's hand as Kapp pinned
the award onto Ford's jacket.
were horrified, and promptly called upon Ford "in the name of humanity
and Americanism" to "repudiate" the Nazi medal.247
An offer by the Ford Motor Company to donate 71 Ford automobiles to the
Jewish War Veterans of the United States was rejected. It came with a letter
from the organization's president, Samuel J. Leve, condemning Ford's "endorsement
of the cruel, barbarous, inhuman actions and policies of the Nazi regime."
Comedian Eddie Cantor publicly lambasted Ford, stating, "Mr. Ford, in my
opinion, is a damned fool for permitting the world's greatest gangster
to give him a citation. Doesn't he realize that the German papers, when
reporting the citation, said all Americans were behind Nazism?...The more
men like Ford we have the more we must organize and fight."248
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236. Lee, 99.
237. Sinclair, 465.
238. Lee, 95.
239. Carlson, 312.
240. Lee, 100
241. Sward, 457.
242. New York Times, 7 January 1937, 44.
243. Lee, 119.
244. Bennett, 212.
245. Lee, 120.
247. Indiana Jewish Chronicle, 12 August 1938, 4.
248. New York Times, 4 August 1938, 13.