Attorney Steven Schlessinger holds an ancient Assyrian gold Tablet, which...

Attorney Steven Schlessinger holds an ancient Assyrian gold Tablet, which belongs to a Holocaust survivor from LI, in Garden City, Tuesday, (April 6, 2010) Credit: Howard Schnapp

An ancient Assyrian gold tablet, looted from a German museum in the chaos of postwar Europe, is legally the property of the family of a Great Neck Holocaust survivor who bartered goods in exchange for the relic in Berlin, according to the ruling of a Nassau County judge.

"To the victor goes the spoils," said lawyer Steven Schlesinger of Garden City, who represents Riven Flamenbaum's daughters, Hannah and Helen.

Flamenbaum, a Polish native who was interred at Auschwitz for four years, made a living after World War II dealing in black market goods in Berlin, Schlesinger said.

He traded goods for small silver and gold pieces that could be easily carried to America, where he started a new life in New York in 1949.

He acquired the stamp-sized thin gold tablet covered in Assyrian script, which the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin had in its collection before being looted by Russian soldiers in the 1940s, Schlesinger said.

The 3,200-year-old tablet, which describes the construction of a sacred temple, was discovered in 1913 by German archaeologists in what is now northern Iraq, and exhibited at the museum, which specializes in Middle Eastern artifacts.

The gold tablet may be the only one of its kind, though a similar tablet made of silver remains with the museum, Schlesinger said.

Messages left for the museum's attorney, John Fisher of Manhattan, were not returned Tuesday.

In the 1950s, the museum learned that the tablet was seen in the hands of a New York dealer but did not take action then to reclaim the item, according to court documents.

Flamenbaum, who went on to operate a liquor store in Manhattan, died in Great Neck in 2003 at the age of 92, and bequeathed his estate to his three children: Israel, Hannah and Helen.

A dispute arose among the survivors over the value of the tablet, Schlesinger said. A coin appraiser first told the family it was worth $100, based solely on its gold value.

Troubled by the tablet's tumultuous history, Israel Flamenbaum contacted the Berlin museum in 2006, said his lawyer, David Reilly of Mineola.

"It's important if you find out something is someone else's, that you raise the issue as the appropriate thing to do," Reilly said. The museum filed a claim in late 2006 for the return of the tablet.

Nassau County Surrogate Judge John Riordan ruled March 30 that the Flamenbaum estate owns the tablet because the museum did not claim ownership for decades after it became aware that Flamenbaum had the tablet.

"I think [the ruling] is 100 percent correct," Schlesinger said. "You just can't sit on your rights forever."

The family has not decided what to do with the tablet, he said.

While the judgment may seem like cosmic karma benefiting a Holocaust survivor's family at the expense of the German establishment, Schlesinger said ultimately the decision was rendered on technical issues.

"The issue is one more of law than justice," he said.

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