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Nazi-stolen art given to Jewish owner's heir

German officials returned a van Gogh drawing and two other pieces of art on Wednesday to the heir of a Jewish collector forced by the Nazis to sell the works for a fraction of their true value.

The van Gogh drawing, titled Olive Trees, has been in Berlin museums since 1935, the year the original owner, Max Silberberg, was forced to auction off his collection.

The drawing and two other pieces were the first from Silberberg's extensive collection returned to his only surviving heir, daughter-in-law Gerta Silberberg, now 85 and living in Britain.

"The return of these artistic and valuable drawings can send a signal" for future returns of Jewish property, said Karl Brozik, director of the Conference of Jewish Material Claims against Germany.

The Claims Conference, which identified the van Gogh drawing in 1997, has found at least 1,000 more pieces of art in former Communist nations that were looted by the Nazis from Jewish owners. About half are in Berlin.

Silberberg, a factory owner in what was then Breslau, present-day Wroclaw in Poland, was forced to sell his art collection, house and eventually his factory.

Two more paintings from the Silberberg collection have been identified, one in the United States and one in Russia, said Konrad Matschke, a Claims Conference spokesman. Terms for a handover have not been reached.

Gerta Silberberg and her husband, Alfred, emigrated to Britain "under difficult circumstances" in 1937. Max Silberberg remained in Silesia and later died in a concentration camp.

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