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


At a ceremony in Dearborn, Michigan, Henry Ford was presented with the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle on his 75th birthday. Henry Ford was the first American recipient of the order, an honor created in 1937 by Adolf Hitler.

It was the highest honor given by Nazi Germany to any foreigner and represented personal admiration of Adolf Hitler and indebtedness to Henry Ford. The presentation was made by Karl Kapp, the German consulate in Cleveland and Fritz Heller, the German consular representative in Detroit.

The National Socialists' peculiar admiration for Henry Ford and the sympathy that the Detroit industrialist expressed for Nazism continues to attract the curious, both academic historians and Internet readers.

There is something unique about the connection between a man considered the epitome of American industrial modernity and the quintessential villains of the twentieth century.

In 1918, Ford's closest aide and personal secretary, Ernest G. Liebold bought an obscure weekly newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, for Ford. The Independent ran for eight years, from 1920 to 1927.

In Germany, Ford's anti-Semitic articles from The Dearborn Independent were issued in four volumes, cumulatively titled The International Jew, The World's Foremost Problem, published by Theodor Fritsch, who published several He was a founder of antisemitic parties and a member of the Reichstag.

In a letter written in 1924, Heinrich Himmler described Ford as "one of our most valuable, important and witty fighters". Ford is the only American mentioned favorably in Mein Kampf, although he is mentioned only once.

Adolf Hitler wrote: "Only one great man, Ford, [who], to the [Jews'] fury, still maintains complete independence ... [from] the controlling master of producers in a country of one hundred and two million" .

Speaking to a Detroit News reporter in 1931, Hitler said that he regarded Ford as his "inspiration", citing the reason for placing a life-size portrait of Ford next to his desk. Steven Watts wrote that Hitler "respected" Ford, declaring that "I will do my best to put his principles into practice in Germany", and that Volkswagen on the Model T, modeling the people's car. Am.

German engineers and industrial managers adapted the technical and functional aspects of Fordism. Flow production (assembly lines and vertical integration) gained considerable appeal after 1936, when the four-year plan sparked a renewed interest in industrial rationalization.

The Volkswagen plant incorporated Ford's Rouge factory as a model, and the German Labor Front hired Ford engineers to staff it. Finally, the Nazi-appointed manager of airplane manufacturer Junkers, Heinrich Koppenberg, was an outspoken disciple of Ford production techniques.

Historians have proposed different understandings of the Ford–Nazi connection. Some have offered a humiliating indictment of the American industrialist as a Nazi sympathizer and war profiteer.

For others, the connection demonstrated Nazi "reactionary modernism", the paradoxical fusion of technological fervor and post-modern romanticism considered to be characteristic of Nazism.

Others have again suggested a structural nexus between Fordism and Fascism. In this vein, Fordism is essentially understood as an instrument of capitalist control over the industrial workforce. In Germany, it is said, Fordism took effect only under Nazism.

While Ford was extremely anti-Semitic, he was also very anti-war (and certainly blamed Jews for World War I, not surprising given his tendency to blame Jews for many things. ). That's why Ford did not like Nazi militarism.

This is not enough to turn down the award, but nevertheless, he was not close on a political level with the Nazis, and is quoted in the New York Times as saying at the time of the award: "My acceptance of the medal from the German people, as That some people think, include no sympathy on my part with Nazism. Those who have known me for many years know that anything that creates hatred is counterproductive to me."

While Ford did not turn down the prize, he also did not travel to Germany to receive it, so it was awarded in Michigan instead.

But despite these interpretations, the Ford-Nazi connection still leaves us with considerable restlessness. It is only, oddly enough, in the master narratives of a historiography that still dominates the national ideological framework.

In the American case, Henry Ford's status as the forerunner of the roar of the 1920s made it difficult to integrate his anti-Semitism and political leanings into a unified appreciation of his historical role, which, in turn, was the cliché of the man. makes it as one. "puzzle.

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