Holocaust Survivor Had Possessed Tablet; Court Said It Wasn't A 'Spoil Of War'

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A 3,200-year-old Ishtar Temple gold artifact has been returned to a German museum that lost it during World War II.

The Assyrian gold tablet is a little more than an inch long.

As WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported Wednesday, some say it’s worth more than $10 million. Others say the artifact is priceless.

The tablet had been in the possession of the heirs of a Holocaust survivor who obtained it in the closing days of the war.

The family said Auschwitz survivor Riven Flamenbaum traded his cigarettes and his Red Cross food to Russian soldiers for the tablet, Hall reported. He later came to New York and raised a family.

Flamenbaum used the tiny tablet and other pieces of precious metal as collateral to open a store, Hall reported.

A 3,200-year-old gold tablet once belonging to a Holocaust survivor has been transferred to a museum in Berlin. (credit: Sophia Hall/WCBS 880)

A 3,200-year-old gold tablet once belonging to a Holocaust survivor has been transferred to a museum in Berlin. (credit: Sophia Hall/WCBS 880)

When he died a few years ago, the tablet was part of his estate. But it is now going back to the Purgamon Museum in Berlin.

His daughters fought in court for a “spoil of war.” The state’s highest court said last month the tablet cannot be claimed as one of the “spoils of war.”

“After the Holocaust and what it had done to their family, killing their grandparents, aunts, uncles, everyone, they wanted to donate it to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. They preferred it to go anywhere but Germany,” said Steven Schlessinger, the attorney for Flamenbaum’s heirs.

As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, Flamenbaum’s daughters said the return of the tablet to Germany deepens the wounds of war. But museum officials called it a moment of healing.

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

The heavily guarded return took place Wednesday morning in a ceremony in Nassau County Court in Mineola.

Nassau County Surrogate’s Court Judge Edward W. McCarty III wore white gloves as he presided over a ceremony to transfer ownership of the tablet.

“It represents human kind’s required preservation of a treasure,” McCarty said.

Dowd said the tablet was part of the museum’s collection before World War I.

“The museum is planning an exhibit around, really, this tablet,” he said.

The writings on the front wish blessings to those who find it.

The tablet was found by German archaeologists a century ago in modern-day Iraq. But it was lost by the German museum during World War II, Gusoff reported.

The New York court last month also rejected arguments the museum waited too long to reclaim it.

The judge said the ruling to send the artifact to Berlin was based on the fact that Iraq is unprepared to safeguard the treasure.

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