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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prices Soar at Auction Of Nazi-Era Jewish Art

VIENNA -- Prices topped expectations at an auction Tuesday of 8,000 Austrian Jewish artworks plundered by Adolf Hitler's Nazis in World War II.

Offers for the items, valued at $3.5 million in total, exceeded pre-sale estimates even before the end of the first session, the organizers said.

Crowds thronged to the two-day auction at the Vienna Museum for Applied Arts, organized by British auction house Christie's. Proceeds will go to Austrian Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

"We've had a fantastic number of bids from all over the world," said Susan Adams, public relations director at Christie's. "The sale really has caught people's imaginations, and they genuinely want to help."

About 1,000 visitors had to pass through barriers and metal detectors at the museum entrance to watch as the collection of paintings by old masters, Flemish tapestries, Albanian arms and Persian carpets went under the hammer.

The auction marked the last chapter in a long-running controversy over Austria's delay in returning the artworks to their owners after receiving them back from the Allies at the end of the war.

Many of the works had been stored for the past 40 years in a monastery in Mauerbach, Austria. Austria finally returned the works to the Federation of Austrian Jewish Communities last year after a vote in parliament.

A still life by French painter Abraham Mignon, valued at up to 800,000 schillings ($75,000), was bought by British art dealer Richard Green for 12.7 million schillings.

A 19th-century oil painting entitled "A Young Couple Making Love in a Barn" by French artist Jean-Baptiste Mallet made 420,000 schillings, four times its estimated price.

"The sale has been tinged with a lot of emotion, because we would all prefer not to be selling these works of art in the sense that they represent lost lives," Adams said.

Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, attending a gala evening Monday ahead of the auction, said the sale symbolized the importance of not forgetting the past.

"It has been suppressed for too long the extent to which Austrians have to share responsibility for what was done to the Jewish people," the Austrian newsagency APA quoted his as saying.

Paul Grosz, leader of Vienna's Jewish community, called the collection "a legacy of shame."