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Henry Ford: From Slaughterhouse to Death Camp

 Excerpt from Chapter 3 of

Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust

by Charles Patterson, Ph.D.

 (New York: Lantern Books, 2002)    © 2002 Charles Patterson
  All rights reserved.     Used with permission.
Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust by Charles Patterson, Ph.D. "Henry Ford, who was so impressed by the efficient way meat packers killed animals in Chicago, made his own special contribution to the slaughter of people in Europe. Not only did he develop the assembly-line method the Germans used to kill Jews, but he launched a vicious anti-Semitic campaign that helped the Holocaust happen." Charles Patterson, Ph.D.

Part One  |  Part Two  |  Part Three  |  Part Four

In spite of the letter Ford wrote to Fritsch, requesting that he stop further publication of the German edition, the influence of The International Jew in Nazi Germany continued to be strong and lasting. German anti-Semites continued to advertise and distribute it throughout the 1930s, often putting the names of Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler together on the cover. By late 1933, Fritsch had published twenty-nine editions, each with a preface praising Ford for his "great service" to America and the world for his attacks on the Jews.25

Hopes that Ford was really sincere about wanting to distance himself from his anti-Semitic past faded completely in 1938 when, on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday in Detroit, Ford accepted the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle, the highest honor Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner. In the ceremony in Ford's office, two German consuls, Karl Kapp of Cleveland and Fritz Hailer of Detroit, presented him with the Nazi medal (Mussolini was one of the three other foreigners to be so honored).26 At Ford's birthday dinner that night, Kapp read the citation that accompanied the medal to the 1,500 prominent Detroiters present and extended to Ford Hitler's personal congratulations.27

On January 7, 1942--exactly one month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into the war--Ford wrote a letter to Sigmund Livingston, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, in which he sought to "clarify some general misconceptions concerning my attitude toward my fellow citizens of Jewish faith." Ford expressed disapproval of hatred "against the Jew or any other racial or religious group" and strongly urged all his fellow citizens to give no aid to any movement whose purpose it was to promote hatred against any group. "It is my sincere hope," he concluded, "that now in this country and throughout the world, when this war is finished and peace once more established, hatred of the Jews, commonly know as anti-Semitism, and hatred against any other racial or religious group, shall cease for all time.28

By the time Ford sent his letter, Einsatzgruppen (German mobile killing squads) in the East had already murdered hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children, and the first German extermination camp at Kulmhof (Chelmno) was already in operation. Several months later the three Operation Reinhard death camps also began functioning--Belzec (March 1942), Sobibor (May 1942), and Treblinka (June 1942). Auschwitz, which Himmler designated as "the centerpiece for 'the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe,'"29 also began exterminating Jews in the spring of 1942--a few months after Ford sent his letter.

Many years after the war, documents collected by a Washington law firm seeking damages from the Ford Company on behalf of a Russian woman who was forced to work as a slave laborer at Ford's German subsidiary revealed "Ford's energetic cooperation with the Third Reich." After Ford Motor opened its office in Berlin in 1925 and built a large plant in Cologne six years later--two years before Hitler came to power--Ford's high standing with Hitler and his Nazi followers certainly helped Ford of Germany (later renamed Ford Werke) prosper during the Nazi years.30 When the Ford subsidiary became a major supplier of vehicles to the German army, its value more than doubled. Throughout the war the Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Michigan, kept majority control of its German subsidiary that used and profited from slave labor. After the war the Ford Company helped Ford Werke get back on its feet. In 1948, when the 10,000th Ford truck rolled off the postwar assembly line in Cologne, Henry Ford's grandson, Henry Ford II, who had assumed the company's presidency in September 1945, was present to mark the occasion.31


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25 Ibid, 148.
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26 A photo showing Ford in his office in 1938, receiving the medal from the German counsuls can be found in Belth, Promise, 86 (World Wide Photos) and Lewis, Public Image, 171 (Detroit Free Press photo). The previous year in Wannsee, just outside Berlin, American businessman, Thomas Watson, president of International Business Machines, received the Merit Cross of the German Eagle with Star, specially created by Hitler. Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation (New York: Crown, 2001), 131-4, 217.
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27 Lewis, Public Image, 149.
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28 Cohn, Warrant, 86.
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29 Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, eds., Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 6.
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30 For a full account of the close ties between another large American company and Nazi Germany, see Black, IBM and the Holocaust.
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Ken Silverstein, "Ford and the Fuhrer: New Documents Reveal the Close Ties Between Dearborn and the Nazis" in The Nation (January 24, 2000), 11-16. My thanks to Allen Bergson for bringing this article to my attention. It should be noted that subsequent efforts by Henry Ford II, the Ford family, and company to improve relations with the Jewish community have included substantial donations to Yeshiva University and the Albert Einstein Medical Center, a gift of $1,000,000 to the National Conference of Christians and Jews for a national headquarters building in New York, and contributions to various national Jewish organizations and causes, such as the United Jewish Appeal, the Israel Emergency Fund, the Jewish Welfare Federation, and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. Henry Ford II also built a Ford assembly plant in Israel, even though it meant a boycott of all Ford products in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Lewis, Public Image, 154-9; Albert Lee, Henry Ford and the Jews (New York: Stein and Day, 1980), iii.
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Excerpted from Chapter 3 of Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, by Charles Patterson, Ph.D. (New York: Lantern Books, 2002) Copyright 2002 Charles Patterson Used with permission For more information about the book visit

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Dr. Charles Patterson has a Ph.D. in Religion from Columbia University.
He is the author of:

Anti-Semitism: The Road to the Holocaust and Beyond    Excerpt - Chapter One

Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust    Excerpt from Chapter Three

From Buchenwald to Carnegie Hall (co-author).

Read more about Dr. Charles Patterson

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