Harry L. Ettlinger (1926-2018)
Harry Ludwig Ettlinger was born in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1926 to a Jewish family. The Ettlinger family business, Gebrueder Ettlinger, had been established as a fashionable department store in the heart of Karlsruhe since around 1850. With the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party in 1933, however, the Jewish-owned store was boycotted and later closed in 1935. On September 25, 1938, the day after Harry’s Bar Mitzvah, the Ettlinger family fled to the United States. Harry, his parents, and his two younger brothers arrived in New York on October 9th, 1938.
Ettlinger was drafted into the U.S. Army as an infantryman in August 1944. The following January, his unit was shipped overseas to Europe to join the 99th Infantry Division at the front lines of the Allied counterattack following the Battle of the Bulge. At the last minute, however, Ettlinger was pulled from the ranks. Because he was fluent in German, he had been selected for possible assignment as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials. Month later, however, he was still awaiting official assignment.
In May 1945, Ettlinger volunteered for service as a Monuments Man. He was assigned to the headquarters of U.S. Seventh Army in Munich, Germany by Monuments Man Capt. James J. Rorimer. There, he translated German intelligence documents and worked alongside Monuments Man Lt. Charles Parkhurst. In mid-May 1945 he acted as Rorimer’s personal translator during his interrogation of Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s personal photographer. Rorimer soon took Ettlinger under his wing, and the pair traveled to some of the most prominent locations investigated by the MFAA. Ettlinger accompanied Rorimer to Berchtesgaden, Germany, the last-minute hiding spot of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering’s collection of looted works of art, and visited Hitler’s abandoned mountain chalet, the Berghof. At Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps, Rorimer and Ettlinger were astonished to find a staggering collection of masterpieces, jewels, furniture, and cultural objects stolen from French Jews by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR, the team tasked by Hitler to assemble works of art for his planned Führermuseum in Linz, Austria).
In September 1945 Rorimer assigned Ettlinger to the Kochendorf-Heilbronn salt mines in Germany. There, he assisted fellow Monuments Man and Officer-in-Charge Lt. Dale V. Ford with the evacuation from the mine of some nine hundred objects stashed away among the maze of passageways and caverns. Using the recently discovered records of the ERR,Ford and Ettlinger worked to separate Nazi-looted works of art from those that had been evacuated for safety from Germany’s finest museums, including Mannheim, Stuttgart, and even Ettlinger’s own hometown of Karlsruhe.
In all, it took ten months and five shipments to empty the mines of their priceless contents. The first restitution out of Heilbronn contained seventy-three cases of stained glass from Strasbourg Cathedral in France, which had been removed for safekeeping before the war and subsequently looted by the Nazis. Direct orders from General Dwight D. Eisenhower made the carefully orchestrated return of this important cultural treasure a first priority as a gesture of good faith between the United States and France. The five-truck convoy arranged to ferry the windows home departed Heilbronn in mid-September 1945. Upon the windows’ reinstallation, the people of Strasbourg celebrated in the streets, for their colorful treasures had returned home intact.
Ettlinger was discharged in August 1946 and returned home to Newark, New Jersey. Using his G.I. Bill, he earned a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering and business administration. A skilled mechanical engineer, he has worked on everything from Singer sewing machine motors to portable radar systems and sonars. He also served as Deputy Program Director for a company producing guidance systems for submarine-launched nuclear weapons. He retired in 1992.
Later in life, Ettlinger remained an inspiring advocate for Holocaust education and remembrance. He was co-chair of the Wallenberg Foundation of New Jersey, named in honor of Raoul Wallenberg, a wealthy Swedish-born Protestant who rescued approximately 100,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. In this position, Ettlinger educated young people about the transformative power of a single person to positively affect society. He also traveled the world sharing the story of his incredible experiences as a Monuments Man.
Harry Ettlinger died October 21, 2018.
Photo courtesy of the Harry Ettlinger Collection, The Monuments Men Foundation Collection, the National WWII Museum, New Orleans, LA.