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Meet One of a Few Surviving ‘Monuments Men’ How WWII Priceless Art Treasures Were Rescued From Nazis

Teaneck—Harry Ettlinger, one of the few surviving “Monuments Men” who saved hundreds of thousands of cultural treasures stolen by the Nazis, will be the speaker at the April General Meeting of National Council of Jewish Women Bergen County Section (NCJW BCS). His incredible WWII story was the inspiration for George Clooney’s recent movie, “ The Monuments Men.”

The meeting will take place on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 12:30 p.m., at Temple Emeth, 1666 Windsor Road in Teaneck.. There is no charge and light refreshments will be served. Members, family, friends, and the general public are all welcome.

Ettlinger escaped from Germany with his family in September 1938 and “was the last bar-mitzvah boy in Karlsruhe, before the synagogue was burned down.” After settling in Newark, he was drafted into the US Army in 1944. He was selected to join the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) Section of the Allied Armies in January 1945 because of his ability to read and speak German.

The MFAA was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 and comprised 345 men from 13 nations who returned priceless works of art that had been looted or displaced from private and public collections in Nazi-occupied countries. Accompanied by his superiors—including James Rorimer, leader of the MFAA and later a Director of the Metropolitan Museum (played in the movie by Matt Damon)—Ettlinger, aged 19, was involved in discovering several of the hideouts where the Nazis had stored stolen artwork. These included the Neuschwanstein Castle near Munich, where the art treasures of the Rothschild family had been kept by the Nazis, and the salt mine in Heilbronn, from which Ettlinger helped recover a Rembrandt self-portrait and the stained glass windows of the Strasbourg Cathedral. “What we had done was something that every American should be proud of,” said Ettlinger, who still lives in New Jersey and is the only remaining ‘Monuments Man’ well enough to appear in public. “Instead of taking things, we gave them back.” He added, “[The movie] brought the powerful message that, not only did Hitler want to annihilate an entire race, but he wanted its culture wiped from the face of the earth too.” The MFAA was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in June, 2014.

Ann Levenstein, Co-President of NCJW BCS, said, “We are honored to welcome Harry Ettlinger, a true hero, as our speaker. We were all fascinated by the movie, and I can’t wait to hear first hand the actual story of how the irreplaceable treasures of World War II were saved from the Nazis.”

The meeting will include a commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah). Remembering the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust becomes more important than ever as fewer and fewer survivors remain to give their first-hand accounts.

For more information on NCJW BCS and the April General Meeting, please visit http://www.ncjwbcs.org.

By Elizabeth Halverstam

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