SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – A multimillion dollar collection of Dutch paintings looted by the Nazis was returned to its rightful heirs after 60 years, and has now been put on display in San Francisco.

KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:

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The owners of the collection expressed hope that the exhibit would remind visitors about the horrors of the Holocaust, as well as the importance of doing what’s right.

“I’m hoping that what we have done will carry over to other families that are in similar situations and they go out and they get what is rightfully theirs,” explained Marei von Saher.

Her father-in-law was a preeminent Jewish art dealer in Amsterdam, who was forced to flee in 1940 when the Nazis invaded. Jacques Goudstikker left behind nearly 1,300 works of art in his gallery.

That gallery was looted by Hitler’s second in command, Hermann Goring.

After the war, roughly 200 paintings were found by allies in Germany, and returned to the Dutch government with orders that the art then be handed back to the rightful owner.

Years went by, and it wasn’t until four years ago that a legal and research team of 15 was successful in its fight for the artwork.

“What we try do,” explained attorney Lawrence Kaye, “is negotiate and deal not so much with the legal issue at the beginning but the issue of we can establish that you have art looted by the Nazis, do you want to keep that in your collection?”

Kaye described some people as gracious, others as resistant, when approached. For instance, a lengthy legal battled showed no sign of slowing over the fate of Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve, which were on display at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. Those pieces, with an appraised value of at least $24 million, were also taken by the Nazis.

“When confronted with the claim by this family, (the Dutch government) said we do not want Nazi looted art in our museum and they gave it back. Some of the museums haven’t acted quite so admirably.”

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In February 2006, the Goudstikker family reclaimed the art from the Dutch government. Some of it had been hanging in national galleries.

The family subsequently agreed to show the artwork on exhibit. The fifth and final stop was San Francisco.

“Schools came with their teachers, they learned not just about the art, they learned about the Holocaust. And I think that is so important to keep this alive,” said von Saher.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum exhibit opened Friday. It was scheduled to run through March 29, 2011.

The exhibit was well received during a preview engagement.

“I met a very elderly woman that came up to me, her name was Hannah, and she was part of the kinder transport … the same boat that my dad and my grandparents were on,” said Charlene von Saher, Jacques Goudstikker’s granddaughter. “So many Holocaust survivors don’t want to talk about it so the fact that she came here, wanted to tell her story to us, that’s a good sign.”

Hannah gave her a Dutch figurine.

“I just wanted you to have this so you’ll remember that we met,” the younger von Saher recounted the conversation with the elderly woman. “That to me was the highlight, I was so touched.”

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