The news comes as the New York-based World Jewish Congress said that artworks stolen by the Nazis are on display in Paris at the presidential palace, the Prime Minister's home and the Turkish embassy.
The Rothschild works include 31 paintings, three by the Dutch master Franz Hals, as well as antique musical instruments and weapons, carpets, globes and navigation instruments. They belonged to Alphonse and Clarice Roth-schild and Louis Rothschild, who were allowed to flee Nazi-occupied Austria on condition that they left their art behind.
The Hals paintings, including Portrait of Tieleman Roosterman, are among 22 pieces owned by the Rothschilds in the Austrian Art History Museum.
Bettina Looram-Rothschild, daughter of Alphonse and Clarice, said: "I still cannot grasp that after 50 years the works are being returned. It is a wonderful feeling."
The plundering of the Rothschild palace in Vienna wasrecorded by the American correspondent William Shirer, who lived next door, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: "I myself, from our apartment in Plosslgasse, watched squads of SS men carting off silver, tapestries, paintings and other loot from the palace," he said.
More than 50 years after the defeat of the Third Reich, governments are keen to close what has been called the last chapter of the Holocaust. Last November, dozens of countries met in Washington for a conference on looted assets, to try to disentangle the web of competing ownershipclaims across the world.
The decision to return part of the Rothschild collection shows that Austria, like Switzerland, is facing up to its ambiguous role in regard to Nazi Germany. Austria, annexed by Germany in 1938, has for decades proclaimed itself the first victim of the Nazis, although the arrival of German forces in Vienna was welcomed by thousands of cheering onlookers.
"Today's decision is an important part of the Republic's new self-image. We show a bit of justice with these restitutions. With it, Austria signals it is coming to terms with its history," said the Culture Minister, Elisabeth Gehrer.
It was only last year, aftercontroversy over Switzerland's economic collaboration with the Third Reich, that Austria passed a law that created a legal basis for returning looted art.
The Nazis looted some 15,000 works of art from France, which were returned after the war. About 13,000 were auctioned off. The rest were placed in museums while the government acted as temporary custodian. Just as in Austria, that "temporary" custodianship lasted for decades, until international pressure mounted for restitution.
The French government has placed an inventory of those 2,000 artworks on the Internet. Elan Steinberg, of the World Jewish Congress, said that a recently published interim report of the official Matteoli commission, which is investigating the issue, showed the location of some of the 2,000 pieces.
Steinberg said two Louis XIV chairs and other pieces, including oriental rugs, were in the Prime Minister's residence, and a leather-covered medallion box was in the Elysee presidential palace.
The artworks listed on the Internet include 18 paintings by Renoir, 12 by Monet, 9 by Degas, 1 by Picasso and 1 by Rembrandt.
The Bathers, by Cezanne, now in the Musee d'Orsay, was probably stolen from a Jewish collector by Nazi collaborators, Steinberg said.
During the war many French art dealers made handsome profits from buying art collections on the cheap from Jews desperate to flee, before selling them on to the Nazis.Reuse content