For New Jersey 'Monuments Man' Nazi Art Hunter, Munich Trove Brings It All Back

Harry Ettlinger Not Surprised at Secrets of Reich

getty images

By Reuters

Published November 21, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When news of a hidden trove of Nazi-looted art in Munich came to light this month, an 87-year-old man in a quiet retirement community in New Jersey straightened a copy of a Rembrandt self-portrait hanging on his wall, completely unsurprised.

The picture is a constant reminder to Harry Ettlinger of his days with the “Monuments Men,” the allied forces team tasked with returning looted art to its rightful owners at the end of World War Two.

The Munich discovery helped reveal a little-known fact about the Monuments Men.

Just as their operation was being shut down, they were forced to return some of the recovered art to known Nazi dealers who could document they had owned the pieces before the war.

With so much art left unrecovered, and so many pieces not returned to their rightful owners, it was inevitable a hoard of lost works would be unearthed in the future, Ettlinger said.

“I think this is the beginning,” Ettlinger said outside his New Jersey condominium. “It was anticipated by the Monuments Men that I knew that these things were going to come to the surface in the future, and it’s happening.”

The Nazis were instructed by Adolf Hitler to seize art in every territory they occupied. Pieces were confiscated because they were either deemed “degenerate,” had been chosen for display in Hitler’s museum, or could be sold through the Nazis’ art dealers to fund the Third Reich.

The Munich collection contained about 1,400 pieces from the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, son of known Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt. U.S. records show the Monuments Men returned 165 pieces to Gurlitt, though it was unknown whether any more than one of those - a work by German artist Otto Dix - surfaced in Munich.

Gurlitt showed papers that he had owned the 165 pieces before the war, said Robert Edsel, author of “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,” the book the upcoming film “The Monuments Men” is based on.

Reuters has since discovered archives showing other known Nazi art dealers had work returned to them by the Monuments Men, including Karl Haberstock, who received 29 unnamed paintings, and Maria Almas-Dietrich, who received 22 tapestries.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.