Priceless Artifact, Plundered in WWII, Surrendered on Long Island

A five-year legal battle ended when the family of a Holocaust survivor returned the gold tablet

By Greg Cergol
|  Wednesday, Dec 4, 2013  |  Updated 6:18 PM EDT
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Priceless Artifact, Plundered in WWII,  Surrendered on Long Island

According to family lore, Riven Flamenbaum traded cigarettes with Russian soldiers for this tiny gold tablet, which dates from the Assyrian empire and is said to be priceless.

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A more than 3000-year-old, "priceless" gold artifact from the Assyrian empire, the focus of a bitter five-year legal fight, was officially transferred on Long Island Wednesday from the estate of a Holocaust survivor to a museum in Berlin.

The Ishtar Temple Tablet, said to be valued as much as $10 million, was handed over to an official wearing white gloves in a formal ceremony at Nassau County court in Mineola, ending a dispute between the daughters of Holocaust survivor Riven Flamenbaum and Germany's renowned Pergamon Museum.

According to family lore, Flamenbaum traded cigarettes with Russian soldiers for the tiny gold tablet. Flamenbaum had just been freed from the Auschwitz concentration camp. His wife, parents, siblings and extended family were all killed by the Nazis

New York's highest court ordered in October that the tablet be returned to the museum.

"We hope this ceremony will help heal the wounds of the Holocaust," said Raymond Dowd, the museum's lawyer.

But the attorney for Flamenbaum's daughters insisted the decision reopened "terrible wounds."

The sisters, from Great Neck, were not present for the transfer.

"They wanted the tablet to go anywhere but back to the country that killed their family members," said lawyer Steven Schlesinger.

According to Schlesinger, Flamenbaum held onto to the tablet, never knowing its value or historical significance. He used other bits of traded silver and gold to come to the U.S. and open a liquor store in Manhattan.

The tablet had initially been taken from the Berlin museum by Russian troops, as a "spoil of war" at the end of World War II.

It dates back to the reign of an Assyrian emperor and was excavated in 1913 from what is now Iraq.

The tablet bears an inscription offering blessings to anyone who finds it; but it has been more a curse for the Flamenbaum family.

When Riven Flamenbaum died in 2006, Schlesinger said, his only son, Israel, a lawyer, discovered the significance of the tablet and contacted the museum, sparking the legal battle.

"We believe he received a payment from the museum, Schlesinger said.

Israel Flamenbaum also did not attend the tablet transfer.

He is now said to be estranged from his sisters.

The tablet will now be flown to Germany and will be the focus of a museum exhibition, set for 2018.

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