WASHINGTON DESK - A Belgium woman, forced to work as a slave laborer at a manufacturing plant in Cologne, Germany during World War II, sued the Ford Motor Company and its German affiliate. The suit, filed as a class action, seeks reasonable payment for the work performed and the disgorgement of unfair profits.
The federal case was filed on March 4, 1998 and is known as Elsa Iwanowa vs FORD MOTOR COMPANY, and FORD WERKE A.G. She is represented by Allyn Z. Lite, Joseph J. DePalma, and Bruce D. Greenberg in Newark.
Ford's legal counsel, issued a statement saying that it was not responsible for the operation of the plant during wartime, when the percentage of unpaid labor allegedly reached 50%. However, the records shows otherwise.
This civil action was filed this week on behalf of thousands of persons who were compelled to perform forced labor under inhuman conditions for the Ford plant in Nazi Germany. It was the Ford Werke A.G., the German subsidiary of defendant, Ford Motor Company.
The workers at Ford Werke A.G. never received compensation for their forced labor, or their suffering.
Prior to November 1997, German laws barred workers from filing a court action to obtain economic damages from Ford.
Ford Werke A.G., may be liable to its German Ford plant workers if it can be shown that its enormous profits were actually gained by management practices that used forced slave labor under inhuman conditions to produce their vehicles for the Nazis.
Ford Motor Company (USA) was the owner of a substantial majority of the shares of Ford Werke A.G. during the period of time in which Hitler's Third Reich was in power in Germany 1933-1945.
The plaintiff, Elsa Iwanowa, is a citizen of Belgium, and a resident of Antwerp. Iwanowa, was compelled to perform forced labor under inhuman conditions for Ford Werke A.G. at its Cologne plant. She has never received compensation for her forced labor, or for the inhuman conditions she was forced to endure at Ford Werke A.G.
Historical records show that, unlike most American-owned property in Nazi Germany, the Ford Werke A.G. plant was never confiscated by the German government. It continued to be owned by Ford Motor Company throughout the war. Edsel Ford and Robert Sorenson, high-ranking officials of Ford Motor Company, served as directors of Ford Werke A.G. throughout the Nazi Third Reich.
During that period, Ford Werke A.G. generated enormous profits, and other economic advantages, from the use of unpaid, forced labor.
The detailed allegations of the complaint set forth facts that the Nazis had achieved domination over territories with an aggregate population of 350,000,000 people. It became impossible to obtain sufficient voluntary labor from the German people to sustain the Nazi war machine, the Nazi regime increasingly turned to unpaid, forced labor, impressed from its captive populations, the inmates of concentration camps, and prisoners of war.
The Nazi forced labor program was prosecuted with unrelenting cruelty and persistence. The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg found that '...[m]anhunts took place in streets, at motion picture houses, even at churches and at night in private houses'. Over 7,500,000 human beings were forcibly deported from occupied territory to Germany to support its war effort. From the moment of their abduction, the victims were subjected to all the tortures, indignities, and suffering that the human mind can encompass.
Ford Werke A.G. began utilizing French prisoners of war as forced laborers, and continued utilizing thousands of forced laborers throughout the war in violation of Article 52 of the Hague Convention, and the provisions of the Geneva Convention Governing Prisoners of War.
Ford Werke A.G. quickly became an eager, aggressive and successful bidder for forced laborers. More than 50% of the work-force utilized by Ford Werke A.G were unpaid, forced laborers as well as concentration camp inmates from Buchenwald.
Until 1938, Ford Werke A.G. produced passenger vehicles. In 1938, Ford began manufacturing tracked vehicles for the transport of German troops, and other military equipment. Soon, it had ceased producing passenger vehicles, and was devoting its entire production capacity to the manufacture of military trucks. Military historians estimate that approximately 60% of the 3 ton tracked vehicles produced for the German army were manufactured by the Ford Werke A.G. company.
Apparently, the use of unpaid, forced laborers by Ford Werke A.G. was immensely profitable. Relieved of the necessity of paying wages, and operating at peak capacity to meet the inexhaustible need of the German army for tracked vehicles and other trucks, Ford Werke A.G. realized enormous wartime profits.
Throughout the war years, Edsel Ford and Robert Sorenson, high-ranking officials of Ford Motor Company, continued to serve as directors of Ford Werke A.G.
The favorable treatment accorded by Nazi Germany to Ford Motor Company as the American owners of Ford Werke A.G. was attributable to a personal friendship between Henry Ford and Adolph Hitler. Henry Ford made annual birthday gifts of 50,000 deutsch marks to Adolph Hitler.
On Henry Ford's 75th birthday in 1938, Hitler awarded Ford the Great Cross of the German Order of the Eagle for Henry Ford's publication of the notorious anti-Semitic pamphlet, The International Jew, a Worldwide Problem [Berlin, 1921].