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
As 1941 progressed, the board of Ford Werke fretted that the United
States would enter the war in support of Britain and the government would
confiscate the Cologne plant. To prevent such an outcome, the Cologne
management wrote to the Reich Commission that year to say that it
"question[ed] whether Ford must be treated as enemy property" even in
the event of a US declaration of war on Germany. "Ford has become a purely
German company and has taken over all obligations so successfully that
the American majority shareholder, independent of the favorable political
views of Henry Ford, in some periods actually contributed to the development
of German industry," Cologne argued on June 18, 1941, only six months
before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
In May of 1942, the Superior Court of Cologne finally put Ford Werke in
"trusteeship," ruling that it was "under authoritative enemy
influence." However, the Nazis never nationalized Ford's German property-plant
managers feared it would be turned over to Mercedes or the Hermann Goering
Werke, a huge industrial network composed of properties seized by the Reich-and
Dearborn maintained its 52 percent share through the duration of the
war. Ford Werke even set aside dividend payments due to Dearborn, which were
paid after the war. Ford claims that it received only $ 60,000 in dividend
payments. It's not possible to independently verify that-or anything
else regarding Dearborn's wartime economic relationship with Cologne-because
Ford of America was privately held until 1956, and the company will not make
available its balance sheets from the period.
Labor shortages caused by the war-millions of men were at the front and
Nazi ideology was violently opposed to the idea of women working-led the
Reich to deport millions of people from occupied lands to Germany to work in
factories. German companies were encouraged to bid for forced laborers
in order to meet production quotas and increase profits. By 1943 half of
Ford Werke's work force comprised foreign captives, including French,
Russians, Ukrainians and Belgians. In August of 1944 a squad of SS men brought
fifteen prisoners from the Buchenwald concentration camp to Ford Werke. The
German researcher Karola Fings, co-author of Working for the Enemy, a book on
Nazi slave- and forced-labor programs, to be published this spring, says
Ford's worker-inmates toiled for twelve hours a day with a fifteen-minute
break. They were given 200 grams of bread and coffee for breakfast, no lunch
and a dinner of spinach and three potatoes or soup made of turnip leaves.
An account by Robert Schmidt, the man appointed to run Ford Werke in
1939, states that the company used forced laborers even before the Nazis put
the plant in trusteeship. His statement, sent to a Ford executive in
England immediately after Germany's surrender, says that as of 1940 "many of
our employees were called to the colours and had to be replaced by whatever
was available.... The same applies to 1941. Some 200 French prisoners of
war were employed." In a statement to the US Army in 1945, Schmidt said
that the Gestapo began to play an important role at Ford Werke after the first
foreign workers arrived. With the assistance of W.M. Buchwald, a Ford
employee since the mid-thirties, the Gestapo carefully monitored plant
activities. "Whenever there was the slightest indication of anti- Nazi
feeling, be it amongst foreigners or Germans, the Gestapo tramped down
as hard as possible," Schmidt told the Army.
Meanwhile, Ford Werke offered enthusiastic political support for Hitler
as well. The fraternal ties between Ford and the Nazis is perhaps best
symbolized by the company's birthday gift to the Fuhrer of 35,000
Reichsmarks in April of 1939. Ford Werke's in-house publication
couldn't have been more fanatically pro-Nazi if Josef Goebbels had edited it.
"Fuhrer," the poem printed at the top of this story, ran in the April
1940 issue, which celebrated Hitler's 51st birthday by running his picture
on the cover. The issue carried an excerpt of a speech by Hitler in which he
declared that "by natural law of the earth, we are the supreme race and
thus destined to rule." In another section of the speech, the Fuhrer
declared that communism was "second in wretchedness only to Judaism." The issue
from April of the following year-this at roughly the high point of the Third
Reich's military victories-featured a photograph of a beaming Hitler
visiting with German soldiers on the front lines. "The management of
the Ford-Werke salutes our Fuhrer with grateful heart, honesty, and
allegiance, and-as before-pledges to cooperate in his life's work: achieving honor,
liberty and happiness for Greater Germany and, indeed, for all peoples
of Europe," reads the caption.
Robert Schmidt so successfully converted the plant to a war footing
that the Nazi regime gave him the title of Wehrwirtschaftsfuhrer, or Military
Economic Leader. The Nazis also put Schmidt in charge of overseeing
Ford plants in occupied Belgium, Holland and Vichy France. At one point, he
and another Cologne executive bitterly argued over who would run Ford of
England when Hitler's troops conquered Britain.
Schmidt's personal contributions to Ford Werke's in-house organ reflect
his ardently pro-Nazi views. "At the beginning of this year we vowed to
give our best and utmost for final victory, in unshakable faithfulness to our
Fuhrer," he wrote in December of 1941, the same month as Pearl Harbor.
"Today we say with pride that we succeeded if not in reaching all our
goals, nevertheless in contributing to a considerable extent in providing the
necessary transportation for our troops at the front." The following
March, Schmidt penned an article in which he declared, "It depends upon our
work whether the front can be supplied with its necessities.... therefore,
we too are soldiers of the Fuhrer."