This week, a friend called me a hypocrite. The discussion centered around my choice of driving a car manufactured by Ford. For my entire life, I have avoided using products produced by companies that cooperated with the Nazis, if a company had any connection to Nazism, I would avoid it like the plague, yet, the current car I drive is my third Ford manufactured car.
Henry Ford was an unsympathetic racist zealot. Before Nazism, just after World War I, Ford was instrumental in distributing the Russian anti-Jewish forgery “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in the States. His newspaper, The Dearborn Independent spewed anti-Jewish propaganda including the book “The International Jew” which forwarded the conspiracy theory that Jews ran the US and all corporations in the US were slaves of controlling influence of their Jewish task masters.
His anti-Jewish sentiment was so pronounced that Hitler declared in his book Mein Kamft,“only one single great man, Ford, [who] to [the Jews] fury, still maintains full independence…[from] the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty million.” Hitler considered Ford as an inspiration and modelled the original Volkswagen plant after one of Ford Motor’s assembly line plants.
On February 1, 1924, Kurt Ludecke, a Hitler representative met Ford at his home. At the time, Ford refused to financially contribute to the Nazis.
Ford was a complicated anti-Jewite. While he hated what he perceived was Jewish influence over business, he didn’t want to see harm come against them. His newspaper condemned pogroms and violence against Jews but did accuse the Jews of provoking the violence.
Ford, in 1924, disavowed any connection to the German anthology of his writing called The International Jew. In July 1938, to celebrate Ford’s 75th birthday, he was granted the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner.
On January 7, 1942, Ford wrote to Sigmund Livingston of the Anti Defamation League, part of his letter read “my sincere hope that now in this country and throughout the world when the war is finished, hatred of the Jews and hatred against any other racial or religious group shall cease for all time.”
Ford stopped the distribution of The International Jew through legal action in 1942 after he read testimonials from Nazis, who deported or murdered thousands of Jews, that their influence for carrying out the violence was based on the book.
Henry Ford’s late life reformation was too little too late. His influence on Hitler and Hitler’s atrocities murdered millions of people and systematically murdered millions of Jews. In the book “Ford: The Men and the Machines” author Robert Lacey writes that when Ford was shown the newsreel footage of the Nazi Concentration Camps, he was “confronted with the atrocities which finally and unanswerably laid bare the bestiality of the prejudice to which he contributed, he collapsed with a stroke, his last and most serious.” He died in 1947 at age 83.
What is the difference between driving a Ford vehicle or a Volvo? Quite simply, to me, Ford was not a Nazi, he may have been an Anti-Jewite, but when push came to shove, he did not contribute to the Nazi machine, he later in life denounced his anti-Jewism and when he saw what he perceived as the result of his previous publications, namely Nazi Concentration Camps, the shock was so great that he had a stroke and died.
There is no forgiveness on my part for a company like Volvo, who manufactured the ovens for the Concentration Camps, nor for Porsche who as a close aide to Hitler, helped design the logistics of the death camps, nor for Adidas or Hugo Boss or IBM or Volkswagen or countless other companies that knowingly contributed to the murder of my brethren and never apologized or acknowledged their complicit role in the enslavement of the Jewish people and their genocide.
Sure, it’s nearly eight decades later and some of these companies have changed hands a hundred time since the war, but companies have to be responsible for their past and out of respect for all the Jews killed and tortured by these companies, I will never contribute financially to their success.
Ford, however, repented at the end of his life. His feeling of responsibility for the Concentration Camp, his legal move to stop the publication of The International Jew and his renunciation of his former anti-Jewish sentiments allows me in good conscience to purchase a Ford and not feel like a hypocrite.
Judaism teaches us that when someone repents, we have to forgive. While some sins are unforgivable, sometimes you have to forgive a minor player who never personally had any power or a stake in the game.