The Nazi Party: Ford Motors Report on German Subsidiary in World War II
(December 6, 2001)
After more than three years of research, the Ford Motor Company released a study that it says proves that it had no control over what happened at the subsidiary, Ford-Werke, and that it did not profit from wartime operations at the German plant.
The report, Research Findings About Ford-Werke Under the Nazi Regime, summarizes more than 98,000 pages of documents and other materials gathered and analyzed from more than 30 archival repositories, including Ford archives in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as outside archives such as the National Archives in Washington, D.C. At various times, more than 45 archivists, historians, researchers and translators worked on this project.
"This study represents a massive undertaking by the company to determine how its German subsidiary, Ford-Werke, operated under Nazism," said John Rintamaki, chief of staff, Ford Motor Company. "We didn't find anything substantial that hasn't been known before, but we did add a great deal of detail on this subject."
The question of Ford´s wartime culpability made headlines in March 1998, when a Russian woman who was forced to work at Ford-Werke sued Ford in a U.S. federal court in New Jersey for back pay and punitive damages. That suit, which was later joined by other slave laborers, was dismissed in 1999, when the judge ruled that the claims were filed after the expiration of time limits imposed under U.S. and German law.
Although Ford maintained ownership of the subsidiary in Cologne throughout the war, it denied any responsibility for the use of forced labor. The report indicates that all companies operating in Germany during the war had to use labor provided by the German government. "The use of forced and slave labor in Germany, including at Ford-Werke, was wrong and cannot be justified," Rintamaki said.
The total number of laborers at Ford-Werke is unknown, but it is estimated that the Ford subsidiary employed 4,000-5,000 workers over the course of the war. The highest confirmed number at any one time during the war was between 2,000 and 2,500. Forced labor was used most of the time, but inmates from the Buchenwald concentration camp worked as slave laborers at Ford-Werke late in the war.
Ford hired two experts to watch over the development and release of the report. Lawrence Dowler, formerly a librarian and archivist at both Harvard and Yale universities and a noted authority on research methodology, was commissioned to assess the thoroughness of the research and the report process. Author and university professor Simon Reich, one of the world's foremost scholars on the automotive industry in Germany during the World War II era, reviewed the report as it was being compiled and consulted with Ford on the issues raised by the investigation. Reich produced an earlier report as well, The Ford Motor Company and the Third Reich. Though no one has suggested any bias on the part of Dowler or Reich, some in the Jewish community, notably the World Jewish Congress, believed the study should have been done independently.
While not admitting any culpability, Ford has made a number of contributions in the name of corporate responsibility. Ford contributed $13 million to a $5 billion fund created by the German government and industry for slave and forced laborers. Ford also announced along with the release of the report that it was donating $4 million toward human rights studies, primarily focusing on the issue of slave and forced labor. The company also is establishing a new $2 million center to be affiliated with a university, and it plans to give $2 million to a humanitarian fund at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that helps Holocaust survivors.
The company also donated the documents compiled for the project, along with a searchable database, to the Benson Ford Research Center at Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, where they will be available for research.
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Sources: JTA, (December 6, 2001), Ford Motor Company