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Harry L. Ettlinger (1926 – 2018), one of World War II’s “Monuments Men”

by Kirk Fox

Member of the Allied team that recovered valuable artwork stolen by the Nazis.

Harry L. Ettlinger and his family escaped Nazi Germany in 1938 on one of the last visas granted by the German government. After graduation from high school in Newark, New Jersey, Harry joined the Army. He was sent to his homeland to fight in the Battle of the Bulge but was pulled out at the last minute to work as a translator since he spoke German. That led to Ettlinger being assigned to the “Monuments Men,” an Allied team with a few hundred members made up mostly of art historians and architects that raced against the clock to recover and save valuable artwork stolen by the Nazis.

An art aficionado, Ettlinger was the translator for James Rorimar, one of the leaders of the team. While below-ground in salt mines in Germany going through crates of stolen artwork, Ettlinger found a print of Rembrandt’s famous self-portrait. It was the same painting he had wanted to see in his hometown in Germany — but since he was Jewish he’d been prohibited from entering the museum.


The “Monuments Men” risked their lives recovering millions of pieces of art. Their story was told in a 2014 movie directed by George Clooney. In the film British actor Dimitri Leonidas played Ettlinger.

Ettlinger became an aerospace engineer, got married, and had a family. He was involved in many charitable endeavors and was active in teaching young people about the Holocaust. In 2015, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery during World War II.

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Died: Sunday, October 21, 2018 (Who else died on October 21?)

Details of death: Died at 92 years young in Trenton, New Jersey, according to his obituary

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Notable Quote: “I’ve always said that what we did was very unusual, something that the average American ought to be very proud of — that instead of stealing things, we returned it, which is something that had never been done before.” —Ettlinger in a 2014 interview with NPR

What people said about him: “They saved over 5 million pieces of art. It’s an incredible story. Most of us thought all the stories of World War II had been told.” —Former Representative Kay Granger at the Medal of Honor ceremony

Full obituary: Dignity Memorial

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