Film, furor revive talk of ‘Monuments Men’
Harry Ettlinger was not surprised to learn last week that 1,400 valuable works of art looted by the Nazis — many stolen from Jewish owners — had turned up in a Munich apartment, some 58 years after World War II.
As one of the American soldiers known as the “Monuments Men,” the Roxbury resident helped rescue and preserve countless stolen European art treasures secreted inside a salt mine in Heilbronn, Germany.
The discovery of the latest cache, found in the possession of a German septuagenarian named Cornelius Gurlitt, is only the latest reminder of Nazi plunder and Allied efforts to save priceless works of art.
This February will see the release of a film called The Monuments Men, starring and directed by George Clooney.
Although he had “no direct input with the movie,” Ettlinger said, and has learned that the characters will be composites of the actual soldiers, he noted that one of the Monuments Men depicted in the film is a 19-year-old named Sam Epstein, played by British actor Dimitri Leonidas.
Ettlinger was a Jewish teenager and refugee from Nazi Germany when he was assigned by the U.S. Army to the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section.
“Most of the other Monuments Men were in their 30s and 40s,” he said. “They were experienced art curators, museum directors, and historians. I was a teenage kid who said, ‘I can help you translate from German.’ I had an appreciation of art, but I was not in that profession.
“Am I going to see the movie? Hell, yes.”
Despite his minimal connection with the production, Ettlinger will be honored when it opens in February at his local movie theater, the AMC Rockaway 16. Ettlinger was also among those interviewed for The Rape of Europa, a 1995 book about the Monuments Men by Lynn H. Nicholas and for a 2006 documentary of the same name.
On Friday evening, Nov. 22, he will share his experiences at Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael. “Of course,” he said, “I will talk about the Monuments Men,” but, in commemoration of the “Night of Broken Glass” pogrom 75 years ago, he added, “I also want to focus on Kristallnacht.”