The family of a Holocaust survivor from Long Island surrendered a 3,000-year-old gold tablet – valued at $10 million – to its legal owner, a German museum, during a Wednesday morning ceremony at the Nassau County Surrogates Court after a judge ordered possession transferred on Wednesday.
The Dec. 4 court order directed the estate of Riven Flamenbaum, a Great Neck man who died at 92 years old in 2003, to turn over the ancient gold tablet to the Vorderasiatisches Museum, a branch of the Pergamon Museum of Berlin. Flamenbaum’s family had unsuccessfully argued to New York’s highest court that they should be permitted to keep the Ishtar Temple Tablet that their late father procured in Germany after World War II.
According to accounts by family members, Flamenbaum, an Auschwitz survivor, traded a pack of cigarettes with a Russian soldier in exchange for the tiny tablet at the close of the war. He later moved to New York, opened a store and raised a family; all the while maintaining possession of the “treasure” until his death.
The museum’s attorney said they filed a lawsuit to reclaim possession of the tablet after being tipped off in 2006 by one of Flamenbaum’s sons as to its whereabouts.
“It is a product of an advanced civilization of many city states in that area,” Judge Edward W. McCarty said of the tablet’s origins in court on Wednesday. “History, archeology and the advancement of humankind demands and requires an uninterrupted study and review of the Ishtar Temple Tablet.”
The relic dates back to the rein of Assyrian King Tukulti-Ninurta and was initially found by a team of German archeologists who were excavating the Ishtar Temple in Northern Iraq shortly before World War I. The group shipped the tablet to the Vorderasiatisches Museum where it was held in storage throughout World War II. After the war, museum workers found that the tablet was missing from their inventory.
Steven Schlesinger, an attorney representing Flamenbaum’s estate, said his family members “preferred [the tablet] go anywhere but Germany.” He said Flamenbaum’s heirs wanted to donate the ancient heirloom to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.
Museum officials said they understood the family’s concerns, but felt the public ceremony would provide some healing. “We hope this ceremony will help heal 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 attorney Raymond J. Dowd.
Court officials arranged for the gold tablet to be handed off to museum representatives at the Wednesday ceremony. It is slated to be flown back to Germany, but officials declined to provide specific information about the trip, citing security concerns.