The Nation, January 24, 2000. Used by permission.
Ford and the Fuhrer:
New Documents Reveal the Close Ties
Between Dearborn and the Nazis; material alleges that Ford Motor Co. made
equipment for Nazi Germany, even for a few months after the US entered the war.
by Ken Silverstein
"We have sworn to you once,
But now we make our allegiance permanent.
Like currents in a torrent lost,
We all flow into you.
Even when we cannot understand you,
We will go with you.
One day we may comprehend,
How you can see our future.
Hearts like bronze shields,
We have placed around you,
And it seems to us, that only You can reveal God's world to us."
This poem ran in an in-house magazine published by Ford Motor Company's
German subsidiary in April of 1940. Titled "Fuhrer," the poem appeared
at a time when Ford maintained complete control of the German company and
two of its top executives sat on the subsidiary's board. It was also a time
when the object of Schumann's affection was in the process of overrunning
Western Europe after already having swallowed up Austria, Czechoslovakia and
Poland in the East. I found "Fuhrer" among thousands of pages of documents
compiled by the Washington law firm of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, which
sought damages from Ford on behalf of a Russian woman who toiled as a slave
laborer at its German plant. This past September, a judge in New Jersey, Joseph
Greenaway Jr., threw the case out on the grounds that the statute of
limitations had expired. Greenaway, who did not exonerate Ford, did
accept the company's argument that "redressing the tragedies of that period
has been-and should continue to be-a nation-to-nation, government-
Ford argues that company headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, lost
control of its German plant after the United States entered the war in 1941.
Hence, Ford is not responsible for any actions taken by its German subsidiary
during World War II. "We did not do business in Germany during the
war," says Lydia Cisaruk, a Ford spokeswoman. "The Nazis confiscated the
plant there and we lost all contact." She added that Ford played a "pivotal
role in the American war effort. After the United States entered the war,
Ford threw its entire backing to the war effort."
That Ford and a number of other American firms-including General Motors
and Chase Manhattan-worked with the Nazis has been previously disclosed.
So, too, has Henry Ford's role as a leader of the America First Committee,
which sought to keep the United States out of World War II. However, the new
materials, most of which were found at the National Archives, are far
more damning than earlier revelations. They show, among other things, that
up until Pearl Harbor, Dearborn made huge revenues by producing war
materiel for the Reich and that the man it selected to run its German subsidiary
was an enthusiastic backer of Hitler. German Ford served as an "arsenal of
Nazism" with the consent of headquarters in Dearborn, says a US Army
report prepared in 1945.
Moreover, Ford's cooperation with the Nazis continued until at least
August 1942-eight months after the United States entered the war-through its
properties in Vichy France. Indeed, a secret wartime report prepared by
the US Treasury Department concluded that the Ford family sought to further
its business interests by encouraging Ford of France executives to work
with German officials overseeing the occupation. "There would seem to be at
least a tacit acceptance by [Henry Ford's son] Mr. Edsel Ford of the
reliance...on the known neutrality of the Ford family as a basis of receipt of favors
from the German Reich," it says.
The new information about Ford's World War II role comes at a time of
growing attention to corporate collaboration with the Third Reich. In
1998 Swiss banks reached a settlement with Holocaust survivors and agreed to
pay $ 1.25 billion. That set the stage for a host of new Holocaust-related
revelations as well as legal claims stemming from such issues as looted
art and unpaid insurance benefits. This past November NBC News reported
that Chase Manhattan's French branch froze Jewish accounts at the request of
German occupation authorities. Chase's Paris branch manager, Carlos
Niedermann, worked closely with German officials and approved loans to
finance war production for the Nazi Army. In Germany the government and
about fifty firms that employed slave and forced labor during World War
II-including Bayer, BMW, Volkswagen and Daimler-Chrysler-reached
agreement in mid-December to establish a $ 5.1 billion fund to pay victims. Opel,
General Motors' German subsidiary, announced it would contribute to the
fund. (As reported last year in the Washington Post, an FBI report from
1941 quoted James Mooney, GM's director of overseas operations, as saying he
would refuse to do anything that might "make Hitler mad.") Ford refused
to participate in the settlement talks, though its collaboration with the
Third Reich was egregious and extensive. Ford's director of global
operations, Jim Vella, said in a statement, "Because Ford did not do business in
Germany during the war-our Cologne plant was confiscated by the Nazi
government-it would be inappropriate for Ford to participate in such a fund."
The generous treatment allotted Ford Motor by the Nazi regime is
partially attributable to the violent anti-Semitism of the company's founder,
Henry Ford. His pamphlet The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem
brought him to the attention of a former German Army corporal named
Adolf Hitler, who in 1923 became chairman of the fledgling Nazi Party. When
Ford was considering a run for the presidency that year, Hitler told the
Chicago Tribune, "I wish that I could send some of my shock troops to Chicago
and other big American cities to help." (The story comes from Charles
Higham's Trading With the Enemy, which details American business collaboration
with the Nazis.) In Mein Kampf, written two years later, Hitler singled Ford
out for praise. "It is Jews who govern the stock exchange forces of the
American Union," he wrote. "Every year makes them more and more the controlling
masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty
millions; only a single great man, Ford, to their fury, still maintains full
independence." In 1938, long after the vicious character of Hitler's
government had become clear, Ford accepted the Grand Cross of the
German Eagle, the Nazi regime's highest honor for foreigners.