Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ford Motor Company and the Nazis -- Simon Reich Commentary







Hi folks -- the topic of auto history never is dull! As I was preparing for a lecture on Scott Bottle's book Los Angeles and the Automobile: The Making of an American City, I got into the work of Bradford Snell. And that took me to Snell's work on GM and the Nazis, which led me a bit further to the historical wok of Simon Reich and the Ford Motor Company, commissioned by Ford during the late 1990s. On the Internet I found an interesting short report by Reich entitled "Ford's Research Efforts in Assessing the Activities of its Subsidiary in Nazi Germany." What follows are some excerpts written by Reich:


"My conclusions regarding Ford's Actions in Germany during the Nazi period are clear and beyond reasonable dispute, based on the data collected and presented in the report. They are as follows:


The management at Ford's German subsidiary acted with growing autonomy from its American parent firm. American executives were often ill-informed about activities in Germany, as they were denied information buy their German employees -- a practice that extended to greater areas of policy over time. Ford's American management did try to influence policy in Germany where possible, but with decreasing effect. Ford's German management focused its efforts on gaining acceptance of the Nazi government in order to continue to do business in Germany, but foundered in this regard. Ford remained a marginal producer in terms of both volume and strategic significance to the German war effort.


Short of divestment by the American parent, Ford's German managers had little choice but to try to address Nazi demands. After 1933, government regulations and restrictions on production consistently reduced the company's capacity to act autonomously. As a comercial passenger vehicle production was slowly eradicated, government contracts became the sole source of business. Without these contracts, predominately for trucks in Ford-Werke's case, Ford would have lost all its German investment as the subsidiary withered due to a lack of market.


Slave laborers were used at Ford-Werke's Cologne plant in 1944 and 1945. The best available Evidence suggests that they totalled a maximum of 65 over time. Prisoners of war an forced laborers, mostly from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but also a number from France and Italy, were also used. But according to the copious data collected regarding communications between the parent and its subsidiary, the parent company in Dearborn had no knowledge of, and thus no control over, these activities. the record reveals that communication between the American parent and the German subsidiary ceased by November of 1941, before the use of forced or slave labor began. There is no evidence that executives at Ford's other European subsidiaries acted as intermediaries between the U.S. parent and its German subsidiary at a any time between 1941 and 1945.


Financial records analyzed by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers suggest little evidence that Ford-Werke made profits during the war. The analysis reveals that modest profit figures were recorded during the first few years of the war, but were wiped out by the enormous losses in the last two years. Indeed, the actions of the Nazi government, a postwar claims commission, and the Congress of the U.S. government all provide evidence to support the view that there were significant damages inflicted on Ford-Werke. Each of these bodies awarded modest compensation to Ford or Ford-Werke, representing a small fraction of Ford's claims."

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