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Seven paintings stolen during World War II returned to heirs in emotional Paris ceremony
The painting "The Apotheosis of Saint John of Nepomuk" by German artist Franz Xaver Karl Palko (1724-1767) is on display on March 19, 2013 at the French Culture ministry in Paris during a restitution ceremony of seven paintings stolen by the nazi regime. The paintings will be returned to two Jewish families spoiled during WWII, six to the relatives of the original owners represented by Austrian collector Richard Neumann and one to the heirs of Austrian Josef Wiener. AFP PHOTO /BERTRAND GUAY.

PARIS (AFP).- Six paintings that fell into the hands of the Nazis after their Jewish industrialist owner was forced to sell in order to flee occupied Paris in 1941 were on Tuesday returned to his grandson.

In an emotional ceremony at the French culture ministry in Paris, Thomas Selldorff, 84, from near Boston said he was "very happy" to accept the 18th century German and Italian works which he last saw at his grandfather's Vienna home as a small child.

They were sold to raise funds for Richard Neumann's passage from Paris to Spain and Cuba.

"It's a great day for me. I have three children... and the paintings are going to stay in the family, in our respective homes," a visibly moved Selldorff said, speaking in French.

A seventh painting, "The Stop" by Dutch painter Pieter-Jansz van Asch (1603-1678) confiscated by the Nazis from Prague banker Josef Wiener, was also handed over.

A lawyer accepted the painting on behalf of the son of a friend of Wiener's wife. Wiener perished in the holocaust.

Selldorff's grandfather owned over 200 works of art before the war.

But he was forced to leave part of his collection behind when he fled Austria when it was annexed by the Nazis in 1938, and later sold others in Paris.

The Nazis had planned to transfer the paintings to a museum that Adolf Hitler envisaged opening in the Austrian town of Linz.

After the end of the war, however, they were placed in museums around France, three of them in the Louvre.

On Monday, France vowed to step up efforts to return works of art stolen from Jews by the Nazis to the families of their rightful owners.

An estimated 2,000 works of art are currently held in trust by France's state museums pending identification of their owners.

Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti said France would be taking a more active approach to identifying the rightful owners.

"Until now we have waited for inheritors or relatives to trigger research procedures," Filippetti said. "I want to introduce a more proactive approach under which France will seek the owners whether or not a formal request has been made."

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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