LIVINGSTON, NJ – “Monuments Men,” a film based on the true story of men and women, charged with the mission of saving and recovering European cultural and artistic treasures from Nazi looting and the ravages of WWII, hit U.S. theaters this past February.
Harry Ettlinger, 87, formerly of Livingston and now of Rockaway Township, is one of just five surviving members of the real-life Monuments Men, a group that once held 350 members. On Thursday evening, he was honored at the Livingston Public Library for his actions as a soldier, assisting in the preservation of art.
“We implore Harry Ettlinger for his courage and his efforts to respect the cultures around the world,” said Livingston Mayor Michael Rieber, at the start of the presentation. “We hereby make March, 27, 2014 Harry Ettlinger Day throughout the township of Livingston.”
To applause, the self-proclaimed “shy” Ettlinger met Rieber at the front of a packed library auditorium for a handshake and to receive an honorary plaque.
Ettlinger said, “Believe me, if you told me a couple of months ago that I was going to give talks in front of hundreds of people, I would have said you were crazy.”
The event, presented by the Livingston Historical Society, and hosted by Bunnie Ratner, N.J. State Award Honoree in 2007, featured a film interview with Ettlinger, conducted by Ernie Cuneo, history teacher at Livingston High School, and produced by Ratner entitled, “I Was There: The Story of Harry Ettlinger, the Monuments Man.”
Ratner gave a short speech introducing the film and said, “In a war, there are many different aspects. There are the people who build the planes; there are the ones who fly the planes. There are people who devise the battles and there are people who fight the battles. There are those that come home safely, there are those who come home wounded and those who don’t come home at all. These are all heroes; they each have an impact on our lives. And then there’s a unique group of men. And this group of men was hired to save cultures. They didn’t want the allies to be known as some group of hooligans that come in and destroy the synagogues, destroy the churches, destroy the art; and so a group of men were formed called the Monuments Men.”
A projector was then started, and on a screen, at the front of the front of the Library, Ettlinger, with his German accent, answered Cuneo’s questions.
Ettlinger spoke about what he believed Hitler’s hope in stealing other cultures art was and said, “Hitler had a different view for what the world was going to be like. He was going to be the Fuhrer of a race superior to all other cultures, which meant he was going to eliminate those other cultures that existed.”
He explained what the essence of the Monuments Men was stating, “For first time in history, a group of countries adopted the policy that instead of taking spoils—we were going to return them.”
In addition, Ettlinger discussed how he wanted future generations to remember the Monuments Men. He said, “The Monuments Men were the first cabinet in the history of civilization that were involved in saving cultures and showing respect to other cultures’ art in the world. Our message was to respect other cultures. If you want to have peace in the world, you have to have respect for your fellow human being and the kind of life that they lead.”
Near the end of the film interview, Cuneo asked Ettlinger if he believed the Monuments Men had done the job they set out to do. Ettlinger paused for a moment before answering, and then said very simply, “Yes.”