A 3,200-year-old artifact, a small tablet telling the story of the construction of an Assyrian temple in
ancient Mesopotamia was stolen by the Red Army when it plundered the Vorderasiatisches Museum
in Berlin in 1945. A roving black marketeer traded a pack of cigarettes for it in 1946 and brought it
with him when he emigrated to the USA. The ancient gold tablet was worth $10 to $14 million
dollars. The man's son later contacted the museum and tried to negotiate a sale, but refused to sell it
when he was not offered enough money, so in 2006 the Vorderasiatisches Museum filed a claim for
the return of the tablet. But the family now decided that they were "sentimentally attached to it" and
fought to keep it. The court case stated:

“The gold tablet was found during an excavation around the city of Ashur, now Qual’at Serouat,
Iraq, by a team of German archeologists led by Walter Andrae. The inscribed tablet, which was
discovered in the foundation of the Ishta Temple, is actually a construction document, according to
the judge. It dates to the reign of the Assyrian King Tukulti-Ninurta I (1243-1207 BCE) who
expanded the Assyrian empire but was later killed by his son. When the excavations finished in 1914,
the tablet was packed up along with other artifacts and sent to Basra, where it was loaded on a
Germany-bound freighter…. In 1934, the tablet was put on display at the Vorderasiatisches
Museum…. Five years later, with World War II looming, the museum was closed and the tablet was
put in storage along with other antiques and works of art. At the end of the war in 1945, an inventory
discovered that the tablet was missing. Nearly 60 years later, in April 2003, the tablet was discovered
among the possessions of ........., after his death.”

In 2010, a New York Judge ruled that the object will remain in the possession of the family. He said
that the museum had waited too long to press its claim. The director of the museum disagreed,
testifying that in post-war Berlin, it was impossible to fill out a report or alert the authorities given the
chaotic nature of the occupation and the separation of East and West Berlin. As the museum was
located in East Berlin, a "Soviet satellite state," the political and financial restraints imposed on it
made its delay "entirely reasonable." The museum also contended that both international authorities
and the Hague Convention of 1907 prohibit "pillaging and plundering."

The family's lawyer disagreed to both points and claimed they were poor excuses and quipped: "To
the victor goes the spoils", arguing that under the "spoils of war" doctrine, cultural property removed
by Russian troops during the occupation of Berlin after World War II was "lawfully transferred from
one sovereign to another and that this taking of the gold tablet extinguished the rights of the museum
pursuant to international law." The court interpreted international law on its own and agreed. The
family's other lawyer said the object had become part of the "family's history" and that the family
was "offended by the efforts of the German government."
Pieces of Gold