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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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          In early 1940, Walt Disney was thinking of taking his studio public and asked Ford for his advice on the enterprise. Ford expressed his admiration for Disney because he was a successful Protestant in the film business- a field dominated by Jews. However; Ford warned, Jews also controlled the stock market, and Disney would be wise to sell his company outright rather than lose it to "them" one piece at a time. Disney, who may have had anti-Semitic leanings of his own, thanked Ford for his advice.279

         It was not always in just his private circles that Ford would reveal such views. After interviewing Ford in 1941, a reporter for the Manchester Guardian later said, "The best thing he would say about the Jews was that you couldn't do without them. The Gentiles wouldn't work if the Jews weren't here."280 Public opinion polls also showed that the majority of Americans, as high as 80%, still connected Henry Ford with anti-Semitism.

         With the American declaration of war in December of 1941, it was decided to present a new image of Ford to the American public. This was largely due to the efforts of Edsel Ford. Edsel was instrumental in converting the Ford Motor Company into a major arms producer for the allies, and had made efforts to court the Jewish community for years. He and his son, Henry Ford II, now took upon themselves the campaign against unauthorized distribution of The International Jew.

         By this time, Ernest Liebold had been removed from responding to Ford's letters. This was largely due to the efforts of his rival, Harry Bennett. Liebold had told Gerald L.K. Smith that the employment of Bennett had been the worst thing to happen to the company. Bennett, for his part, made endless efforts to get Liebold fired. According to Bennett, he was the one who brought Liebold's "highly inappropriate" letter responses to Ford's attention. "Mr. Ford was furious to see what kind of stuff Liebold had been sending out," Bennett reported. "He instructed me to see to it that Liebold wrote no more letters."281 Ford told Bennett that he would not fire Liebold because that would please too many people he did not like. Bennett, however; thought the truth was that Ford was afraid of Liebold.

          It was not just Liebold about whom Ford was growing suspicious. When reflecting on Bennett himself, Ford was heard to lament, "The Jews and Communists have been working poor Harry until he's almost out of his mind."282 He was even heard to remark of Hitler; "Well, by God, we're through with him. He's just power-drunk, like the rest of them."283 Liebold was eventually fired early in 1944, victim of one the periodic purges of the Ford Company. Bennett would not have much longer before his time also came. His removal was one of the first acts commissioned by Henry Ford II when he gained control of the company in 1945.

              As part of the effort to clean up the Ford image after Pearl Harbor; Edsel and, suprisingly, Bennett, set up a meeting between the elder Ford and Richard E. Gunsadt, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. Gunsadt wrote a letter for Ford that was then sent to Sigmund Livingston, the League's founding member. The letter; dated January 7, 1942, was later published in newspapers across the country. It was meant as a public repudiation of anti-Semitism on behalf of Ford. This time, it was, presumably, sent with Ford's actual signature. The letter stated, in part, that "In our present national and international emergency, I consider it of importance that I clarify some general misconceptions concerning my attitude towards my fellow citizens of Jewish faith. I do not subscribe or support, directly or indirectly, any agitation which would promote antagonism against my Jewish fellow-citizens. I consider that the hate-mongering prevalent for some time in this country against the Jew is of a distinct disservice to our country, and to the peace and welfare of humanity." The statement went on to reiterate Ford's disassociation from the articles of The Dearborn Independent, decried racial hatred as an effort "to weaken our national unity," and urged citizens not to give aid to hate groups. The letter ended on an ironic note, for one signed by Henry Ford: "It is my sincere hope that now in this country and throughout the world, when this war is finished and peace once again established, hatred of the Jew, commonly known as antiSemitism.. .will cease for all time. "284

            The following month, Ford attorney, l.A. Capizzi, threatened the Ku Klux Klan with legal action if it did not desist from further publication and distribution of The International Jew. The Klan replied that it already had halted the effort; it did not wish to issue "controversial articles" during wartime. Capizzi also wrote Mexican Government official Miguel Aleman. In his letter; Capizzi informed Mr. Aleman that Spanish translations in Mexico City and Pueblo were works of the "German propaganda department," that any intimation of Ford being the author was a "gross misrepresentation," and that assistance in halting distribution of "this harmful exhibition of deceit" would be greatly appreciated.285 That same month, William J. Cameron, of all people, condemned anti-Semitism as "scurrilous stuff, a vestige of tribal barbarism, the negation of humanity, intelligence, and Christianity" on the Ford Sunday Evening Hour.286 This was quite a change in tune, coming from the man who had accused the Jews themselves of such things for years. The absence of Ernest Liebold as Ford's secretary and the weakening health of the nearly eighty year old Ford were beginning to be reflected in company policy. The Ford Motor Company was now actively pursuing an end to The International Jew as it never had before.

          By the mid 1940's, Ford had suffered two strokes. He was to have his third, and most severe, attack in May of 1945. According to witness Josephine Gomon, it happened as Ford watched uncut footage of the Majdanek Concentration Camp in the Ford Auditorium. "He never recovered his mind or physical strength," Gomon later reported.287 After this, Ford claimed that government agents were after him and made sure that his chauffeur was armed.

          If Ford made any connection between the grisly concentration camp footage and his own actions, it was only re-enforced during the Nuremberg Trials. The leader of Hitler's Labor Front, Robert Ley, wrote a letter to Ford from his cell as he awaited trial. In view of their mutual interests, Ley wrote, he would like to work for Ford after he was released. After all, he added, he had done nothing more in the past few years than engage in anti-Semitic activities.288 Ley was later to hang himself.

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End Notes

279. Marc Eliot, Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince (New York: Birch Lane Press, 1993),136.

280. Lee, 122.

281. Bennett, 174.

282. Allan Nevins and Frank Hill, Ford: Decline and Rebirth (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963), 262.

283. Bennett, 213.

284. New York Times, 12 January 1942, 12.

285. New York Times, 1 February 1942, 35.

286. Sward, 462.

287. Lee, 137.

288. New York Times, 10 October 1945, 8.

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