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Brooklyn, NY - Auschwitz Survivor's Family Must Give Back Gold Tablet to German Museum

Published on: June 1, 2012 06:33 PM
By: AP
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Brooklyn, NY - Usually, it’s Holocaust victims suing to get their stuff back from Germany; this time, it’s the other way around.

There’s been speculation that sometime in the 1940s, Holocaust survivor Riven Flamenbaum may have swapped a pack of smokes for a gold tablet no bigger than a Post-it note, which he kept until his death.

But however Flamenbaum got the priceless treasure, a New York court has ruled it belongs to a German museum and must be given back.

The Flamenbaum family intends to appeal the decision by the state appellate court in Brooklyn, a lawyer for the family said Friday.

“We’re extremely disappointed,” said attorney Seth Presser. “We believe it a terribly inequitable decision.”

The appeals court ruling issued earlier this week reversed a 2010 decision by a Nassau County Surrogate Court judge who found that the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin had taken too long to claim an ancient artifact so rare that lawyers say it defies valuation.

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The reversal was “based on a simple proposition: Stolen stuff goes back,” Raymond Dowd, the museum’s attorney, said Friday. “This is a victory for all museums around the world.”

According to museum records and other documents, a team of German archaeologists discovered the tablet in 1913 in an area of Iraq that was part of Ottoman Empire. They say the piece—described as “the equivalent of a modern-day construction document”—dates to the 13th Century.

The tablet was on display from 1934 until the start of World War II, when it was placed in storage. At the end of the war, it was discovered missing.

The museum director has testified that Russian troops looted the museum. And family folklore suggests that once Flamenbaum was liberated from Auschwitz, he ran into a Russian general who made the artifact-for-cigarettes trade, Presser said.

“But the point is, we don’t know,” the lawyer said. “The only man who knows what happened here is dead.”

What’s certain is that Flamenbaum arrived in the United States in 1949 with the tablet among his few possessions. When he died on Long Island in 2003 at age 92, he left it to his three children.

With Flamenbaum’s estate still in flux in 2006, the museum sued for return of the artifact, claiming theft. But the surrogate court rejected the claim, citing the museum’s “inexplicable failure” for decades to report the tablet as stolen or missing, even after it learned in 1954 that it was briefly in the hands of a New York dealer.

The appeals court disagreed, saying the museum “established that it had legal title and superior right of the possession to the tablet.”

The tablet will remain in a safe-deposit box until the legal battle is resolved.


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Read Comments (21)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jun 01, 2012 at 07:03 PM Anonymous Says:

The museum is right...there is no time limit on returning priceless artifacts to their true owners. The fact that the museum is German is irrelevant to the legal principle that governs.

2

 Jun 01, 2012 at 07:21 PM Barsechel Says:

Well let all the Jewish property be returned to their heirs by all the museums in europe an russia first then talk about returning stuff to german museums.
Russia has stolen the entire library of the lubavitch rebbi which they refuse to return
So

3

 Jun 02, 2012 at 09:47 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #2  
Barsechel Says:

Well let all the Jewish property be returned to their heirs by all the museums in europe an russia first then talk about returning stuff to german museums.
Russia has stolen the entire library of the lubavitch rebbi which they refuse to return
So

One case has nothing to do with the other. This gold tablet belongs to the German museum, regardless of the emotional attachment the family may have. The court agreed and ordered it to be returned so thats the end of it. As to the dispute about the Lubavitcher Rabbi's books, that dispute is also being litigated but unfortunately has resulted in Russian museums refusing to allow priceless Russsian artwork to come to the United States for fear it will be confiscated by the courts as part of that dispute.

4

 Jun 02, 2012 at 10:47 PM from-here_to-there Says:

in 1913 the germans took it from Iraq so to me it seems that it should there and not to the thieving german museum that received the stolen property to begin with. as long as Iraq is not claiming it... let the current owners have it.

5

 Jun 02, 2012 at 11:38 PM MIESQ Says:

To those supporting the German Museum consider how it received the item by taking it from an Iraqi source so really owns it ultimately? Besides was the survivor adequately compensated for the losses he sustained during the Shoah?
Also as to the Rebbe's Seforim it is the fear of rightful owners coming forward to claim items looted by the Bolsheviks as the Russians have all but acknowledged they have no legitimate claim to the Seforim and manuscripts.

6

 Jun 02, 2012 at 11:54 PM ShmuelG Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

One case has nothing to do with the other. This gold tablet belongs to the German museum, regardless of the emotional attachment the family may have. The court agreed and ordered it to be returned so thats the end of it. As to the dispute about the Lubavitcher Rabbi's books, that dispute is also being litigated but unfortunately has resulted in Russian museums refusing to allow priceless Russsian artwork to come to the United States for fear it will be confiscated by the courts as part of that dispute.

As I told you countless times in the past, what you call "priceless Russian artwork" is nothing more than utterly disgusting Russian orthodox icons and other objects of specifically Russian primitive avoda zorah that no Jew is allowed to look at, and even for a goy like you it is far better not to.

7

 Jun 03, 2012 at 12:26 AM esther Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

One case has nothing to do with the other. This gold tablet belongs to the German museum, regardless of the emotional attachment the family may have. The court agreed and ordered it to be returned so thats the end of it. As to the dispute about the Lubavitcher Rabbi's books, that dispute is also being litigated but unfortunately has resulted in Russian museums refusing to allow priceless Russsian artwork to come to the United States for fear it will be confiscated by the courts as part of that dispute.

when i read #1 i just knew you were the same person who always puts art,whether "priceless russian icons" ie avodah zora or in this case a cunieform tablet,ahead of people or G-d.

8

 Jun 03, 2012 at 12:28 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #4  
from-here_to-there Says:

in 1913 the germans took it from Iraq so to me it seems that it should there and not to the thieving german museum that received the stolen property to begin with. as long as Iraq is not claiming it... let the current owners have it.

If an when an Iraqi museum or private party files a clam with substantial evidence, than a court will hear the case. Until then, the current owners are holding property stolen from a higly regarded German cultural institution and thats where its going back until a court finds that the German museum doesn't have legal title.

9

 Jun 03, 2012 at 12:38 AM Barsechel Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

One case has nothing to do with the other. This gold tablet belongs to the German museum, regardless of the emotional attachment the family may have. The court agreed and ordered it to be returned so thats the end of it. As to the dispute about the Lubavitcher Rabbi's books, that dispute is also being litigated but unfortunately has resulted in Russian museums refusing to allow priceless Russsian artwork to come to the United States for fear it will be confiscated by the courts as part of that dispute.

One Has to do with the other namely we insist that ALL jewish prperty which was stolen from the jews in eastern europe be RETURNED first to their rightfull owners or the heirs. What dont you get?

10

 Jun 03, 2012 at 03:16 AM Avreich1 Says:

Reply to #4  
from-here_to-there Says:

in 1913 the germans took it from Iraq so to me it seems that it should there and not to the thieving german museum that received the stolen property to begin with. as long as Iraq is not claiming it... let the current owners have it.

So, according to your logic, two wrongs make a right.

11

 Jun 03, 2012 at 03:20 AM Phil E Stein Says:

Reply to #9  
Barsechel Says:

One Has to do with the other namely we insist that ALL jewish prperty which was stolen from the jews in eastern europe be RETURNED first to their rightfull owners or the heirs. What dont you get?

You can insist whatever you like as much as you like; it's a free country.

In the meantime a legally qualified judge in a legally constituted court has decided otherwise. If you do not like that why don't you put your money where your mouth is and file an appeal?

12

 Jun 03, 2012 at 10:24 AM SF2K1 Says:

Reply to #7  
esther Says:

when i read #1 i just knew you were the same person who always puts art,whether "priceless russian icons" ie avodah zora or in this case a cunieform tablet,ahead of people or G-d.

When I read comments like yours I remember how many people put their personal feelings ahead of Torah and G-d.

You forget that Dina Dmalchusa dina is also in Torah. They should return the stolen objects, it doesn't belong to them and never did, end of story. The icons are also only avak avoda zara at worst (any fool knows real AZ doesn't exist anymore) and there's no issur for them. But who cares about halacha when we can act like sheygetzim? So much for Torah.

13

 Jun 03, 2012 at 11:02 AM from-here_to-there Says:

Reply to #10  
Avreich1 Says:

So, according to your logic, two wrongs make a right.

no - but the nazis who murdered our parents and grandparents have no moral authority to demand something to their museum after plundering all the artwork from Yidden (and non-Yidden) and they certainly do not have a right to demand back an artifact that they stole from someone else.

14

 Jun 03, 2012 at 12:10 PM PaulinSaudi Says:

There is a lot to the ownership issue once you start noodling it out. We can, I think, agree, the fellow who recently died had no clear title. So that means back to Germany it goes. But then that raises the issue of how the Germans got, when and from who.

It is an interesting question, but returning it to the Germans is the best we can do.

15

 Jun 03, 2012 at 02:20 PM Avreich1 Says:

Reply to #13  
from-here_to-there Says:

no - but the nazis who murdered our parents and grandparents have no moral authority to demand something to their museum after plundering all the artwork from Yidden (and non-Yidden) and they certainly do not have a right to demand back an artifact that they stole from someone else.

Boy oh boy, #13, you seem to love living in the past, don't you. For your information Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, and World War II in Europe ended on May 8 of that year.

That's sixty-seven years ago, and you are still blathering about "Nazis ... having no moral authority to demand something to their museum"? The rest of the world has moved on (even though the vast majority has definitely *not* forgotten) while you remain in a time warp.

To spell it out in simple language that you can understand, #13, there are no more Nazis running Germany any more.

Aside from all that, you seem to have conveniently forgotten that the gold tablet had belonged to the museum before it was plundered by the Russian, who sold it to the Jew. According to the rules of logic (which you disregard because it suits you) and natural justice the gold artefact definitely belongs to - and in - the museum.

I am sure that this will not satisfy you, and you will harrumph and condemn me as a "self-hating Jew", or a "Germanophile". That, of course, is your privilege, and I have been called far worse here on VIN. The point is that - in this instance you are wrong - plain and simple.

16

 Jun 03, 2012 at 02:22 PM Phil E Stein Says:

Reply to #14  
PaulinSaudi Says:

There is a lot to the ownership issue once you start noodling it out. We can, I think, agree, the fellow who recently died had no clear title. So that means back to Germany it goes. But then that raises the issue of how the Germans got, when and from who.

It is an interesting question, but returning it to the Germans is the best we can do.

"There is a lot to the ownership issue once you start noodling it out."

Really? I would have thought it was an open and shut case. See the paragraph in the original story that states:

"According to museum records and other documents, a team of German archaeologists discovered the tablet in 1913 in an area of Iraq that was part of Ottoman Empire. They say the piece—described as “the equivalent of a modern-day construction document”—dates to the 13th Century."

Best wishes.

17

 Jun 03, 2012 at 04:20 PM esther Says:

Reply to #12  
SF2K1 Says:

When I read comments like yours I remember how many people put their personal feelings ahead of Torah and G-d.

You forget that Dina Dmalchusa dina is also in Torah. They should return the stolen objects, it doesn't belong to them and never did, end of story. The icons are also only avak avoda zara at worst (any fool knows real AZ doesn't exist anymore) and there's no issur for them. But who cares about halacha when we can act like sheygetzim? So much for Torah.

there's no real avodah zara anymore? who told you that ? no issur? even if that were true in some fantastic way,thousands and thousnads of our mothers and fathers were killed in honor of these icons. there less then garbage and filth.

18

 Jun 03, 2012 at 09:40 PM PaulinSaudi Says:

Reply to #16  
Phil E Stein Says:

"There is a lot to the ownership issue once you start noodling it out."

Really? I would have thought it was an open and shut case. See the paragraph in the original story that states:

"According to museum records and other documents, a team of German archaeologists discovered the tablet in 1913 in an area of Iraq that was part of Ottoman Empire. They say the piece—described as “the equivalent of a modern-day construction document”—dates to the 13th Century."

Best wishes.

Well, if you find some knick-knack in the ground is it yours? What about the landowner? For that matter in many old-world nations, "treasure troves" belong to the Crown. Does it matter if the object is 10 years old? 100? 1,000?

I am certainly no expert on this little corner of morality, or of the law, but it seems establishing the correct ownership in the law and morally is a bit of a can of worms.

19

 Jun 04, 2012 at 01:59 AM Phil E Stein Says:

Reply to #18  
PaulinSaudi Says:

Well, if you find some knick-knack in the ground is it yours? What about the landowner? For that matter in many old-world nations, "treasure troves" belong to the Crown. Does it matter if the object is 10 years old? 100? 1,000?

I am certainly no expert on this little corner of morality, or of the law, but it seems establishing the correct ownership in the law and morally is a bit of a can of worms.

And by writing that comment PaulinSaudi has neatly brought our debate through 360 degrees, and back to to the New York State Appellate Court's ruling that the artefact belongs to a German museum and must be given back!

20

 Jun 04, 2012 at 07:29 AM Avi Says:

Reply to #18  
PaulinSaudi Says:

Well, if you find some knick-knack in the ground is it yours? What about the landowner? For that matter in many old-world nations, "treasure troves" belong to the Crown. Does it matter if the object is 10 years old? 100? 1,000?

I am certainly no expert on this little corner of morality, or of the law, but it seems establishing the correct ownership in the law and morally is a bit of a can of worms.

You are right about one thing. You are no expert.

Unless Iraq or the now-defunct Ottoman Empire claim ownership, Germany most certainly has a legitimate claim to the artifact. This is how international archeology has worked for decades, if not centuries. Keep in mind that Iraq did not exist in 1913.

21

 Jun 04, 2012 at 11:58 AM PaulinSaudi Says:

No, not really. Ottoman law most likely claimed all treasure troves. This is common in the Old World. Iraq is one of the successor states to the Eternal Empire. That is to say it inherited the rights and encumbrances of their little part of the Ottoman Empire.

So Iraq most certainly has some claim, if the ownership of the item was transferred in a way not permitted by the law at that time and place. Finding something in the ground does not make it yours.

But of course, the Germans can argue the point as the British can with the Elgin Marbles.

Fat fees for lawyers on all sides!

22

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