Family of Holocaust Survivor Ordered to Return Artifact

Dennis Clark/Polaris via Newscom
A Brooklyn court has ordered the family of a Holocaust survivor to return a 3,200-year-old artifact to a German museum.

The Assyrian artifact is a golden tablet about the size of a passport photo that was looted from the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin during World War II, according to court papers.

The tablet was discovered in 1913 by a group of German archeologists in Iraq, court papers read. It was placed in the Berlin museum in 1926, but when an inventory was conducted in 1939, the tablet was missing.

The looter has been pegged as Auschwitz survivor Riven Flamenbaum.

“He was at Auschwitz for a period of almost five years,” Flamenbaum’s daughter, Hannah Segal, told ABC News. “The Germans put him into forced labor and he walked out of there by some miracle.

“The tablet represented his ability to survive,” she said. “It represented a dark period in my parents’ lives and lives of Jewish people.”

Flamenbaum left Auschwitz in 1945, when he was sent to a camp in Germany.

It was not clear how he obtained the tablet, but when he and his wife immigrated to the United States four years later, the tablet was one of his most prized possessions.

“This was never something that was going to make him rich or he was going to sell,” said Segal, 60. “It was a memento, a legacy. I never knew a grandfather, aunt, uncle or cousin. No family. The tablet is our legacy.”

When Flamenbaum died in 2003, his children found the golden square in his estate.

The museum sued for its return in 2010, but a Nassau County Surrogate Court judge ruled in favor of the Flamenbaum family, saying the museum never reported the tablet as stolen.

“The museum sat on their rights for 60 years and now they say they’re entitled to it,” Segal said.

A recent appellate court ruling reversed the Nassau County decision, ordering the tablet to be returned.

The family’s attorney, Seth Presser, said most similar cases involve a Holocaust victim trying to reclaim stolen property taken by the Nazis, not a museum going after a survivor.

“The time frame is a huge factor, as is the emotion of the case,” Presser said. “This tablet was one of the first things he had in his hands when he came to this country. He raised three children. He started a new life here, and now they’re being chased down by his past.”

But attorney Raymond Dowd said otherwise.

Dowd, who represented the museum and has served family members of Holocaust survivors in the past, said having the tablet returned to Germany is a “victory for the museums of the world.”

“This a public treasure for scholars of the world,” Dowd said. “It’s a rare artifact, and the world scholars deserve to study it. It doesn’t belong in private hands.”