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cg/tt, dpa/apApril 11, 2009

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned three Renaissance paintings stolen by the Nazis to the descendents of Holocaust victims.

Arnold Schwarzenegger shakes a woman's hand
The Oppenheimers were art dealers, forced to sell the work in 1935Image: AP

The Austrian-born Schwarzenegger presented on Friday, April 10, the 16th-century oil paintings to the grandchildren of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer, who fled Nazi Germany in 1935.

The contents of their art business were sold by Nazis and ultimately ended up in the collection of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, who displayed them in his castle in California.

The handing-over ceremony ended what was a two-year investigation by California state parks officials into the artworks' origins.

State officials said they believed Hearst was unaware of the paintings' origins because they were purchased through a third party gallery. The state acquired the art along with the Hearst Castle in 1972.

Witnessing history

a man looking at a large photo showing a way in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz
Some six million Jews were killed in the HolocaustImage: AP

One of the paintings will remain at the castle the heirs' request, along with reproductions of the other paintings. Director of Calafornia State Parks, Ruth Coleman said they would be used to tell the story of how Nazis seized such assets.

"More than a million people from all around the world visit Hearst Castle every year," Coleman said. "We are proud to honor the memory of Jakob and Rosa Oppenheimer and share this story that touches countless families affected by the Holocaust."

The oil paintings by Venetian masters were done between 1500 and 1590 and include a woman's portrait by Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594), an image of a man believed to be done by Giovanni Cariani (1485-1547) and a Venus and Cupid by Paris Bordone (1500-1571).

Jakob Oppenheimer died in France in 1941 and his wife, Rosa, died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943.