Friday, 1 June 2012

Flamenbaum Family Must Give Stolen Plaque Back to Berlin Museum

There has been an interesting - if belated - new development in the conflict between the Flamenbaum family in the US, descendants of an antiquity collector, and  Berlin's Vorderasiatisches Museum. I covered this story a few months back. Now a New York appeals court ("In the Matter of Flamenbaum, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, No. 2010-4400") has ruled that the family must surrender an ancient gold tablet found among the belongings of  New York resident Riven Flamenbaum, who died in 2003  to the German museum from which it was stolen during World War Two. It is not clear how, where and when Flamenbaum obtained this item. Flamenbaum's children (Hannah and Israel Flamenbaum) have been claiming they have legal title to the tablet since 2006.
 But on Wednesday, the Appellate Division, Second Department, ruled that the Vorderasiatisches Museum is the rightful owner of the tiny gold tablet, which details the construction of a Middle Eastern temple and has been dated to the reign of King Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria, who ruled between 1243 and 1207 BC. The tablet was excavated by a German team of archeologists in 1914 from the base of the Ishtar Temple in what is now northern Iraq. It was then shipped to Germany and ultimately displayed in the Vorderasiatisches Museum from 1934 until the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, at which time it was inventoried and placed in storage. After the war ended in 1945 the tablet was found to be missing. It turned up decades later in the coin collection of Riven Flamenbaum, an Auschwitz survivor. When Flamenbaum died in 2003, one of his children contacted the museum to alert it to the tablet's discovery, according to Wednesday's ruling. It took the museum until 2006 to file a claim to the tablet in Surrogate's Court in Nassau County. The Surrogate's Court ruled in 2010 that the museum had not made a timely claim to the tablet, citing its "inexplicable failure" to report the tablet as stolen or to take steps to find it.
Maybe they were counting on the Flamenbaums, when they learnt that the object which they had inherited had been stolen, were going to do the decent thing and give it back. Three years seems to be the limit of their faith in the decency of the family. Anyhow, last Wednesday, the Appellate Division overturned this judgement, saying that the museum "established that it had legal title and a superior right of possession to the tablet". Stolen property is stolen property (readers might remember a recent paper on this by Stephen Urice that collectors' advocates seem in no hurry to bring to the attention of fellow collectors ).
Seth Presser, an attorney for Flamenbaum's daughter, Hannah Flamenbaum, said that the decision puts the Second Department at odds with other New York courts. "It's an issue that affects the unimaginable amount of goods on the open market since the turmoil of World War Two," Presser said. 
 Yes, indeed, imagine all that looted stuff (from both Jew and Gentile, private and institutional) going back to those from whom it was stolen. I'd like to know what the Flamenbaums' reasons are for being against that. 

Jessica Dye, 'New York Appeals Court Orders Return of Ancient Gold Tablet', Assyrian International News Agency, 31st May 2012.

Vignette: Isaac and Hannah Flamenbaum want to get their hands on ownership rights to this excavated tablet stolen from a Berlin Museum.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.