Camera Rolls: 311:45-46
Sound Rolls: 311:26
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Margaret Fleischaker , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on May 8, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Now, are you interested in the fact that when the folks first built the house that the only other house on Edison was the Ford house?
Well, let's start with this. Let's start with just the fact that, just start with the fact that you were neighbors of the Fords and your father was a Rabbi and see where that takes us.
OK? Anytime, you can start to, start telling us that. So what did your father do?
My father was a Reform Rabbi starting in, at the pulpit of Temple Beth El in 1899, came here from his first pulpit, which was in Omaha, Nebraska.
And you can go ahead and tell me about being neighbors with the Fords.
There were, in 1911, when the, my parents built their house, there were only two other houses on that block. And Henry Ford lived in what would've at that time been considered the elegant house of the area. And the other occupant was Horace Rackham, who was associated with Ford.
Tell me as much or as little as you want about your, your family's, your family and Ford cars.
Mr. Ford used to pay us by very frequently in his own car, and he was friendly. It was not an intimate relationship. And, and in 1913, he gave Father his first car. We as a family were not privileged to have a car at that time, and it was very exciting. And it made it made us able to take trips which we could not have taken otherwise. And the first trip we took, we went to the coast of Massachusetts, and it, it was a, it was a fun trip. I was the youngest of three children, and we were all quite young when we took this trip, and my father was the only one that was driving. And the luggage was taped onto the top and the back of the car, and sometimes it fell off.
[production discussion][slate marker visible on screen]
Brakes failed, tell me about the brakes.
Our trips were fun and interesting. Sometimes we wondered if we would be able to make the hills, because Father had a tendency to ride the clutch, and the breaks sometimes would burn out. But we did get to the coast, and we had fine grips as a result of it. And we always felt that Mr. Ford did give us our start in that respect. And for six succeeding years, he did give Father a car. And he was always interested and friendly as to how we were making out. Father told one story about, and this is much later, and on a winter night when he was cranking the car, trying to crank the car, and he was not very good at mechanical things, and Mr. Ford came along and said, "Well, Dr. Franklin, you should not be doing that. That's too hard for you," and he insisted on starting the car himself. Unfortunately, the gifts of the Ford cars stopped at the same time as the anti-Semitic diatribes in the were taking place. The last car that Mr. Ford gave Father was a, a specially built, well-equipped car, more like a Cadillac than a Ford, but Father felt he could not accept it under these circumstances. And Mr. Ford had great difficulty in understanding how he could be a friend of his and Father be unable to accept it. He was unable to separate the facts. But the car was returned, much to the chagrin of the young people in the family. But that, I have often said as a, as an adult, we probably never would have had anything but a Ford, but the Fords, the Model Ts in those days were a little bit different, obviously, than they are today.
Can you tell me, for an audience that doesn't know, for my kids who are teenagers, what, what was Ford saying in the that prompted your father to return the car?
Well, I really, I really can't, I can't do that justice. They were, they blamed, he blamed the Jews for all the troubles of the world, really, tied it up with Bolshevism, too. And I really do not feel qualified to discuss that adequately.
Is it possible for you to talk about what, how you as a little girl may have felt, and your family, with your neighbor saying these things about Jews?
Well, it was, it was a very upsetting feeling and it was, it was hard, it was hard, hard to understand. It had a, a very demoralizing effect on the whole Jewish community. The, it's, I had mixed feelings about it, later on hearing that for the most part, I think, respectable Jewish people stopped buying Ford cars, which of course was devastating to Mr. Ford. Again, he could not understand the correlation between that, but, it—
What, what was it in Ford, you're telling us earlier about Ford being, what, what was it in Ford's personality, his makeup, that made it impossible to see this connection between?
I don't really like to be quoted on that.
Well, let's, let's not go, if that's—
No, I mean, I, the world knows that, that Mr. Ford was a genius in his own line. But he didn't believe in education. He was not an educated man. In fact, he was considered ignorant by many, many people. There were other sides to him. He had a gentle side. He was very much interested in birds. And he was a, he chose his friends well. He was a friend of Burroughs's and a friend of Edison's. His relationship within his own family was a difficult one. He was not fair to only son Edsel, and that's, everyone knows that. He would not let him go to college. He never accepted the fact that he had cancer. And I, as I recall, I think he said that he had undulant fever. And, but he, he didn't have any depth of feeling or understanding of people.
Tell me a little bit more about, actually, just tell me again in, in whatever words you like, the fact that Ford could not understand why your father wouldn't take the car. It's a very important point.
Mr. Ford talked to Father, saying that, that he was his friend. And he, he separated the fact that Father was a Rabbi and a, and a Jew, and an ardent one, he simply thought of him as a man who was a friend of his, which, again, I feel showed the lack of depth of any kind of feeling on Mr. Ford's part. He did have some Jewish friends.
Did he have any sense, do you think, of the, of the damage that this was doing?
Oh, you getting that, I don't want you to tape, tape this, but then he would get in old area of his having , the volume that was so [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]
Let's cut for one second.
I can remember in college being horrified at seeing a copy of on a library shelf. And it was taken off after I called it to their attention. Father had been instrumental in having it removed from many, many libraries throughout the country. And Ford had, had claimed that he had discontinued the circulation of it, but there were many inconsistencies in those stories.
OK, you can start out with just the fact that your father was a Rabbi.
My father was a Reform Rabbi, and Henry Ford was a neighbor who used to pass our house daily. And, in 1913, he asked Father if he would be willing to accept a car from, as a gift. And at that time Franklin had no car, and we were thrilled at the idea of having one. And I believe, I'm not certain, I think our first car was a, was an open car, I remember a picture. And we took a, our whole family, there were three, three children, and my parents drove all the way to Massachusetts in a Model T, with the luggage, the baggage strapped on to the luggage carriers on the outside. Sometimes they fell off. Sometimes we stopped. And sometimes we wondered if we were going to make the hills around Albany particularly and through the Berkshires, but we usually did. Occasionally, we had burned out breaks, but they were always, we were always able to fix them. But it made the difference in our having to, having, have an enjoyable vacation or probably staying very close to Detroit in the early years. And Mr. Ford was kind enough to provide a car for six consecutive years, and the last year, which I believe was about 1920, during the time of the articles, Father felt he could not in good conscience accept this last car, which was a specially equipped car. And I'm sure at that time it meant quite a sacrifice to refuse it. But he did, and Mr. Ford had great difficulty in understanding why his good friend didn't accept his gift.
Do you remember how, how you came to know about this? Do you remember being told about this, or did you hear about it? Or...
Well, it was just part of the family. I don't remember exactly how it was discussed, but it was, it was a fact that Father simply could not keep it.
Because of a matter of conscience?
Yes? Ford was, was being destructive in, in ways that could never be remedied. He, he did damage throughout the world that was never, never retracted, really, was done.
Did you as a little girl, or as a young woman in, in a Jewish household, was it the feeling in the household that Ford was just a nut? Or was this something that, you know, a strain in America that, that he was voicing? Do you follow what I'm saying? Was, I mean, was he an aberration or was he part of a simply a, you know, a...?
I don't think that anti-Semitism as such was a, was so current. It was Ford's vision, influence, at that time.
Do you have any recollections? I want to, I asked you earlier about the Ku Klux Klan. Do you have any recollections of the Ku Klux Klan and anti-Semitism, or anti [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] ?
I remember being in Ann Arbor at a game, and seeing a cross burned across the field in the distance. That was, I think, that was the time Denby was head of the Navy, and he had been talking in Ann Arbor. And it was a kind of a protest. But there was no, I don't recall any Klan activity that affected us personally.
Do you remember being aware of the Klan as an anti-Semitic organization? Or...
Yes, I knew it was an anti-Semitic organization. It was anti-black and anti-Jewish.
Hold on for one second.
What I'm going to have you talk a little bit about is do you remember Ford's apology to Jews for the articles?
I wish you had told me about this, this before, because it, I mean that whole area is, is so... there were the two times, you know, there was the time that I showed you much later.
Well, I'm talking about the earlier one. Well, just, do you have any recollections of it as a, from your own childhood?
I don't know what to say about that. It was...well, he retracted the...and there was always question as to whether his original retraction was the way he felt or not. That was a, that was a, a big block of history. It was... you better strike that, because I'm doing very poorly on this. I really feel very bad.
[ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]
There was never—you want me to talk?
Yeah, you can start.
There was never any question of our being anything but Jewish, but were definitely Americans. My father was criticized for... there is no such thing as being too American, but he felt that it was extremely important to be part of the community. And he was an outstanding person in the community. He was on the library board and the symphony, and the, all the things that were important to the community. And he saw the city grow from a little tiny town that was important as a cultural center, too.
Was it safe to say that it was important to him and to the family to be American?
I don't think that that would have ever been discussed that way, because it was just an assumed thing. We were Americans.
So was it simply, simply not an issue?
No, it really wasn't. It was... that, that whole area would be a very complicated, and at one time was controversial in the city, because Father was a Rabbi of the, of the city. He was given a doctorate degree by the Catholic university, University of Detroit.
Let's do one, I swear this is the last one [laughs].
[laughs] Oh, but I just feel like I really screwed that up badly.
[ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] —absolutely fine. Just, as you know, I'm in love with the story about cars. I want to hear, I want to hear it one more, one last time. And, can you tell us the story of the cars, and you can skip the trip to Massachusetts?
[laughs] You might want, you want northern Michigan for the, before the roads, streets were paved?
No, I think just do the, tell us the fact that the cars made a big difference in the family's life. But can you just start with the fact that your father was a Rabbi, that, this is the last time of course.
All right. My father was a Rabbi, and we were neighbors of Henry Ford. And Henry Ford gave Father the first car that we ever owned. And he gave him one annually for six years. At the time of the gift of the seventh car, the was publishing its anti-Semitic material, and Father did not feel that he could in good faith accept a gift from a man whose sentiments were so anti-Semitic. And it was very difficult for Mr. Ford to understand why his good friend could not accept, continue to accept, a gift from him.
Do you think Henry Ford ever understood?
I doubt it. I doubt it if Mr. Ford really ever was able to separate the fact that Father was a friend and he was the anti-Semite.
Excellent. Fantastic. That's it.