Theodorakis, Andrew/Theodorakis, Andrew
An ancient gold tablet which a judge ruled must be returned to a Berlin museum.
ALBANY — A Holocaust survivor’s family has to hand over a precious 3,000-year-old gold tablet to the German museum that is its rightful owner, the state’s highest court ruled Thursday.
The Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, rejected a “spoils of war” defense and ended a lengthy legal battle between Berlin’s Vorderasiatisches Museum and the family of the late Riven Flamenbaum.
Flamenbaum, an Auschwitz survivor who lived in Great Neck, L.I., and ran a Manhattan liquor store for decades, brought the Assyrian relic to the U.S. after World War II.
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
Pergamonmuseum on Berlin’s Museum Island, where the golden tablet was ordered returned.
His children discovered the ancient tablet — which could be worth up to $ 10 million — locked in a Great Neck safe-deposit box after their father died in 2003 at the age of 92.
“I am disappointed, and I know the family is disappointed, but we have to abide by the court’s decision,” said Garden City attorney Steven Schlesinger, who represented the Flamenbaum family.
The tablet, which details instructions for building a temple in the era of King Tukulti-Ninurta I, is slightly smaller than a modern credit card. It was unearthed during a 1913 dig by a team of German archeologists at the Ishtar Temple in modern-day Iraq.
The 3,000-year-old gold tablet was rejected as a “spoil of war” in ruling by the state Court of Appeals, the top court in New York.
It wound up at the Berlin museum, and officials there say it was then plundered by Russian troops who helped defeat the Nazis in World War II.
It’s not clear how it came into Flamenbaum’s possession. “Family lore is that he traded a Russian soldier two packs of cigarettes for it,” Schlesinger said.
After Flamenbaum’s death, the museum — tipped off by one of Flamenbaum’s sons, who may have been seeking a reward — sued to reclaim the artifact.