The Monuments Men

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Harry Ettlinger ( b. 1926 )

Harry L. Ettlinger and his family in Karlsruhe, Germany, witnessed firsthand the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist Party. The Ettlinger family business Gebrueder Ettlinger, specializing in elegant women’s fashions, was boycotted under the Nazi regime and closed in 1935. On September 25, 1938, the day following Ettlinger’s Bar Mitzvah, he fled Germany with his parents and two younger brothers enroute to the United States where they arrived on October 9th. Six years after his arrival in the U.S. Ettlinger was drafted after graduating high school and returned to Europe as an infantryman in January 1945. He was assigned to the 99th Infantry Division to join the counterattack in the Battle of the Bulge. At the last minute, Ettlinger, who was fluent in German, was pulled out from going into combat on his nineteenth birthday. Unknown to him until much later, he had been re-designated as an interpreter and was to be assigned to the Nuremberg war trials.

While in Munich awaiting assignment, Ettlinger volunteered his services to the MFA&A section under Lieutenant Commander James Rorimer. One of his first tasks in mid-May 1945 was to assist with the interview of Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s personal photographer. From August 1945 to July 1946, Ettlinger and Lieutenant Dale Ford were assigned to supervise the underground operations at the Nazi repository in the Heilbronn-Kochendorf salt mines. In addition to the mining of salt, the underground mines had been utilized by the Nazis to protect German museum treasures as well as for the building of jet engine parts by Hungarian Jewish slave laborers from concentration camps. The first priority for the Monuments Men was to return seventy-three cases containing sections of stained glass belonging to Strasbourg Cathedral. The stained glass had been removed from the windows by French authorities for safe keeping at the onset of the war and later sent to Heilbronn by the Nazis. Ettlinger noted that “the Strasbourg windows were the first thing we sent back. That was on orders from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower…as a gesture of good faith.” 1 In all, it took ten months and five shipments, including one to Paris, to empty the mines of some 900 works of art. Most of the treasures later went back to their German institutions.

Unlike the majority of his fellow Monuments Men, Ettlinger, while brought up to appreciate art, had no plans to go into the field professionally. Years later, he remarked, “I was just the kid from New Jersey. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t as interested in the paintings as I was in other things over there.” 2

Following the war, Ettlinger went home to Newark, New Jersey and later to Long Island, New York. There he earned Master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and business administration before becoming Deputy Program Director for a company that produced guidance systems for submarine-launched nuclear weapons. Today he is co-chair of the Wallenberg Foundation of New Jersey, named for Raoul Wallenberg, a wealthy Swedish-born Protestant who inspired others to help him rescue approximately 100,000 Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. Ettlinger carries out the Foundation’s mission and encourages Wallenberg’s ideas by educating young people about the power of a single person’s actions to positively affect society. In 2002 Ettlinger issued his autobiography titled “Ein Amerikaner: Anecdotes from the life of Harry Ettlinger,” released in limited edition.


1. Robert M. Poole, “Monumental Mission,” Smithsonian Magazine (February 2008): 44.

2. Ibid.