New York court orders Holocaust survivor's family to return artifact to Germany museum

[JURIST] A New York state court ruled [decision] Wednesday that the family of a Holocaust survivor must return a gold tablet to a museum in Germany. The Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division Second Judicial Department [official website] ordered the family of Holocaust survivor Riven Flamenbaum, who died in 2003, to return the 3,200 year-old gold tablet to the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin, where the tablet was held until the end of World War II when it mysteriously disappeared. The Appellate Division explained that Flamenbaum's daughter Hannah, his executor, could not maintain possession of the tablet because she did not establish that the Museum failed to make an effort to locate it:

For the executor to establish, on behalf of the estate, an affirmative defense on the basis of the doctrine of laches, she must demonstrate that the museum failed to exercise reasonable diligence to locate the tablet and that such failure prejudiced the estate. ... The executor did not establish that the museum failed to exercise reasonable diligence to locate the tablet. ... The executor's contention that the museum failed to exercise reasonable diligence by not reporting the tablet stolen to law enforcement authorities or listing it on an international stolen art registry is not, under the circumstances of this case, dispositive. The executor's argument that, had the museum taken such steps, the tablet would have surfaced earlier, is mere conjecture and, moreover, is not supported by expert or other evidence.
The Flamenbaums plan to appeal the ruling.

The Appellate Division's ruling reverses a 2010 ruling by the Nassau County Surrogate Court [official website], which ruled in favor of the Flamenbaum family. In support of its decision, the surrogate court cited the failure of the Vorderasiatisches Museum to locate the tablet [NYT report]. It is unclear how Flamenbaum obtained the tablet after his liberation from Auschwitz in 1945.

 

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.