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Grandfather predicts future

Private Ettlinger gets into Nordschwanstein

Hungarian Jews in jet engine mines


Ettlinger was born in Karlsruhe in the Southwest corner of Germany in 1926. He was born into an affluent family who had history in Germany for over 500 years. He is the oldest of three boys; his two parents were Max Ettlinger and Susan Oppenheimer. He entered school in September 1931. There were big changes; on 30 January 1933, Adolf Hitler took over power in Germany and everyone who was not a pure German started to be persecuted for not being of Aryan race. It was easy for Hitler to blame a group of people who had little power since the Jews represented less than 1% of the German population. The Jews were always second class citizens even though his family owned an elegant women's fashion business on the main street of Karlsruhe. The shop was boycotted and closed in 1935. His family's stay in Germany was going to end. The most prevalent issue that affects everyone is jobs and income, and this was the reason they started to look into immigration to the United States. It was not that they wanted out; it was that no one wanted them in. There were depressions and countries did not want foreigners to take their jobs, and there was anti-Semitism.April 1938, they went again to an American consultant in the southern city of Stuttgart to look into immigration papers. They received a letter saying their application to immigrate had been accepted. They got the necessary tie in to a far distant relative who provided the written proof [Annotators Note: affidavit] that they would not go on welfare. If a Jewish family was able to get one member out, it was always a child. What great courage a mother had to allow her children to go away to another country when they could not follow them. Ettlinger has a number of relatives and friends who came over before their parents, or their parents never came.By July of 1938, they got their application approved and made plans to immigrate to the United States. At that time, they could come with household goods. [Annotators Note: Ettlinger points out cups in his home that were brought over from Germany]. Big furniture and money were not allowed to be brought over. Then Hitler annexed Austria [Annotators Note: Anschluss was in March 1938]. Ettlinger says there are countries today who try to act superior to others.


The Nazis were on their march throughout Europe but his family kept their trip [Annotator’s Note: their immigration to the United States] moving forward. He ended up coming over in September [Annotator’s Note: 1938]. He was able to get Bar Mitzvah'd. It was so tense in Germany they wondered whether they could leave after his Bar Mitzvah on a Saturday; Jews were not supposed to travel on the Sabbath. The Rabbi granted them permission to travel on the 1 o'clock train because their situation was so dire. His father, a decorated soldier wounded in the German artillery in World War I, looked out on the main street and saw German soldiers walking around. He thought there were too many soldiers walking around for war to begin that day. They left the next morning. Two days later the famous meeting with the British Prime Minister Chamberlain and Hitler took place, in which Chamberlain agreed to give part of Czechoslovakia to Germany. He will always be remembered as "The Appeaser," but realistically he did not have any choice. Ettlinger states that this was because while the United States put people to work under Roosevelt through the WPA, Hitler put people to work by making weapons for war.Ettlinger landed on 9 October 1938 and on 9 November the real persecution of the German Jews began with Kristallnacht, which Ettlinger claims was the real beginning of the Holocaust.In school, Ettlinger was an A and B [Annotators Note: He uses 1 and 2's] student. When Hitler came on board his grades went to B's and C's. He was ignored by his fellow students who were not Jewish. He did not have any Christian friends anymore. They would have been condemned if they had been his friend. After Hitler came into power, Jews were no longer citizens in their own country and all the young people had to go to Jewish schools. His brothers started Jewish school is 1936, while he stayed one more year in the regular school. Ettlinger was allowed to stay because his father was a decorated World War I veteran in the German artillery, but that came to an end in 1937 so his last year in Germany he changed to a Jewish school.Interviewer asks questions about his arrival in the United States.The Ettlingers stayed in Manhattan, in Washington Heights. It was inhabited by German Jews. He entered public school just days after arriving. He learned English. There was no bilingual education, just American English. After about 3 months of living in a studio apartment, all 5 members of his family moved to the last street in Manhattan and lived there from January 1939 to April 1940 until they moved to Newark, New Jersey. His middle brother, Klaus, was a genius and had a high IQ. He wanted to become a chef when he was 11 years old. Later on when Ettlinger was drafted, Klaus enlisted in the Navy to be a cook at 17. His father was advised to establish a store in the west like Illinois or Indiana. So they moved west, all the way to Newark, New Jersey. [Annotators Note: Ettlinger chuckles at the irony of moving so far ‘west’.]


Ettlinger ended up going to high school for 4 years and when he graduated, he and every other fellow male student entered into the Armed Forces. In fact, his valedictorian enlisted in the Army in order to become a pilot. He eventually died when he was shot down as a gunner in the Pacific in 1945.Ettlinger’s grandfather had a great influence on him. One of his hobbies was as a collector of prints, especially book plates, because in the 1800's and 1900's a lot of people collected books and libraries in their homes. And on the inside cover page there was a picture or words indicating that this was a collection of some sort; these are called Ex Libris. [Annotators Note: Ettlinger has parts of his collection all over his home.] His grandfather had about 3,000 of them. He moved to the town he was brought up in, and moved to the resort town of Baden-Baden. Ettlinger saw his first Americans there. Wealthy people went to Baden-Baden.Before he left Germany, Ettlinger and his brothers were taken into his grandfather's study, there he made two statements. One statement was "you boys are going to become Americans." While his grandfather had never set foot in America and was not a genius, he had read enough to know that freedoms Americans have, the Ettlingers did not have in Germany. The other statement was, at the time when everything was developing with the Japanese and the Rape of Nanking, and also with the development of the Nazi party, he said, "your enemy, as Americans, is going to be" and he put his finger not on Berlin, but on Tokyo.The ironic thing was that his grandfather and grandmother got permission to come to the United States and he landed in New York Harbor on 8 December 1941, 18 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was one of the few people who realized that Americans were going to be in a war with Japan and he was not even American. When Ettlinger told his friends, "hey my grandfather says we are going to be at war with Japan," people would laugh at him because at the time Americans were isolationists.


During World War II it was the Japanese that occupied the Aleutian Islands, part of the United States. The attitude was that the Japanese Americans would be against the U.S. There were a few who were for the Japanese invading the country, but the 442nd Regimental Combat Team put that to an end. The only reason the German Americans were not treated that way was because there were too many of them. But there were a lot of Nazis in the United States who spouted the same philosophy as Hitler.There was no question whether or not they were going to serve in the Armed Forces. Ettlinger does not know any German Jewish young man who did not serve in the American Army. Many Americans thought of the German Jews as enemy aliens. [Annotators Note: here Ettlinger gets side tracked and talks about his trip to America] It turned out that in their hasty departure to get to the United States, his folks decided rather than stay in first class which they could afford, they would stay in third class, just to get out of the Europe quickly. As they left the coast of England, they hit the aftermath of the Hurricane of 1938 where over 100 people died in Connecticut. Ettlinger was very sea sick and it was not until 4 days later that he was able to keep food down; that was the Day of Atonement, where Jews are supposed to fast and that was the only time he did not fast. When he arrived, just looking at a boat made him made him sick. When the time came to join the military, he knew he did not want anything to do with ships.Ettlinger was drafted into the United States Army and got sent down to Camp Wheeler, near Macon, Georgia where he took basic infantry training. He became a typical soldier in view of his squad and made buddies with his group. He relates a story of how one man did everything he could do to get out of the Army. This man used to deliberately urinate in his bed at night. After ten weeks they gave him a discharge; highly unusual for the time.In November of that year Ettlinger was made a U.S. citizen. On the 24th of December he finished basic training. When he completed basic training he flew home. It was the first time anyone in his family had been on an airplane. Ettlinger relates how his family could not understand him anymore when he spoke. He did not speak German any longer and he did not speak like a person from New Jersey. He learned how to speak like an American from his buddies from Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia.


On 2 January 1945, Ettlinger was on a converted ship transport the Ile de France with 3,000 other men, and on 15 January 1945, he landed in Chevy, France on the border of Belgium and France. This was 30 miles behind the lines from where the Battle of the Bulge was taking place.Two weeks later Ettlinger ended up on a truck on his 19th birthday with 100 other trucks, with 2500 other soldiers, going to the front to be assigned to a division. His buddies ended up in the 99th Infantry Division. Ettlinger got pulled out just as the convoy started; a man came over and told him to get off, along with three other guys. He ended up learning what happened to his buddies later on, but they had him and 2,000 other guys become translators at the Nuremberg Trials. He traveled with this replacement group for the next three months from the end of January to the end of April. He is not sure when he landed in Munich at the 7th Army Headquarters. For those three months he ate, slept and goofed off. In those days, soldiers made $60 a month and he remembers making $1500 in a craps game one day and then losing it all the next day. He tried to keep himself occupied.Ettlinger found himself at the 7th Army Headquarters a week before the war ended. A man came up to him and asked him if he could speak and read German. He replied that he could and he was told that he was needed in an office a block away. It was there that he joined the G2 Intelligence Service. They were investigating the rape of women by American soldiers. There had been a drunken man knocking on doors asking women to come to his room. The American soldier took a daughter up to his room, but the mother wanted to join in; the soldier refused so the mother reported it, claiming that the soldier had raped her daughter. Ettlinger realized he did not want any part of that.Ettlinger ended up going to the office [Annotators Note: he wanted to be reassigned because he did not want to deal with situations like the drunken rape story] and told them he could read and speak German. An officer told him to go through documents and tell them the gist of the translation. Ettlinger did that for the next two weeks; he just translated documents. This officer, Captain Jim [Annotator’s Note: James] Rorimer, who later became the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, asked Ettlinger to join him in jail in Munich to interrogate a man. The man turned out to be Heinrich Hoffman, the personal photographer of Adolf Hitler. That was very interesting to Ettlinger. He was 19 years old so it was a memorable experience for a young man. He was not used to doing the questioning.Ettlinger does not remember one word of the interrogation. He was told that his interrogation was recorded and is held in the National Archives. Another interrogator used his tape recording for his own use years later when Hoffman was interrogated again. 


He remembers Captain [Annotator’s Note: James or ‘Jim’] Rorimer took him to Berchtesgaden and he went to the Eagles Nest. Rorimer also took him to Neuschwanstein, a castle where the Germans had shipped and stored treasures of the Rothschild family. That was the first time he visited a collection of stolen works of art. Ettlinger did not know how to drive, so the Captain drove and he sat in the passenger seat.Their office was moved from Munich to Heidelberg where it is still in existence toda He was there for about four weeks. He looked through papers only. Captain Rorimer made arrangements to get him assigned to a permanent outfit. The whole time he had no assignment; he belonged to no organization except the US Army. Rorimer's outfit would assign police, mayors, or whatever the city or a municipality needed to govern themselves. The groups were established to find Germans to take over the government of a town after the war.In the latter part of July and August [Annotator’s Note: 1945] he spent time at the headquarters of the military government and then went to the mines in Heilbronn and Crottendorf where 40,000 cases of art were stored. They had to establish three collection points. One was in the former headquarters of the Nazi party in Munich, one in Wiesbaden and one in Offenbach where they collected thousands of paintings. The one in Munich became the biggest collection of art ever put in one place. In lieu of taking out all the art, they decided to leave them there and they would send in Monuments Men in to investigate. Ettlinger was assigned to investigate the stolen pieces of art in stored salt mines.Ettlinger and Lieutenant Fort had the help of three German professionals: an art historian, a businessman, and a man that was part of the German group formed to steal art. This last guy spent the war in Paris but was there to tell them information about the pieces. Ettlinger was in charge of the underground operations. There were underground factories and with the help of two miners, they did the work of finding certain cases and investigating them. By the time they were finished they found out that 3% of the collections underground, about 900 pieces, were illegally obtained.


The rest of it [Annotator’s Note: of art found underground by Ettlinger], the 97%, were returned to their German owners. Americans established the philosophy that they would not take the spoils of war, for the first time in history; instead they would return the treasures to the rightful owner. That was something Americans could be proud of. He can remember sitting on Lieutenant Fort's desk with a jar of diamonds and nobody touched the jar; no one took it. He did everything he could to live by that code.Ettlinger mentions that the Nazis [Annotator’s Note: when he was growing up in Germany in the 1930s] were already in the process of building the mines and underground factories. One of them was to be a factory for making jet engines. It was a great Frenchman, Rousefalant [Annotator’s Note: spelling unknown], who told Captain Rormier about this. The Germans saw to it that Charles Lindbergh was sent from the Pacific to Heilbronn to witness the first assembly of a jet engine.In January 1946, Lindbergh came to Heilbronn and Ettlinger spoke to him. Lindbergh was a supporter of the Germans and after speaking with Ettlinger and hearing his family's plight while in Germany, Lindbergh supposedly changed his mind about the Germans. That was a very memorable moment for Ettlinger.The people who made the parts for the jet engines were Hungarian Jews selected in Auschwitz; separated from those that were murdered. There was a shipment of 12,000 Hungarian Jews in May and June of 1944. 225,000 Jews were shipped to Auschwitz every other day and some were selected to live and the rest were murdered. Those that were relatively young were slave laborers forced to make parts for engines. Ettlinger found out about this in the late 1990's from one of the few survivors. The survivor became a concert violinist and composer in Hollywood. Most of the laborers died shortly before the Allies entered Heilbronn because they were sent on a five day train ride and froze to death.The first job that Ettlinger had at Heilbronn [Annotator’s Note: in the mines] was to find stained glass windows from cathedrals and bring them up to the top with the help of the two miners. There were at least 78 cases that needed to be brought to the top to be put on trucks and shipped to Strasbourg. Those were the first stolen works of art returned to their owners. The French made a big event of the windows being returned to their world famous cathedral. After that, it came down to compiling information, and eventually they shipped over 900 items including the 78 cases of stolen art in over 5 shipments. The last one went to the Louvre Museum. Some went to Wiesbaden and to Munich; the other two collection points. Ettlinger's job was to make sure the boxes went up the mines.The mines were not what Ettlinger and most Americans would consider mines. The chambers were not small; they were 60 feet wide, 40 feet high and mile long. Then there would be another chamber next to it with the same dimensions.


Ettlinger was working in a vein of mined salt deposits. In Heilbronn, they brought the salt to the surface, heated it up, melted the stone and salt over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and wiped off the salt. It would be rotated into a vat and would re-crystallize.Ettlinger found it interesting that in order to provide the fuel for the furnaces they had built coke ovens. They had an excess of coke and had another factory on the premises that provided glass. Four months after the end of the war, in an area where cities were bombed and destroyed, they had that glass factory going again, for making glass bottles for Coca-Cola.There were 5 or 6 of the long chambers [Annotator’s Note: in the salt mines] but above, higher up in the mine, were smaller chambers. They were about 12 feet high and each chamber was about 30 feet wide and 100 feet long. They were accessible through a corridor and each chamber held pieces of the art.One of the chambers was very interesting to Ettlinger. He came down a corridor and noticed an opening that was filled with brick rather than a regular door and he asked the miners to break in. Behind the brick was a big table with glass jars which had a clear liquid with yellow at the bottom of them. The guys were going wild; it was nitroglycerin. It had started to turn yellow because the liquid had started to separate; if they had not opened it, it would have detonated and exploded the whole mine. They gingerly took it out and detonated it in a field nearby.It is ironic to Ettlinger that here he was a young Jewish American private who ended up being in charge of Underground Operations, when six months before thousands of Hungarian Jews had just lost their lives. He felt he was doing something a human being should be doing; according to Ettlinger, good things. He describes the Roberts Commission that was implemented in 1943 regarding the destruction of European Cultural treasures.


Hundreds of thousands of men lost their lives, paying the ultimate sacrifice. Ettlinger admits the Allies did not do a good job preserving life. In addition to the physical destruction, the Germans destroyed the culture of the people they conquered, especially the Eastern European cultures. There was an organization, ERR, Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, that was the cultural ministry of Germany. They came along and stole those items they considered to be worthwhile and shipped them to Germany. They were meant for Hitler's collection; he wanted to convert his city of Linz [Annotator’s Note: Austria] to the art capital of the world. That is what the Monuments Men ended up doing; finding the stolen works of art and returning them under the policies of the Roberts Commission.In Austria, the biggest find was in Altaussee where they found 4,500 paintings. Ettlinger found them and then shipped them to the collection point in Munich. In Altaussee they took a couple hundred truck-full’s of paintings that were found.His most memorable find was in the Heilbronn mine. They had a painting that was painted by an artist 400 years ago. It was sitting in a church in the German town of Stubach. Captain Rormier was particularly interested in that find. He offered to buy the piece for 2 million dollars and they turned him down. There was another masterpiece painting from the city of Karlsruhe. Their masterpiece was a self portrait of Rembrandt and it has become "the story"; it was advertised all over the world. The newspapers thought it was illegally obtained, but Ettlinger knew it was a present of the last duchess of the Province of Baden at the end of her reign in World War I. She donated it to the art museum three blocks away from her palace. It turned out that Ettlinger lived near there but he never saw it because Jews were not allowed to.At this point in the interview Ettlinger discusses his grandfather's collection again. Two years ago Ettlinger found a print that was made from an artist in the 1920's of that painting of Rembrandt and he now has the print in his home. Ettlinger's grandfather took his collection with him when he moved to Baden Baden and put it into a warehouse for safe storage. In October of 1945, he sent Ettlinger a letter that said if he got the opportunity to go to Baden Baden to see if his collection was in a particular warehouse.


Ettlinger asked Jacque, a Frenchman, to help him go to Baden Baden to find his grandfather's collection and the man agreed. It was a short trip. He asked a young man, Ike, a Holocaust survivor, who the attachment adopted as a chauffeur, to come also. Ettlinger, Ike and Jacque went to the warehouse in Baden Baden and it still had his grandfather's collection. Jacque wanted to celebrate so they went to a deli restaurant to have a fresh fish lunch. On the way back home, they had to go on a roadway that took a 180 degree curve and Ike crashed the car. He drove the Jeep into a trough lined with Belgium blocks on the side of the road. They had to get 10 men, some of them French, to pull the car out. The lining of the tubing that fed the breaks had busted so they had no breaks. Despite that they coasted back down the three miles to Baden Baden and survived the ordeal.Ettlinger did not tell his sergeant that he was leaving for the day. They were AWOL [Annotator’s Note: Absent without Leave], punishable by weeks in jail. Jacque had a girlfriend who worked at the best hotel in Baden Baden. She was in charge of housekeeping. She hid them in the penthouse suite reserved for the Kaiser of Germany. So that night, an American buck private and Holocaust survivor slept in the bed meant for the Kaiser. It was arranged that his grandfather's collection would end up in Ettlinger's home.


The Monuments Men group totaled about 60 men when Ettlinger was a member. They continued to be in existence even after the Army disbanded; [annotator's note: Ettlinger is referring to the mass discharge of World War II veterans following the cessation of hostilities] up until 1951 and during that time they had about 350 men and women. About 225 were American and the rest were representatives from other countries to help return the items. About 5 million items were returned. One of the few individuals still alive is a man who was in charge of returning archives and documents, including 800 torahs beside the 1,100 that were found in Czechoslovakia, and most of the 800 ended up in Israel. He ended up spending his life as an archivist in the U.S Army. Of those 350 men and women there are only about nine people living, Ettlinger is the youngest of them.The first Monuments Man did not have a home; they did their job without a real organization.In his interview with Heinrich Hoffman, he did not provide them any useful information.Other Monuments Men used the information to help them in their research to find items.The war changed Ettlinger in a way that would change anyone who served in World War II. He led a different life than most kids did because he knew his family was poor. They lived on money from his mother's sister, who immigrated to Switzerland. It led him to believe that any money he earned was not for his pocket but for his family's pocket. That idea is lost today. He already learned what it meant to take on responsibility as an adult in financing his existence. He went to war and learned about health; that is a learning curve that changes one from being a kid to an adult.Ettlinger states that it was a big war and one that should have taught them, as President Lincoln said, "we are all equal under God."


There is no superior country and no one has the right to take over another country. The world has not learned that lesson yet. Ettlinger used the G.I. Bill to go to school and get an engineering degree. He became an engineer, and got a Masters in Mechanical Engineering and almost an MBA. He spent the last 12 years of his working life as the deputy program director for his company's participation in providing the United States submarine fleet with their missile guidance system. He ended up spending this time in controlling the finances to do this. His company spent about 300 million dollars on this program.Ettlinger relates that in one submarine, the United States has enough power to end life in the northern hemisphere of the world. In line with what Teddy Roosevelt said, Americans are operating under the philosophy "speak softly but carry a big stick." Ettlinger feels the world cannot afford another world war.The war changed the rest of the world because it allowed the growth of technology that made the life humans live today; television, telecommunications, cell phones have made the world smaller and smaller. People no longer think in terms of nations because countries have become so diversified.The importance of having the World War II Museum [Annotator's note: he deviates here] Ettlinger says about 3/4 of a year ago, there was a program on Sunday morning which had a small video about the Taliban blowing up Buddhist figures in Afghanistan. Ettlinger was intrigued that they showed the banner that was over the Museum of Art in Kabul and it said "No Nation Can Exist Without Culture and History." The Roberts Commission did that; respect human beings and respect each other cultures. That's the lesson. Without history what can teach people what they should be doing? That is the reason why the museum in New Orleans is such an important place. It is a place where people can learn history, provide history and educate others on history that had tremendous influence on human actions.

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