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Governor Schwarzenegger Returns Holocaust-Era Artwork to Heirs of Jewish Family
Governor Schwarzenegger participated in a ceremony to return three paintings, confiscated by the Nazis during the time of the Holocaust, to the heirs of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer. The paintings have been part of the Hearst Castle collection for decades and until recently, their history was unknown. Photo: EFE/Arleen NG.

SACRAMENTO, CA.- Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined California State Parks and Recreation Director Ruth Coleman at the Leland Stanford Mansion in Sacramento today to return three paintings, confiscated by the Nazis during the time of the Holocaust, to the heirs of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer. The three paintings were the subject of a “judenauktionen,” a coerced sale of Jewish assets by the Nazis in 1935. The paintings have been part of the Hearst Castle collection for decades - their history unknown.

“On behalf of the people of California, it is my great honor to return these historic paintings to their rightful owners with respect for the pain and hardships endured by this family,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “The Holocaust will long be regarded as one of the darkest crimes against humanity of the modern era, and I am humbled to play a role in undoing this terrible wrong for the heirs of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer.”

The paintings were deeded to the state in 1972 with the transfer of Hearst Castle to California State Parks. All three are shown in the Handbook of the Paintings in Hearst San Simeon State Historic Monument, published in 1976, and all three are identified in the publication as having been sold as part of the Galerie van Diemen sale in 1935 that was owned by the Oppenheimers. William Randolph Hearst did not buy them directly from the Galerie van Diemen. There are indications that Hearst, or a broker acting on his behalf, acquired them from another gallery which got them from Galerie van Dieman and that Hearst was unaware of the circumstances surrounding their ownership.

The return of the paintings was prompted by a claim from the attorney for the Oppenheimer estate, Eva Sterzing, on behalf of the heirs on March 1, 2007. What followed was an investigation by Supervising Deputy Attorney General Dan Siegel and California State Parks Chief Counsel Bradly Torgan, who researched the paintings and concluded that the family members had a viable claim. With the full concurrence of the Hearst Corporation, which has a reversionary interest clause as part of the 1972 deed transfer, it was decided the paintings would be returned to the heirs of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer. The paintings are being returned to two of their grandchildren, Peter Bloch of Boynton Beach, Florida and Inge Blackshear of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In the return agreement, the family agreed to allow California State Parks to retain ownership of one of the paintings and to create reproductions of the other two. All three will remain on display at Hearst Castle. This agreement was made so that guides at Hearst Castle can tell the story of the paintings, the seizure of Holocaust era assets and the efforts to locate and return the assets to the rightful owners.

“More than one million people from all around the world visit Hearst Castle every year,” said Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks. “We are proud to honor the memory of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer and share this story that touches countless families affected by the Holocaust.”

After the Nazis seized power in Germany, the Oppenheimers were subjected to racial and ethnic persecution, ultimately being forced to give up control of their art business and flee to Vichy, France. The Nazis sold the artwork at auction in April 1935, but neither the Oppenheimers nor their heirs benefited from the revenue of the sale. The proceeds went to pay the Reichfluchtsteuer (Reich flight tax) and other related punitive and confiscatory taxes designed to strip Jews of assets. Jakob Oppenheimer died in France in 1941. Rosa was arrested in France by its German occupiers and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp where she became a victim of the Holocaust on November 3, 1943.

The paintings that are subject to the claim are as follows:

Anonymous Venetian artist, first half of the sixteenth century, half-length portrait of a man with a book and necklace of shells around his shoulders, attributed to Giovanni Cariani (oil on canvas) (Tour #2, Doge Suite, north bedroom, a reproduction of the repatriated artwork);

Paris Bordon (school of) Venetian, 1500-1571, Venus and Cupid (oil on canvas)(Tour #3, New Wing, 2nd floor, room #4,painting retained); and

Jacopo Tintoretto (school of), Venetian, 1518-1594, Portrait of Alvise Vendramin (oil on canvas) (Tour #2, Doge Suite sitting room, a reproduction of the repatriated artwork).

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April 13, 2009

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