WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Five paintings missing since World War II are being returned to Germany from the United States so that they can be given back to their rightful owners, the State Department and Monuments Men Foundation said on Tuesday.
The foundation, which aims to return art works missing since the war, said the move came at the behest of the families of those who acquired the art.
The paintings are among thousands of missing items the foundation hopes to recover through leads on a special hot line set up after the 2014 release of the film "The Monuments Men," about an allied forces team tasked with recovering stolen artwork.
"The paintings ... represent an important part of Germany's cultural heritage. They have a long history," Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European affairs, told reporters. "Both sets disappeared at the end of the war and resurfaced in the United States."
Three of the paintings, which originated from an art gallery in the Germany city of Dessau, were won by an American soldier in a poker game, who later mailed them to his wife.
The works, by Frans Francken III, Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich and Franz de Paula Ferg, had been hidden in a potassium mine for safekeeping during the war, according to the foundation.
The two other paintings, which once belonged to Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Victoria, came from a castle near Frankfurt, which was confiscated by U.S. forces and converted into an officers' club.
Those works, which include a portrait of Princess Victoria as a child being held by her mother, were bought in 1945 by a woman who served as a librarian for the U.S. Special Services.
Robert Edsel, founder of the Monuments Men Foundation, said the film, based on his book of the same name, had led to the return of the items. He described the communication he had with one man who was in possession of some of the works.
"After he saw the movie ... he contacted us and I asked him 'Why are you contacting us?' and he said 'After I saw the film I understood what I needed to do'," he said.
Reporting By Reuters Television; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London; Editing by Larry King