What possessed a small-town Jewish immigrant family to defy the demands of the anti-Semitic corporate owner of their car dealership franchise? And not just any corporate owner, but Henry Ford Sr.
In 1916, my grandfather, Max Barish, along with his brothers and father, opened a Ford dealership in Sioux City, Iowa. The business provided them with a good living and reputation. But the distance they were willing to go to continue their success was tested in 1921, when Henry Ford instructed all Ford dealers to disseminate his anti-Semitic magazine.
My grandfather was 14 when the Graf Waldersee ship docked in New York on August 15, 1901. Having escaped Czarist Russia, Max; his eldest sister, Molly, and their father, Ben, made their way to the American Midwest. The three immigrants joined the homesteaders of North Dakota, where they herded sheep on horseback, slept on hammocks for fear of deadly snakes and suffered through the frozen winters.
After farming 660 acres for 18 months, as required by the government under the Homestead Act, they sold the land and used the $3,000 profit to get the rest of the family out of Russia. Everyone settled in Sioux City, where the Barish brothers, Max, Enchul and Hyman, opened their Ford franchise on the corner of Fifth and Pearl in a brick building that is still standing today.
Six years later, Henry Ford was running out of materials to produce his cars. According to the January 1921 story in the Sioux City Jewish newspaper, the Lion’s Roar, “When the Babson, Bradstreet and Dun reference guide to main Gentile connections, a reference that Ford always turned to when he needed a contact, failed to come up with a helpful name, he took a bound volume of The International Jew and discovered the name Barish Bros., Ford distributors, ‘the boys who do things.’”
The Barish brothers contacted a local Jewish junk dealer, who was able to transport enough raw materials to Michigan to prevent a plant shutdown. Ford may have been an anti-Semite, but business was business. He had nothing but praise for my grandfather: “Mr. Max Barish and his firm deserve honorable mention for their valuable assistance and you may look for me to provide them with more publicity in the columns of my magazine,” Ford said, according to the article.