Jewish 'Monuments Man' accepts medal from German hometown
German born Harry Ettlinger, a Jewish member of the "Monuments Men", stands in front of a Rembrandt painting at the art museum Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, southern Germany on February 15, 2014 - by Uli Deck
Harry Ettlinger, 88, who had already attended a red-carpet screening of George Clooney's new "The Monuments Men" movie about the group at the Berlin film festival last week, received the so-called Staufer Medal at an art museum in Karlsruhe, southwestern Germany.
The prize is awarded for service to the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and was presented by the region's top culture official, Juergen Walter.
"I never expected such a big honour," Ettlinger said as he accepted the medal, according to German news agency DPA.
Walter said that Karlsruhe's own Kunsthalle art museum, which had stored its holdings in an underground depot during the war and got them back safely when it was over, must remember "the far-sighted decision of the British and US government to prevent the destruction of Germany's cultural heritage", according to a statement provided by his office.
"We owe Harry Ettlinger our deep gratitude for his efforts on behalf of art," he added.
The Monuments Men were a group of experts, gallery owners and artists sent to Europe to salvage hundreds of thousands of works of art stolen by the Nazis, and to protect thousands of others threatened by Allied bombs.
In addition to raiding private collections, often of Jewish families, top Nazis pillaged German museums as well to sell their works or keep the valuable pieces for themselves.
Ettlinger was forced to flee Nazi Germany with his family for the United States in 1938.
He returned to Europe as a G.I. at the age of 19.
Ettlinger later volunteered to join the Monuments Men, where his fluency in German proved invaluable. He is believed to be the last surviving member of the group.
Germany has been embroiled in a fresh debate over Nazi-looted art since news emerged in November of the discovery in a Munich flat of hundreds of missing artworks believed stolen or extorted under Hitler.