Denying History: Ford Sponsors "Schindler's List"

"I made this film for this and future generations," Steven Spielberg told the television audience that tuned in for the network TV broadcast of Schindler's List, "so that they would know and never forget that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and that history cannot be denied." It can, however, be conveniently forgotten, as it was in the case of the broadcast's sponsor, the Ford Motor Company. Almost universally lauded in the press for its "noble, selfless manner" (Cox Newspapers, Feb. 25) in sponsoring the commercial-free broadcast, Ford took credit for being a champion of history -- without having to face up to its own.For the record:* Adolph Hitler and Henry Ford were close friends and allies. Hitler hung a portrait of Ford on the wall behind his desk. In Hitler's Mein Kampf, Ford is the only American figure to be singled out for commendation. Hitler awarded Ford the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, an award reserved for exemplary service to the Third Reich by foreigners (Mussolini also received one). And each year on Hitler's birthday, his friend Henry sent 50,000 Reichmarks, according to the 1983 book Trading with the Enemy: The Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949 by Charles Higham.* Also according to Higham, Henry Ford and his son, Edsel, "refused to build aircraft engines for England and instead built supplies for the 5-ton military trucks that were the backbone of German army transportation." In the midst of a wartime tire shortage, 30 percent of Ford's tire supply went to the Fuehrer. Ford's auto plant near Paris built trucks and cars for the German army.* Ford helped sponsor a worldwide anti-Semitic revival during the 1930s by bankrolling a modern edition of the vicious and false anti-Semitic tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.* During the 1920s, Ford dedicated his weekly Michigan newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, to exposes of alleged Jewish conspiracies to control the world. He titled the series the "International Jew," reprinting it in book form in 1927. The first sentence of the lead article of the first issue read, "There is a race, a part of humanity, which has never been received as a welcome part..." Kinda gives those breaks in the TV broadcast, with a black screen and the message "Schindler's List -- Sponsored by Ford," a few extra layers.The mainstream press universally lauded Ford for its selfless dedication to public service in refusing to run commercials during the film, for its $6-million sacrifice in the name of education. What the company didn't get in classic commercial hype, though, it got in glowingly sympathetic news coverage.Some reporters focused on Spielberg's message to "never forget" and took the opportunity to wax profound about the historical significance of the Holocaust. Even more chose to write TV trend stories, lauding both the network and Ford for taking the high road and remarking upon the historical significance of that never-before-seen-on-network act, "a rare and wondrous event in the commercial-saturated world of network television" (New York Times, Feb. 23).Ford executives were less pretentious about their motivations for broadcasting the film commercial-free. Their sponsorship of Schindler's List, they explained, was a bold new strategy, intended to reap the benefits of public good will for Ford."The main reason we purchased this movie was to elevate the Ford primary brand," explained Gerry Donnelly, marketing communications manager for Ford (Los Angeles Times, Feb. 23)."It's a different approach," said Ross Roberts, a vice president of Ford Motor and general manager of the Ford division (New York Times, Feb. 21), "to see if you can seed, establish the brand, without hawking your wares."When asked directly if Ford intended the broadcast to make up for past sins, officials denied any connection.After all, if Ford had been interested in reparations for the past, the company would have just come out and said it. Some company exec would have made a 30-second announcement before the movie: "Thank you for tuning in. We're sorry our founder was a powerful anti-Semite and ally of Hitler and helped contribute to the extermination of the Jews. In that spirit, we bring you Schindler's List." Ford was not about to publicize its own past, even in the "never forget" spirit of Schindler's List. That left it up to reporters.Those reporters who did broach the subject were quick to dismiss it as a "fascinating sidelight" (New York Times, Feb. 21) or an example of historical irony. Some pulled in a rabbi or two to assure readers that all had been forgiven, that the Jews don't blame Ford's descendants for their founder's activities. "I think Ford taught many a lesson to all individuals, corporations and governments not to ignore the sins of their pasts," said one California rabbi speaking to a reporter from Copley News Service.And while several articles mentioned Ford's "anti-Semitism" and even his publishing of The Protocols and the International Jew, almost none addressed his alliance with and support of Hitler. A search of the Nexis database came up with only one editorial (Newsday, Feb. 25) mentioning the Hitler/Ford connection.Though the author, freelance writer Joshua Botkin, began by saying he was "incredulous, caught between being deeply offended and highly amused by the stark irony" of Ford's sponsorship, he concluded that all was well. "Upon further reflection, .... I realized that Ford's sponsorship of the film offers lessons that would have been lost had another advertiser signed on..."The lessons: 1) History is complex; so are Ford and Schindler, who both went against the mainstream of their time. 2) We shouldn't hold grudges. It's not fair to "[visit] the sins of the founding father upon the corporate son." The purpose of recalling history, though, is not to assign contemporary blame; Spielberg did not make Schindler's List to point the finger at contemporary Germans. The purpose of recalling history is to analyze and examine -- and perhaps learn.Author Charles Higham took that as the mission behind his investigative report on American businesses' complicity with the Nazis during, before, and after World War II. Sounding not unlike Steven Spielberg, Higham explains in the introduction to Trading with the Enemy that he "tried to write this book as dispassionately as possible, without attempting a moral commentary, and without, of course, intending implication of present corporations and their executive boards. It will be claimed that the people in this book, since they are dead, cannot answer and therefore should not be criticized. To that I would reply: Millions died in World War II. They, too, cannot answer."

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.