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Oklahoma City's annual Holocaust remembrance ceremony puts focus on art, role of 'Monuments Men'

In this 2015 photograph, former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, presents the Congressional Gold Medal to Monuments Men Harry Ettlinger and Richard Barancik during a ceremony in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. From left are, Boehner, Ettlinger, Barancik, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Bernard Taper. [AP Photo/Alex Brandon]

In this 2015 photograph, former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, presents the Congressional Gold Medal to Monuments Men Harry Ettlinger and Richard Barancik during a ceremony in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. From left are, Boehner, Ettlinger, Barancik, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Bernard Taper. [AP Photo/Alex Brandon]

Harry Ettlinger remembers looking at rows and rows of boxes discovered deep in two salt mines.

Ettlinger, one of the last of a World War II-era group called the Monuments Men, said there were 900 of the boxes, each filled with artworks and cultural treasures stolen by the Nazis during the war.

He spent a year helping move the boxes out of the mines and return the items to their rightful homes across Europe. 

"It was the first and only time in the history of civilization that a group of countries adopted the policy to save the culture of the country that was invaded," he said during a recent telephone interview from his New Jersey home.

"We intersected and respected the culture of other human beings."

Ettlinger and the other hundreds of Monuments Men sleuths have received much recognition in recent years, including a 2014 movie that took their exploits out of the history books and onto the big screen for new generations to discover.

They will be recognized Sunday in Oklahoma City, as some of their stories are shared at the 2016 Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance Service and Candlelighting Ceremony set for 2 p.m. at Oklahoma City Community College. 

Role in history

Ettlinger, 90, said he had planned to attend the event but cannot for health reasons.

However, he was excited to talk briefly about his role in a fascinating part of history. 

He said along with the salt mines full of stolen treasures, he also remembered one of his other notable assignments as part of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives subcommission, the formal title of the Monuments Men group.

Ettlinger, who is Jewish, fled his German homeland right before the Nazis made such travel impossible for Jews. He said his family immigrated to New Jersey, but as an American soldier, he eventually found himself back in his native country during the war.

Ettlinger said his first job as a Monuments Man — returning stained-glass windows stolen from a German cathedral — took him within 50 miles of his birthplace.   

Many happy returns

Richard and Ruth Charney, of Edmond, serve as co-artistic directors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City's Holocaust Remembrance Committee.

Ruth Charney said the committee tries each year to tell the story of the Holocaust in a different way, and the focus on art and the Monuments Men seemed fitting this year.

She said the topics have been on people's minds in recent years because of "The Monuments Men" movie (Ettlinger was portrayed by British actor Dimitri Leonidas) and the 2015 movie "Woman in Gold."

Also, locally, there was the highly publicized case of the Camille Pissarro painting "Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep." The painting once was displayed at the University of Oklahoma's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman. But a French woman, Leone Meyer, sued OU, saying the painting belonged to her because Nazis stole the art from her family estate during the German occupation of Paris.

In a settlement announced in February, OU agreed to transfer ownership of the painting to Meyer. As part of the settlement, the painting is to be displayed alternately at a French museum and at the Fred Jones museum.

"Jewish families had all of their possessions taken away from them, many items that had been passed down to them," Charney said. "Now, there are some positive stories of people who have been able to reclaim some of those items."

Art, actions touch lives

Charney said the Nazis destroyed many pieces of art but kept meticulous records of the ones they did not, so the Monuments Men were able to track down many items.

And as Ettlinger mentioned so proudly, she said the group of people representing the Allied Forces sought only to return the artwork to the European homes and museums that had been pillaged and plundered by the Nazis.

"Just because the Allies won, didn't mean they got to keep all these items. That's an important part of what the Monuments Men did, and we'll talk about that," Charney said.

Meanwhile, she said many people may not know that there were Oklahoma Monuments Men. Charney said she and her husband learned of at least three of them: Horace "Hap" Apgar, of Oklahoma City, Walter Huchtausen, of Perry, and Clyde Kenneth Harris, of Konawa. 

"This is just one more example that even the art of the Holocaust touches the lives of people in Oklahoma, and it is relevant today," she said. 

Going on

Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance & Candlelighting

When: 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Oklahoma City Community College, 7777 S May.

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Information: http://jfedokc.org/wp.

Related Photos
<p>This photograph, which appears on the cover of Robert Edsel's book "Rescuing Da Vinci," shows three Monuments Men returning a Leonardo da Vinci painting titled "Lady With an Ermine" to a Polish liason officer. Nazi officers had stolen the painting from the Czartoryski Museum in Cracow in 1939. [PHOTO PROVIDED]</p>

This photograph, which appears on the cover of Robert Edsel's book "Rescuing Da Vinci," shows three Monuments Men returning a Leonardo da Vinci painting titled "Lady With an Ermine" to a Polish liason officer. Nazi officers had stolen the painting from the Czartoryski Museum in Cracow in 1939....

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3343bc6f4b81763afb231472990e6b3f.jpg" alt="Photo - This photograph, which appears on the cover of Robert Edsel's book "Rescuing Da Vinci," shows three Monuments Men returning a Leonardo da Vinci painting titled "Lady With an Ermine" to a Polish liason officer. Nazi officers had stolen the painting from the Czartoryski Museum in Cracow in 1939. [PHOTO PROVIDED] " title=" This photograph, which appears on the cover of Robert Edsel's book "Rescuing Da Vinci," shows three Monuments Men returning a Leonardo da Vinci painting titled "Lady With an Ermine" to a Polish liason officer. Nazi officers had stolen the painting from the Czartoryski Museum in Cracow in 1939. [PHOTO PROVIDED] "><figcaption> This photograph, which appears on the cover of Robert Edsel's book "Rescuing Da Vinci," shows three Monuments Men returning a Leonardo da Vinci painting titled "Lady With an Ermine" to a Polish liason officer. Nazi officers had stolen the painting from the Czartoryski Museum in Cracow in 1939. [PHOTO PROVIDED] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c112d61060eee1669c7cdd326bb8a083.jpg" alt="Photo - In this 2015 photograph, former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, presents the Congressional Gold Medal to Monuments Men Harry Ettlinger and Richard Barancik during a ceremony in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. From left are, Boehner, Ettlinger, Barancik, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Bernard Taper. [AP Photo/Alex Brandon] " title=" In this 2015 photograph, former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, presents the Congressional Gold Medal to Monuments Men Harry Ettlinger and Richard Barancik during a ceremony in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. From left are, Boehner, Ettlinger, Barancik, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Bernard Taper. [AP Photo/Alex Brandon] "><figcaption> In this 2015 photograph, former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, presents the Congressional Gold Medal to Monuments Men Harry Ettlinger and Richard Barancik during a ceremony in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. From left are, Boehner, Ettlinger, Barancik, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Bernard Taper. [AP Photo/Alex Brandon] </figcaption></figure>
Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

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