~ W ~
did not help matters with his response to the criticism. He looked at it
from a purely business standpoint, arguing that Ford employed 3,500 Germans
and produced 15,000 cars each year in their overseas agency. "For a nation,"
Liebold stated, "of 70,000,000 to recognize the achievements of a man in
another land seems to be an honor which cannot be disregarded or ignored.
We have interests, physical, financial, and moral, which have taken many
years to establish, and consequently such foundations cannot be uprooted
overnight to comply with propaganda intended to arouse American sympathy."249
himself, did not publicly respond to the charges until four months later;
in December of 1938. Ford met with Rabbi Leo Franklin and, following their
conversation, had an authorized statement issued to the press. In the statement,
Ford advocated U.S. acceptance for the growing tide of Jewish refugees
from Europe and pledged his support for such an effort. He also defended
his acceptance of Hitler's medal, stating that it was his opinion that
the German people as a whole "are not in sympathy with their rulers in
their anti-Jewish policies," which, Ford explained, was the work of "a
few war-makers at the top." "My acceptance of a medal from the German people,"
Ford continued, "does not, as some people seem to think, involve any sympathy
on my part with Nazism. Those who have known me for years realize that
anything that breeds hate repulses me."250 Ford's
statement was applauded by Jewish leaders across the country. Rabbi Abraham
L. Feinberg brought up another noteworthy American in his praise for Ford,
commenting, "Perhaps Colonel Lindbergh will now follow his good example
and make a similar public disapproval [of Nazi policies]."251
Charles Lindbergh, like Ford, had recently received a medal from the Nazi Government. However;
the sincerity of Ford's statement was soon to be called into question.
One evening, not long after Ford's statement was issued, Rabbi Franklin
received an anonymous telephone call from someone who would only identify
himself as "former Ford serviceman." Franklin was told that he had been
duped by Ford and would soon be double-crossed by Ford, Father Coughlin,
and Ford investigator Harry Bennett.252
next Sunday, Father Coughlin announced in his weekly radio address that
Rabbi Franklin had actually ghostwritten Ford's statement following their
meeting. Coughlin alleged that the phony direct quotations were "totally
inaccurate" to Ford's true feelings, that Ford actually believed that there
was little or no persecution of Jews in Germany, and that Ford believed
that the war mongering parties in Europe were the "international bankers" and not the German
government. "Moreover;" Coughlin added, "while Mr. Ford expressed his humanitarianism
for all people, yet he believed that Jews wouldn't be content to work in
factories."253 Father Coughlin went on to state that this information
had been obtained from Harry Bennett while in the presence of Henry Ford,
and had been authorized in a signed statement.
issued a statement the next day. In it, he presented a compromise between
the earlier press release and Father Coughlin's accusations. Bennett claimed
that Father Coughlin's version was essentially correct, except that he
had not used the phrase "totally inaccurate" and that Ford did not state
the belief that "there was little or no prosecution in Germany." However;
Bennett further stated that "Mr. Ford did not attack the German Government,
and did not mention Nazism. He did say that he did not know whether there
was any persecution, but that if there was any he didn't believe that the
German people or the German Government were responsible, but an organized
few, the warmakers and international bankers."254 The
statement was then written by Dr. Franklin, changed to the first person,
authorized by Ford, and issued to the press. When Father Coughlin's Social
Justice magazine called and asked if the press release was accurate, Bennett
had explained that it was "not totally accurate" and signed a statement
declaring it as such.255
In the aftermath
of this statement, an understandably confused Rabbi Franklin refused to
make an official comment. The Detroit Free Press, however; made it clear
where it stood. It praised Rabbi Franklin as "One of the great spiritual
leaders of Detroit," while it condemned Coughlin as a man "well known for
his congenital inability to tell the truth."256
An outraged Father Coughlin sued the newspaper for $4,000,000, but later
retracted when he saw the evidence the paper had against him. In the meantime,
Bennett issued another statement in which he stated that "Father Coughlin
crossed me up. I am going to get in touch with him and tell him so. The
statement as published was accurate and expresses Mr. Ford's sentiments."257
whole episode, Ford remained silent. He refused to comment on either Bennett
or Father Coughlin's statements and, more importantly, refused to defend
his old friend, Rabbi Franklin. It appeared that Ford was trying to project
a double image with the conflicting statements. To Jewish groups, he would
appear to be a pawn for the notoriously anti-Semitic Father Coughlin. At
the same time, to Nazi-sympathizers, it would appear that Ford had been
taken advantage of by Rabbi Franklin. In the end, the whole matter was
never truly resolved. The Anti-Nazi Bulletin complained that, "in handling
the situation in this way Ford has settled nothing. He is completely naive,
or utterly contemptuous of public opinion if he supposes that this torturous
way of dealing with the gravest problem confronting Democracy will leave
him unscathed."258 Secretary of the Interior;
Harold L. Ickes, ignored all of the public excuses, and proclaimed that
anyone who accepted a decoration from a dictator automatically foreswore
his American birthright. "How can any American," Ickes demanded, "accept
a decoration from the hand of a brutal dictator who, with that same hand,
is robbing and torturing thousands of fellow human beings?"259
stated that, "They [the Germans] sent me this ribbon band. They [the critics]
told me to return it or else I'm not an American. I'm going to keep it!"260
Editor Oswald Garrison Villard noted that he did not think that Ford had
the mentality to understand the significance of his actions, that "a boy
of 12 would do better." Villard pointed out that Ford had many German workers
employed overseas, so it seemed to Ford "just a pleasant gesture, quite
harmless."261 Harry Bennett, himself, later
expressed a similar opinion, believing that Ford did it out of mulishness,
ignorance, and a failure to understand the consequences of his actions.262
Previous | Next
249. Lewis, 150.
250. New York Times, 1 December 1938, 12.
251. New York Times, 4 December 1938, 42.
252. Sward, 454.
253. New York Times, 5 December 1938, 4.
256. Sward, 455.
257. Lewis, 151.
258. Anti-Nazi Bulletin, December 1938, 5.
259. New York Times, 19 December 1938, 5.
260. Lewis, 151.
261. Ibid., 150.
262. Bennett, 210.