"The International Jew," a classic anti-Semitic tract published by Henry Ford's Dearborn Independent in the 1920s, is an enduring cause of hate throughout the world, and had an especially destructive influence in the 1920s through the respectability conferred upon it by the august Henry Ford himself. That it did not manage to cause more harm was due largely to the successful battle fought against it by the Jewish community.
Reprinted in book and pamphlet form, these tracts were to have a strong influence throughout the world, and especially in the United States and in Germany, countries in which Henry Ford enjoyed superstar status as one of the most admired men in history. His public backing of the accusations contained within the tracts was a key factor in their credibility and subsequent impact.
A defamation lawsuit initiated against Ford in 1927 by Jewish organizer Aaron Sapiro led Ford to a dramatic retreat. By the end of the same year he shut down the Dearborn Independent, and ran a PR campaign in which he purported to have had no knowledge of the anti-Semitic statements being made in his name, and completely disavowing them.
As part of the resolution of the lawsuit, Ford was also forced into issuing a formal apology to the Jewish community. This he did, again sticking to his claim of innocence. Jewish community leaders accepted Ford's implausible denial because by distancing the great man from the anti-Semitic allegations, they helped to dramatically weaken their impact.
In addition to this significant contribution, the lawsuit was a watershed moment for the Jewish Community, which discovered its ability to tackle powerful anti-Semites - and win.
The text of Ford's retraction reads as follows:
STATEMENT BY HENRY FORD TO LOUIS MARSHALL
For some time past I have given consideration to the series of articles concerning Jews which since 1920 have appeared in The Dearborn Independent. Some of them have been reprinted in pamphlet form under the title "The International Jew." Although both publications are my property, it goes without saying that in the multitude of my activities it has been impossible for me to devote personal attention to their management or to keep informed as to their contents. It has therefore inevitably followed that the conduct and policies of these publications had to be delegated to men whom I placed in charge of them and upon whom I relied implicitly.
To my great regret I have learned that Jews generally, and particularly those of this country, not only resent these publications as promoting anti-Semitism, but regard me as their enemy. Trusted friends with whom I have conferred recently have assured me in all sincerity that in their opinion the character of the charges and insinuations made against the Jews, both individually and collectively, contained in many of the articles which have been circulated periodically in The Dearborn Independent and have been reprinted in the pamphlets mentioned, justifies the righteous indignation entertained by Jews everywhere toward me because of the mental anguish occasioned by the unprovoked reflections made upon them.
This has led me to direct my personal attention to this subject, in order to ascertain the exact nature of these articles. As a result of this survey I confess that I am deeply mortified that this journal, which is intended to be constructive and not destructive, has been made the medium for resurrecting exploded fictions, for giving currency to the so-called Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, which have been demonstrated, as I learn, to be gross forgeries, and for contending that the Jews have been engaged in a conspiracy to control the capital and the industries of the world, besides laying at their door many offenses against decency, public order and good morals.
Of course there are black sheep in every flock, as there are among men of all races, creeds and nationalities who are at times evildoers. It is wrong, however, to judge a people by a few individuals, and I therefore join in condemning unreservedly all wholesale denunciations and attacks.
Those who know me can bear witness that it is not in my nature to inflict insult upon and to occasion pain to anybody, and that it has been my effort to free myself from prejudice. Because of that I frankly confess that I have been greatly shocked as a result of my study and examination of the files of The Dearborn Independent and of the pamphlets entitled "The International Jew." I deem it to be my duty as an honorable man to make amends for the wrong done to the Jews as fellow-men and brothers, by asking their forgiveness for the harm that I have unintentionally committed, by retracting so far as lies within my power the offensive charges laid at their door by these publications, and by giving them the unqualified assurance that henceforth they may look to me for friendship and good will.
It is needless to add that the pamphlets which have been distributed throughout the country and in foreign lands will be withdrawn from circulation, that in every way possible I will make it known that they have my unqualified disapproval, and that henceforth The Dearborn Independent will be conducted under such auspices that articles reflecting upon the Jews will never again appear in its columns.
Finally, let me add that this statement is made on my own initiative and wholly in the interest of right and justice and in accordance with what I regard as my solemn duty as a man and as a citizen.