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February 11, 2014

From start to finish, The Monuments Men book centers on the story of Harry Ettlinger

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust, movies — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 1:12 pm

The movie entitled The Monuments Men is based on a book written by Robert M. Edsel, which was published in 2009. After the “Author’s Note” in the front of the book, there are several pages of photographs of “the Monuments Men,” arranged in alphabetical order.  The second photo shows “Private Harry Ettlinger, U.S. Seventh Army.” The text, accompanying the photo reads: “A German Jew, Ettlinger fled Nazi persecution in 1938 with his family.”

You can read a news article about Harry Ettlinger at  The photo below accompanies the article. Dimitri Leonidas, who plays Harry Ettlinger in the movie, is shown on the far left.

From left, Dimitri Leonidas, John Goodman, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Bob Balaban in “The Monuments Men”

From left to right: Dimitri Leonidas, John Goodman, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Bob Balaban in “The Monuments Men”

Chapter 1 of Robert M. Edsel’s book is entitled “Out of Germany, Karlsruhe, Germany 1715 to 1938.”  The information in this chapter is about how “a Jewish congregation was established in [the city of ] Karlsruhe” in 1715.

In Chapter 1, we learn that, in 1800 “inhabitants of Germany became legally obligated to take a surname.” A Jew named Seligmann had emigrated to Karlsruhe from Ettlingen, a nearby town where his family had lived since 1600.  Seligmann took the surname Ettlinger; Harry Ettlinger is one of his descendents.

The purpose of Chapter 1, in Edsel’s book, is to establish that the Jews were Germans, who had a right to live in Germany.  The Nazis were wrong to persecute the Jews, who belonged in Germany. The Nazis were wrong to take the possessions of the Jews, especially the art that belonged to the Jews.

On page 10 of Edsel’s book, we learn that Harry Ettlinger’s maternal grandfather, Opa Oppenheimer, had an “art collection [which] contained almost two thousand prints, private ex libris bookplates and works by minor German Impressionists working in the late 1890s and early 1900s. One of the best was a print, made by a local artist, of the self-portrait by Rembrandt that hung in the Karlsruhe museum. […] In 1933, [after Hitler came to power] the museum had barred entry to Jews.”

According to Edsel’s book, the Ettlinger family left Germany in 1938, arriving in New York on October 9, 1938.  Exactly one month later, the event known as the “night of broken glass” [Kristallnacht] occurred.

This quote is from Edsel’s book:

The Jewish men of Karlsruhe were rounded up and put in the nearby Dachau internment camp. […] The magnificent hundred-year-old Konenstrasse Synagogue, where only weeks before Heinz Ludwig Chaim [Harry] Ettlinger had celebrated his bar mitzvah, was burned to the ground.  Harry Ettlinger was the last boy ever to have his bar mitzvah ceremony in the old synagogue of Karlsruhe.

But this story isn’t about the Kronenstrasse Synagogue, the internment camp at Dachau, or even the Holocaust against the Jews. It is about a different act of negation and aggression Hitler perpetrated on the people and nations of Europe: his war on culture. For when Private Harry Ettlinger, U.S. Army, finally returned to Karlsruhe, it wasn’t to search for his lost relatives or the remains of his community; it was to determine the fate of another aspect of his heritage stripped away by the Nazi regime: his grandfather’s beloved art collection. In the process he would discover, buried six hundred feet underground, something he had always known but never expected to see: the Rembrandt of Karlsruhe.

Harry Ettlinger was one of the Mountain Men

Harry Ettlinger looks at the picture that his grandfather owned

This quote is from pages 533 and 534, the last two pages in Edsel’s book:

… Harry learned another story about the mines in Heilbronn and Kochendorf.

In the Kochendorf mine, one or more chambers had been designed as secret manufacturing centers for the mass production of a crucial Nazi invention: the jet engine. […] The physical work at the mine, such as the expansion of the underground chambers, had been performed by fifteen hundred Hungarian Jewish slave laborers sent from Auschwitz to Germany. In September 1944, the British bombed Heilbronn to smithereens… […] As the roar of the planes retreated, a chant rose mysteriously from the black belly of the mine. […] It was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the Hungarian Jews were chanting the prayer of Kol Nidre.  […] In March 1945, less than a month before the arrival of the Americans, the slave laborers were shipped to Dachau.  Most of them froze to death during the five-day journey. The others were sent directly to the gas chamber.

The Monuments Men movie should have stuck to the story in the book by the same name, and featured Harry Ettlinger, because the book was about the Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis and stripped of their possessions, then sent to the gas chamber at Dachau.

As for the statement, in Edsel’s book, that the Hungarian Jews were sent directly to the gas chamber at Dachau, here is what really happened: According to a book published by the US Seventh Army immediately after the war, entitled Dachau Liberated, The Official Report by The U.S. Seventh Army, there was a total of 29,138 Jews brought to Dachau from other camps between June 20, 1944 and November 23, 1944.

The Official Report says that these Jews were brought to Dachau to be executed and that they were gassed in the gas chamber disguised as a shower room and also in the four smaller gas chambers, which the staff at the Dachau Memorial Site now claims were delousing chambers.

By November 1945, it was known that the 29,138 Jews brought to Dachau from other camps between June 20, 1944 and November 23, 1944 had been transferred to the eleven Kaufering sub-camps of Dachau to work in munitions factories and had not been gassed in the five gas chambers at Dachau, as stated in the Official Army Report that was written within days after the camp was liberated.

Contrary to what is stated in Edsel’s book, the Hungarian Jews who were working in the mines in Germany were not sent to the gas chamber at Dachau.