Is Hitler’s childhood home in Dearborn? And is there a Nazi tank hidden at Greenfield Village?

A comment which was just left on the site brought my attention back to a post I’d written about five years ago concerning a rumor within historic archeology community that one of the houses on Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village estate may in fact be a childhood home of Adolph Hitler. And it reminded me that, after first sharing that post, I’d received a curious email from someone claiming to have worked at the Henry Ford Museum. As this anonymous person’s communications with me came to a sudden stop when I pushed for further details, I never shared what he told me, thinking that the whole thing was likely fiction. Now that several years have passed, though, I thought that I might as well share what I received from him. First, though, here’s my original post that started it all.

Young_Hitler3After I first dropped out of college, I worked for a few years as a historic archeologist under the direction of a character named Ed Rutsch. Ed, a former President of the American Society of Industrial Archaeologists, wasn’t just a brilliant historian, and an accomplished archeologist, but a good friend. He was also funny as hell. I should probably write an entire post about Ed one day, but, for now, I’ll just say that he was a larger-than-life character, and leave it at that. Anyway, one day, over drinks, I told Ed that I was thinking about leaving New Jersey for Michigan. Without missing a beat, he said, “You should go check out Hitler’s boyhood home. Henry Ford moved it there.”

I, of course, had heard that Henry Ford, the father of the automotive industry, admired Adolph Hitler. I knew that Hitler famously said of Ford, “I regard (him) as my inspiration.” I also knew that Ford, who was awarded the Grand Cross of the German Eagle by Hitler, had some connection to the anti-Semitic tract “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” But, I’d never heard anything about a house.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Ford was a collector of buildings. On his property, called Greenfield Village, he assembled over 100 buildings by the time he died. Among them are the Wright brother’s Dayton bicycle shop, and Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory. (He also has a glass tube said to contain Thomas Edison’s dying breath… the collection of which I think must have been quite awkward.) Ed told me all of this, and suggested I go and visit. There, among all the other buildings, he told me that I’d see Hitler’s home. (I can’t recall if he said it was Hitler’s birthplace, or childhood home, but it was one or the other.) He said it was, for obvious reasons, unmarked.

I didn’t push Ed for details at the time. I half thought, as I still do, that he was pulling my leg, but it’s still something that has been rolling around in my head for the last 20 years. Unfortunately, Ed passed away about five years ago, so I guess I’ll never know if he was being serious. Given Ford’s admiration for Hitler, and the fact that he bought up property associated with everyone else that he idolized, however, it certainly seems plausible. I guess that’s what makes a good urban myth. The weird thing is, I’ve never heard about this from anyone else, and I’ve been talking to people about it for several years now. I’ve even asked a few people at Greenfield Village. They all tell me that they’d never heard the rumor, but that, knowing Ford, they suppose it could be true. Right now, I guess I’m about 40% convinced. I’d be more certain, if not for the fact that none of the 100 buildings appear on the surface to have housed the boy Führer.

Swiss ChaletAs someone calling himself Ol’ E Cross almost immediately pointed out, I was wrong on that last point. Out of those 100 buildings, he said, there was one that could fit the bill, a building that “wasn’t credited to an actual person or place”… the building they refer to as “the Swiss chalet” (pictured right).

Now here’s that anonymous conversation I referenced earlier.

X: Recently, while being treated for a persistent cough that I can’t seem to shake, a doctor asked me what I did for a living. I informed him that I worked at The Henry Ford Museum, and he started asking whether or not I knew about anything that might be “hidden from the public.” After a short discussion, he told me of an article that you had written back in 2008 about Hitler’s birth home, and a rumor within the archeology community that it might have been moved to museum, along with the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop, Thomas Edison’s lab, and the Firestone family farmhouse. Well, I’ve now read your article and I might be able to shed a little light on things.

MARK: So, you’re familiar with a building on the Greenfield Village property that could be Hitler’s childhood home?

X: Yes, there’s a building referred to as “the Swiss chalet.” If that’s it, it would make sense. There’s very little written about that building, and only that building.

MARK: What else can you tell me about the chalet?

X: The first I heard of that rumor was from they doctor who read about it on your site. So it’s not something that people talk about at the Museum. It’s possible, though, because there is very little information about it, and it’s off limits to guests. It’s now used as a break area for the workers. It has been updated with plumbing, electrical, bathrooms and vending machines. It is very plausible, in my opinion, that it was his childhood home.

MARK: More please…

X: I don’t know where I should begin. We all know about Hank’s relationship with Hitler. They had very close ties. They had the same friends; Walt Disney, Charles Lindburgh, etc. Here’s something you might not know, though. If you were to look at a Google Earth image of the Village, you would see there are woods toward the back of the property. They’re enclosed. A lot of people call this area Oxbow Island. Decades ago, that’s where all of the Village trash was thrown. Well, there, among the scrap metal (old light posts, oil drums, etc.) is a German tank. It’s buried underground. Like an actual authentic German tank. Personally donated by Hitler himself. He apparently popped out of the top of it, like a stripper from a cake, when it was delivered. They had very close ties, so much that the gestapo was modeled after Henry Ford’s personal security detail, which were rumored to have had ties with organized crime. Henry Ford had many mistresses. The reason why people never really heard about any of them is because they were “silenced” before anything could happen. Which brings me to my next story.

In the museum they have what’s called the Anderson Theatre. That is where Henry and his family, friends, and what have you, would go for small production plays. On many occasions, Clara wouldn’t join him, so Henry would have his mistresses with him. Some people knew about a couple of them, but the last time they saw one of them was when they went in, but never came out. Since that night that incident supposedly occurred, the only reason they use that theater is for options for weddings. But this is just hearsay.

MARK: In your reference to the tank, you mention someone popping out of the top when it was delivered. It sounds as though you’re saying that Hitler popped out of it, which would be pretty incredible, given that he was never in this country. I can accept the possibility that Hitler made a gift of some kind to Ford, as he’s known to have admired him, but I don’t believe the two men ever met in person, and I know that Hitler never traveled to the United States.

X: It was Hitler that popped out of it. I saw a picture of them standing on the tank. The tank used to sit on the side of the museum along with the DC3 plane (which is now hanging in the center of the museum) and one other artifact that I can’t now remember. When I was asking around about the tank, my superior told me to leave it alone if I knew it was good for me. Later, I went to go back to the same spot that I found it and it appeared to have been either dug up or destroyed (because of the evidence of loose dirt and broken sticks on the ground) or they buried it further.

MARK: If a German tank had been on the property, even in the ’30s, my sense is that there would be a public record of it. You’ll excuse me if I’m having a difficult time accepting what you’re telling me here.

X: In the photo, Hitler was standing alongside Henry Ford. Both were standing in front of the tank in one photo, and, if my memory serves correctly, there was also a photo in which both men were coming out of the top entry hatch of the tank. I just assumed that it was taken in the United States, but it very well could have been from outside the United States. I don’t know when the tank was removed, but it was donated to the museum by Hitler via Henry Ford in the late 1910’s or mid-1920’s. People that I’ve talked to about it, who are quite bit older than I am, remember it being on the side of the museum, which is now only accessible to employees. (That spot is near the employee parking lot.) The way I discovered the tank was walking around in the woods, lost, and saw a hatch sticking out of the ground. When I approached it and started kicking the dirt around, I saw the barrel. I didn’t know what it was at first, but I started asking my coworkers. One finally told me about it, and took me to the documentation on it, where I saw the pictures.

MARK: I’ve heard that, toward the end of the war, people from the government paid Ford a visit, showing him film that was taken inside the concentration camps, in hopes of convincing him that Hitler wasn’t worthy of his friendship and/or admiration. My sense, and I don’t really base this on anything, is that he saw the error of his ways. Is it your understanding that he went on admiring Hitler right to the end? Is there any evidence of that?

X: It is possible, but he did hold strong anti-semetic principles to the extent that he would not hire Jews for his factories and he only wanted black people because he knew he could get away with paying them low wages. I’ve never heard that he changed his ways, but it is possible he did.

MARK: When do you think that this tank was sunk on Oxbow?

X: Not sure when the tank was hidden, but my theory is this: the Ford family probably wanted to hide all horrible things and all that stuff about Henry for the sake of preserving his and their name. The whole good PR attempt.

MARK: Is there ever any serious talk on the grounds of the museum of exploring these rumors?

X: When we would get bored we would explore all this stuff. Asking around, and taking advantage of access to the collections storage and documentation areas.

MARK: Do you have a name of this mistress who was allegedly murdered on the grounds of Greenfield Village? Has anyone ever tried to look into the case that you’re aware of?

X: I don’t know the name, but then again, that’s just a rumor. I would go into further detail about what I know of the supposed incident, but that would reveal my previous involvement with the institution. I’m sorry. The Ford family is pretty well respected in Dearborn. Everywhere you look you see their name on things. City officials turn a blind eye to violations just because of what Ford has done for the city… There is a car in the museum, I believe it’s called a Bugatti. It is very rare, only four were ever made, and it’s valued at $4 million. That car used to belong to Hitler’s personal physician. He sold it when he moved to the states because he couldn’t find a job as a doctor here.

For what it’s worth, according to a 1998 article in the Washington Post about the possibility that Ford benefited from forced labor at its Cologne plant under the Nazi regime, the auto company has refused to open its archive to investigators. Here’s a clip. (The accompanying photo is of Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in 1938.)

henryfordmedal…”When you think of Ford, you think of baseball and apple pie,” said Miriam Kleinman, a researcher with the Washington law firm of Cohen, Millstein and Hausfeld, who spent weeks examining records at the National Archives in an attempt to build a slave labor case against the Dearborn-based company. “You don’t think of Hitler having a portrait of Henry Ford on his office wall in Munich.”

Both Ford and General Motors declined requests for access to their wartime archives. Ford spokesman John Spellich defended the company’s decision to maintain business ties with Nazi Germany on the grounds that the U.S. government continued to have diplomatic relations with Berlin up until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. GM spokesman John F. Mueller said that General Motors lost day-to-day control over its German plants in September 1939 and “did not assist the Nazis in any way during World War II.”

When American GIs invaded Europe in June 1944, they did so in jeeps, trucks and tanks manufactured by the Big Three motor companies in one of the largest crash militarization programs ever undertaken. It came as an unpleasant surprise to discover that the enemy was also driving trucks manufactured by Ford and Opel — a 100 percent GM-owned subsidiary — and flying Opel-built warplanes. (Chrysler’s role in the German rearmament effort was much less significant.)

When the U.S. Army liberated the Ford plants in Cologne and Berlin, they found destitute foreign workers confined behind barbed wire and company documents extolling the “genius of the Fuehrer,” according to reports filed by soldiers at the scene. A U.S. Army report by investigator Henry Schneider dated Sept. 5, 1945, accused the German branch of Ford of serving as “an arsenal of Nazism, at least for military vehicles” with the “consent” of the parent company in Dearborn.

Ford spokesman Spellich described the Schneider report as “a mischaracterization” of the activities of the American parent company and noted that Dearborn managers had frequently been kept in the dark by their German subordinates over events in Cologne.

The relationship of Ford and GM to the Nazi regime goes back to the 1920s and 1930s, when the American car companies competed against each other for access to the lucrative German market. Hitler was an admirer of American mass production techniques and an avid reader of the antisemitic tracts penned by Henry Ford. “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” Hitler told a Detroit News reporter two years before becoming the German chancellor in 1933, explaining why he kept a life-size portrait of the American automaker next to his desk.

Although Ford later renounced his antisemitic writings, he remained an admirer of Nazi Germany and sought to keep America out of the coming war. In July 1938, four months after the German annexation of Austria, he accepted the highest medal that Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. The following month, a senior executive for General Motors, James Mooney, received a similar medal for his “distinguished service to the Reich.”

The granting of such awards reflected the vital place that the U.S. automakers had in Germany’s increasingly militarized economy. In 1935, GM agreed to build a new plant near Berlin to produce the aptly named “Blitz” truck, which would later be used by the German army for its blitzkreig attacks on Poland, France and the Soviet Union. German Ford was the second-largest producer of trucks for the German army after GM/Opel, according to U.S. Army reports.

The importance of the American automakers went beyond making trucks for the German army. The Schneider report, now available to researchers at the National Archives, states that American Ford agreed to a complicated barter deal that gave the Reich increased access to large quantities of strategic raw materials, notably rubber. Author Snell says that Nazi armaments chief Albert Speer told him in 1977 that Hitler “would never have considered invading Poland” without synthetic fuel technology provided by General Motors.

As war approached, it became increasingly difficult for U.S. corporations like GM and Ford to operate in Germany without cooperating closely with the Nazi rearmament effort. Under intense pressure from Berlin, both companies took pains to make their subsidiaries appear as “German” as possible. In April 1939, for example, German Ford made a personal present to Hitler of 35,000 Reichsmarks in honor of his 50th birthday, according to a captured Nazi document…

And, here, on a significantly lighter note, are two of my favorite comments left in response to that first post of mine of this subject.



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  1. Bob
    Posted June 8, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    It’s such a fascinating subject. Ford is in general. That guys claims sound like a hoax, but I love believing the story. Haven’t many investigators tried to find evidence of a Ford and Hitler meeting? I think it has largely been debunked. Now Prescott Bush on the other hand…

    Have you ever examined Ford’s love of ballroom dancing? One of the depot town buildings is supposed to have a beautiful spring dance floor installed for Ford to cut a rug on. So I’ve heard.

  2. anonymous
    Posted June 8, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure when the Ford plants opened in Germany, but I imagine it’s possible that Henry was on hand to ink the deal. And, if so, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that Hitler would request a meeting.

  3. Posted June 8, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    ” it was donated to the museum by Hitler via Henry Ford in the late 1910′s or mid-1920′s.”

    Hitler was born in 1889, which would have made him only in his 20’s during the 10’s and only about 35 in the mid 20’s. He didn’t ascend to power until 1933.

    I’m guessing that he didn’t have the authority to bring a tank during Weimar Republic.

  4. XXX
    Posted June 8, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Hitler had considerable power in the 20s. It’s possible that he and Ford met early on, and that he later sent a tank. Given Ford’s admiration of Hitler, though, I don’t believe he would have kept it a secret at the time.

  5. Anomymous Mike
    Posted June 8, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    If Hitler had won, and if the world had been united under a fascist government, I wonder how things would be different today? I know that life would likely be worse in a million ways, but I wonder if we’d be facing extinction due to global warming for instance.

  6. Jaymo
    Posted June 8, 2014 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    I hadn’t heard any of these legends before, but they don’t surprise me. After all, wasn’t Orville Hubbard the love child of Adolf Hitler & Harry Bennett?

  7. Ed Phillips
    Posted June 9, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    From the Wikipedia discussion page accompanying the Henry Ford entry:

    Baldur von Schirach, who ran the Hitler Youth and sent sent 65,000 Viennese Jews to the ovens, testified under oath at Nuremberg: “The decisive anti-Semitic book I was reading and the book that influenced my comrades was… that book by Henry Ford, The International Jew. I read it and became anti-Semitic. The book made a great influence on myself and my friends because we saw in Henry Ford the representative of success and also the representative of a progressive social policy.”


  8. Ypsi
    Posted June 9, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I don’t believe you’re all falling into the “Hitler is dead” trap.

  9. Allison R.
    Posted December 15, 2015 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Could this possibly be true?

  10. Barb
    Posted May 17, 2018 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    I worked at GV for a decade, never heard any stories about Hitler’s boyhood home, or saw a tank, and I’ve been all over that museum.

    Ford being a sympathizer I do believe, the rest of it, nah.

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    […] the merits of Starkweather Chapel, but ultimately decided that we’d try to make out way to Greenfield Village, which is already well-walled-off, and set up for non-industrial farming. And, from there, we […]

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