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Family of Holocaust Survivor Ordered to Return Artifact Taken from German Museum

In a reversal of the typical story involving looted art and the Holocaust, a state appellate court in Brooklyn, New York has ordered the family of a Holocaust survivor to return an ancient gold tablet to a German museum.

The artifact at the heart of the controversy is a 3,200-year-old Assyrian artifact, about the size of a passport photograph. It was taken from the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin shortly after the end of World War II. The tablet was originally discovered by a team of German archaeologists in Iraq in 1913 and was acquired by the museum in 1926. When the war broke out in 1939, it was placed in storage for safekeeping with other antiquities. The tablet was missing when inventory was conducted after the end of the war.

The details of how Riven Flamenbaum came to possess the artifact are less certain, but the Auschwitz survivor acquired the object when he was sent to a displaced persons camp in southeastern Germany. Four years later, he brought his new wife and the artifact to New York City. The story was only unearthed after Flamenbaum’s death in 2003, when his children discovered that the thin gold square had been stolen from the museum.

The museum brought suit, and in 2010, a Nassau County Surrogate Court judge ruled in favor of the Flamenbaum family, citing the failure of the museum to report the tablet as stolen and the lack of detail regarding Flamenbaum’s acquisition of the tablet.

The appellate ruling reversed that decision.

Raymond J. Dowd, the lawyer who represented the museum and who has also represented Holocaust victims recovering stolen art in the past, called the decision historically significant. Dowd thinks that the precedent will aid other museums in the United States and in Europe to recover stolen property.

Conversely, the lawyer for the family, Seth A. Presser, called the decision a “remarkably inequitable result” and stated that the court “misapprehended certain facts.” As for the family, Presser said that Flamenbaum’s daughter explained that the family had no wish to sell the relic, but only wanted to pass it down through future generations as a reminder of the savagery of the Holocaust.

For more information: Nazi Victim’s Family Told to Return Artifact