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GM, Ford deny collaboration with Nazis during WWII

Henry Ford received a medal from Germany in 1938  
In this story:

November 30, 1998
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EST (0430 GMT)

DETROIT (CNN) -- General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Company on Monday denied fresh accusations that they had collaborated with the Nazi war machine during World War II by supplying vehicles and raw materials to the German military.

A story in the Washington Post on Monday said historians and lawyers researching a class-action lawsuit against Ford turned up evidence of contact and assistance between Nazi Germany and the two companies.

A Russian woman who was captured and forced to work at a Ford plant in Germany filed suit in March against the U.S.-based automaker, alleging the company knowingly profited from slave labor. GM could face a similar suit, lawyers told the Post.

Representatives for both GM, the world's largest automaker, and No. 2 automaker Ford said Monday that Adolf Hitler's regime had taken over the operations of their German subsidiaries during the war years.

"GM categorically denies that it aided the Nazis in World War II," GM spokesman John Mueller said in a statement. "The stale allegations repeated in the Washington Post today were reviewed and refuted by GM 25 years ago in hearings before Congress, when more individuals with first-hand knowledge of the facts were available."

Ford spokesman John Spelich said the company, like other businesses and government entities, maintained contact with the Nazi government until the United States declared war on Germany in December 1941.

"We basically had our factory taken away from us by the National Socialist Party government," he said, referring to the formal name of the totalitarian Nazi regime, which ruled Germany from 1933 until its surrender to the Allies in 1945.

Ford: Relationship misrepresented

The Post said a 1945 report by a U.S. Army investigator found that Ford top management agreed to a deal that gave Germany access to rubber and other important raw materials.

Spelich said between 1936 and 1939, Ford's German unit, Ford Werke AG, did in fact participate in a barter program sanctioned by the German government that brought in raw materials and generated hard currency for the cash-strapped nation. But he said the Army report misrepresented the situation.

Before the outbreak of war, local managers at the Ford Werke medium-duty truck plant in Cologne, Germany, also refused to share certain information with Ford officials back at the company's headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, Spelich said.

"There were things that management in Germany was doing that they kept Dearborn in the dark about," he said.

Since the allegations first surfaced in March, Ford has directed its staff of historians and other researchers to review records from the era. Ford will make its findings public when the review is complete.

Critic says Ford profited

Nazi dictator Hitler made public statements in the 1930s that he admired Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor, and the production processes he established. Still, Spelich said a connection cannot be made between the company's actions and comments that Hitler later made.

But, noting that Henry Ford received a medal from Germany in 1938, lawyer Mel Weiss accused Ford of profiting from the rearming of Germany.

"We have evidence that the management in Detroit was in communications with the Ford plants in occupied German territories, including Cologne at least up to 1942-43 and that indirectly they were in communication after that," said Weiss. "The Nazis set aside money for dividends for Ford."

Ford Werke and GM's Adam Opel AG unit controlled about 70 percent of the German car market when war broke out in 1939. Ford set up its German subsidiary in January 1925. GM purchased Opel in 1929.

When the United States entered the war, both Ford and GM retooled their U.S. factories to produce vehicles, airplanes and other materiel for the Allied war effort.

Chrysler Corp., the former U.S. No. 3 automaker, had a much smaller international presence and was not named in the lawsuit. The company recently completed its merger with Germany's former Daimler-Benz AG, creating DaimlerChrysler AG.

Correspondent David Ensor and Reuters contributed to this report.

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