When news of a hidden trove of Nazi-looted art in Munich came to light this month, an 87-year-old man in a quiet retirement community in New Jersey straightened a copy of a Rembrandt self-portrait hanging on his wall, completely unsurprised.
The picture is a constant reminder to Harry Ettlinger of his days with the “Monuments Men,” the allied forces team tasked with returning looted art to its rightful owners at the end of World War Two.
The Munich discovery helped reveal a little-known fact about the Monuments Men.
Just as their operation was being shut down, they were forced to return some of the recovered art to known Nazi dealers who could document they had owned the pieces before the war.
With so much art left unrecovered, and so many pieces not returned to their rightful owners, it was inevitable a hoard of lost works would be unearthed in the future, Ettlinger said.
“I think this is the beginning,” Ettlinger said.