A documentary to understand the impact of Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism

Every year, Henry Ford sent his neighbor, Rabbi Dr. Leo Franklin, his latest Model T as a gift. They lived on the same street in Detroit, and that day Ford learned that the pastor of Beth El Synagogue needed a new car. , he added a rabbi to the list of Americans who owned a Model T—a list that eventually exceeded 15 million.

But in 1920, Franklin returned the last gift with an explanatory letter. Ford published a series of anti-Semitic articles in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. This series was published for almost two years, that is, 91 weeks in a row. The series derives from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, although some of its titles blame Jews for America’s internal problems, such as jazz, which he called “the music of morons.” Ford then published them in an international bestseller of four books entitled International Jew. The biggest problem in the world.

But Ford would never have understood why the articles bothered the rabbi, according to a new original film called “10 Questions for Henry Ford,” directed by Andy Kirshner. The film was screened online at the oldest Jewish film festival in the US, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, from August 1-7.

Receive our free daily edition by email so you don’t miss any of the best news. Free registration!

“I wanted to complete a portrait of Henry Ford,” said Andy Kirchner Times of Israel. “I didn’t know how much of an influence he had on the early days of the Nazi movement and during the last two years [avant la Seconde Guerre mondiale], the impact it had on fascism around the world. This is an important story that needs to be told, a kind of flip side of the myth of American entrepreneurship.

In the film, Kirchner brings Ford to life as a ghost. Ford’s ghost is played by John Lepard, who is not only an actor of stage, film and television, but also the manager of the Williamston Theatre.

Dressed in the automaker’s signature cap and gray suit, Mr. Lepard’s Ford speaks in a popular Michigan accent; the fact that the actor himself is from the Wolverine state is no small matter. Wandering the seedy streets of modern-day Detroit, the ghost focuses on historic landmarks that reflect the automotive empire Ford built and maintained, including factories that produced a significant number of peacetime automobiles and military aircraft during World War II.

Andy Kirchner, director of 10 Questions for Henry Ford (courtesy)

“Most of the things Henry does in the movie come from what he said or [écrit] in their notebooks,” said Andy Kirchner. “I made up a few things, but they reflect sentiments that are well documented, even if they aren’t his exact words.”

As the lead answers 10 questions about his life and legacy, one wonders what lessons he has learned from history. The film details some of the controversies it caused International Jew before his acceptance in 1938 of Nazi Germany’s highest award for foreigners – the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. He also talks about his troubled relationship with his son, Edsel Ford, who the film suggests is more than the namesake of a car that sold poorly and was released posthumously.

A professor at Michigan State University’s Stamps School of Art and Design, Kirchner brings his expertise to theater, dance, music and video. He not only directed and wrote the film, but also composed the music and played the saxophone in it.

Although the saxophone was Kirchner’s first gateway to the art world, after graduating from Brandeis University and the New England Conservatory, he realized that he was not going to be the next Charlie Parker. Most recently, he tried his hand at film, most notably in the 2016 Amazon Prime drama The Secret of Freedom, which tells the story of a conservative Christian politician who must choose between the success of his campaign and her secret lesbian affair.

The ghost of Henry Ford, played by John Lepard, has a good time at Detroit’s People Mover with 10 Questions for Henry Ford (Image credit: Andy Kirchner)

Kirchner’s personal journey is also multifaceted: he is the son of a Jew and a Christian mother, and he was raised in the Unitarian religion. His wife is Jewish, and they are raising their son in the same spirit.

Years ago, before he knew about the less glamorous aspects of Ford, Kirchner himself owned a Mustang.

“My wife’s parents and her family are all from Detroit,” says Kirchner. “They grew up in the 1930s and 1940s. They were well aware of Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism. I had heard about it from other members of my family, but I didn’t know the impact of his publications – the Dearborn Independent, the articles he collected in The International Jew. One of the things I learned was the persistence of anti-Semitism. What Ford did, first of all, was he Americanized traditional European anti-Semitism, he rebranded anti-Semitism for an American audience with old familiar tropes like international bankers.”

The ghost of Henry Ford, played by John Lepard, at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan in 10 Questions About Henry Ford. (Image credit: Andy Kirchner)

Ford’s ghost answers terrifying questions, including: “Why did you hate the Jews?” and “Why did you keep the Hitler medal?” “. He protests that he employed thousands of Jews and that some of his lifelong friends were Jews. The Jewish architect Albert Kahn designed several buildings for the Ford company. However, Ford’s ghost criticizes Jewish immigrants for not doing what he expected from all of his employees to assimilate into America. Ford’s anti-Semitism was highly regarded in Nazi Germany. Although they never met, Hitler referred to the automaker as “Henry Ford” and envisioned him as “the leader of the growing fascist movement in America.”

“He was an influence on a lot of Nazis in the 1920s and 1930s,” Kirchner said. “I didn’t know he supported a lot of right-wing white racists until the 1930s and 1940s when the war started. This was another aspect of the story that seemed very relevant to me with the resurgence of fascism here and around the world.

“Ford was a kind of continuation of anti-Semitism. He really had a profound impact and spread it. I would probably say he was the most influential American anti-Semite. I can’t think of anyone who has been as influential as him. »

The father-son relationship between Henry and Edsel is also scrutinized, with Edsel being reevaluated. Kirchner credits Edsel with unsung achievements at the company his father founded, including an aesthetic approach to automotive design. Edsel became a philanthropist. He even invited Mexican muralist Diego Rivera to the Motor City. Rivera’s murals are still on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts; but they receive an icy welcome from Ford’s ghost. Edsel also refused to obey his father in allowing workers to unionize and supported the company’s massive military involvement in World War II, also against his patriarch’s wishes.

“The story of the struggle between Henry and Edsel is also the story of the other contradictions in the film,” Mr. Kirchner said. “Authoritarianism vs. individual democracy – Henry was basically an autocrat, Edsel was more of a diplomat who made his decisions more democratically. Henry had a very bigoted view of the Jews, Edsel tried to make up for the damage Henry had done. He offered to lend $1 million to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine – not in the film – but the offer was rejected. This is probably one of the reasons why Ford Motor Company, because [le fils d’Edsel] Henry Ford II made numerous donations to Jewish causes. »

One particularly poignant scene involves an ax and reflects Ford’s anger and pain over Edsel’s untimely death at the age of 49.

“Henry Ford must have kept an ax in the back of his car,” says Kirchner. “He showed his feelings by sawing trees, sometimes doors. [La scène] based on real facts. By cutting him violently, we show both his love for his son and his capacity for violence. »

German diplomats present Henry Ford (center), Nazi Germany’s highest award for foreigners, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, for his services to the Third Reich. Karl Kapp, German consul in Cleveland, pins the medal while Fritz Geiler, left, German consul in Detroit, shakes his hand, Detroit July 30, 1938. (AP)

Kirchner’s film received praise from a neighbor who once worked in Ford’s design department. But it has also been the subject of criticism, particularly in Michigan. Article from Detroit Free Press dedicated to the film caused a lot of negative comments.

“It’s interesting,” Mr. Kirchner said. “A lot of people, especially here in Michigan … a lot of people are still influenced by the popularity of Henry Ford. They took a bit of offense to the movie, which I think is just… [il] does not hide some of its less visible qualities. I have had some negative reactions. I find it funny to call someone a cultural Marxist for making a film about Henry Ford that criticizes his anti-Semitism. »

Kirchner calls Ford “a Shakespearean and tragic figure.”

“He had a lot of ability and was very resourceful,” Kirchner said, “but he was also very corrupted by power, by everyone telling him how great he was, by his own lust for power, and also by his bigotry. At the end of his life, he was quite isolated and unhappy, despite his vast fortune. This is a tragic story that contrasts with the myth of Henry Ford, the perfect American entrepreneur in every way. »

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.