The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reichby Max Wallace
Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh have long been exalted as two of the greatest American icons of the twentieth century. From award-winning journalist Max Wallace comes groundbreaking and astonishing revelations about the poisonous effect these two so-called American heroes had on Western democracy. In his wide ranging investigation, Wallace goes further than any
Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh have long been exalted as two of the greatest American icons of the twentieth century. From award-winning journalist Max Wallace comes groundbreaking and astonishing revelations about the poisonous effect these two so-called American heroes had on Western democracy. In his wide ranging investigation, Wallace goes further than any other historian to expose how Ford and Lindbergh-acting in league with the Nazis-almost brought democratic Europe to the verge of extinction.
With unprecedented access to declassified FBI and military intelligence files, Wallace reveals how the close friendship and ideological bond between automotive pioneer Ford and aviator Lindbergh culminated in an abuse of power that helped strengthen Hitler's regime and undermined the Allied war effort. Wallace traces Henry Ford's ties to Nazi Germany back as far as the 1920s, presenting compelling evidence of a financial paper trail proving that Ford subsidized the rise to power of Adolph Hitler, who described Ford as "my inspiration." For the first time, the genesis of Ford's notorious Anti-Semitism is uncovered: The American Axis proves that Ford's private secretary and life-long confidante was a German spy, who channeled his employer's Jew-baiting crusades to further the cause of the Third Reich.
Lindbergh's own anti-Semitism and white-Supremacist views captured the attention of the Nazis, who soon manipulated him in their clandestine Fifth Column efforts. As the first unauthorized biographer to gain access to the Lindbergh archives, Wallace paints a substantially more chilling portrait of Lindbergh's pre-war activities than any previous historian and produces new evidence that the Nazis secretly plotted to install Lindbergh as the leader of the movement to keep America out of World War Two.
The most controversial corporate investigation since IBM and the Holocaust, the book reveals that the Ford Motor Company's military and political complicity in the Third Reich war effort was considerably stronger than the company has acknowledged and that a US Army post-war investigation concluded that the company had become "an arsenal of Nazism." Wallace disputes a recent internal investigation into the use of slave labor at Ford's German plant during World War II - which company officials claimed as a vindication of its wartime activities - and reveals that corporate President Edsel Ford was about to be indicted by the US government for "Trading With the Enemy" at the time of his 1943 death.
The American Axis is not only a mesmerizing, cautionary tale, but a compelling historical exposé.
The Washington Post
"What a drama! Two of the most popular figures in 20th century America—Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh—pitted against a third—Franklin Delano Roosevelt—over what to do about Adolf Hitler. Max Wallace reminds us that the destiny of the republic hung in the balance in the Great Debate of 1940-41."
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., author of The Age of Roosevelt and (with Robert F. Kennedy) Thirteen Days
"A tireless excavation of the dark facts surrounding Ford and Lindbergh's relationship with the Third Reich. Wallace's extensive investigation probes three and four layers deeper than others, pulls no punches, names names, and creates a powerful historical document."
Edwin Black, author of IBM and the Holocaust
"Eye-opening . . . A finely wrought, careful, and utterly damning case that ought to prompt a widespread reevaluation of both Ford and Lindbergh."
"A seminal book, groundbreaking in its documentation of American celebrity collaboration with the Third Reich. Max Wallace exposes Henry Ford as an amoral business thug who promoted anti-Semitism and Nazism for profit. Lindbergh's reputation is utterly shredded by the careful analysis of newly released classified files, which expose him as a bigot and Hitler's willing pawn. Wallace rebuts line by line the Ford Company's recent attempts to sanitize its Nazi past and skewers corporate spin with devastating documentation from Ford's own files. The American Axis is that rare work of balance: biography, scholarship, and celebrity scandal. My pick for the most powerful book of the year."
John Loftus, author of The Secret War Against the Jews
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American Axis, The
CHRONICLER OF THE NEGLECTED TRUTH
The process that brought Henry Ford's portrait to a prominent position behind Hitler's desk began during the summer of 1919, when Ford made the first public sortie in a hate-filled but distinctively American campaign that was to dominate his attention for the next eight years. In July, he announced to the New York World that "International financiers are behind all war ... they are what is called the international Jew: German Jews, French Jews, English Jews, American Jews ... the Jew is a threat."1
From any other figure, the interview might have been dismissed as the ravings of a crackpot. But these words were uttered by the man who was arguably America's most respected and celebrated figure--a man whose achievements had already permanently altered the nation's economic and industrial landscape. This was the first signal that he was about to have a profound impact on America's social character as well.
By 1919, Henry Ford had already secured his place as history's most important automobile pioneer. He had not invented the car or the assembly line, as many believed, but he had revolutionized both, radically changing the country's transportation habits with the introduction of the Model T--the nation's first affordable car. After proclaiming in 1908 that he would "build a motorcar for the great multitude," Ford had by 1913 turned out more than a quarter million units of the car Americans affectionately referred to as the "Tin Lizzie." According to economist Fred Thompson, Ford's car was the chief instrument of one of history's greatest changes in the lives of the common people. Farmers were no longer isolated on remotefarms. The horse disappeared so rapidly that the transfer of acreage from hay to other crops caused an agricultural revolution. The automobile became the main prop of the American economy.2 Within a short period, Henry Ford had joined the likes of Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Mellon as one of the country's industrial giants. Nonetheless, in 1913, five years after he first introduced the Model T, neither Who's Who nor the New York Times index contained a single reference to Ford or his company.3 His next innovation, however, was destined forever to put an end to this anonymity.
At the beginning of 1914, the Ford Motor Company found itself in trouble. Two factors in particular were worrying the board of directors. Because of low wages and poor working conditions, it had become increasingly difficult to retain employees. Turnover approached 380 percent, and at one point it was necessary to hire nearly one thousand workers to keep one hundred on the payroll. More worrisome still was a campaign begun the year before by the nation's largest industrial union, the IWW, targeting Ford for unionization and encouraging the workers to stage a slowdown. Union pamphlets featuring such ditties as "The hours are long, the pay is small, so take your time and buck 'em all," had shareholders terrified for their profits.4
Ford's assembly line had revolutionized production but it was also being blamed for the increasing dehumanization of workers.5 A letter to Ford from the wife of one of his assembly-line workers provides a touchingly humble indictment of the conditions in his factory at the time:
My Dear Mr. Ford--Please pardon the means I am taking of asking you for humanity's sake to investigate and to pardon my seeming rudeness but Mr. Ford I am the wife of one of the final assemblers in your institution and neither one of us want to be agitators and thus do not want to say anything to make anyone else more aggrivated but Mr. Ford you do not know the conditions in your factory we are all sure or you would not allow it. Are you aware that a man cannot "buck nature" when he has to go to the toilet and yet he is not allowed to go at his work. He has to go before he gets there or after work. The chain system you have is a slave driver! My God! Mr. Ford. My husband has come home and thrown himself down and won't eat his supper--so done out. Can't it be remedied?6
Her letter reflects nothing more than the norm in American industry at the beginning of the twentieth century. Workers were considered little betterthan beasts of burden; theirs was a grind of tedious and back-breaking labor from which any consideration for the employee's welfare was absent. The average worker toiled nine hours a day for a salary that barely approached subsistence levels. Profits were based on wages as low as a worker would take and pricing as high as the market would bear. Industrialists were regularly pilloried in the press as robber barons and caricatured in the nation's magazines as inhuman slave drivers. A decade earlier, President Teddy Roosevelt was cheered when he declared war on the industrial trusts he said were ruining the country.
That was about to change. Whether motivated by a genuine concern for the welfare of his workers or a fear of unionization, Ford convened a meeting of his board of directors on Tuesday, January 5, 1914, to announce the revolutionary policy that would alter permanently the worker-employer relationship. Henceforth, he announced to the stunned silence of his colleagues, the minimum wage for Ford workers would be more than doubled from $2.34 a day to $5.00, and the working day would be cut from nine to eight hours.7 An elaborate system of profit-sharing would be introduced. "Our workers are not sharing in our good fortune," declared Ford. "There are thousands out there in the shop who are not living as they should."8 The effect was electrifying, signaling nothing less than a new era in American industry. The next morning, every newspaper in the land announced the new policy with blaring headlines. "It is the most generous stroke of policy between a captain of industry and worker that the country has ever seen," wrote the Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record.9 According to the New York Globe, Ford's new wage scheme had "all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of socialism." Overnight, Ford was hailed as a national hero. One newspaper called him "the new Messiah." The only negative note was sounded by his fellow industrialists, who appeared to regard Ford as a traitor to his class, worried that their own workers would expect similar treatment. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal--voice of American Big Business--called the wage blatantly immoral, an "economic crime."10 Treating workers humanely would set a dangerous precedent that might threaten the entire capitalist system, the paper warned. To his detractors, Ford explained that the new policy was merely sound business practice, not a humanitarian gesture, and would result in increased productivity and higher profits.
But grateful American workers saw humanity in it and sent thousands of letters and telegrams thanking him for his generosity. That week, police had to be summoned to quell a riot when more than 12,000 men lined up at the gates of the Ford plant in hope of a job.
Newspaper reporters descended on the company's Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters to record the new hero's every utterance. Ford was gladto oblige them. His homilies on every conceivable topic blended folksy wisdom with a homespun philosophy on life. On ability: "Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right!" On self-reliance: "Chop your own wood, and it will warm you twice." On altruism: "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business." And the quote for which he would be best remembered: "History is more or less bunk." According to one study, Ford's wage hike created more than two million lines of favorable advertising on the front pages of newspapers and thousands and thousands of editorial endorsements.11
Ford reveled in his newfound celebrity status. A shameless self-promoter, he used the media to create an entirely new persona, portraying himself as a self-made millionaire who had begun life as the son of a poor farmer in rural Michigan and clawed his way out of poverty to learn a trade and build his first car. He told story after story of the tremendous hardship he had endured as a child. However, according to his sister Margaret, "there was no truth in them." His father was in fact a prosperous landowner who owned a farm along with a number of other enterprises.12 Moreover, Ford assiduously cultivated the myth that he was a mechanical genius, even though his cars were engineered and designed by others.13 Instead, he assembled some of the finest mechanics available and used their expertise to build his industry.
"I don't like to read books," he once said. "They muss up my mind." According to one reporter who interviewed him, "Outside of business, where he is a genius, his mind is that of a child."14 Testifying years later at a libel suit after the Chicago Tribune called him an "anarchist," Ford--who never even graduated high school--demonstrated the extent of his historical knowledge under questioning by the paper's lawyer. Asked whether he knew anything about the American Revolution, he responded, "I understand there was one in 1812." Any other time? "I don't know of any others." What about the one in 1776? "I didn't pay much attention to such things." Did you ever hear of Benedict Arnold? "I have heard the name." Who was he? "I have forgotten just who he is. He is a writer, I think."15
Nothing, however, could diminish Ford's stature with the public or the press. Countless newspapers called on him to run for President. The letters of admiration poured in by the truckload. And as Ford predicted when he instituted the five-dollar day, his company enjoyed an immediate surge in production and skyrocketing profits, making him a billionaire and one of the world's richest men. His name became a verb (to "Fordize" meant to manufacture at a price so low that the common man can afford to buy it) and a noun ("Fordism" referred to mass production resulting in sustained economic growth).16 Perhaps the best illustration of his newfound status was a nationwide poll in which Ford ranked as the thirdgreatest man in history behind only Napoleon and Jesus Christ.17
It is difficult, nearly a century later, to portray accurately the magnitude of Ford's fame and influence brought on by the five-dollar day. In his 1932 classic Brave New World, Aldous Huxley attempts to reflect the time in his youth when Ford seemed an omnipresent force. In the novel, set far in the future, Huxley creates a utopian society where universal happiness has been achieved and people are conditioned to love their work. The entire society reveres the "Apostle of Mass Production," Henry Ford, who is worshipped like a God.18 Time is measured from when Ford first introduced the assembly line. Thus, the story is set in 632 A.F. (After Ford). Adherents cross themselves in the sign of the "T."
Small wonder, then, that when Ford first announced his philosophy toward the Jews to the New York World in 1919, it carried no inconsiderable impact. That same year, he quietly purchased a small weekly newspaper called the Dearborn Independent, opened an office in an engineering laboratory next to his tractor plant, and assembled a staff in preparation for a crusade that was about to leave a pronounced scar on the face of American society. For the first sixteen months of its operation, under the editorship of former Detroit News editor Edwin Pipp, the Independent was barely distinguishable from any other weekly newspaper. It supported Prohibition, prison reform and the Versailles Treaty, printed innocuous articles about local issues, and mentioned Jews not at all. But before long, Pipp later recalled, Ford began to bring up Jews "frequently, almost continuously," until his new obsession eventually found its way into the newspaper.19
On May 22, 1920, under a banner that announced the Independent as "The Ford International Weekly," a huge bold headline fired the opening salvo: THE INTERNATIONAL JEW: THE WORLD'S PROBLEM. For the next ninety-one weeks, each edition of the Dearborn Independent--promising its readers to serve as the "Chronicler of the Neglected Truth"--added further embellishments to the picture of a Jewish conspiracy so vast and far-reaching that the tentacles of the Jews supposedly touched every facet of American life. "In America alone," announced the paper, "most of big business, the trusts and the banks, the natural resources and the chief agricultural products, especially tobacco, cotton and sugar, are in control of Jewish financiers and their agents. Jewish journalists are a large and powerful group here ... Jews are the largest and most numerous landlords ... They absolutely control the circulations of publications in this country."
Pipp resigned in protest over the paper's new editorial direction and was replaced by former Detroit News reporter William J. Cameron, who would serve Ford well over the ensuing two decades.
No American institution, according to the Independent, was immune from the grasp of Jewish control. "Whichever way you turn to trace theharmful streams of influence that flow through society, you come upon a group of Jews," it declared. "If fans wish to know the trouble with American baseball, they have it in three words: too much Jew." Jazz music was "Jewish moron music." The Federal Reserve was designed by "Jew bankers" to put the nation's money under the control of a "Jewish cabal."
Each week readers were treated to what Ford's paper called "a lesson" in the insidious tricks Jews used to control the country. These included "the gentle art of changing Jewish names" to disguise their ethnicity. Once disguised as Gentiles, the reasoning went, the Jews' goal was to eradicate Christian virtues.
To Henry Ford, who had famously claimed history is "bunk," the Independent was the forum for a history tailored to his own worldview. He dispatched a team of detectives to dig up the evidence that Jews were behind all that was evil in the country. For example, the paper claimed, America was not discovered by Christopher Columbus but by a Jewish interpreter named Luis de Torres--for the purpose of finding and exploiting tobacco, a substance Ford linked to "degeneracy." Benedict Arnold was merely a Jewish pawn who betrayed his country at the behest of Jewish moneylenders. 20 The underlying theme of the series was clear. Jews were attempting to take control of the United States--not by force, but by stealth. In Ford's paranoid conception, the menace was ubiquitous. "If there is one quality that attracts Jews, it is power," the paper announced. "Wherever the seat of power may be, thither they swarm obsequiously."
Anti-Semitism was not unknown to the United States before the Independent began its campaign. As early as 1862, one year before Ford was born, President Lincoln was forced to declare anti-Semitism inimical to U.S. government policy after General Ulysses S. Grant issued an order barring Jewish peddlers from selling merchandise to Union soldiers. Lincoln immediately countermanded the order, declaring, "To condemn a class (of people) is to condemn the good with the bad. I do not like to hear an entire class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners."21 At the time, such incidents were rare. Yet, a wave of European immigration during the late nineteenth century had brought more than a million Jews to America, resulting in a marked increase in anti-Semitic sentiment, especially among the Protestant upper classes.22 Caricatures of Jews as crook-nosed moneylenders often appeared in the pages of satirical magazines. Jews were barred from membership in a number of clubs and organizations, and quotas were imposed on levels of Jewish enrollment in many universities as well as on the medical staffs of major hospitals. But Catholics suffered much of the same discrimination (the Ku Klux Klan, for example, originally targeted Roman Catholics as the prime scourge facing the nation along with blacks, while mostly leaving Jews alone in the South, where theyhad long gained acceptance and respect as the primary merchant class).23
The dominant attitude toward Jews among Christian Americans at the time, concludes social historian Leonard Dinnerstein, was an amalgam of "affection, curiosity, suspicion and rejection."24 Jews may not have been welcomed as fully accepted members of American society and the doors of some institutions may have been barred, but the idea of an organized Jewish conspiracy was still a foreign concept and, on the whole, Jews had assimilated fairly effectively by the end of the nineteenth century.
The influx of European immigrants at the turn of the century, however, brought foreign accents, different cultural mores, and strange fashion styles. And something more insidious--a small body of anti-Semitic literature unfamiliar on America's shores but which had been widely distributed in Europe for some time, especially in countries with large Jewish populations. Among these was an obscure document known as the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.25 Throughout Russia, France, Poland, and England, this document was being circulated as proof that the Jews were plotting to take over the world. The Protocols are usually divided into twenty-six separate chapters, each of which comprises a purported Jewish lecture on how to subvert western civilization.26 "With steadfast purpose," they claim to reveal, "the Jews are creating wars and revolutions ... to destroy the white Gentile race, that the Jews may seize the power during the resulting chaos and rule with their claimed superior intelligence over the remaining races of the world, as kings over slaves."
Allegedly, the Protocols were the confidential minutes of a Jewish conclave convened at the end of the nineteenth century. The document was, in fact, a hoax concocted by a czarist official named Serge Nilus, who edited several editions of the Protocols, each with a different account of how he obtained the material. In his 1911 edition, Nilus claimed that his source had stolen the document from (a nonexistent) Zionist headquarters in France. Other editions of the Protocols maintained that they were read at the First Zionist Congress held in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland.27 In reality, the forgery was largely plagiarized from an obscure nineteenth-century satire on Napoleon III called A Dialogue in Hell Between Montesquieu and Machiavelli, written by a Frenchman named Maurice Joly, and Biarritz, an 1868 novel by the German anti-Semite Hermann Goedsche.28
The Protocols had already been used in Europe to justify countless incidents of violence toward the Jews. In his 1936 study of the origins of antiSemitism, Hugo Valentin wrote, "It is no exaggeration to say that they cost the lives of many thousands of innocent persons and that more blood and tears cling to their pages than to those of any other mendacious document in history."29
In 1920, shortly after the forgery first made its way to America, a formerczarist agent named Boris Brasol arranged for an English translation of the Protocols to be sent to the offices of the Dearborn Independent. Here was the evidence Ford was looking for to support his suspicion that the Jews were engaged in a sinister conspiracy. Each week a different article attacking the Jews was backed up by one of the twenty-six Protocols, skillfully edited to incorporate a contemporary theme. An oft-repeated claim was that the Jews had plotted the recent Russian Revolution and were behind all Bolshevism. The "Soviet," it revealed, was a Jewish institution operating under the Hebrew name "Kahal." The Bolshevik leaders were allegedly all Jews whose sole purpose was to destroy Gentile civilization.30 In this upheaval, Ford saw tangible evidence of the havoc that Jews could wreak.
Because a figure as prominent as the nation's most respected industrialist had endorsed the Protocols, the charges gained instant credibility. The same week in June 1920 that the Dearborn Independent revealed their existence, the Christian Science Monitor published an editorial entitled "The Jewish Peril," highlighting the Protocols' revelations and warning its readers of the dangers represented by international Jews. The next day, in an editorial entitled "World Mischief," the Chicago Tribune argued that Bolshevism was merely a "tool" for the establishment of Jewish world control.31
Alarm spread throughout the American Jewish community, first because of the Independent's campaign and then because of the rapid pace with which its charges had spread to the mainstream press. In late June, Louis Marshall, director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), labeled Ford's anti-Semitic campaign "the most serious episode in the history of American Jewry."32 That week, Marshall convened an emergency session of the AJC's inner circle.33 Its members unanimously agreed that the Independent's campaign was formidable enough to justify a gathering of all national Jewish organizations. The AJC issued an eighteen-page response to the nation's media, refuting the Independent's claims, rejecting the charge that Jews were behind communism, and exposing the Protocols as hate-filled nonsense. The refutation received widespread coverage and earned Ford the epithet "ignoramus" in several newspapers and magazines. The Nation deplored the wave of anti-Semitism sweeping the country and declared that "the chief responsibility for the survival of this hoary shame among us in America attaches to Henry Ford."34
Ford was undeterred. He explained to a reporter that he was only trying to "awake the Gentile world to an understanding of what is going on. The Jew is a mere huckster ... ."35 Not only did he continue to pursue his campaign but in October 1920, Ford published a 200-page pamphlet reprinting the paper's first twenty articles about the "Jewish Question." It was the first edition of The International Jew, a series of four pamphlets,each of which exposed a different aspect of sinister Jewish control.36 The preface to the first edition explained that "the Dearborn Independent has not been making a fight but fulfilling a duty to shed light on a matter crying for light."37 More than a half million copies of The International Jew were distributed for free through Ford's vast nationwide network of dealerships; thousands more were sent to some of the country's most influential figures, including college presidents, politicians, bankers, and clergymen. A few months later, Ford compiled the pamphlets and published them in book form.
Jews weren't the only Americans concerned by Ford's relentless crusade. At its annual convention in December 1920, the Federal Council of Churches issued a strong condemnation of the Independent's campaign: "For some time past, there have been in circulation in this country publications tending to create race prejudice and arouse animosity against our Jewish fellow citizens and containing charges so preposterous as to be unworthy of credence."38
Louis Marshall appealed to President Woodrow Wilson to intervene and a month later, 119 prominent non-Jewish Americans, including Wilson, former President William Howard Taft, and the new President-elect Warren Harding, signed a manifesto called "The Perils of Racial Prejudice." The document spoke for the "undersigned citizens of Gentile extraction and Christian faith," condemning the introduction into political life of "a new and dangerous spirit." Nowhere did the manifesto mention Ford by name or his newspaper, but its target was clear, as well as its message. "It should not be left to men and women of the Jewish faith to fight this evil, but in a very special sense it is the duty of citizens who are not Jews by ancestry or faith ... to strike at this un-American and unChristian agitation."39
In his book Henry Ford and the Jews, chronicling the early history of Ford's anti-Semitism, Neil Baldwin identifies the publication of the "Perils of Prejudice" manifesto as a turning point in Ford's crusade. "After a few weeks," he quotes writer Leon Poliakov, "it was clear that Henry Ford stood alone in the United States."40 But although it is true that liberals, intellectuals, and a large portion of the mainstream press had turned against him, events were to prove that Ford was far from alone and anything but daunted by the attacks.
Around the same time the "Perils of Prejudice" manifesto was issued in America, the London Times published definitive proof that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was a forgery.41 Extracts from the Protocols were printed side-by-side in the influential British newspaper with passages from Maurice Joly's original book, demonstrating that it had been plagiarized almost verbatim. From that point on, the document was almost unanimously dismissed bythe media as rubbish. But when a reporter from the New York World informed Ford a few weeks later that the Protocols could not possibly be genuine, he replied, "The only statement I care to make about the Protocols is that they fit in with what is going on. They are sixteen years old, and they have fitted the world situation up to this time. Indeed they do."42
Ford was convinced of a truth of his own making and nothing was going to deter him from his determination to expose the international Jewish menace. Moreover, the letters that poured into his office from average Americans convinced him that the people supported his efforts. The Ford Archive has retained thousands of letters that testify to the kind of grassroots support Ford's campaign enjoyed.
Righteous indignation was typical of most of these letters. "The Independent is the new Declaration of Independence against the most impudent and rotten domination ever known in this land, and that infernal domination has been the Jew," wrote one reader, echoing the tone of countless others.43 Several admiring letters came from clergymen, written on the letterhead of their churches. Wrote one priest from Saginaw, Michigan, "I think you will be interested to know that the Jewish Studies are attracting a great deal of attention among the highest authorities in Rome. It seems that the Jews are making themselves particularly obnoxious in the Eternal City. Just recently a request was made from Rome for the volumes containing the stories published in the back numbers of the Dearborn Independent ."44 One letter even arrived from a King Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan offering to procure subscriptions for the paper. Indeed, the Independent proved to be a runaway success. When Ford purchased the paper in 1919, its circulation was 72,000. By 1922, it had increased to 300,000, eventually reaching a peak of 700,000 readers two years later.45 He was tapping into a vein that ran deep in a segment of the American psyche.
The Dearborn Independent regularly described the Jews as "an enigma," yet there is probably no more fitting a description of Henry Ford himself. Here was a hitherto shy, gentle man, whose passions included birdwatching, square dancing, country fiddling, and collecting antiques. He showed little intolerance on most other issues and in some respects was quite enlightened, supporting women's suffrage, equal pay for equal work, and anti-lynching laws. In fact, the Ford plant was at one point the largest employer of blacks in the country and many of those who had been in Ford's employ, including the boxer Joe Louis, spoke very highly of him.46 The source of his fame--the five-dollar day--was perhaps the most progressive labor measure in corporate history. He was so well liked by his friends and employees that, almost without exception, when those closest to him were interviewed in later years about his hate crusade, each attempted to rationalize his odd behavior, convinced that it didn't reflectthe Ford he or she knew. Such disbelief merely signaled an inability to explain how or why Ford had come to harbor such hatred.
He consistently ignored attacks against him by the press, which he believed was in the hands of a "Jewish cabal." But, astonishingly, Ford appeared genuinely puzzled as to why his Jewish friends voiced such strong objections to his campaign. To Henry Ford, there were "good Jews" and bad Jews (the latter were the "international element") and he fully expected the good ones to support his efforts and even celebrate them. Company personnel records don't reveal how many Jews worked for Ford, but contemporary accounts indicate the figure was significant. There is no evidence that Henry Ford ever discriminated against Jews in his hiring policies, even at the height of his anti-Semitic campaign. Many of his Jewish workers, including Irving Caesar, who later wrote the hit song "Swanee," had the highest praise for their employer.47 This is just one of the many puzzling contradictions that has plagued biographers attempting to understand Ford's mind-set.
For years, Ford lived next door to Rabbi Leo Franklin, one of the most respected members of Detroit's Jewish community. Ford regularly entertained Franklin at his home, and as a token of friendship each year, sent the rabbi a Model T right off the line. But in June 1920, a month after the Independent first began its attack on the Jews, Franklin sent back the last car with a note explaining, "You claim that you do not intend to attack all Jews but it stands to reason that those who read these articles will naturally infer that it is your purpose to include in your condemnation every person of the Jewish faith."48
When he received the note, Ford immediately phoned the rabbi and asked, "What's wrong, Dr. Franklin? Has something come between us?"49 That he could be so oblivious as to the effects of what he was propagating speaks volumes about Ford's character. His bewilderment was genuine. As the Independent's business manager Fred Black later recalled, "He was very much surprised that the Jews he considered good Jews were opposed to this."50
Partially in answer to his critics, who he believed didn't understand "the facts" behind his campaign, Ford published his autobiography, My Life and Work, in which he provided the clearest explanation for his anti-Semitic crusade to date. His passage on the "Jewish Question" demonstrates how sincerely he believed that the Independent's exposés reflected no prejudice on his part, but were rather a kind of bitter pill he was administering to the nation for its own good:
The work which we describe as Studies in the Jewish Question, and which is variously described by antagonists as "the Jewishcampaign," "the attack on the Jews," "the anti-Semitic pogrom," and so forth, needs no explanation to those who have followed it ... . The question is wholly in the Jews' hands. If they are as wise as they claim to be, they will labor to make Jews American, instead of America Jewish ... . As for prejudice or hatred against persons, that is neither American nor Christian. Our enemies say that we began it for revenge and that we laid it down in fear. Time will show that our critics are merely dealing in evasion because they dare not tackle the main question ... Time will also show that we are better friends to the Jews' interests than those who praise them to their faces and criticize them behind their backs.51
Ford simply wanted to share his important news and proceeded to do it with a kind of befuddled, backwoodsy stubbornness that belied his innovative spirit and prestige. And if the howls of protest didn't halt Ford's "course of education on the Jewish Question," as he called it, they prompted him to explain himself for the first time. Like Rabbi Franklin, most of Ford's friends and associates, both Jew and gentile, were at a loss to explain what had suddenly motivated the great industrialist to embark on the most profound hate campaign in the nation's history.
A clue is to be found in Ford's first high-profile venture into international affairs six years earlier. In April 1915, eight months after the First World War broke out in Europe, Ford had suddenly emerged as a pacifist. In his first public pronouncement on any international issue, he told the New York Times Magazine that "Two classes benefit by war--the militarists and the moneylenders ... the cause of militarism is never patriotism, it is usually commercialism ... . The warmongers urging military preparedness in America are Wall Street bankers ... . I am opposed to war in every sense of the word."52
Four months later, he announced to the Detroit Free Press that he would back his newfound pacifist ideals with his vast fortune, pledging $1 million "to begin a peace and educational campaign in America and the World."53 Ford was immediately inundated with entreaties for money and support from every pacifist group in the country. Although America would not enter the war for another two years, hundreds of thousands of men had already been killed and gassed in the trenches of France and Belgium.
On November 15, Ford was contacted by a woman named Rosika Schwimmer--a Hungarian Jewish feminist who had recently formed the Woman's Peace Party to advocate the dual goals of women's suffrage and pacifism.54 Schwimmer had been drawn by Ford's widely publicized pacifistmusings--he had recently promised to "have the boys out of the trenches by Christmas"--and she set off to Detroit to seek support for her group. After a two-hour meeting with Ford, she had secured his promise to fund a neutral commission to end the war. A week later, Ford and Schwimmer convened a brain trust of pacifists and intellectuals in New York to discuss ways to "end the carnage." By the conference's end, the group had decided to charter a steamship to sail for Europe and mount an international conference "dedicated to negotiations leading to a just settlement of the war."
On December 15, the Oskar II--quickly labeled "Ford's Peace Ship" by the media--set sail from Hoboken, New Jersey, for Norway carrying Ford, Schwimmer, and a delegation of fellow pacifists aboard. The trip was a fiasco. The press mocked its goals, labeling the expedition "Ford's Folly." As respected as he was as a businessman, the mission was seen as a quixotic quest well outside Ford's abilities or understanding. Leave diplomacy to the professionals, the newspapers chided. Midway across the Atlantic, Ford caught cold and spent most of the time in his cabin. What happened in the interval remains a mystery, but when the ship docked two weeks later, Ford immediately separated from his fellow travelers, who were left to flounder with no funds. He returned to the United States, refusing to explain the turn of events, other than to comment, "We learn more from our failures than our successes."55 The world heard no more of the venture until six years later when Ford granted an interview to the New York Times. In it, he attributed his anti-Semitism to something he had learned during the expedition:
It was the Jews themselves who convinced me of the direct relationship between the international Jew and war. In fact, they went out of their way to convince me.
On the Peace ship were two very prominent Jews. We had not been at sea 200 miles before they began telling me of the power of the Jewish race, of how they controlled the world through their control of gold, and that the Jew and no one but the Jew could end the war ...
They said, and they believed, that the Jews started the war, that they would continue it as long as they wished, and that until the Jew stopped the war it could not be stopped. I was so disgusted I would have liked to turn the ship back.56
Most of Ford's biographers have taken him at his word and concluded that his anti-Semitism was born aboard the Oskar II, despite the bizarre notion that Jewish pacifists had convinced him the war was a Jewish plot.However, Schwimmer herself would later dispute the idea that the Peace Expedition was the genesis of his anti-Semitism, noting that Ford was already infected with anti-Jewish sentiments at their first meeting in November 1915, a month before the ship set sail. According to Schwimmer, Ford had announced, "I know who caused the war--the German-Jewish bankers. I have the evidence here. Facts! I can't give them all out now because I haven't got them all yet, but I'll have them soon."56
Speculation on the original source of Ford's anti-Semitism has been the subject of countless articles, academic studies, and two books, both entitled Henry Ford and the Jews. However, no one has been able to come up with a thoroughly convincing explanation. If Ford's paranoia about the Jews wasn't acquired aboard the Peace Ship, what lay at its root?
When Henry Ford was growing up in rural Michigan shortly after the Civil War, and before the later wave of Jewish European immigration, only 151 Jewish families populated the state.57 Born of Irish-Scotch heritage, his own religious upbringing consisted of a puritanical Protestantism that preached strict adherence to biblical morality. In his district lived only one Jewish family and it is unlikely that Ford would have had any contact with Jews until much later.58 During this period, relations between Jews and other ethnic groups were not particularly problematic. Isaac Meyer Wise, one of only 400 Jews living in Detroit at the time, wrote in 1867 that Detroit's Jews "live in the best understanding and harmony with their neighbors and are esteemed as men, citizens and merchants."59
That is not to say the young Henry Ford would have been unexposed to anti-Semitism. One of the most popular schoolbooks of his youth was McGuffey's Eclectic Reader, the standard text in thirty-seven states, Michigan among them. Schoolchildren were fed daily McGuffey's diet of fundamentalist Christian morality, which was at least mildly anti-Semitic, occasionally denigrating Jewish veneration of the Scriptures. "The Old Testament has been preserved by the Jews in every age, with a scrupulous jealousy, and with a veneration for its words and letters, bordering on superstition," proclaims one edition."60 Another informs its young readers that "Jews never accepted that the Bible is a Christian book." Ford was undeniably fond of the McGuffey Reader and could quote entire passages by heart well into adulthood. However, McGuffey hardly bred a nation of Jew-haters.
In his autobiography, Ford's contemporary, Mark Twain--who was also raised on the McGuffey Readers--would later describe his own nineteenth-century schoolboy views, admitting that he only thought of Jews in Biblical terms. "They carried me back to Egypt and in imagination I moved among the Pharoahs," he wrote.61 The great nineteenth-century jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that he was taught to believe Jews "were a race lying under a curse for their obstinacy in refusing the gospel."62 However,neither Ford's nor the Dearborn Independent's peculiar form of antiSemitism ever really attacked the Jews from a religious perspective or applied the epithet "Christ-killers" to them. In fact, Ford seemed to have a respect for the religion itself, as evidenced in his early dealings with Rabbi Leo Franklin, who initially believed Ford to be enlightened about his people.63 64 Ford's later anti-Semitism appears, in fact, to reflect a racially based, rather than religious, prejudice.
As more Jews emigrated from Europe to the Detroit area toward the turn of the century, local newspapers recorded a number of anti-Semitic incidents, including an attack on some Jewish peddlers. Yet if Henry Ford ever encountered Jews or anti-Semitism in his early years, there is no record of it and he never spoke of such encounters to friends or associates. In fact, as late as 1916, he was praised by the Detroit Jewish Chronicle as an "example to other Christian employers" for allowing his Jewish workers time off to observe the High Holidays.
Among the various theories attempting to trace the source of Ford's anti-Semitism, one of the most persuasive postulates that it was Thomas Alva Edison who first turned Ford against the Jews. The theory, however, rests on a number of questionable foundations.
By the time Ford met Edison in 1898, the scientist/inventor had already profoundly influenced modern society through inventions such as the incandescent lightbulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera. The "Wizard of Menlo Park" had been a huge influence on the young Ford, who would later write that Edison "was the chief hero of my boyhood," and "our greatest American." At the time of their first meeting, Ford was the chief engineer at Edison's Detroit electrical substation. At a company banquet, an awestruck Ford received some encouraging words from his idol and, by the time Ford left to start his own automobile company five years later, the two had become close friends. Once Ford became successful, he loaned Edison--a poor businessman who was perpetually in debt--millions of dollars to finance various projects. Eventually he would venerate his mentor by building an institute in his name and moving Edison's entire laboratory from New Jersey to the Ford Museum in Dearborn. To this day, the museum contains a rather odd item proudly displayed by Ford after the inventor's 1931 death--a glass vial purported to contain "Edison's last breath."65
In 1914, shortly after the First World War broke out and a year before Ford's Peace Ship expedition, Edison told the Detroit Journal that the rise of German commerce fostered the war and that Jews were responsible for Germany's business success. The military government, he added, was a pawn of the Jewish business sector.66 Years later, in the middle of Ford's Dearborn Independent campaign, Edison sent Ford a number of letters indicatinghis support. In one letter, referring to the Jews, he wrote "they don't like publicity," explaining why Jewish leaders were attempting to stop Ford's campaign.67 When Ford later sent him a complete leather-bound set of The International Jew, Edison mailed a letter of thanks.68 In turn, Edison regularly sent Ford articles he cut out of the newspaper about Jewish influence. One, headlined "Jews control Soviet Russia," painted a picture of the Jews as the architects of Bolshevism. Edison's accompanying note read, "This is interesting." But at least one company executive later claimed that Edison actually rebuked Ford for his extreme anti-Semitism.69 Moreover, it is difficult to believe that Edison's own anti-Semitic views could have been responsible for Ford's visceral hatred, so the evidence of Edison's influence on Ford is far from conclusive. It is worth noting, however, that Edison's fortune was later used to fund another of the century's most notorious Jew-baiting organizations after his granddaughter Jean Farrel Edison founded the Institute for Historical Review--a rabidly anti-Semitic organization which has been accused of being at the forefront of the Holocaust denial movement.
Another theory has it that Ford's lifelong animosity was sparked when a Jewish banker turned down his request for a loan. In fact, Ford never had a loan application rejected.70
Each of Ford's biographers in turn have trotted out one unsatisfactory theory after another to explain what transformed a once progressive thinker into a narrow-minded racist. There may in fact be no defining incident that can be pinpointed as the indisputable source of his antiSemitism. However, there is little doubt about who was most responsible for fueling it.
Ernest Gustav Liebold was born in Detroit in 1884 at a time when German immigrants still made up a sizable portion of the city's population. Though he was schooled in the Detroit public school system, Liebold's first language was German and on at least two occasions as a child he traveled to Germany with his parents to visit relatives. By the turn of the century, when Liebold was growing up, Detroit's German community was the primary source of the city's anti-Semitism. In his 1986 study, Jews of Detroit, Robert Rockaway writes, "Many of the German residents, themselves recent immigrants, carried to America some of the anti-Jewish sentiments and stereotypes popular in their homeland ... . Throughout the nineteenth century in Germany, even supposedly enlightened and educated Germans expressed serious reservations about granting citizenship and equal rights to the Jews who they saw as a distinct people who posed a threat to German values and civilization. Thus, German Americans, upon arriving in their new homeland, may have been more likely to view the presence of Jews as a threat than native Americans, who had no suchlengthy tradition of anti-Semitism.71 Jews, in fact, were frequently singled out as a potential source of trouble in the city. During one local election, a Detroit German newspaper warned its readers to "keep an eye on the Jewish population."72
In 1911, the story goes, a $70,000 dividend check made out to Henry Ford disappeared, only to be found a few days later in the pocket of a suit Mrs. Ford was preparing to send to the cleaners. As a result, Ford's business partner James Couzens urged him to select a personal secretary to handle his finances and suggested Liebold, who was then a young executive in a local bank that had been set up for the use of the Ford company and the local community.73 As Ford's "general secretary," Liebold so impressed his employer with his business acumen that Ford came to regard him as "the best financial mind in the country."74
Ford's biographers Allan Nevins and Frank Hill describe Liebold as possessing a "cold, ruthless intensity," a quality that served him well as he rose through the ranks.75 Ford once told an associate that every evening at dinnertime, Liebold liked to march his children around the table military style. When they reached their places, he would bark "sitzen sie (sit down)."76 Before long, he was Ford's most trusted associate. He became the industrialist's gatekeeper, ensuring that Ford saw only the letters that Liebold wanted him to see and met only the people he decided were worthy. "An ambitious martinet, Liebold expanded his authority by exploiting Ford's quirks, such as his dislike for paperwork and refusal to read most correspondence," writes historian Leo Ribuffo.77 Much like a presidential chief of staff, this gave the secretary enormous power and influence within the company and permitted him undue sway with his employer. Ford trusted him so much that he gave Liebold power-of-attorney to handle all of his personal financial transactions, correspondence, and contracts.
From the time Liebold was hired, many of his colleagues bitterly complained that he had become the most powerful person in the company next to Ford himself. Company business manager Fred Black later described the hold the secretary exerted over his employer: "He was one of the persons Mr. Ford could ask to do things he wouldn't ask other people to do. Mr. Ford knew the others weren't hard enough. For this reason, Liebold had tremendous power ... After 1921 he was riding high, wide, and handsome." 78
For all his influence, however, Liebold was at first mostly a background player, content to attend to Ford's business and maintain a low profile within the company itself. That all changed with the acquisition of the Dearborn Independent. Several months after Ford bought the small weekly in 1919, he bestowed upon Liebold the position of the newspaper's general manager. At the onset of the Independent's anti-Semitic campaign in May1920, it was Liebold who signed the press release, marked "authorized by Henry Ford," announcing the paper's new direction. It read: "The Jewish Question, as every businessman knows, has been festering in silence and suspicion here in the United States for a long time, and none has dared discuss it because the Jewish influence was strong enough to crush the man who attempted it."79
It was Liebold who coordinated the anti-Semitic campaign and it was he who fended off the criticisms, answering each piece of mail addressed to Ford, including the hundreds of outraged letters from prominent Jews and Gentiles. To most of the criticism, he would politely reply that the reader didn't "understand" the intent of the series. When the Talmud Society wrote demanding that Ford furnish proof supporting his accusations against the Jews, Liebold wrote back, "We will prefer to leave it to you to disprove the statements which are being published."80
When Rosika Schwimmer--the Jewish woman who had enlisted Ford in the Peace Ship campaign five years earlier--wrote to ask if, as rumored, she had somehow been responsible for triggering Ford's anti-Semitism, she received a letter back from Liebold stating enigmatically, "All of us affiliated with Mr. Ford have been obliged to and do yet gladly carry a certain measure of responsibility insofar as the articles are concerned. I am just wondering, however, if you have read them because the present campaign is based on facts which we have gathered for some time and is not based on prejudices."81
At one point, Liebold boasted in a letter to a friend, "When we get through with the Jews, there won't be one of them who will dare raise his head in public."82
Edwin Pipp, the Independent's first editor, had no doubt who "started Mr. Ford against the Jews." In a weekly newspaper he founded to counter Ford's campaign, Pipp wrote, "The door to Ford's mind was always open to anything Liebold wanted to shove in it, and during that time Mr. Ford developed a dislike for the Jews, a dislike which appeared to become stronger and more bitter as time went on ... In one way and another, the feeling oozed into his system until it became a part of his living self."83 According to Pipp, Liebold always had an explanation for the problems of the world "with the Jew at the bottom of it." He would share his views on a regular basis with Ford, who resented any attempt to "counteract the poison that was being fed to him."84
Most of Ford's biographers have noted Liebold's virulent antiSemitism and his influence over Ford, but none has been able to pinpoint its motivation or origin. However, a document recently uncovered in the U.S. National Archives casts a new and sinister light on their relationship. On February 8, 1918, the U.S. War Department's Military IntelligenceDivision (MID) reported in a file marked "Most Secret" that Ernest Liebold of Dearborn Michigan, private secretary to Henry Ford, is "considered to be a Germany spy."85 The implications of this document may help explain much of the twentieth-century history of the Ford Motor Company.
In early 1918, as the Great War engulfed Europe, the corporation found itself completely enmeshed in the war effort. After the United States entered the war on April 6, 1917, Henry Ford had suddenly abandoned his antiwar rhetoric and let his patriotism overrule his pacifist ideals, agreeing to put the company's considerable manufacturing resources "at the disposal of the United States government."86 The result was a number of lucrative defense contracts, including a crucial order to build 5,000 Liberty airplane motors for the army's new fleet of fighter planes.
It appears that the U.S. War Department designation of Liebold as a foreign spy was based on an intercepted letter about this Liberty Motors contract, sent via a Detroit reporter (whose name has been withheld by the government in the declassification process) with close contacts inside the Ford Motor Company. He had sent the letter to a friend, John Rathom, at the Providence Journal newspaper, who he knew to be an undercover U.S. intelligence operative. Startled by its revelations, Rathom quickly forwarded the letter to his superiors in Washington.87
In this five-page letter, dated December 10, 1917, the reporter/informant--who appears alarmed at a potential threat to the U.S. war effort--is discussing a lunchtime conversation he had overheard at the Ford plant a week earlier, involving two high-ranking company executives, and Ford's legal counsel, whom he identifies as "all avowed and outspoken pacifists."88 The three men were discussing the recently awarded Liberty Motors contract, he reports, when the conversation shifted suddenly to a discussion of their colleague Ernest Liebold, whom the informant describes as being "closer to Henry Ford than any man alive," noting that he "was the man who brought Rosika Schwimmer into contact with Ford. It was he who promoted and arranged all the details of the Peace Expedition."89
In his December 10 letter, the reporter, who was at the time in the process of preparing an article about the Ford Motor Company, provides no further details of the eavesdropped conversation. However, he recalls that, a year before the United States entered the war, an "intimate friend" who worked for the British government had shown him a "coded dispatch from Berlin on its way to Liebold."
There is "no question in my mind," asserts the reporter, "that Liebold is today a German spy." For substantiation of this charge, he points to a visit by A. R. Scharton--a reporter for a New York-based German newspaper, Staats Zeitung--who had recently appeared at the Ford plant with aletter of introduction to Liebold. Before meeting Liebold, Scharton walked around the plant attempting "to pump every one he met at the Ford Motor Company about the Liberty Motor." Later that day, the informant reveals, Scharton and Liebold "were surprised in Liebold's office with their heads together, going over the blueprints of the Liberty Motor."
This is a damning accusation. It would have been tantamount to treason if Liebold had disclosed the top-secret Liberty defense plans to any reporter, let alone a correspondent working for a pro-German newspaper. The War Department concluded that the informant was a "credible" source and, according to the recently declassified file, the Military Intelligence Division launched an immediate investigation into Liebold's activities in February 1918--a probe that was eventually discontinued without any action taken when the war ended nine months later.
The pieces begin to fit together. Ford's pacifist campaign of 1915 had been launched just as the fortunes of the German army were beginning to sour in Europe. More important, a strong interventionist campaign had begun to build in the United States for American entry into the war--reasoning correctly that only American military intervention could defeat the powerful German alliance. A negotiated peace, or continued American neutrality, would have benefited the Kaiser and spared Germany the catastrophic defeat it would later suffer. It is entirely conceivable that Liebold engineered and manipulated Ford's pacifist efforts and hatred of the Jews to benefit the German war effort. Rosika Schwimmer, the woman behind the Peace Ship expedition, appeared to hint at this link when she wrote in her unpublished memoirs, "Someone had tried to harness Ford's pacifism into the wagon of anti-Semitism ... . This is the grossest exhibition of his mental dependence on others in questions where his intuition fails to serve as a flashlight ... Like managers of a puppet show, they have succeeded in connecting wars and Jews in Ford's mind ... administering the anti-Semitic poison."90
Ford's pacifist campaign ended in vain. America's entry into the war in 1917 ensured a crushing defeat for Germany. But Liebold would have other opportunities to render assistance to the Fatherland.
With Liebold at the helm, the Independent continued its relentless drumbeat of anti-Semitic attacks week after week until in February 1922 the campaign came to an abrupt halt. Like much in Henry Ford's history, there are conflicting explanations for the sudden retreat. According to the paper's editor William Cameron, Ford burst into his office one day and told him, "The Jewish articles must stop." Then he told Allan Benson, one of thepaper's contributors, "There is too much anti-Semitic feeling. I can feel it around here."91 This scenario seems improbable, considering that six months later, Ford spoke to the Detroit Free Press of the "greed and avarice of Wall Street Kikes."92 In fact, Cameron's version was related years later when every top official in the company was falling all over himself to distance Ford from the campaign against the Jews. One of the flaws in most Ford biographies is that the authors rely on the select accounts of former company officials, each of whom gives his own self-serving, contradictory and demonstrably false account of events in which he took part.93
Publicly, Ford claimed that the "reports" on the "Jewish Question" could cease because Americans now knew enough to "grasp the key."94 Many observers, however, believed that it was in fact Ford's political ambitions rather than repentance that prompted the sudden termination of the Jewish attacks. Warren Harding's presidency had been scandal-plagued since he took office in 1921, and speculation was rife about who would challenge the embattled president for the White House in the 1924 elections.
Whether it was a grassroots phenomenon or, as seems more likely, a carefully orchestrated effort, "Ford-for-President" clubs suddenly sprung up all over the country in early 1922.95 The idea of Ford in the White House was not so far-fetched. In 1916, a group of Ford's friends had circulated petitions putting him on Michigan's Republican primary ballot. Without campaigning, he bested the favorite, Senator William Alden Smith, by more than 5,000 votes.96 Two weeks later, he almost achieved another upset in the Nebraska primary, losing by only 464 votes. In 1916, Ford was a reluctant candidate. But on August 8, 1923, Collier's printed an article under his name headlined "If I Were President." Evidently, Ford was beginning to consider the grandeur of high public office. Edwin Pipp, who had resigned as the Independent's editor in 1920, believed that Ford knew he would never win the presidency with the Jewish electorate against him; the Independent's campaign, therefore, had to end.
"Running through New York City, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Chicago are strong Jewish influences," Pipp wrote. "They seldom unite or act concertedly on political matters, but with Ford attacking them, they naturally would be solid against him ... They are human and would not fall for putting their greatest enemy into a high office."97
After he retired from the company, former business manager Fred Black laid Ford's political ambitions squarely at the hands of Liebold. "Liebold was the main stimulation of the Ford-for-President boom in 1923," he recalled. "He expected to be the power behind the throne in Washington, as he was then in the company."98
Liebold carefully scrutinized the primary laws of every state and planned to flood Ford dealers with free copies of a Ford biography speciallyprepared for the campaign.99 In later years, he admitted that he expected to be named vice president if his boss was elected.100
According to Ford's biographer Carol Gelderman, "Had Ford wanted the presidency, he probably could have had it ... . Farmers, pacifists, factory workers, prohibitionists, anti-Semites, labor unionists--all looked on Ford as a hero."101 Indeed, a June 1923 nationwide Autocaster survey tabulated 700,000 ballots and found Ford defeating President Harding by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.102 A month later, Collier's Magazine interviewed 258,000 Americans, with the results showing Ford defeating Harding 88,865 to 51,000.103
But when a delegate rose to extol the benefits of a Ford presidency at a convention of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington that fall, Ford's wife, Clara, who was in the audience, stormed to the podium and hotly rebuked the speaker: "Mr. Ford has enough and more than enough to do to attend to his business in Detroit. The day he runs for President of the United States, I will be on the next boat to England."104
Whether it was because of his wife's opposition or another factor, Ford eventually abandoned his campaign. In the end, he traded his presidential ambitions for an assurance by his leading rival Calvin Coolidge that the latter would support his bid for a watershed on the Tennessee River called Muscle Shoals.105 Coolidge went on to assume the presidency.106 Whether Ford was ever serious about running for office is still a mystery but shortly after he abandoned his bid, the Independent resumed its anti-Semitic campaign as suddenly as the paper had dropped it two years earlier.
For two years, the Independent's pages had been almost completely free of articles dealing with "The Jewish Question"--with only the occasional snipe at "Jewish moneylenders." However, in his weekly column, "Ford's Own Page," Ford continued to attack the "international financiers" and the "international bankers" who had made politicians their pawns.107 Discerning readers of the Independent had little doubt to whom he was referring. But while Ford maintained a disingenuous truce, the ideas that had germinated in the newspaper's columns were beginning to take root across the country and in the highest circles. On March 3, 1923, Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin introduced a motion casting responsibility for World War I on the international bankers and singled out the Jewish Roth-schilds in particular.108 Two books were published by George W. Armstrong, The Crime of '20 (1922) and The Story of the Dynasty of the Money Trust in America (1923), discussing "a Jewish banking conspiracy" to control the money markets of America and eventually world governments.109 The Ku Klux Klan enjoyed its biggest resurgence since Reconstruction as it added the Jews to its traditional targets, Roman Catholics and blacks.110 According to the anti-Klan activist Patrick H. O'Donnell, who publishedthe Chicago-based publication Tolerance, Ford "must stand accused of having sedulously nurtured the development of Ku Klux power." According to O'Donnell, Klan membership was "insignificant in numbers" when Ford began his campaign but in two years, more than 100 hate publications had been established.111 These occurrences, of course, cannot wholly be blamed on Ford and his campaign. A combination of postwar disillusionment, economic uncertainty, rising Protestant fundamentalism, and fear of Bolshevism played their part as well. But it was Ford who had most successfully tapped into these feelings of malaise and used his credibility and platform to exploit them.
He soon resumed the campaign with a vengeance. On April 23, 1924, the Independent carried a huge front-page headline:
JEWISH EXPLOITATION OF FARMERS' ORGANIZATIONS MONOPOLY TRAPS OPERATE UNDER GUISE OF MARKETING ASSOCIATIONS
Setting the tone for a fresh campaign, the article declared, "A band of Jews--bankers, lawyers, moneylenders, advertising agencies, fruit packers, produce buyers, professional office managers and bookkeeping experts--is on the back of the American farmer ... This organization was born in the fertile, fortune-seeking brain of a young Jew on the Pacific Coast a little more than five years ago."112
The Jew referred to in the article was a Chicago attorney named Aaron Sapiro who specialized in farm economics and for some time had been attempting to draw disaffected midwestern farmers into a new marketing scheme--a farm co-op--to sell their wheat. The farm co-op movement had received the support of a number of prominent American Jews--Bernard Baruch, Julius Rosenwald, and Eugene Mayer. By 1925, Sapiro's plan, which the New York Times described as "one of the greatest agricultural movements of modern times," had enlisted more than 800,000 farmers.113
Henry Ford had never forgotten his roots as a farmer. He maintained a private farm in Dearborn and subscribed to most of the nation's leading farm journals. His frequent boasts of his youth on the farm, moreover, had made him as much a hero among American farmers as his five-dollar day did among working men. In fact, farmers were some of the Ford Motor Company's most important customers and had made it the nation's leading manufacturer of tractors and trucks. Ford was immediately suspicious of the farm co-op movement. Were the Jews trying to extend their control into American wheat farming as well?114 "I don't believe in co-operation,"Ford said, dismissing the movement. "What can co-operation do for farmers?" 115 During the Independent's first anti-Semitic series four years earlier, Ford had often aired his views on the subject of Jews and agriculture. In an article entitled "How the Jewish Question Touches the Farm," the Independent argued that "the Jew is not an agriculturalist"; he only cares about "land that produces gold from the mine and land that produces rents."116 In one issue, the paper even offered a reward of $1,000 to anybody who could uncover a Jewish farmer.
Now here was a Jew who was successfully organizing Ford's beloved farmers into a powerful force--a phenomenon Ford viewed as suspiciously similar to socialism. For more than a year, under the theme of "Jewish Exploitation of Farmer Organizations," the paper took aim at the Farm Co-op movement. In more than twenty articles, it sought to portray Sapiro as the leader of "a conspiracy of Jewish bankers" forcing farmers into cooperatives. He had "turned millions away from the pockets of the men who till the soil and into the hands of the Jews and their followers." His "strong arm" tactics and squads of Bolshevists had infected farm children with the germs of Communism, making them "modeler's clay" in his hands. His non-Jewish associates were nothing more than "Gentile false fronts ... human camouflage of the international ring of professional aliens."117
Sapiro demanded Ford retract his charges, but to no avail. Then, on April 23, 1925, he launched a million-dollar libel suit, aimed not at the Independent, but at Ford himself. Reaction to the suit demonstrates just how successfully Ford had rallied American farmers to his cause. Hundreds of letters poured in from farmers urging Ford to stand up to the "shrewd little Jew" ... "The Bible says Jews will return to Palestine, but they want to get all the money out of America first." ... "Sapiro should be kicked out because he is trash." ... "The sooner the leeches are given a dose of 'Go quick,' the better."118
When the case finally came to court two years later, the defense's tack was clear. William Cameron, the Independent's editor and chief witness for the defendant, offered himself as a willing scapegoat. Loyal to his longtime employer, he testified under oath that he was completely responsible for every word the paper had published. Ford, he claimed, had neither read the articles in advance nor talked with him about the "Jewish Question."119 Whatever credibility this absurd claim may have had was soon undermined when James M. Miller, a former Dearborn Independent employee, swore under oath that Ford had told him he intended to expose Sapiro.120
The case was about to reach its conclusion when Ford's lawyers alleged that one of the jurors had claimed to have accepted a bribe from Jewish interests to vote against Ford. The judge was forced to declare a mistrial. Itlater emerged that the allegations were false and had probably been instigated by Ford's defense team in an effort to avoid an unfavorable judgment.
Shortly after the mistrial was declared, U.S. Congressman Nathan Perlman, vice president of the American Jewish Committee, was approached by two of Henry Ford's personal emissaries. They told him that "Ford and his family were anxious to put an end to the controversies and ill feelings" occasioned by the Dearborn Independent campaign.121 When AJC President Louis Marshall heard about the peace feeler, he sent word that only a "complete retraction" would be acceptable, and demanded an assurance that no more attacks would ever be made on the Jewish people.122
Two weeks later, the New York Evening Journal's Arthur Brisbane, author of America's most popular syndicated column, "Today," received a document from Ford headquarters. Brisbane had championed Ford in print on a number of occasions, but had recently met with Ford to suggest he discontinue his anti-Semitic attacks, which Brisbane said were hurting his reputation. At that meeting, Ford had dismissed Brisbane's concerns, claiming, "No one can charge that I am an enemy of the Jewish people. I employ thousands of them."123 Now Brisbane was astonished to receive a three-page letter over Henry Ford's signature, which signaled the official end to what has been called the "most systematic campaign of hatred against a people in American history." Brisbane immediately distributed the letter to four other news agencies for publication and it exploded onto front pages worldwide on July 8, 1927:
For some time past I have given consideration to the series of articles concerning Jews which since 1920 have appeared in the Dearborn Independent. Some of them have been reprinted in pamphlet form under the title "The International Jew." Although both publications are my property, it goes without saying that in the multitude of my activities, it has been impossible for me to devote personal attention to their management or to keep informed as to their contents. It has therefore inevitably followed that the conduct and policies of these publications had to be delegated to men whom I placed in charge of them and upon whom I relied implicitly.
To my great regret I have learned that Jews generally, and particularly those of this country, not only resent these publications as promoting anti-Semitism, but regard me as their enemy. Trusted friends with whom I have conferred recently haveassured me in all sincerity that in their opinion the character of the charges and insinuations made against the Jews, both individually and collectively, contained in many of the articles which have been circulated periodically in the Dearborn Independent and have been reprinted in the pamphlets mentioned, justifies the righteous indignation entertained by Jews everywhere toward me because of the mental anguish occasioned by the unprovoked reflections made upon them.
This has led me to direct my personal attention to the subject, in order to ascertain the exact nature of these articles. As a result of this survey I confess that I am deeply mortified that this journal, which is intended to be constructive and not destructive, has been made the medium for resurrecting exploded fictions, for giving currency to the so-called Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, which have been demonstrated, as I learn, to be gross forgeries, and for contending that the Jews have been engaged in a conspiracy to control the capital and the industries of the world, besides laying at the door many offenses against decency, public order and good morals. Had I appreciated even the general nature, to say nothing of the details, of these utterances, I would have forbidden their circulation without a moment's hesitation, because I am fully aware of the virtues of the Jewish people as a whole, of what they and their ancestors have done for civilization and for mankind toward the development of commerce and industry, of their sobriety and diligence, their benevolence, and their unselfish interest in the public welfare. Of course there are black sheep in every flock, as there are among all races, creeds, and nationalists who are at times evildoers. It is wrong, however, to judge a people by a few individuals, and I therefore join in condemning unreservedly all wholesale denunciations and attacks.
Those who know me can bear witness that it is not in my nature to inflict insult upon and to occasion pain to anybody, and that it has been my effort to free myself from prejudice. Because of that I frankly confess that I have been greatly shocked as a result of my study and examination of the files of the Dearborn Independent and of the pamphlet entitled "The International Jew." I deem it to be my duty as an honorable man to make amends for the wrong done to the Jews as fellow-men and brothers, by asking their forgiveness for the harm that I have unintentionally committed, by retracting so far as lies within my power, the offensive charges laid at their door by these publications, and by giving them the unqualified assurance that henceforth they may look to me for friendship and goodwill.
It is needless to add that the pamphlets which have been distributed throughout the country and in foreign lands will be withdrawn from circulation, that in every way possible I will make it known that they have my unqualified disapproval and that henceforth the Dearborn Independent will be conducted under such auspices that articles reflecting upon the Jews will never again appear in its columns.
Finally, let me add that this statement is made on my own initiative and wholly in the interest of right and justice and in accordance with what I regard as my solemn duty as a man and as a citizen.
--Signed, Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan, June 30, 1927.124
Along with the apology, Ford quietly settled out of court with Sapiro for $140,000 and agreed to take measures to stop further distribution of the International Jew. On its surface, the claims made in the apology were incredible. Ford had given countless personal interviews since 1920 reiterating the charges against the Jews recounted in the Dearborn Independent. As Neil Baldwin has described it, "Jew hatred was now an entrenched, persistent strain on Ford's psyche." The press releases accompanying each issue carried the line: "The Dearborn Independent is Henry Ford's own paper and he authorizes every statement incurred therein." And his own autobiography expounds at length about the "Jewish Question." Yet, here was Henry Ford boldly assuring the world that he knew nothing of the attacks against the Jews and that he had always been free of prejudice.
Relieved to be spared from the line of fire, however, the Jewish community was willing to take the apology at face value and even forgive their former adversary. Commenting on Ford's apology, Rabbi Franklin quoted from Leviticus in his diary: "Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."125
The Jewish New York Tribune expressed "profound satisfaction," while The American Hebrew quoted Rabbi Isaac Landman as saying, "Henry Ford ... is the first man in history beguiled by anti-Semitism, who has made a public recantation and apology."126 Not all Jews, however, were happy to see Ford absolved so easily. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency believed there should be a limit on Jewish forgiveness. Ford's apology, it complained, did not need to be greeted with such an "hysteric outburst."127
Most but not all of the mainstream media seemed just as willing to accept the apology as their Jewish counterparts. The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Ford has shown superb moral courage in his wholehearted recantation."128The New York Telegram editorialized, "If one of the richest men in the world cannot get away with an anti-Semitic movement in this country, nobody else will have the nerve to try it, and of that we can all be thankful, gentiles as well as Jews."129 But a Chicago Tribune editorial noted that there were few things as remorseless as a rich man trying to duck the future consequences of his actions.130 "Mr. Ford," it wrote, "advances an empty head to explain his cold feet." The Berliner Tageblatt pointed out that only recently Ford had given them an interview urging the German nation to "free itself from the slavery of Jewish capital and of the Jewish League of Nations."
The apology was the talk of the country for weeks. Even Tin Pan Alley weighed in when future Broadway impresario Billy Rose released a satirical song entitled "Since Henry Ford Apologized to Me":
I was sad and I was blue But now I'm just as good as you Since Hen-ry Ford a-pol-ogized to me I've thrown a-way my lit-tle Che-vro-let And bought my-self a Ford Cou-pé I told the Sup-rintendent that The Dearborn In-de-pen-dent Does-n't have to hang up where it used to be I'm glad he changed his point of view And I even like Edsel too, Since Hen-ry Ford a-pol-o-gized to me My mother says she'll feed him if he calls Ge-fil-te-fish and Mat-zah balls And if he runs for President I would-n't charge a sin-gle cent I'll cast my bal-lot ab-so-lute-ly free Since Hen-ry Ford a-pol-o-gized to me.131
What motivated the sudden about-face? The Independent's first editor Edwin Pipp claimed business considerations--not remorse--were responsible. The company had begun receiving letters like the one from an Augusta, Georgia, Ford dealer recounting his visit from the city rabbi. No American Jew, the rabbi had told him, would buy a single new Ford until the Independent ceased its attacks.132 In Hartford, Connecticut, organizers of a parade by the local Jewish community declared that there should be "positively no Ford machines permitted in line." And accordingto Pipp, Gaston Plantiff, Ford's business representative in New York, had recently informed him that sales of his cars were plummeting as the result of an unofficial Jewish boycott. "Whatever his reputation may be," Pipp wrote, "the dollar appeals to Ford as strongly as to any man on earth."133
Humorist Will Rogers summed it up best: "Ford used to have it in for the Jewish people until he saw them in Chevrolets, and then he said, 'Boys, I am all wrong.'"134
Upton Sinclair, in his 1937 Ford biography, The Flivver King, proffered another theory: Ford's detectives had begun to investigate the Jewish film moguls who headed most of Hollywood's major studios. When William Fox, head of Fox pictures, got wind of the investigation, he informed Ford that he would compile footage from "hundreds of cameramen all over the country" of accidents and fatalities involving Ford cars. The resulting newsreel would be projected before every one of his studio's films.135
Whatever the reason, Henry Ford never publicly addressed the "Jewish Question" again. But his seven-year campaign would spawn a movement with horrific consequences that would render previous notions of hate obsolete. And if the motivations behind Ford's seven-year campaign remain murky, there can be little doubt about its effects.
THE AMERICAN AXIS. Copyright © 2003 by Max Wallace. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Meet the Author
Max Wallace is a veteran investigative journalist and holocaust researcher. For three years, he worked as an interviewer and researcher for Steven Spielberg's "Shoah Project," documenting the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. He is also a former executive Director of the Anne&Max Bailey Center for Holocaust Studies. Winner of the Rolling Stone Magazine Award for Investigative Journalism, he is also an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Wallace has been a guest columnist for the Sunday New York Times and contributed to the BBC. His previous books include the international bestseller Who Killed Kurt Cobain? and Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight: Cassius Clay vs. the United States of America about Ali's controversial stand against the Vietnam War. A native of New York City, Max Wallace lives in Montreal, Canada.
Max Wallace is a veteran journalist and Holocaust researcher. He spent three years as an interviewer for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Project, documenting the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. A winner of the Rolling Stone Magazine Award for Investigative Journalism, Wallace is the author of Who Killed Kurt Cobain? and Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight. He has also contributed to the New York Times and the BBC. He lives in Toronto, Canada.
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