“Berlin Museum Seeks Return of Ancient Gold Tablet”

“Berlin Museum Seeks Return of Ancient Gold Tablet”

by Michael Virtanen via Associated Press

“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. . . “ Read rest of article here .

Cultured Muse’s Input

The interesting part of this case is the legal element.  The concept of repatriation has been cause for much debate in the art world, particularly in regards to cultural resources taken in times of war.  The current world conflicts have only added to the anxiety of the issue, and this case regarding an WWII dispute may actually have bearing on cases dealing with items looted in war-torn countries today.  

Note that the Holocaust survivor’s attorney is arguing that the laws of war as in place at the time of the war should be applied to the case raised today.  Many cultural resource attorneys/parties have argued that rather the modern laws protecting cultural resources should be applied retroactively (i.e. to situations that happened before the law was enacted) because we are currently more interested in protecting these artifacts than they were in the past.  Not so according to Schlesinger–he looks back to the laws governing warfare at the time. Schlesinger also argues that the “passage of time” should be taken into account (1), despite the fact that this has not been enough of an argument in many other repatriation cases–just search for “repatriated artifacts” and you’ll find many resources that have been returned regardless of the time that has elapsed sine their loss.

There is also the concept of “righting a wrong” that arises in this case. Frequently the situation is reversed and it is instead the family suffering during war who was robbed by the invading force and are now asking for their artwork back.  But here, they have begged the ethical question of whether or not the courts should allow this man to keep the artifact simply because he suffered at the hands of the German government.  Thanks to our sense of morality, we instinctively want to be on the side of the injured family who suffered horrifically during the war. But is that in line with the law?  Ethics and the law frequently come into conflict in these types of cases; and, with the law in a constantly developing state, each case has the potential for being international-law changing.  

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