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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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          Throughout the 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.

          Ford courted 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.

          Jewish groups 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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End Notes

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.

246. Ibid.

247. Indiana Jewish Chronicle, 12 August 1938, 4.

248. New York Times, 4 August 1938, 13.

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