Photo credit: Howard Schnapp, 2010 | In a 7-0 decision, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the estate of the late Riven Flamenbaum cannot rightfully keep the Assyrian gold tablet that he brought back from Europe after surviving a concentration camp.
ALBANY – New York’s highest court ruled Thursday that a Great Neck family must return a 3,200-year-old gold tablet that disappeared from a German museum after World War II.
In a 7-0 decision, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the estate of the late Riven Flamenbaum cannot rightfully keep the Assyrian gold tablet that he brought back from Europe after surviving a concentration camp. The decision ends a long-running tale that mixed elements of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with the Holocaust, sibling rivalry, ancient Assyrian history and obscure legal concepts.
The 9.5-gram, inscribed tablet was excavated about 100 years ago by German archaeologists who found it in the foundation of the Ishtar Temple, a ziggurat, or pyramidal tower, in the Assyrian city of Ashtur, in what is now northern Iraq. Court documents say the tablet dates to the reign of King Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria (1243-1207 BC), making it more than 3,200 years old. The inscription describes the building of the temple complex.
It was put on display in the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin in 1934. But when the museum’s artifacts were inventoried in 1945, at the end of World War II, the tablet was missing.
Flamenbaum’s daughter had said her father traded Red Cross packages for silver and gold pieces with Russian soldiers at the end of the war. Hannah Flamenbaum said, according to family lore, Riven traded cigarettes or salami for the tablet.
Flamenbaum died in 2003; in 2006, amid a dispute about the estate, his son, Israel Flamenbaum, informed the museum the estate had possession of the gold tablet. The museum filed suit to regain possession and the case has been in court since.
The case concluded Thursday when the court rejected the Flamenbaums’ argument that the German museum failed to legally protect its claim to the tablet. The court also rejected the Flamenbaums’ “spoils of war” argument.
“We decline to adopt any doctrine that would establish good title based upon the looting and removal of cultural objects during wartime by a conquering military force,” the judges wrote.
Steve Schlesinger, attorney for Hannah Flamenbaum, said recently that the tablet has been said to be worth $10 million, but no one knows the true value. It is currently being held in a safe-deposit box.