The primary reason that the City should reject official endorsement of Henry Ford is his well-documented history of extreme anti-Semitism. Many possible causes for this facet of Ford’s thinking have been advanced, but one episode stands out as most plausible. During the early days of World War I, Ford became associated with a number of "peace movements" which became tied to an anti-Semitism driven by the idea that German-Jewish bankers had somehow started the war in order to profit from it. In reality, Jews on both sides were fighting and dying in the trenches like everyone else. Ford’s naive over optimism about his personal ability to end the war reached its climax in December, 1915, when he chartered the "Peace Ship" Oskar II and sailed in the company of Jewish Peace activist Rosika Schwimmer for Christiana, Norway. Expecting a royal reception on his arrival, Ford was ignored and became very disappointed and frustrated. As he sailed ignominiously for home, the focus on Jews as the cause for the failure of his mission and humiliation seemed to take hold and intensify.
In 1919, Ford purchased a small weekly newspaper called the Dearborne Independent which he shortly began using as an instrument of anti-Semitism. Beginning in May, 1920, under the banner of The International Jew: The World’s Problem, the Independent began 91 weeks of articles in which Jews were falsely accused of controlling everything in America to include commodities, big business, industry, material resources and the press. Was there a decline in American culture? The blame was put upon jazz, which he labeled "Jewish Moron Music." If fans complained about baseball, Ford’s explanation was simple: "Too much Jew." The Federal Reserve was "designed by Jew Bankers to put the nation’s money under the control of a Jewish cabal." Was Communism spreading? The Jews were behind it. Was abuse of alcohol dooming America? It was the fault of Jewish distillers. Ultimately, the Dearborn Independent articles, which borrowed heavily from a slanderous Russian forgery called The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion were assembled into a book called The International Jew – Aspects of Jewish Power in the United States, by Henry Ford, Sr. Prominent in it is the section where Ford attacks not only the "Jewish Influence on American life," but the Jewish religion itself. Ford’s slanderous attack on Kol Nidre, the holiest Jewish service of the year, stands out as an example of the vileness of this publication. Ford constantly used his great wealth and power to spread his poison. Many copies were sent free to influential citizens in the U.S. It was translated into 16 languages, including six editions in Germany. Every new Ford automobile came with a copy of the Dearborne Independent in the glove box. Thousands of copies were distributed from Ford dealerships. Unfortunately this slander gained considerable traction both at home and abroad. It is historically correct that prevailing attitudes were different during the first half of the 20th Century when prejudices and stereotypes were more commonplace. The problem was the Ford not only held these prejudices, but used his great wealth and power as America’s foremost industrialist to promulgate them causing incalculable damage.
What then is the relevance of Ford’s writings today? It would have been nice if they had faded away with the demise of Ford but that is not the case. Our current-day enemies, Al Qaeda, Hamas and the Iranians have made Ford’s works a central part of their ideologies, equating the United States with Jews, Zionism and imperialism. It is more than a little ironic when Richmond Hill welcomes 3rd Infantry Division back to the "Henry Ford City" after a tour spent fighting groups motivated by Henry Ford’s poison.
This brings us to the subject of Henry Ford and the Nazis. Not only did Ford pay for the translation and shipment of his writings to Germany, but he contributed significant sums of money to the Nazi Party during its rise to power. That Hitler admired and appreciated Ford is well-documented. In his book, Mein Kampf, Ford is the only American to be mentioned and favorably so. Many people reported seeing the large portrait of Ford that Hitler kept in his office. Nazi appreciation of Ford reached its zenith in 1938 when Ford was awarded the "Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle" by two Nazi diplomats. While the effect of Ford’s support to the Nazis cannot be measured, it is clear that Hitler felt reassured by the presence of a like-minded power across the Atlantic. In Hitler’s own words "We look to Heinrich Ford as the leader of the growing Fascist movement in America." It is not unreasonable then to say that Ford – to some degree – contributed to the start of World War II and to the Holocaust in which six million Jews perished. Not to be ignored is the Ford Corporation’s production of military vehicles for the Nazis during WW II. From 1939 to 1945 records show that Ford subsidiaries produced a total of 117,489 vehicles. The Ford Corporation profited handsomely from this activity despite Henry’s anti-war sentiments. Despite all of Ford’s venom towards Jews in general, his attitudes and behavior towards them were complex. When Ross Blair quotes Jewish Richmond Hill resident Irvin Warshaw as saying that "he never saw Ford evidence anti-Semitism in Richmond Hill," this is easy to accept. In Detroit, Ford lived next door to Rabbi Leo Franklin with whom he maintained a long-standing friendship. This included sending the Rabbi a brand new Model T every year. In 1920 when the anti-Semitic articles began in the Independent, Rabbi Franklin sent the car back with a note. It was always difficult for Ford to grasp that his "good Jew" friends were members of the same group that he railed against in his publications. As for anti-Semitic activities while he stayed in Richmond Hill, it would be foolish to believe that he suspended his campaign while here. For example, in an interview given for the Feb. 25, 1937 edition of the Hartford Courant at "Ways Georgia" (Richmond Hill), Ford expressed his belief that "international financiers" were using labor unions for the own purposes.
What was the "Ford Era" really like in Richmond Hill? There is no doubt that historian Buddy Sullivan was correct in writing that "Bryan Neck was one of the poorest sections of coastal Georgia in the early 1900s before the arrival of Henry Ford… Poverty, illiteracy and hardships were the rule rather than the exception…" Having said that, the Ford Era is best summed up by the local author Jim Elders in his book:
"Henry Ford came to Richmond Hill in the 1920s and bought up most of the land south of the Ogeechee River delta where he soon began conducting his own private experiments in socialism and communal living. … He quickly indentured the local population and furnished them with their own school, their own teachers, their own hospital, their own fields, their own forests, their own lumber mills, their own seafood industry and their own everything that a good communist commune would ever need…But he held the liens… Mr. Ford made a good cheap car, but he was a miserable failure in the social sciences. … It was the end of an era and the beginning of another when Henry Ford went back to Detroit to die and Richmond Hill began to live." The point here is that not everyone who lived through the Ford Era in Richmond Hill agrees that it was all that good.
Ultimately a lame letter of apology to the Jews bearing Henry Ford’s name was written and published. To this day there is considerable historical debate as to who actually wrote the letter and whether Ford ever acknowledged its content. This leads to the question of whether Ford should be forgiven and restored to his position of prominence in Richmond Hill. There are those that say they have forgiven Ford and that I am being ungenerous by not following suit. The problem here is that I have been taught that forgiveness belongs to two parties: the wronged person(s) and God. However, I was not wronged personally by Ford so my forgiveness would be meaningless. To me, the power to forgive Ford lies with those who suffered from the 20th century anti-Semitism he caused and with the victims of the Holocaust. It lies with the fallen American servicemen of the Second World War and with the servicemen and women who have been killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prove to me that they all forgive Ford and I will also. In the meantime, it should be clear to everyone that Ford’s "dark side" was both extensive and very damaging. Despite his so-called "apology" he continued to make anti-Semitic remarks until his death and as such, has disqualified himself from official endorsement by the City of Richmond Hill.
Note: The following sources were quoted, paraphrased and referred to in the preparation of this letter:
- Baldwin, Neil: Henry Ford and the Jews. The Mass Production of Hate
- Elders, James: Flatwoods and Lighterknots
- Ford, Henry Sr.: The International Jew. Aspects of Jewish Power in the United States
- Frank, Reinhard: Ford at War. German Trucks and Cars in World War II, Vol VIII
- Pool, James and Suzanne: Who Financed Hitler. The Secret Funding of Hitler’s Rise to Power 1919-1933
- Sullivan, Buddy: From Beautiful Zion to Red Bird Creek. A History of Bryan County, Georgia
- Wallace, Max: The American Axis. Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and the Rise of the Third Reich