In Addition to its Founder Being a Notorious Anti-Semite, Ford Collaborated With the Third Reich
Henry Ford (1863 – 1947), founder of Ford Motor Company, was a complex man – although not the good kind of complex – when it came to race, and particularly to Jews. On the one hand, for his era, he was relatively progressive in some racial aspects: Ford was one of the few major corporations that actively hired black workers and did not discriminate against Jewish workers or suppliers. On the other hand, Henry Ford had strongly held anti-Semitic views – so anti-Semitic that Hitler praised him in Mein Kampf, and he was decorated by Nazi Germany. So it is unsurprising that his company collaborated with the Third Reich.
Henry Ford probably had no problem with Jews as individuals or at least no problem with some Jews as individuals. However, he had some serious problems when it came to Jews in the aggregate, and was an out-and-out anti-Semite who believed that Jews were conspiring to take over the world. To that end, he purchased and published a weekly newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, that had a decidedly anti-Jewish bent. Ford required all of his car dealers to stock his newspaper, and through that and other measures, got its circulation up to 900,000 by 1925, second only to The New York Times.
With that kind of outlook and anti-Semitic track record, it is unsurprising that Adolf Hitler was a great admirer of Henry Ford. The Nazi leader lauded the American industrialist in Mein Kampf, referred to him as “my inspiration”, and kept a photo of him on his desk. In 1938, on Ford’s 75th birthday, he was awarded The Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal that Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner.
Henry Ford had no problem whatsoever doing business with Nazi Germany. When the war began in 1939, Ford professed himself neutral, but his and his company’s actions belie that claim. Before America joined the war, Ford had no problem supplying Germany with war materials but declined to supply the British RAF with aircraft engines.
In the early 2000s, evidence was unearthed from newly declassified government governments, which showed that the Nazi links with Ford Motor Company went well beyond its founder. Among other things, declassified intelligence documents indicate that Henry Ford’s secretary, Ernest Liebold, might have been a Nazi agent who helped fuel his boss’ paranoia about Jews. Indeed, the documents indicate that Ford’s own son and the company then-president, Edsel, could have been prosecuted for trading with the Nazi enemy had he not died in 1943.
Letters between Edsel Ford and the head of Ford’s French subsidiary in 1942 – after America had joined the war – indicate that Ford knew and approved of the subsidiary’s manufacturing efforts on behalf of the German military. The declassified documents reveal that the US Department of Justice concluded that there was a basis for a criminal case against Edsel Ford.
In addition, Ford’s plants in Germany used slave workers in order to meet the demands of the German war effort. Not only after America joined the war and the plants were seized, but also during the interval between the war’s outbreak in September of 1939, and America’s entry into the conflict in December of 1941. During that period, Ford still controlled its German subsidiary, and knew what was going on in its factories. When the US Army liberated Ford’s plants in Nazi Germany, they found emaciated slave laborers behind barbed wires. A US Army investigator’s report, dated September 5th, 1945, accused Ford’s German subsidiary of serving as “an arsenal of Nazism, at least for military vehicles“, with the parent company’s knowledge and consent.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading