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Artwork stolen by Nazis now on display in Lower Manhattan after being returned to owner's heirs

Artwork stolen by Nazis now on display in Lower Manhattan
Artwork stolen by Nazis now on display in Lower Manhattan 02:21

NEW YORK -- Artwork stolen by Nazis has been returned to its rightful owners.

Seven pieces of artwork by Egon Schiele, a Viennese expressionist artist, are now proudly on display in Lower Manhattan. They belonged to Fritz Grunbaum, a cabaret artist, film and radio star from Austria.

The Nazis stole them in addition to the furnishings, jewelry, clothing and home he shared with his wife, Elizabeth. In 1941, the Nazis murdered Grunbaum.

"In the more than 70 years since those pieces were ripped away from the rightful owners, they passed literally around the globe," Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said.

Bragg says they moved through Manhattan, too.

The DA office's antiquities trafficking unit seized them from the Museum of Modern Art and other collections this year. The impressive outcome was a joint effort with Homeland Security investigations.

"Your recovery of these artworks reminds us once again that history's largest mass murder has too long concealed history's greatest robbery," said Judge Timothy Reif, a relative of Grunbaum's and recipient of the returned artwork.

"They devoted a tremendous amount of time and effort to amassing enormous and highly valuable art collections," said Laura Auricchio, a professor of art history at Fordham's Lincoln Center campus.

Auricchio shares Hitler wanted to create a museum for the Reich with masterpieces like the works by Schiele.

"He wanted to sort of have the, how do I say it, the cultural capital," she said.

Reif recited one of Grunbaum's monologues.

"'I bid you please not to forget that the Grunbaum dynasty has life in it yet,'" he said.

Proof stands proudly on the stage -- Reif's 17-year-old daughter, Sarah.

"Fritz's name is one that has been spoken in my house for as long as I can remember," Sarah said.

The Reif family hopes when you see these pieces of history, you'll remember Fritz Grunbaum.

"Imagine Fritz and Elizabeth in their lively Vienna apartment, singing, dancing and cracking jokes," Reif said.

And remember the return defeats Hitler's plan to erase Grunbaum"s name from history.

The family plans to eventually sell the artwork but will not profit from it. Instead, the money will go to a foundation to help support young artists.

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