By Ray Sanchez
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A pair of 19th century paintings by Polish Impressionist Julian Falat, looted by the Nazis nearly seven decades ago, were returned to Polish authorities on Thursday in a ceremony in New York.
President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland accepted the paintings -- "The Hunt" and "Off to the Hunt" -- at Poland's consulate in Manhattan. U.S. officials seized the works of art last year from two New York auction houses.
"The two world wars that we experienced and numerous uprisings ... left Poland's national heritage really impoverished," said Bogdan Zdrojewski, Poland's culture minister. "That is why every object that returns to our country has huge value that is both spiritual and emotional."
In August 1944, German S.S. commander Benne Von Arent confiscated the most valuable items from Poland's National Museum, including the two paintings returned on Thursday. Many of the looted pieces remain missing.
U.S. officials seized the Falat paintings after Poland's government learned in 2006 the works were being offered for sale by two auction houses.
"No one can ever provide just compensation to the victims of the Nazis' atrocities, but it is very gratifying for our office to play a role in returning the art that they looted during World War Two to its rightful owners," said Sharon Levin, chief of the asset forfeiture unit for the federal prosecutor's office.
Falat, who was born in 1853 and died in 1929, is well known for his hunting and landscape paintings.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)