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Ancient Treasure Now Family's Holocaust Talisman

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Ancient Treasure Now Family's Holocaust Talisman

Apr-14-2010 at 00:49 AM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

Last edited on 04/08/2011 at 05:23 AM (UTC3 Assyria)
 

Ancient Treasure Now Family's Holocaust Talisman
by Dana Chivvis - Contributor, AOL News

(April 11) -- A recent New York state court case has brought to light the remarkable journey of an ancient gold tablet from the sands of Iraq to a safe-deposit box in Long Island.

The 3,200-year-old artifact, which fits easily into the palm of a hand, disappeared from the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin during World War II and reappeared among the possessions of a Brooklyn liquor store owner several years later. Originally, the tablet was made to tell the story of the construction of an Assyrian temple in Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq. But during its 20th century travels, it has also come to represent the story of one Jewish family's suffering in the Holocaust.

On March 30, Judge John B. Riordan of the Surrogate's Court of the state of New York ruled that the artifact -- which is worth an estimated $10 million -- will remain in the possession of the Flamenbaum family. It marked the end of a case that began in 2006, when Vorderasiatisches Museum officials claimed the tablet was rightfully theirs, though it was listed in the estate of Riven Flamenbaum, who left it to his children when he died in 2003.

The tablet had been a part of the museum's collection before World War II. As the war approached, the museum packed up its artifacts and put them in storage. When inventory was taken in 1945, the tablet was no longer there.

Riven Flamenbaum was a Polish Jew who was sent to Nazi slave-labor camps and eventually was transferred to Auschwitz. When he was freed at the end of the war, he went to the American-run Pocking-Waldstadt Displaced Persons Camp in Germany. There he met and married his wife, another Auschwitz survivor; around the same time, he bartered for the tablet, which he brought with him to New York in 1949. He worked as a delivery boy at a Brooklyn liquor store, which he eventually bought and ran until he retired.

Growing up in Brooklyn, the Flamenbaum children were surrounded by reminders of their parents' suffering during the Holocaust. Both their mother, Dora, and their father, Riven, had the number five tattooed on their left forearms, extending from just below the elbow to just above the wrist, a crude identifier forced on them at Auschwitz. The children had no grandparents, no aunts or uncles, no cousins -- all were murdered by the Nazis. Their father's hands and feet were permanently cold.

And then there was the gold tablet, which Riven would show his children while recounting the horrors he had experienced.

"He stated that it was all he had left from 'that bitter time,' and he wished to hand it down to his children and future generations to serve as a reminder of the brutality and decimation of his family at the hands of the Nazis," Hannah Flamenbaum wrote in an e-mail to AOL News.

For Riven's children, the tablet now holds the stories of how his relatives were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and never heard from again. It tells of his time in the Nazi labor camp, the brutal work he was forced into, the beatings he and his fellow prisoners endured, the times that Jews were shot point-blank for no reason at all. They worked through bitter winters without proper clothing or food, leading to Riven's permanently numbed hands and feet.

"He stated that he slept on a wooden rack with three or four other inmates, and there were several hundred men in the room, living in crowded and filthy conditions," Hannah wrote. "Those who were lucky enough to have them slept with their shoes on for fear that if they took them off they would be stolen. Those who had no shoes wrapped their feet in rags and paper."

The tale of the tablet itself stretches back centuries before it reached Riven Flamenbaum's hands. It was created in the late 13th century B.C. in Assyria's capital, Ashur, which lies halfway between Mosul and Baghdad and is now called Qual'at Serouat. The tablet describes the history and construction of the Ishta Temple, built for a goddess, and originally was set into the temple's foundation as a sort of time capsule for a future king, according to Eckart Frahm, professor of Assyriology at Yale University.

"These were made for special occasions," Frahm said. "These were made to commemorate the temple."

The tablet was excavated in 1913 by a German archaeologist and sent to the Iraqi port city of Basra, where it was put on a ship to Germany. The outbreak of World War I diverted the ship to Portugal instead, where it remained until 1926. The tablet finally went on display in Germany in 1934 -- but only for five years, before the next war sent it back into storage.

In making his ruling, Judge Riordan said that because the Vorderasiatisches Museum didn't report the tablet as stolen or take any steps to recover it until 2006, the artifact should remain part of the Flamenbaum estate. The museum can decide to appeal, but for the time being, the ancient gold artifact will stay at its most recent home, in New York.

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1. Nazi Victim’s Family Told to Return Artifact

Jun-02-2012 at 11:23 AM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

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Nazi Victim’s Family Told to Return Artifact
by Patricia Cohen. Published: June 1, 2012.

A state appellate court in Brooklyn has ordered the family of a Holocaust survivor to return an ancient gold tablet to a German museum.

The decision turns on its head the familiar scenario of Holocaust victims suing to reclaim property stolen or extorted from them by the Nazis. But in this case, according to court papers, the precious 3,200-year-old Assyrian artifact had been looted, not from the survivor, but from the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin, at the close of World War II.

It is not clear how the survivor, Riven Flamenbaum, came into possession of the tablet after his liberation from Auschwitz in 1945, when he was sent to a displaced persons camp in southeastern Germany.

But when Mr. Flamenbaum immigrated to the United States four years later, he arrived in New York with a wife he had met at the camp and the inscribed gold tablet, which is about the size of a passport photo.

Only after Mr. Flamenbaum’s death in 2003 did his children discover that the thin golden square had been stolen from the museum.

The museum subsequently sued for its return, and in 2010 a Nassau County Surrogate Court judge ruled in favor of the Flamenbaum family, citing the failure of the museum to ever report the tablet as stolen, and the impossibility of discovering how Mr. Flamenbaum acquired it. The appellate ruling reverses that decision.

Raymond J. Dowd, the lawyer who represented the museum and who has represented the families of Holocaust victims trying to recover lost art, called the decision historically significant.

“The principle that property taken unlawfully should be returned is consistent with the rights of Holocaust victims,” he said. “This precedent will help those seeking return of stolen works that are museums not only in the U.S. but throughout Europe.”

But a lawyer for the family, Seth A. Presser, said the decision had “caused a remarkably inequitable result” and that it would be appealed.

“We believe that the court has misapprehended certain facts and, as a result, misapplied New York law,” he said.

The four-judge appeals panel unanimously ordered the surrogate court to oversee the return of the tablet, which sits in a safe-deposit box.

A team of German archaeologists discovered the tablet in 1913 while digging in an area of Iraq now called Qual’at Serouat, according to court papers. It wound up in the Berlin museum in 1926 and when the war broke out in 1939 was placed along with other antiquities in storage for safekeeping. When an inventory was conducted at the end of the war, the tablet was missing.

Mr. Presser said the family had no plans to sell the tablet. Mr. Flamenbaum’s daughter, Hannah, previously told AOL News, “It was all he had left from ‘that bitter time,’ and he wished to hand it down to his children and future generations to serve as a reminder of the brutality and decimation of his family at the hands of the Nazis.”

A version of this article appeared in print on June 1, 2012, on page C2 of the New York edition with the headline: Nazi Victim’s Family Told to Return Artifact.

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2. Dispute over ancient gold tablet goes to NY court

Oct-15-2013 at 07:31 AM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

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Dispute over ancient gold tablet goes to NY court
By Michael Virtanen, The Associated Press. October 14, 2013


According to court documents, the tablet dates to 1243 to 1207 B.C., the reign of King Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria. Placed in the foundation of the temple of the fertility goddess, its 21 lines call on those who find the temple to honor the king's name.

A dispute over an ancient gold tablet pitting a Holocaust survivor's heirs against the German museum that lost the Assyrian relic in World War II will be argued Tuesday at New York's highest court.

The 9.5-gram tablet, about the size of a credit card, was excavated a century ago by German archaeologists from the Ishtar Temple in what is now northern Iraq. It went on display in Berlin in 1934, was put in storage as the war began and later disappeared.

Riven Flamenbaum, who died in 2003, brought it to the U.S. after surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp and settling on Long Island. Family lore says he had traded two packs of cigarettes to a Russian soldier for the tablet after he was rescued from Auschwitz.

"Part of the problem was that since the museum waited until after he died to make a claim, I have not heard testimony in court as to how he got it," said Steven Schlesinger, representing the estate. "Anything the heirs can say would have been hearsay."

Schlesigner said he believes Flamenbaum was trading Red Cross packages and anything else he could get for silver and gold.

The tablet now sits in a safe deposit box in New York. One recent estimate put its value at $10 million, he said. The family wants to donate it to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, Schlesinger said.

The Court of Appeals will decide whether the museum waited too long, more than 60 years, before trying to reclaim it. A Surrogate's Court judge on Long Island said it had unreasonably delayed, but a midlevel court last year ruled the other way.

"We established a superior right of possession and title," said Raymond Dowd, attorney for the Vorderasiatisches Museum, part of the renowned Pergamon Museum and its large collection of antiquities.

The original judge erroneously thought the museum knew in 1954 the tablet was in New York and didn't pursue it, while the midlevel court concluded it didn't know until 2006, when its claim was pursued, he said.

According to court documents, the tablet dates to 1243 to 1207 B.C., the reign of King Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria. Placed in the foundation of the temple of the fertility goddess, its 21 lines call on those who find the temple to honor the king's name.

The tablet was excavated by German archaeologists from about 1908 to 1914 in what was then the Ottoman Empire, with Germany giving half the found antiquities to Istanbul, Dowd said. The modern state of Iraq has declined to claim it, he said.

In 1945, the Berlin museum's premises was overrun, with many items taken by Russia, others by German troops and some pilfered by people who took shelter in the museum, Dowd said. The museum director was not in a position to say who took it, only that it disappeared.

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3. Assyrian gold tablet must go back to Germany, NY court rules

Nov-15-2013 at 10:02 PM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

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A 3,200-year-old gold tablet that's smaller than a credit card is at the center of a court case between a Holocaust survivor’s family and a Berlin museum.
Photo: N.Y. State Court of Appeals via AP

Assyrian gold tablet must go back to Germany, NY court rules
by Michael Virtanen. The Associated Press, November 15, 2013.

ALBANY, N.Y. — In a ruling rejecting any claims to the "spoils of war," New York's highest court concluded Thursday that an ancient gold tablet must be returned to the German museum that lost it in World War II.

The Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that Riven Flamenbaum's estate is not entitled to the 3,000-year-old Assyrian relic, a 9.5-gram (0.34-ounce) tablet smaller than a credit card.

“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 '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.”

New York court memorandum

"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 court said in a memorandum. "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 tablet, inscribed with an exhortation to honor King Tukulti-Ninurta I, was excavated a century ago by German archaeologists from the Ishtar Temple in what's now northern Iraq. It went on display in 1934 and disappeared after the start of the war.

No 'finders keepers'
Flamenbaum, an Auschwitz survivor, brought the tablet to the United States when he settled in New York. Family lore says he got it by trading cigarettes to a Russian soldier.

The New York court also rejected the argument the Vorderasiatisches Museum, part of the renowned Pergamon Museum, waited too long — more than 60 years — before trying to reclaim it. A judge on Long Island said it had unreasonably delayed, but a midlevel court last year ruled the other way.

"New York has really affirmed its moral leadership in protecting true property owners," said museum attorney Raymond Dowd. "This decision makes it clear that the rule of finders keepers is not the law in New York."

The ruling should ensure the safe return of the tablet, Dowd said. The museum has many other pieces still missing since the war, he said, adding that some Holocaust groups filed a court brief supporting the museum's claim.

'Right of conquest'?
Attorney Steven Schlesinger said the family was disappointed and questioned whether the court refused to uphold "title by right of conquest" because it would open the door for those who obtained art looted by Germans during the Holocaust.

"You can't argue that the United States doesn't recognize the right of conquest when this entire country is the result of the law of conquest," he said, citing territorial expansion that includes Texas and California and at least 50 Indian land claims in New York.

The Court of Appeals said there was no proof that Russia ever possessed the tablet, and that it was the official U.S. policy during World War II to forbid pillaging of cultural artifacts.

According to court documents, the tablet dates to 1243 to 1207 B.C., during Tukulti-Ninurta's reign. Placed in the foundation of the temple of the fertility goddess, its 21 lines call on those who find the temple to honor the king's name.

In 1945, the Berlin museum's premises was overrun, with many items taken by Russians, others by German troops and some pilfered by people who took shelter in the museum. The museum director was not in a position to say who took it, only that it disappeared.

It has been in a deposit box in New York.

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Assyria \ã-'sir-é-ä\ n (1998)   1:  an ancient empire of Ashur   2:  a democratic state in Bet-Nahren, Assyria (northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey and eastern Syria.)   3:  a democratic state that fosters the social and political rights to all of its inhabitants irrespective of their religion, race, or gender   4:  a democratic state that believes in the freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture in faithfulness to the principles of the United Nations Charter — Atour synonym

Ethnicity, Religion, Language
» Israeli, Jewish, Hebrew
» Assyrian, Christian, Aramaic
» Saudi Arabian, Muslim, Arabic
Assyrian \ã-'sir-é-an\ adj or n (1998)   1:  descendants of the ancient empire of Ashur   2:  the Assyrians, although representing but one single nation as the direct heirs of the ancient Assyrian Empire, are now doctrinally divided, inter sese, into five principle ecclesiastically designated religious sects with their corresponding hierarchies and distinct church governments, namely, Church of the East, Chaldean, Maronite, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic.  These formal divisions had their origin in the 5th century of the Christian Era.  No one can coherently understand the Assyrians as a whole until he can distinguish that which is religion or church from that which is nation -- a matter which is particularly difficult for the people from the western world to understand; for in the East, by force of circumstances beyond their control, religion has been made, from time immemorial, virtually into a criterion of nationality.   3:  the Assyrians have been referred to as Aramaean, Aramaye, Ashuraya, Ashureen, Ashuri, Ashuroyo, Assyrio-Chaldean, Aturaya, Chaldean, Chaldo, ChaldoAssyrian, ChaldoAssyrio, Jacobite, Kaldany, Kaldu, Kasdu, Malabar, Maronite, Maronaya, Nestorian, Nestornaye, Oromoye, Suraya, Syriac, Syrian, Syriani, Suryoye, Suryoyo and Telkeffee. — Assyrianism verb

Aramaic \ar-é-'máik\ n (1998)   1:  a Semitic language which became the lingua franca of the Middle East during the ancient Assyrian empire.   2:  has been referred to as Neo-Aramaic, Neo-Syriac, Classical Syriac, Syriac, Suryoyo, Swadaya and Turoyo.

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