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“They were working under the specific political conditions of their time,” said Fisher. This meant that the Monuments Men could not repatriate all the artworks that were looted, but only what fell under American occupied territory. Because the Monuments Men were understaffed and short on time, artworks were returned to the governments of the former Nazi-occupied countries from which they were taken, rather than to individual owners.
To the present day, those countries, which include Austria and France, have not succeeded in returning all of the artworks to their original owners and heirs.
Ettlinger nevertheless managed to retrieve his grandfather Otto Oppenheimer’s collection of prints from a warehouse in Baden-Baden, where he had last lived before leaving the country.
Ettlinger was honorably discharged from the army in July 1946 and returned to New Jersey. In 2002, he wrote an autobiography titled “Ein Amerikaner.”
He concludes it by writing that at some point in his life “came the awakening that G–d had spared my life two times in my teens. These were my escape from Germany and probable death at the hands of evil people and my reassignment in the U.S. army, which kept me from combat” — and it also made him a Monuments Man.
Anna Goldenberg is the Forward’s arts and culture intern. She has written for Die Zeit, among other publications.