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Berlin museum seeks return of relic from Holocaust survivor

A handout photocopy from court records shows the 3,200-year-old gold tablet at the center of a court case between a Holocaust survivor’s family and a Berlin museum on Tuesday in Albany, N.Y. Attorney Steven Schlesinger said that the estate of Riven Flamenbaum has a legal claim, whether the Polish man bought the relic from a Russian soldier or simply took it to compensate for losing his family at Auschwitz. AP photo

A handout photocopy from court records shows the 3,200-year-old gold tablet at the center of a court case between a Holocaust survivor’s family and a Berlin museum on Tuesday in Albany, N.Y. Attorney Steven Schlesinger said that the estate of Riven Flamenbaum has a legal claim, whether the Polish man bought the relic from a Russian soldier or simply took it to compensate for losing his family at Auschwitz. AP photo

A Holocaust survivor’s family urged New York’s highest court Tuesday to let them keep an ancient gold tablet that their late father somehow obtained in Germany after World War II.

Attorney Steven Schlesinger argued that the estate of Riven Flamenbaum has a legal claim, whether the native of Poland bought the relic from a Russian soldier or simply took it to compensate for losing his family at Auschwitz, the concentration camp where he spent several years.

“Under the Soviet rules at the time, there was permission to pillage and plunder,” Schlesinger said. “My client could have taken it in retribution.”

The tablet was in the collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum, a branch of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, before the war. The family argued that the museum’s failure to reclaim the tablet for 60 years was an unreasonable delay, undercutting its claim. Museum attorney Raymond Dowd said the absence of the 3,200-year-old relic was quickly noted by the museum, later reported by scholars and widely known.

“There’s no such thing as a right of pillage,” Dowd said. “Reparation has nothing to do with this case.”

Who gets it is up to New York’s Court of Appeals, where the seven judges grilled both lawyers Tuesday. A ruling is expected next month.

The 9.5-gram tablet was excavated a century ago by German archaeologists from the Ishtar Temple in what is now northern Iraq. It went on display in Berlin in 1934, was put in storage as the war began and later disappeared.

“It could fit in the palm of your hand,” said Hannah Flamenbaum. “We played with it as children.”

Her father met her mother, another Holocaust survivor, at a relocation camp after the war. By her father’s accounts he traded cigarettes or a salami for it.

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