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Henry Ford and Jews, cover

"Henry Ford’s Paradoxical Antisemitism"

Book Essay on:
Neil Baldwin, Henry Ford and the Jews:
The Mass Production of Hate

(New York: Public Affairs, 2001), 416 pages.
UCSB: CT275.F68 B28 2003.

by Jonathan O’Connell
March 14, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
The Holocaust in German History
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
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About Jonathan O’Connell

I am a fourth-year History and Law and Society double major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I have taken courses focusing on 20 th century Germany and the Holocaust, and my interest in German history stems from family connections I have there. I chose Henry Ford and the Jews because I was interested in learning more about antisemitism in the United States.

Abstract (back to top)

Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest honor bestowed by the Third Reich on a foreigner. (source)

Neil Baldwin evaluates Henry Ford’s participation in the publishing of TheProtocols of the Learned Elders of Zion and other antisemitic articles in Ford’s newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. Baldwin focuses briefly on Ford’s early life, instead devoting a majority of the book to the time after Ford began making antisemitic statements and publishing antisemitic materials. Baldwin argues that Ford played an active role in the distribution of antisemitic material by overseeing the newspaper’s production, but at the same time hypothesizes that Ford was a paradoxical antisemite, to the point where he may not have even understood his own antisemitism. Baldwin’s claim that Ford was a paradoxical antisemite rests on Ford’s numerous public and private apologies for the harm the antisemitic material he distributed caused. Was Ford genuinely apologetic? His public apologies support Baldwin’s argument, but Ford’s continued antisemitism, which lasted until his death in 1947, supports the argument that Ford never fully recanted on his beliefs about “the Jews.”

Essay (back to top)

Neil Baldwin’s Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate examines the life of the innovative and entrepreneurial Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company. The book specifically focuses on Ford’s newspaper the Dearborn Independent, where a series of antisemitic articles attempting to shed light on the “Jewish Question” were published during the 1920s. Leonard Dinnerstein makes the important point that Baldwin’s text lacks primary sources, forcing Baldwin to rely on secondary sources and oral interviews from those who knew Ford (Dinnerstein 1). However, Baldwin is able to draw from Independent articles as well as TheInternational Jew, a pamphlet published under the auspices of Ford, demonstrating that the book is not void of documents chronicling the time of Ford.

The book spends a great deal of time analyzing Ford’s persecution of the Jews through his newspaper the Dearborn Independent and his pamphlet The International Jew. The newspaper meets its ultimate demise in 1927 after numerous lawsuits and public pressure, but as Baldwin emphasizes, Ford’s antisemitism does not go with it, remaining virulent until his death. The final part of the book focuses on the connections between Ford and Nazi Germany, as well as Hitler’s admiration for “Heinrich Ford”, of whom Hitler wrote in his dedication in Volume Two of Mein Kampf in 1926, to “a 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 millions” (Baldwin, 180-181).

Baldwin’s analysis of Ford’s persistent antisemitism attempts to place both Ford and his comments in the context of his time, the zeitgeist that is late nineteenth, early twentieth century America. Baldwin looks at the role Ford played in fueling antisemitic flames both in America and abroad, paying special attention to Ford’s relationship with Germany in the interim period between the world wars. Baldwin argues that Ford was a paradoxical antisemite because he issued public apologies and retractions for his antisemitic publications, but followed those apologies with more antisemitic statements. Baldwin’s analysis is contingent upon whether Ford’s dubious apologies can be believed to be sincere, a claim that is difficult to establish with certainty. However, it seems that since Ford continued his antisemitic statements, even after publicly recanting his denunciations of the Jewish people, that his apologies were insincere.

Possible Sources for Ford’s Antisemitism

One factor that makes Ford an interesting and paradoxical antisemite is the fact that Ford was established and living comfortably before he ever made any antisemitic sentiments public. Baldwin states that between 1910 and 1918 (with Ford in his late forties and the Model T already introduced) Ford transformed from an idealist to an antisemite (Baldwin, 327). The “Jewish Question” was something that plagued Ford’s conscience, enough to the point that, now being established in American society in a position of great power and respect, he would tackle an issue (through the Dearborn Independent) that he believed would benefit Americans. The question that Baldwin traces is where did Ford’s desire to raise awareness about the problem of the “International Jew,” and the belief that Jews systematically controlled government, industry, and the media as a cohesive people derive from?

Baldwin credits Ford’s antisemitism at least in part to his early education. As a child Ford was an avid reader of William McGuffey’s anthologies, which contained stories like Shakespeare’s TheMerchant of Venice amongst other narratives with antisemitic overtones. According to Baldwin, Ford was an avid collector of original “McGuffey’s” and he could quote spontaneously from McGuffey readers ( Baldwin, 6). Did the portrait of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice as a typical greedy, bloodthirsty, and vengeful Jew really have that profound of an impact on Ford’s later antisemitism? It is important to remember that the McGuffey readers were one of the most widely used classroom textbooks of the time, with many other children reading the same material but failing to foment such a suspicious and hate-filled attitude toward Jews. As Sidney Bolkolsky recognizes in his review of Henry Ford and the Jews, Ford’s early education in and lifelong appreciation for “McGuffeyism” played a role in his later antisemitism. However, it is difficult to pinpoint this as the defining moment when Ford became an antisemite, when it is more likely that his antisemitism evolved over time (Bolkolsky, 1-2).

Another theory often cited as a potential source for Ford’s antisemitism stems from the Hungarian Jewess Rosika Schwimmer and the Peace Ship debacle. Ford and Schwimmer shared the view that a negotiated peace to end World War I was still a viable option in 1915, and they organized with Ford’s funding what became known as the Peace Ship, whose mission was to travel to the European Continent with many dignitaries aboard in hopes that a settlement could be facilitated. As Baldwin explains, Ford’s voyage met with much negative press and the expedition resulted in an utter failure, with few notable persons agreeing to attend and few governments willing to listen (Baldwin, 63-64).

Papers like the New York World later ran headlines stating, “Jewess Tricked Fooled Ford,” citing Rosika Schwimmer as the source of Ford’s attacks on the Jewish race ( Baldwin, 161). The press made Schwimmer out to be the scapegoat for Ford’s antisemitism but the argument that Ford’s antisemitism emanated from his dislike of Schwimmer and the humiliation following the Peace Ship does not stand up. Dinnerstein points out the logic behind the connection to Schwimmer and the failed Peace Ship, with the establishment of Ford’s antisemitic newspaper, but Ford thought about Jews categorically and he and Schwimmer were both pacifists who agreed on the unnecessary nature of war (Dinnerstein, 2). Ford had even said of Schwimmer in 1916 that “she had more brains than all the others on the peace ship put together” (Baldwin, 66). Again, attempting to trace Ford’s antisemitism to a particular event fails, lending credence to the theory that it was something that evolved over time. Baldwin’s book does a sufficient job at showing the early influences on Ford that may have contributed to later antisemitism, while refraining from making the claim that there ever was an “epiphany” moment for Ford’s antisemitic ideas.

Henry Ford’s Brand of Antisemitism

The mechanical innovator and master of the assembly line did not break from traditional ways thinking way it came to the “Jewish Question.” Ford held firmly to the belief that Jews caused both World Wars, writing in one of his personal “jotbooks” that “war is created by people who have no country or home except Hell and live in every country” ( Baldwin, 49). Ford was referencing the Jew, dispersed throughout the countries of the world and commonly seen as an “alien” or “foreign element.” Samuel Marquis, a longtime friend and employee of Ford, reflected on Ford’s phobia of banking and money-lending in his personal memoir, which Ford abhorred, stating that “Wall Street, the Jew, and international bankers sitting in a secret conclave somewhere and planning another war” were some of Ford’s favorite topics (Baldwin, 230). Ford greatly feared bankers trying to take over or purchase his company during times of hardship and he associated everyone working on Wall Street with having “Jewish” characteristics.

Ford’s belief in the Jewish people participating in a plot for international conspiracy like the one laid out in the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a forgery which was serialized in the Dearborn Independent, fit with his notion of Jews clandestinely pulling strings in America and Europe. When referring to the Protocols, Ford stated that “they have fitted the world situation up to this time. They fit now” (Baldwin, 160). Ford described these same “wire-pullers” of the Protocols as being behind the movement to organize labor, specifically auto workers (Baldwin, 310). It is reasonable to state that Ford’s anxiety and antisemitism stemmed from his fear that Jews working behind the scenes would somehow damage or sabotage his product and subsequently his market share. The Ford plant would be the last to organize in 1941 at the reluctance of Henry Ford who shouted that “the Jews” were persecuting him (Baldwin, 312). Part of the Ford paradox lies with the inability of an obviously intelligent and innovative thinker to see through age old stereotypes and forged documents.

Unapologetic Apologies

At the core of the argument supporting Henry Ford’s paradoxical antisemitism was his issuance of public apologies on multiple occasions followed by his willingness to continue his antisemitic remarks. On the heels of multiple libel lawsuits in 1924, Ford proved anxious to quell the animosities generated by the Dearborn Independent. Ford agreed to an apology drafted by the leader of the American Jewish Committee, Louis Marshall, in which Ford agreed to refrain from publicizing antisemitic materials in the futures. The apology recognized the Protocols as a forgery, acknowledged the virtues of the Jewish people, condemned wholesale denunciations, and promised to withdraw all publications from circulation (Baldwin, 238-240). The problem with the apology was that Ford did not actually read it, with his trusted secretary E.G. Liebold stating for an oral history project about Ford in 1951 that Ford “never even read that or knew what it contained. He simply told them to go fix it up” ( Baldwin, 241). Ford was willing to publicly issue an apology for the article denouncing Jews, yet it was an apology without merit. He was not interested in what it said, just that it reached widespread public consumption.

Those willing to counter Baldwin’s characterization of Ford as a paradoxical antisemite could use this forced apology as evidence supporting the claim that there really is no paradox at all, Ford was simply an antisemite. Perhaps Ford was trying to publicly save face; after all, the apology was reprinted in papers throughout the country ( Baldwin, 237). A more plausible explanation may have to do with economics, as Ford sales were declining in the 1920s due to increased competition, with Ford realizing that bigotry would only further hinder the company (Dinnerstein, 2). According to Ford’s personal secretary he did not read the apology and it was just something he wanted to get done, fueling the debate as to whether or not his antisemitism was really paradoxical in nature and providing support for the view that he was less paradoxical and more of an antisemite.

The Dearborn Independent would shut down at the end of 1927 and Henry Ford would publicly refrain from commenting on the “Jewish Question” for the next five years (Baldwin, 256). However, Ford’s The International Jew was still being widely circulated in Germany in 1933, causing Jewish leaders in America urge Ford to issue a restatement of his retraction as a means to combat antisemitism in Germany. Ford stated in papers syndicated across the country that “I am not a Jew hater” and that “I have never contributed a cent directly, indirectly, or in any other way to any antisemitic activity anywhere” (Baldwin, 272-273). Clearly, Ford had previously financed antisemitic activity with his publication of the Dearborn Independent and The International Jew. Ford was at odds with his own beliefs and previous apology, refusing to help withdraw his damaging publications from Nazi Germany, with Liebold informing the Jewish leaders who wished Ford to reassert his retraction in the face of growing antisemitism in Germany in 1933 that, while Ford realized the danger of the material he had published, he did not wish to sign a reassertion of his retraction (Baldwin, 273). Ford’s refusal to reiterate his previous apology makes the apology seem much less sincere.

Ford’s antisemitism would continue in the late 1930’s and through the Second World War. As the guest of honor at a 1938 dinner held by the American Newspaper Publishers Association, Ford stated in his short speech that “we are all on the spot” and further elaborated by saying “they’re after us,” with they being “the people behind the Government” ( Baldwin, 281-282). Ford’s thinly veiled reference to the idea of the Jewish conspiracy’s plot to start another world war perplexed the press, with different interpretations abounding. Ford had reneged on his promise to refrain from wholesale denunciations of the Jews, continuing the stereotypes he had begun to perpetuate some twenty years earlier.


Did Henry Ford really represent the zeitgeist, the essential spirit of Americans of his time? Bolkolsky supports Baldwin’s point that Ford reflected American culture but as Dinnerstein points out, there is no evidence that Ford influenced the rise of the Ku Klux Klan or had any impact on immigration policy (Bolkolsky, 1 and Dinnerstein, 3). His antisemitism was heard but not necessarily listened to by the masses. However, the claim should not be made that his antisemitism did no harm or had no influence. Henry Ford was a man of great esteem in American culture, with his words certainly carrying some weight. It is a better estimate of American sentiment at the time to say that nativism was rampant, leading to a dislike of all immigrants, not solely Jews. Ford chose to single out the Jews, while the American zeitgeist favored an egalitarian restriction that prohibited all immigrants deemed undesirable.

What kind of antisemite was Henry Ford? The question is worth reiterating because, as Sarah Egelman points out, “this is the part of American history not taught in schools” (Egelman, 1). Sources of Ford’s antisemitism, as well as his ultimate goal, are questions that remain unanswered. Though the severity of his antisemitism along with his understanding of the impact of his paper’s statements is shrouded in mystery, it is clear that Henry Ford, the antisemite, was as comfortable speaking out against Jews as he was issuing retractions and apologies for antisemitic statements, making it difficult to reconcile the man who claimed to not be a “Jew hater” with the man who believed German atrocities during Reichskristallnacht to be exaggerated for propaganda purposes (Baldwin, 300).

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/23/08)

Book Reviews:

  • Bolkolsky, Sidney M. Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate. Michigan Historical Review. 3/22/02. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-87779143.html
    Bolkolsky agrees with Baldwin’s view of Ford as a paradoxical antisemite, citing Ford’s beliefs as being representative of the American people at the time. Though the Protocols, the source which Ford greatly relied upon, are widely known as a forgery, Bolkolsky makes the point that both the Protocols and Ford’s own antisemitism remain relevant because they are still believed today.
  • Dinnerstein, Leonard. Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate. The Business History Review, Vol. 76, No. 2. (Summer 2002), p.365-367. http://www.jstor.org (requires proxy server)
    Dinnerstein criticizes Baldwin’s work for unearthing “little new information,” a fact he attributes to a lack of primary sources on the subject. Dinnerstein states that if you are already familiar with Ford’s antisemitism, then Baldwin’s book will not provide much of additional value.
  • Egelman, Sarah Rachael. Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate. http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews/1586481630.asp
    Egelman values Baldwin’s book because it shows a different side to American history, one much darker, like the antisemitic side of Ford that many are not familiar with.


  • Dearborn Independent. The Jewish question: A Selection of the Articles (1920-1922) Paris, Editions RISS, 1931. UCSB: DS145.D5 A35 1931.
    This selection of articles from the Dearborn Independent is valuable because it provides the articles that made Ford such a controversial figure. The Independent was the medium through which Ford expressed his thoughts on the “Jewish Question” and answered public criticism at the time.
  • Lee, Albert, Henry Ford and the Jews. (New York: Stein and Day, 1980). UCSB: DS146.U6 L43 1980.
    Baldwin read Lee’s book and differed enough with it to write his own. Baldwin was convinced he could discover more than Lee’s book uncovered, arguing that Lee took a dismissive approach to American antisemitism.


  • Wikipedia, “Henry Ford” (last modified on 26 February 2008), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Ford.
    This page provides a good overall background on Ford’s life and career, with many helpful links to related topics.
  • Wikipedia, “The International Jew,” (last modified on 12 February 2008), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_International_Jew.
    This site provides information on the pamphlet published by Ford, which contains articles from the Dearborn Independent.
  • Jewish Virtual Library, “Henry Ford Invents a Jewish Conspiracy,” http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/ford1.html.
    This site provides information on Ford’s antisemitism and the response to Ford’s antisemitism by Jewish leaders.
  • Anti-Defamation League, “ The International Jew: Anti-Semitism from the Roaring Twenties Revived on the Web,” (July 1999), http://www.adl.org/special_reports/ij/print.asp.
    This article provides information on the Dearborn Independent articles and the libel trial against the paper which ultimately resulted in an apology from Ford.
  • PBS, “Anti-Semitism,” http://www.pbs.org/perilousfight/social/antisemitism/.
    This site provides general background information on American antisemitism in the interwar period. The site also had interesting links to photos and videos from the time. The site is based on a PBS series on World War II which aired in 2003.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 3/23/08; last updated:
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