A 3,000-year-old gold Assyrian tablet stolen from a German museum during World War II and later possessed by a Holocaust survivor — who may have gotten it in a trade with Russian soldiers for some cigarettes — is being returned to Berlin, a New York judge said Wednesday.
Smaller than a credit card and weighing about one-third of an ounce, the relic known as the Ishtar Temple Tablet had been the subject of a New York legal battle over its ownership.
Last month, the state’s highest court ruled that the estate of Riven Flamenbaum, z”l, is not entitled to the relic. On Wednesday, Nassau County Surrogate’s Court Judge Edward McCarty signed an order transferring ownership of the relic back to the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin.
“The museum must display it and make it available to both scholars and the mere curious,” McCarty said.
Flamenbaum, an Auschwitz survivor who lost his entire family to the Nazis, brought the tablet to the United States when he settled in New York after the war. Family lore says he got it by trading cigarettes to a Russian soldier while in a camp for survivors after the war. He remarried after the war and had three children, who did not know of the tablet’s existence until after he died in 2003.
Attorney Raymond Dowd, who represented the German museum, said Flamenbaum’s son, Israel, made inquiries after its discovery about the tablet’s true ownership. That inquiry eventually led to the court battle decided last month. The state Court of Appeals rejected claims that the tablet be considered a spoil of war.
Flamenbaum’s estate had argued 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 Flamenbaum.