The building of the Freie Universität Berlin, which was completed in 1954 and named after the automobile manufacturer and inventor Henry Ford (1863 – 1947) in the same year, has been criticized by students since 2007. The subject are anti-Semitic publications by Ford and by his company’s  involvement in German arms production in World War II.

The US American Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903, introducing the model of “Fordism,” or assembly line production. As a sideline, Ford published the anti-Semitic newspaper “Dearborn Independent”, which appeared from 1919 – 1927 and the book series “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem”, which was published in the USA from 1920 to 1922, incorporating  articles from the “Dearborn Independent”. The book series reached a circulation of over 500,000 copies and was published in 16 languages.

Ford’s  book promoted Nazi ideology in Germany and brought him  to the attention of Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945), who referred to him as an inspiration in “Mein Kampf.” In 1938, Henry Ford was awarded the “Grand Cross of the German Eagle” – the highest National Socialist award for foreigners.

As early as 1925, Ford had also begun to produce cars in Germany. In 1931, the German Ford company moved its factory to Cologne. During the war years, the value of the German subsidiary of the Ford Company increased by 50 percent, as Ford officially supplied automobiles to the Wehrmacht as well as to the SS and the German police. After 1941, German Ford subsidiary manufactured only military trucks. The American Ford Company claimed to have lost influence over the German Ford plant after the U.S. declared war in 1941, but this is doubtful.

Forced laborers were also used in the German Ford plants and by 1943, half of the workers in the Ford plant were foreign prisoners of war.

The building carrying the name of Henry Ford at the  Freie Universität Berlin in Dahlem was built between 1952 and 1954 according to plans by architects Franz-Heinrich Sobotka (1907 – 1988) and Gustav Müller (1906 – 1987) and was named in 1954.

Status of the Renaming

An initiative of the General Student Committee (AStA) of the FU Berlin has been calling for the renaming of the Henry Ford Building since the renovation of the building in 2007. In their view, Henry Ford was not suitable as a namesake  due to his proximity to National Socialism.

During the first debate in 2007, the FU countered that the building was actually dedicated to the grandson of the entrepreneur Henry Ford II. He had helped finance the construction with his grandfather’s funds. The AStA finds this theory implausible and referred to the 1954 naming documents, where no mention  was made of  Ford’s grandson.

In 2020, the AStA of Freie Universität Berlin published a statement on the requested renaming and demanded a transparent renaming process from the Presidential Board of Freie Universität Berlin.

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