Sunday, 10 June 2012

Vorderasiatisches Museum Artefact in US a Reminder of Brutality? Or Simply Stolen?

Sevaan Franks ('Holocaust victim ordered to return ancient artifact', the Blog About History, June 5th 2012) seems to have about the same awareness of when and where the Holocaust was as the US president. Hannah and Isaac Flamenbaum were not even born when their father Riven obtained a gold plaque looted from Berlin's Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin, apparently some time before their father emigrated to the States in 1949. Yet the history blogger manages to make of this some kind of anti-jewish scandal. What of course the original newspaper report says is 'Nazi Victim’s Family Told to Return Artifact' (Patricia Cohen, New York Times, June 1, 2012)
A court in Brooklyn has ordered the family of a Holocaust survivor to return a 3,200-year-old Assyrian tablet to a German museum. The decision turns on its head the familiar scenario of Holocaust victims suing to reclaim property stolen or extorted from them by the Nazis [...] Mr. Flamenbaum’s daughter, Hannah, previously told AOL News, “It was all he had left from ‘that bitter time,’ and he wished to hand it down to his children and future generations to serve as a reminder of the brutality and decimation of his family at the hands of the Nazis.
 One is led to wonder whether the Hannah K. Flamenbaum who reportedly works for the Office of the Attorney General in New York is the same person as the current co-custodian of this plaque from a Berlin museum (see here too for some of the earlier history of this claim).

One thing worth noting is that the object itself is the carrier of a text, and that text says quite plainly where the object had been deposited, by whom, when and why. Getting the text deciphered (even if Riven Flamenbaum could not read it himself) would have raised doubts about the object's licit provenance even as early as 1949 when it was (reportedly) brought to the US and was in the possession of coin collector Riven Flamenbaum until his death in April 2003. That's 53 years when we are asked to believe that nobody tried to find out more about where the object had come from. Fortunately it had come from a museum, which means that its documentation is better curated than the majority of objects that pass through the hands of private collectors (who apparently are very careless about their documentation), so where it was over fifty years ago, and where it had come from are all too clear.

Now that is clear, it is obvious the object should go back, no matter that the person who got his hands on it was one of the MILLIONS of people whose lives and families were shattered by the events in central Europe between 1933 and 1945. The same could be said of my Polish family (including two members who died in Auschwitz), but they do not go around proclaiming their 'right' to handle property stolen from German museums. Two wrongs rarely make a right, no matter how many emotional arguments one wishes to evoke.


Unknown said...

Has any on deciphered the text?

Paul Barford said...

yes, before the War

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