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
Ford Motor set up shop in Germany in 1925, when it opened an office in
Berlin. Six years later, it built a large plant in Cologne, which
became its headquarters in the country. Ford of Germany prospered during the Nazi
years, especially with the economic boom brought on by World War II.
Sales increased by more than half between 1938 and 1943, and, according to a
US government report found at the National Archives, the value of the
German subsidiary more than doubled during the course of the war.
Ford eagerly collaborated with the Nazis, which greatly enhanced its
business prospects and at the same time helped Hitler prepare for war
(and after the 1939 invasion of Poland, conduct it). In the mid-thirties,
Dearborn helped boost German Ford's profits by placing orders with the
Cologne plant for direct delivery to Ford plants in Latin America and
Japan. In 1936, as a means of preserving the Reich's foreign reserves, the
Nazi government blocked the German subsidiary from buying needed raw
materials. Ford headquarters in Dearborn responded-just as the Nazis hoped it
would-by shipping rubber and other materials to Cologne in exchange for
German-made parts. The Nazi government took a 25 percent cut out of the imported
raw materials and gave them to other manufacturers, an arrangement approved
According to the US Army report of 1945, prepared by Henry Schneider,
German Ford began producing vehicles of a strictly military nature for the
Reich even before the war began. The company also established a war plant
ready for mobilization day in a 'safe' zone near Berlin, a step taken,
according to Schneider, "with the...approval of Dearborn." Following Hitler's
1939 invasion of Poland, which set off World War II, German Ford became one
of the largest suppliers of vehicles to the Wehrmacht (the German Army).
Papers found at the National Archives show that the company was selling to the
SS and the police as well. By 1941 Ford of Germany had stopped
manufacturing passenger vehicles and was devoting its entire production capacity to
military trucks. That May the leader of the Nazi Party in Cologne sent
a letter to the plant thanking its leaders for helping "assure us victory
in the present [war] struggle" and for demonstrating the willingness to
"cooperate in the establishment of an exemplary social state."
Ford vehicles were crucial to the revolutionary Nazi military strategy
of blitzkrieg. Of the 350,000 trucks used by the motorized German Army as
of 1942, roughly one-third were Ford-made. The Schneider report states
that when American troops reached the European theater, "Ford trucks
prominently present in the supply lines of the Wehrmacht were understandably an
unpleasant sight to men in our Army." Indeed, the Cologne plant proved
to be so important to the Reich's war effort that the Allies bombed it on
several occasions. A secret 1944 US Air Force "Target Information Sheet" on the
factory said that for the previous five years it had been "geared for
war production on a high level."
While Ford Motor enthusiastically worked for the Reich, the company
initially resisted calls from President Roosevelt and British Prime
Minister Churchill to increase war production for the Allies. The Nazi
government was grateful for that stance, as acknowledged in a letter from Heinrich
Albert to Charles Sorenson, a top executive in Dearborn. Albert had been a
lawyer for German Ford since at least 1927, a director since 1930 and,
according to the Treasury report, part of a German espionage ring operating in the
United States during World War I. "The 'Dementi' of Mr. Henry Ford concerning
war orders for Great Britain has greatly helped us," Albert wrote in July
of 1940, shortly after the fall of France, when England appeared to be on
the verge of collapse before the Fuhrer's troops.
Ford's energetic cooperation with the Third Reich did not prevent the
company's competitors from seeking to tarnish it by calling attention
to its non-German ownership. Ford responded by appointing a majority-German
board of directors for the Cologne plant, upon which it bestowed the
politically correct Aryan name of Ford Werke. In March of 1941, Ford issued new
stock in the Cologne plant and sold it exclusively to Germans, thereby reducing
Dearborn's share to 52 percent.
At the time, the Nazi government's Ministry of Economy debated whether
the opportunity afforded by the capital increase should be taken to demand
a German majority at Ford Werke. The Ministry "gave up the idea"-this
according to a 1942 statement prepared by a Ford Werke executive-in
part because "there could be no doubt about the complete incorporation, as
regards personnel, organization and production system, of Ford Werke
into the German national economy, in particular, into the German armaments
industry." Beyond that, Albert argued in a letter to the Reich
Commission for Enemy Property, the abolition of the American majority would
eliminate "the importance of the company for the obtaining of raw materials," as
well as "insight into American production and sales methods."