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Last Surviving Monument Man to be Awarded Congressional Gold Medal for Bravery

7-7-14

The citizens of Randolph, who lined the July 4 parade route Saturday, may not have known their Grand Marshall was a monument all by himself. Retired U.S. Army Monument Man Sergeant Harry Ettlinger fled Germany as a Jewish teenager as the Nazis looted civilization’s greatest master works and six years later he went back as an American G.I., part of the team that launched arguably the greatest treasure hunt in human history. That team is known as the Monuments Men and Ettlinger is one them. Ettlinger, who settled in New Jersey, told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that his duty as a Monument Man was unique and highly commendable.

Next week, Ettlinger is going to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for Bravery, the highest citizenship award for someone who is preserving history. Ettlinger said that he is excited about receiving the honor.

When asked what it was like to be in a salt mine, opening a mud encrusted crate of items, Ettlinger said it was a great beginning to what the Allies did in World War II. Instead of taking items that didn’t belong to them, he said that they returned the art. He explained that he ended up being assigned to two salt mines, which are clean places, and they had 40,000 cases of art belonging to German and French institutions there. He said that it was his job to go and file out the cases that belonged to France.

He said that he opened a case that contained the self portrait of painter Rembrandt van Rijn. He said that it was the exact painting that was in the museum in the town he grew up in, that he was never allowed to go in because he was Jewish.

Ettlinger said that he has gone back to his hometown several times and that his grandfather owned art masterworks. He said that he retrieved those pieces during his stay when he was assigned to two salt mines as a Monument Man. He said that during that particular time, he arranged to travel to the town where his grandfather had his print collection, 3,000 prints, and he was able to retrieve them.

A movie about the Monuments Men was released in February. Ettlinger said making a movie about what he and the Allies, did during that time is fabulous and great. He said that for the first time in civilization, a group of countries, instead of taking items, gave them back. He said that is unique and highly commendable and that people should be promoting what was done at that particular time.