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

(page 2 of 2)

Ettlinger, a German Jew whose family fled to the United States to escape the Nazis, is one of the few surviving Monuments Men who can recall the chaotic process of tracking down and returning millions of pieces of Nazi-confiscated art.

With about 350 people working over six years, the assignment was impossible to complete by the time the Monuments Men were called back in 1951, Ettlinger said.

Many, including his boss, Senior Monuments officer Lieutenant Commander Jim Rorimer, (played by Matt Damon in the upcoming movie) estimated they were leaving approximately three-quarters of a million pieces of art unaccounted for.

Ettlinger said his association with the Monuments Men began in Munich one day in 1945, when, because of his German language skills, he was pulled off a truck headed to the Battle of the Bulge to join the frantic operation.

“I opened the door and there was a captain,” Ettlinger said. “He pointed to a desk and a chair and said, ‘This guy at the next desk, he will tell you what to do.’ And that was my entry into the Monuments Men.”

Interrogating men such as Hildebrand Gurlitt to track lost art took time and resources that the group simply lacked, Ettlinger said.

Ettlinger interrogated Heinrich Hoffmann, a personal photographer and art collector for Hitler, whose testimony was cagey and impossible to verify, he said.

“It was not easy,” Ettlinger said. “There is no central record in any place where a particular piece of art - and there were literally millions of them - of where the current owner of that particular item is.”

Documents from the U.S. National Archives verify his claim. In a May 1946 report from the Monuments Men to the U.S. War Department, they asked for more time to continue investigations, saying: “Determination of the scope of the activity of such men as … Hildebrand Gurlitt … is vital to the satisfactory resolution of the whole looting problem.”

Under pressure to return U.S. troops home, the government ordered the Monuments Men to cease operations. Under Military Government Law 59, they were forced to return art to anyone who had documentation.

“It was the best we could do,” Ettlinger said.


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!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • 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.