ROCKAWAY – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez wants a group of approximately 350 men and women who worked during World War II to preserve works of art and cultural history to receive Congressional recognition.
The so-called “Monuments Men” came from 13 countries and served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the Western Allied military effort. Their story is the subject of Robert Edsel’s non-fiction book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, which has been made into a movie directed by George Clooney that is coming out in February.
Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) are sponsoring a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the members of this group. It and the Presidential Medal of Freedom are the highest civilian awards in the United States. The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded to persons “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”
Carolyn Fefferman, a senior staff member for Menendez, today delivered a letter from the Senator to Rockaway resident Harry Ettlinger as well as a copy of the bill. In the note, Menendez wrote: “Your work as part of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Western Allied Armies was instrumental in safeguarding innumerable works of art that might have disappeared or been destroyed during World War II and in its aftermath. I am proud that a New Jerseyan was part of that effort and proud that I can call you my friend.”
Ettlinger, a German Jew whose family fled to the United States to escape the Nazis, is one of the few surviving Monuments Men. His entry into the Monuments Men begin in Munich in 1945 because of his German language skills. Initially charged with protecting structures – churches, museums, and monuments – from destruction, as the war progressed, their responsibilities shifted to recovering art and artifacts stolen by Nazis across Europe. They were ultimately credited with recovering and restoring millions of pieces of artwork, sculptures, and other cultural artifacts from all of Europe’s major artists, from Monet to Degas to Picasso.
“Because of your work to help recover, protect, preserve, and return the many pieces of art and artifacts that were in jeopardy of being lost or destroyed during and after World War II, I wanted to personally tell you that Senator Blunt and I are sponsoring a bill in the Senate to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Monuments Men,” Menendez added.
“I’m flabbergasted,” said Ettlinger, reading a copy of the bill. “When I think about it, what I did, I never thought in a billion years I would get this kind of gratitude and thanks from my fellow American citizens.”
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