Senator Menendez, Colleagues Work to Recognize America’s Monuments Men

Senator Menendez, Colleagues Work to Recognize America’s Monuments Men

Bipartisan Bill Awards Congressional Gold Medal to those Who Worked to Protect Cultural Artifacts During World War II including New Jerseyan

WASHINGTON, DC - In light of the release of "The Monuments Men" movie this week starring John Goodman, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and his colleagues continued to push for bipartisan legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the men and women who worked to protect cultural artifacts during World War II, including New Jerseyan Harry Ettlinger.

"I'm incredibly proud to honor New Jerseyan Harry Ettlinger, a surviving member of the Monuments Men, for his heroic work to recover, protect, preserve, and return innumerable works of art and artifacts that might have disappeared or been destroyed during WWII and even more proud that I can call him a friend," said Sen. Menendez. "I know I share in his excitement and look forward to seeing their amazing story captured on film."

Ettlinger, a German Jew whose family fled to the United States to escape the Nazis, is one of the few surviving Monuments Men. He joined the U.S. Army in August 1944, and became part of the Monuments Men in 1945 because of his German language skills.

In December 2013, Senators Menendez and Blunt introduced bipartisan legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the "Monuments Men," a group of approximately 350 men and women from 13 countries who are credited with preserving, protecting, and restoring millions of pieces of artwork, sculptures, and other cultural artifacts in Europe during World War II.

Carolyn Fefferman, a senior staff member for Sen. Menendez delivered a letter from the Senator to the Rockaway resident along with a copy of the legislation.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Harry 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.

The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (TN.), John Boozman (AR), Maria Cantwell (WA), Jerry Moran (KS), and James Risch (ID), and was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Kay Granger (TX) and Michael Capuano (MA).

Additional Background on the Monuments Men:

The Monuments Men served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the Western Allied military effort. They were initially charged with protecting structures, such as churches, museums, and monuments, from destruction. Their responsibilities later shifted to recovering art and artifacts stolen by Nazis across Europe. Today, there are only five living members of the Monuments Men.

Works from many of Europe's major artists - including Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Pablo Picasso - were plundered by the Nazis and added to their private collections. Some of the notable pieces preserved by the Monuments Men include Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, Jan Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece and Michelangelo's David and Madonna and Child. By 1951, they had recovered or restored nearly five million cultural artifacts.

In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Roberts Commission to help the U.S. Army protect cultural works in Allied occupied areas. General Dwight Eisenhower told his commanders that "inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve," and he ordered his commanders to safeguard those treasures.

The story is the subject of multiple books by author Robert Edsel, the most recent of which is The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. While living in Europe, Mr. Edsel became interested in how the monuments and artwork survived the devastation of World War II. He is the Founder and Chairman of the Board for the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. The upcoming movie is based on Edsel's book.