Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials, 1938

By RHP | Posted on: November 20, 2013 | Updated on: June 8, 2014
Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials. 1938

Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials. 1938

At a ceremony in Dearborn, Michigan, Henry Ford is presented with the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle on his 75th birthday. Henry Ford is the first American recipient of this, an honor created a year earlier by Adolf Hitler. This is the highest honor Nazi Germany could give to any foreigner and represents Adolf Hitler’s personal admiration and indebtedness to Henry Ford. The presentation is made by Karl Kapp, German consul in Cleveland, and Fritz Heller, German consular representative in Detroit. Ford is the only American mentioned in Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf”.

The peculiar admiration that National Socialists had for Henry Ford and the supposed sympathies that the Detroit industrialist harbored for Nazism keep attracting the curious, both academic historians and internet readers. There is something irresistible about the connection between the man taken to symbolize American industrial modernity and the quintessential villains of the twentieth century. The New York Times reported that a portrait of Henry Ford graced Hitler’s Munich office 1922. Hitler acknowledged Ford in Mein Kampf and Baldur von Schirach testified in court in Nuremberg that “the decisive anti-Semitic book” he had read was Ford’s International Jew.

According to Prince Louis Ferdinand, Hitler told him over lunch in 1933 that he was “a great admirer of Ford’s” and would do his “best to put his theories into practice in Germany.” German diplomats awarded Ford a prestigious decoration in 1938. Robert Ley, head of the Nazi labor organization German Labor Front, wrote a letter to Henry Ford from his Nuremberg prison cell, days before his suicide.

We also know that Nazi engineers and industrial managers adapted technological and functional aspects of Fordism. Flow production (assembly lines and vertical integration) had considerable appeal after 1936, when the Four-Year Plan sparked renewed interest in industrial rationalization. The Volkswagen plant invoked Ford’s Rouge Factory as a model, and the German Labor Front hired Ford engineers to staff it. Finally, the Nazi-appointed manager of the airplane builder Junkers, Heinrich Koppenberg, was a vocal disciple of Ford production techniques.

Historians have proposed different understandings of the Ford-Nazi connection. Some have offered muckraking indictments of the American industrialist as a Nazi sympathizer and war profiteer. For others, the connection exhibited Nazi “reactionary modernism,” that paradoxical Fusion of technological zeal and anti-modern romanticism supposedly characteristic of Nazism. Others again have suggested  a structural nexus between Fordism and Fascism. In this vein, Fordism is essentially understood as a device of capitalist control over the industrial work force. In Germany, it is asserted, Fordism only became dominant under Nazism.

But despite these interpretations, the Ford-Nazi connection still leaves us with considerable uneasiness. It fits only awkwardly into the master narratives of a historiography still dominated by national conceptual frameworks. In the American case, the status of Henry Ford as a herald of the roaring 1920’s makes it difficult to integrate his Antisemitism and indelicate political leanings into a unified appreciation of his historical role, which, in turn, creates the clichéo of the man as an “enigma.” Meanwhile, in German historiography, the juxtaposition of “Ford” and “Nazis” is still more likely to elicit ruminations about the relationship between National Socialism and modernity rather than empirical investigation.

29 thoughts on “Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials, 1938

    1. Dwayne

      But who’d want the FORD’s name on their car, after knowing this? HE WAS A HUGE ANTI SEMITE, when it was the absolute worst time to be one. I’d rather not give a penny to his offspring either. And, what happened to his overseas plants in Germany in the 1940’s, is shocking too.

      Reply
      1. Dana

        “HE WAS A HUGE ANTI SEMITE, when it was the absolute worst time to be one.”

        Is there a good time to be one? Intolerance should never be accepted, no matter what specific intolerance is “in vogue” at the time. There is no best or worst time to be intolerant

        Reply
      2. Gary Johnson

        Plants in Germany? The same thing happened to them in Italy & Japan. The Governments took them over & utilized their assembly lines for their own war machines. That is what “dictators” do in order to supply their war machinery with weapons. They did it then & they will do it again if peace is not maintained in the world today. Nothing has really changed in that aspect since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. People may be captured but plants are the important items to save for an enemies use.

        Reply
        1. paddy

          It also happened to automobile plants in the U.S. and U.K. That has more to do with Total War economy than dictatorship.

          Reply
    2. Christopher Haley SImpson

      I just wonder when Henry Ford received this in 1938? Was it before or after Kristallnacht when the synagogues were burned? And what decent American who respects freedom of religion and opinion would have willingly received a medal from the diplomats of ruthless, murderous bunch of totalitarians? I can only conclude “better American” is a fairly worthless epithet coming from your keyboard mr Harry K. James. In any case receiving a medal from a committed anti-semitic and totalitarian and warmongering government such as the Nazi government in Germany in 1938 is not only in retrospect quite appalling.
      I wonder if Henry Ford ever gave this medal back? If he gave it back then it would at least show he concluded at some time that it had been a bad thing to have accepted such a medal. If he didn’t give it back then this would show he found it an honour to receive a medal from a murderous administration, even after they committed their crimes against humanity. So much for Ford being a better American than Obama. How can you write such a horrifically lop-sided judgement Mr Harry K. James?

      Reply
      1. Seth Asaban (@SethAsaban)

        Christopher – Henry Ford was presented with the Grand Cross of the German Eagle on 30 July 1938 and Kristallnacht (crystal night – also known as night of the broken glass) – took place from 9 Nov to 10 Nov 1938 following the shooting of Ernst Eduard vom Rath a German diplomat in Paris by a 17 year old called Herschel Grynszpan. Ernst died of his wounds on 9 Nov while the fate of Herschel who was arrested and held without trail in Fresnes Prison and taken to Germany in 1940 remains unknown

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        1. Christopher Haley SImpson

          Thanks for your answer to my question Seth. Are you a studied historian or do you fread around an awful lot. I must admit I was very shocked when I first saw this photo this year. I have known about British ideological support for the NAzis for many years, but had no idea that the multinationals and banks were so involved in building up Hitlerism in Germany. I guess the excuse could always be – well we didn’t know beforehand what he would turn Germany into.

          Reply
          1. paddy

            Nazis were fiercely anti-socialist and anti-leftist. Capitalists supported them against communism. Its easy to monday-morning quarterback and point at how bad this looks, but at this time all the stuff we know and think we know about the Nazis was not so crystal clear. I mean, the stated goal of the Commintern was to establish a single international communist state. They were a direct threat to capitalists like Hentry Ford.

          2. Jim

            Wrong, Paddy:

            Nazis were anti-“Jewish” Socialism. They were all about creating a racist, “Arian” version in which everyone knew their place, and no one accepted “Equality” but “Order.”

            If you’re exposed to either previous Nazi, or modern neo-Nazi propaganda, you will see, Nazis decried Capitalism just as much as Communism, and the Nazis routinely nationalized many businesses. However, the Nazis would openly do it for the accepted elite. Thus, if you aligned your interests with the Nazis, they were so corrupt that you could keep it.

            The Nazis, via Mein Kampf, had stated distinctly that the world needed to be re-ordered with German Nationalist sentiment the guiding factor in the world. Anti-Communist AND anti-Capitalist.

    3. Christopher Haley SImpson

      Other people who received this award were
      Dr. Wilhelm Frick, Reichsminister
      Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer SS
      Admiral Miklós Horthy, Hungary
      Field Marshal Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim, Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish armed forces
      Constantin Freiherr von Neurath, Reich Foreign Minister
      General Hiroshi Ōshima, Japanese ambassador
      Joachim von Ribbentrop, Reich Foreign Minister

      But this perhaps does not matter if Henry Ford was a “better American” anyway. Being a better American is an antidote to many things. For instance spying on the rest of the world is okay, if one is at heart a “better American”. We non-Americans are just so envious of all those who had the belssings of being born in Gods own country. PErhaps in the next life we shall be admitted like them, into similiar relams of blissful ignorance.

      Reply
  1. Harry K. James

    BTW. Ford used his own Willow Run farm and turned it into a B-24 plant and produced a B-24 every 55 minutes. That was before Pearl Harbor. The B-24 dropped thousands of tons of bombs on the Nazi’s. Your writing should denote that regardless of what you wrote “historians” noted. There is one thing history proves. The folly of historians in telling the full story.

    Reply
    1. Fredrick Frosty

      ….and i bet he was making these B-24s out the kindness of his heart? profit from both sides now that’s American!

      Reply
      1. Harry K. James

        Only an ignorant prick would come up with that Frosty. You think he would make them all for a loss? You think Apple makes Ipads for a loss? You think Lord Obama doesn’t cash his paycheck? Probably suit you fine if Hitler had kept the ovens going.

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        1. 2crudedudes

          Man, your comment is all sorts of stupid.

          1) Profit and loss are not the only outcomes in manufacturing.

          2) Apple’s iPads are nowhere near as useful as airplanes are, especially during a war like WWII. Why you would even mention them in the same sentence is baffling.

          3) “Lord Obama”? I guess that explains your post.

          4) “The folly of historians in telling the full story.” You’d be hard-pressed to find an objective recounting of current events, even today, in the so-called information age. What makes you think that historians can definitively recount what actually happened so long ago? Witnesses die. Documents are destroyed. Hearsay, misinformation and fact become muddled, making it difficult to sift out the truth.

          It’s not that historians want to lie, it’s that they literally can’t know the truth after so many years have gone by. They’re piecing together the past based on findings, not telling us exactly what happened. Even if they had witnessed it themselves, they probably wouldn’t be able to give the entire story accurately.

          Reply
        2. VLM

          you sound as if you have a serious problem with President Barack Obama and the only problem that you should have especially if you are Caucasian is he’s probably related to you. So wake up white people in America stop letting your inbred racism that has been taught to you for centuries and generations just stop it cuz you need to see and listen to how ridiculous you really do sound,have a blessed and great day thank God we have a president that came out of Harvard University which is our higher Institute of Education in the United States and the top of his class in stead of the Bush family dummies. thank goodness we finally have a man in a progressive family in the White House. The way I see it this is the best of this country has to offer the best of the white and the best of black Americans. So why people please wake up before the coffee Burns.oh yeah even if Ford did accept that metal from the Germans he still an American genius no one else has created a plastic car , no one else is tried to come up with a sustainable fuel source but Henry Ford is a greatAmerican geniusbecause he actually came up with Green fuel and a green car do your research bye bye

          Reply
      2. Dana

        The company nearly filed bankruptcy in 1945, so profiting “from both sides” may be a stretch.

        Reply
    2. Erik

      Hey- Ford’s factories produced the rocket engines for the V2 missile and he consulted to maximise German manufacturing efficiency. You’re a moron. Ford was a nazi sympathiser and he profited from both sides in WWII. I discovered this upon researching ford’s German subsidiary, founded in 1925. I didn’t even go looking and I found this info and this topic by mistake! And you couldn’t find the truth if it bit you in the butt. Keep watching Fox News and listening to rush limbaugh’s ramblings, you blind fool.

      Reply
      1. ftreu

        Could you please provide the source where you found that Ford produced rocket engines for the V2 missile ?
        As far as I know the V2 was mass-produced in the Dora underground (and forced labour) concentration camp , but not by private contractors.

        And, as I said here before, during the war foreign-owned companies were run by government-nominated trustees, in Germany as in the US . So company ownership says nothing about who decided.

        So, publish your sources.

        And learn to be polite.
        Insulting people with different opinions was a well-known character trait of Nazis.
        Beware.

        Reply
      2. Gary

        Lets’ not forget world capitalism here. Rockefellar with Standard Oil was also selling petroleum products to Hitler in the 1930’s before his oil plants were taken over by Germany. The main reason Ford seemed so anti-semetic was because he needed funds to start his company. The terms from Jewish bankers were in their favor and Ford realized early on that if he took their banking/investment money, he would be working for the Jews – not his “own” company. He was a staunch mid westerner & he could not stand the thought of his daily work being for a banker rather than for “his’ own company. Ole Henry is a complicated man that is not easily put in a box for all to see him as simply being this way or that. Besides, we are looking back at history now but Henry was living history “THEN”. From this perspective, two totally different views. Study the electricity battle of Edison & Tesla & one can see a totally different perspective on how to light the world. One was a whole lot cheaper than the other. Can you guess which one? It might surprise you.

        Reply
  2. John W. Butts

    Ironic footnote and historical minutiae from a Model “A” Ford owner:

    In 1929 Ford sold the USSR $13,000,000 worth of cars, trucks, parts, tools, dies, etc., together with technical assistance through 1938. In 1931, Ford ceased US production of Model “A” cars and “AA” trucks. Redundant manufacturing equipment was shipped to the USSR.

    By 1933, the Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod (GAZ) plant was in operation in Nizhny Novgorod, USSR.

    “GAZ-A” cars and “GAZ-AA” trucks are clearly identifiable as being clones of 1931 Ford vehicles.

    During WWII, GAZ “AA” trucks were adapted to many uses… armored, fitted with half-tracks, fitted with artillery or rocket launchers, etc. GAZ “AA” trucks figured prominently in the “ice road” convoy across Lake Ladoga during the siege of Leningrad. In essence, the Red Army’s WWII “Jeep” was a Model “A” Ford.

    Once one is familiar with GAZ products, it is difficult to find an image of Soviet vehicles on the Eastern Front in WWII, from the Crimea to Leningrad, without spotting a Model “A” Ford.

    Ford had an assembly plant in Berlin prior to 1932, and in Cologne thereafter. I have located two images of Ford trucks bedecked with flowers and swastikas during what appears to be a May Day parade in Bavaria in the early 30’s. I have never located a single image of Ford vehicles in use by (as opposed to captured by) German government or military personnel.

    Reply
    1. ftreuF. Thomas

      The assembly plant in Cologne in fact dates from the Weimar Republic when Adenauer, then May of British occupation-hit Cologne, succeded in attracting new businesses to his city and in 1929 Ford Germany relocated from Berlin to Cologne.
      Up to the German declaration of war Ford Detroit sent the necessary engines etc. to Ford Cologne for the assembly of the Ford Barrel Nose trucks, typed here G917T, G987T, G987TG and G997T. As a German subsidiary of any foreign company Ford Germany, like IBM, Standard Oil etc., was controlled by government-appointed trustees (but remained in Detroit’s ownership) so Ford Detroit had no real say in what happened in Germany. The German-language Wikipedia pages http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Barrel_Nose_Lkw show Ford Wehrmacht G917T trucks carrying Jews, anti-guerilla units, etc.
      Besides the antisemite attitudes of Henry Ford Ford Germany behaved as numerous companies under German control at that time: it took this as just another commercial opportunity, though under extreme conditions, no matter how awful the conditions were.

      Reply
  3. John W. Butts

    Thank you. My interest lies in Ford “A” and “AA” models, and their Soviet successors. I was unaware of the German “Barrel Nose” vehicles. The parade vehicles I mentioned were Model AA’s. I will correct my original post to say that I have never seen an image of an “A” or “AA” in Wehrmacht livery. If you know of any such images I would be very interested in seeing them. Best regards.

    Reply
    1. ftreu

      If you look at the evolution of vehicle types the Ford AA were too out-dated and after the mid-1930s the Wehrmacht tried to standardise the production of cars for the military. But maybe some units used Ford AAs seized in occupied countries ?

      Reply
      1. John W. Butts

        Indeed, I have seen images of German military use of captured GAZ “A” phaetons (touring cars) in the Caucasus. As you say, the A/AA design was “out-dated,” but what fascinates me, as an “A” owner, is how the basic design remained evident in GAZ production throughout the war years. Outdated it may have been, but the Model A was (and remains) an extremely durable and versatile vehicle. Most Americans are surprised to see images of GAZ “A’s” in active duty in the East long after the “A” was considered an old car at home. The “A” design was so sound, and the materials of such quality, that a well-maintained “A” is perhaps the oldest motor vehicle capable of
        being a “daily driver” in many areas of the US even today. Irrespective of who used them, and to what ends, the Ford and GAZ “A/AA” vehicles were remarkable. Best regards.

        Reply
  4. Pete

    Rising anti communist feel not rising anti semitic feel in Europe. Ford wrote anti Jewish communist book in early 1900s
    Nov 28 1918 jewish communist Rosa luxemburg takes over Berlin, Jewish communist Eisner takes over Berlin.
    freikorps form and fight them out. Germans hear Henry ford has written a book on Jewish communist and he sells 20 million copies in Germany and is turned into an anti communist demi god. No one was more surprised then ford.
    Ford was not a Nazi the Nazi was a Fordite .
    Ford then builds a flying fortress every 4 hours and destroys his followers.
    What irony.
    Ford did more for the allied war effort than anyman. I bet you have acute hitleritis and this is not published. You be good lying conformists

    Reply
  5. ftreu

    Pete, you misinform the reader. You repeat a standard lie of Hitler that it were the Jews that took power in the German civil war. It were the communistes who tried to seize power against the government and right-wing volunteers and armed militias.

    The poor Henry Ford was so impressed by civil war on another continent and above all in an enemy country that he became an anti-semite ?

    The central anti-Jewish publication of Henry Ford was The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem, published in English in 1920, and in German in 1922 by a well-known extreme right publishing house, Hammer Verlag. The articles were first published in the Dearborn Independent, a journal wholly owned by Ford.

    After a trial in 1927 Ford retracted of his anti-Jewish publications and closed the Dearborn Independent.

    The table of content of The International Jew shows that you clearly misstate its content.
    The ill-famed Protocols of the Elders of Zion appear at a prominent place :
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_International_Jew#Volume_1:_The_International_Jew:_The_World.27s_Foremost_Problem_.281920.29

    This might have been the crazy ideas of some rich illuminate. Now were there any effects of Ford’s anti-semitism ?
    Just 3 hints.

    In a letter written in 1924, Heinrich Himmler, the SS criminal, described Ford as “one of our most valuable, important, and witty fighters”.

    Ford was the only foreigner cited in Hitler’s party program Mein Kampf.

    The head of the compulsory party and state youth organization, the Hitler Youth, Baldur von Schirach, said at the Nuremberg trial:
    VON SCHIRACH: … The decisive anti-Semitic book which I read at that time and the book which influenced my comrades . . . was Henry Ford’s book, The International Jew; I read it and became anti-Semitic.

    http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/05-23-46.asp

    Any questions ?

    Reply
  6. Will Blackcloud

    People playing people and there’s a sucker born every minute. Read more about old Henry Ford and you’ll discover he was as ignorant as a fence post regarding his historical and political savvy and could be persuaded and influenced at the drop of a hat. These dubious accolades were just another attempt to kiss his ass by the Germans to keep him pacified with their bullshit. While they kept him pre-occupied with global peace and Nobel prize dreams, they sucked him dry of every possible assembly line technique they could get. They played Henry like a fiddle – sucked him in like a noodle.

    Read about Henry’s peace ship venture in 1915 to try and spread goodwill throughout Europe with his industrial knowledge; thinking he could keep everyone happy with his $5 a day labor model. It worked in America, why not Europe? He chartered a steamship without any clue of who he was dealing with. He didn’t like war. WHOA! Who does?. He thought he could bring prosperity to Europe that would eventually stop the war by inserting his Ford to Europe. Guess what? It failed and the war continued. Not the Mama! Not the Commy! Commy’s don’t try to improve things, Commy’s don’t create wealth for others, Commy’s don’t care about your damn welfare! Henry was an opportunist push forward kind of guy, but put the cart before the horse which got him in deep shit. https://books.google.com/books?

    id=3XXxhbDU9P4C&pg=PA96&lpg=PA96&dq=man++of+integrity+Henry+Ford&source=bl&ots=544GLWk0AQ&sig=Lfv6Z8b8XLKpGr9S2WdH_lTU3Dc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=wU2gVPyZCc21oQS4pIKwAw&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=man%20%20of%20integrity%20Henry%20Ford&f=false

    The Jews everyone speaks of in these articles were American Jews. DUH! Hollywood anybody. Media anyone? Hell, they controlled half of America by this time. They weren’t the sophisticated Jews of Israel. The Jews in Europe had also been owners of much infrastructure, both corporate and industrial, and that caused enmity with Hitler’s objectives, and since Germany was failing economically, Hitler blamed everything on the Jews.

    Okay, back to Ford. Ford didn’t care for the Jews in AMERICA (NOT ISRAEL) because they tried to stop his success. They incited labor disputes and riots, they picketed his attempt to steam off to Europe and offer industrial assistance. He encountered many tiffs with Jewish leagues of one or another because the Jewish machine in America was powerful and couldn’t accept Ford being so damn independent and selfish. Hence, Ford’s acquired unhealthy taste for Jews.

    The damn commy’s and Nazis loved it, and when they wined and dined old Henry for initiating his plans to industrialize the world with Fordism, he fell for it. ‘Sucker born every minute’ Ford just couldn’t see the forest for the trees. All he could see was expansion. Horrible thing expansion. No right minded liberal businessman wants expansion – right? Or is that an oxy-moron; liberal left winger and businessman? Hell, Ford’s own wife wanted her grandson to lead the company because Henry couldn’t handle the pressure of invading interest groups destroying his dream.
    How about the UAW union. Communist based and communist run. Look it up on Wikipedia. 3000 commy’s headed toward Ford’s Michigan Plant in the early 30’s to launch a vicious campaign that would eventually tear down Henry’s empire. They spent days’ hammering away on Henry’s alleged monopolization, disenfranchisement, discrimination, low wages, bad practice this and that, or anything that would bring bad media attention. It was so bad, that fights broke out, a riot ensued, (sound familiar) finally between the local law enforcement and some of Ford’s employee’s – shot were fired and a few people lost their lives and many injured. WHOA! How could Henry Ford do such a thing? Well, the commy’s got their wish and people started distrusting Henry Ford. No wonder he got bitter.

    Henry was just a farm boy, without too much extended college for the greater and finer artsy fartsy stuff the liberals need to survive on. He was a hard working farm boy that made good but got taken by smarter commy’s and liberals.

    Old Henry made up for his ignorance and gullability by putting his forces to work for the war effort by tooling up the military department with the same techniques he screwed up giving Germany. Henry was kicking ass, but not just on B-24s’, but tanks, jeeps, armored personnel vehicles, and even submarines. It’s all on wikipedia. Good stuff maynard – of course you have to read some of the books and articles that were referenced to learn more about old Henry’s personal views.

    So, did Henry get out of Germany because he wanted to remain in legal business operations in America – you know, being a commy and all? (I don’t find where our governing bodies – of that time – found him to be bonified commy). He was never obligated to provide our DOD any assistance but he did. He was allowed to contribute, sanctioned by an American government and military police state capable of keeping the atom bomb in complete seclusion – especially from commy’s.

    Now of course, there are those who believe Henry saw the war effort as more equitable opportunity. WTF? GM and DODGE did also doofus. Only GM was very unreliable in their efforts – couldn’t build anything the army could depend on. No Shit! Dodge however did! For starters, the dodge ram.

    Henry wasn’t a commy, he wasn’t a fascist, he wasn’t part of any alluminati. He did however find it necessary to become allies with Woodrow Wilson – the Prez who launched our infamous IRS and Federal Reserve System. Henry was just, quite simply, an over enthusiastic work-o-holic who had a magnificent dream for himself and America and was pulverized by communists.

    Reply

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