Berlin museum wants ancient gold tablet worth $10M back from family of Holocaust survivor


A tiny ancient tablet that was lost during the Second World War was finally returned to where an appeals court says it should belong.

Originally, the tiny golden tablet was an ornament of the Ishtar Temple in ancient Assyria for over 3,000 years. The tablet was finally handed over to Pergamon Museum of Germany as ruled by a surrogates court.

Judge Edward McCarty of the court calls the tablet, which has inscriptions of a blessing, a treasure of national value and not just an artifact. The return of the tablet to Germany is what he calls a monumental occasion.

The tablet was excavated along with other priceless items by German archaeologists in Ishtar Temple in what is known as modern day Iraq about a century ago. It was lost from the hands of the Berlin Museum during the chaos in the Second World War. The tiny gold tablet ended up int he hands of an Auschwitz survivor, Riven Flamenbaum.

The Court of Appeals decided that the tablet is not part of the “spoils of war” thus rejecting the claims of Riven Flamenbaum’s estate of any title to the item.

“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,” New York’s highest court ruled in a memorandum.

Riven survived the Holocaust and later on resided in Great Neck. He ran a liquor store in Manhattan for many years. He was said to have told his children that a Russian soldier traded cigarettes for the tablet during World War II. Riven’s daughters claimed that the tablet was a spoil of war.

“The ‘spoils of war’ theory proffered by the estate — that the Russian government, when it invaded Germany, gained title to the museum’s property as a spoil of war, and then transferred that title to the decedent — is rejected.”

The lawyer for Riven’s heir, Steven Schlessinger, said that “After the Holocaust killing their grandparents, aunts, uncles, everyone, they wanted to donate it to the Holocaust Museum and wanted it anywhere but Germany.”

Riven’s daughters would not have wanted the tablet to be returned to Germany because it deepens the wounds of war. However, the officials of Pergamon Museum calls it a moment of healing.

“We hope that this ceremony will help heal the wounds of the Holocaust, wounds that run deep and continue to hurt many families. The museum expresses sympathies for that suffering,” Pergamon Museum attorney Raymond Dowd said.

The Assyrian relic weighs about 9.5 grams and measures nearly about the size of a credit card. The tablet was said to be worth up to $10 million. The tablet was safely tucked in Riven’s safe-deposit box until it was discovered by his heirs upon his death in 2003 at the age of 92.

After the court ruling, Riven’s estate was ordered to ship the tablet to the Berlin Museum. Guards heavily secured the hand-over and a historian was in attendance to check the authenticity of the tablet.

The ancient tablet will be on display at the museum for the public and historians to learn of its historical and cultural value.

When asked why the tablet would not be returned to Iraq, the judge said that the country is not prepared to guard the ancient gold tablet.



Siegphyl is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE