Nazi Painting Extortion Ends With Calif. Justice

Three wrongfully taken paintings, which have traveled the globe from Auschwitz victim to Nazis to Hearst Castle to the state of California, have finally been returned to their rightful owners.

Art business owners, Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer, were forced to sell three painting to the Nazis in 1935. The pair eventually fled to France, where Jakob died in 1941, and Rosa was captured by German occupiers and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. She died in the Holocaust in 1943.   

The artwork eventually became part of the Hearst Castle collection. The origins of the paintings were unknown for decades. In 1972 with the sale of Hearst Castle to California State Parks, the paintings were deeded to the state.

On Friday in Sacramento, California officially returned the paintings to their rightful owners, the grandchildren of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer: Peter Bloch of Boynton Beach, Fla., and Inge Blackshear of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

"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 Gov. Arnold 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 transfer of ownership stemmed from a claim filed in March 2007 by an attorney for the Oppenheimer estate. After a state investigation, officials concluded that the family members had a viable claim.

The family has allowed the state parks department to retain ownership of one of the paintings and to create reproductions of the other two.

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All three will remain on display at Hearst Castle.

"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."

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