Russia Turns Down Demands of American Chasidim to “Return” the Books of the Schneerson Library

The Foreign Ministry considers that the decision of a US federal judge in Washington DC on the return of historical books and documents (the “Schneerson Collection”) to the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish movement is irrelevant. “At no time was the Schneerson Collection ever under American control, it never belonged to the Chabad. It never left Russian territory and it was nationalised, as no legitimate heirs to the Schneerson legacy were left here. In principle, we reject any ‘return’ of these books to the USA”, according to a statement of the Press and Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, published on its official website. On the contrary, the statement went on to say, the American Chasidim “should return to Russia seven books from the same collection, which they received in 1994 from the Russian State Library through the Library of Congress via an international interlibrary loan for a two-month period, and have illegally kept the volumes for 16 years.”

Based in New York City in the borough of Brooklyn, the American Jewish Chasidic organisation Agudas Chabad Hasid “has demanded for over fifteen years, on murky grounds, that Russia ‘return’ to the USA the so-called Schneerson Collection, a library of Judaica, which was the property for several centuries of the rabbinic dynasty of the Schneersons, who resided in Smolensk guberniya and were subjects of the Russian Empire”, the Foreign Ministry noted. By all canons of law, “it would be logical if the American court, based on the immunity of the Russian Federation and its property from the jurisdiction of the courts of a foreign state, decided that the issue was out of its jurisdiction, and that any claims of the plaintiffs should be filed exclusively in Russian courts. That the American Chasidim can do this, by the way, no one denies”, the Foreign Ministry emphasised. It regretted that an American judge issued an “illegal decision, which cannot be enforced in Russia”, because Russia and the USA don’t have an international treaty providing for mutual recognition and enforcement of judgements in civil cases.

As reported on 6 August, federal judge Royce Lamberth ruled in Washington DC that the Chassidim proved the validity of their claims to these old Jewish books and manuscripts, declaring that they are kept in the Russian State Library and the Russian military archives “illegally”. Part of the collection gathered by Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson was nationalised by the Bolsheviks in 1918, and eventually ended up in the Russian State Library. Another part of the Schneerson Collection was taken from the Soviet Union when Rav Schneerson emigrated in the 1930′s. About 25,000 pages of manuscript fell into the hands of the Nazis; they were taken as war booty by the Red Army, and were transferred to the Russian State Military Archive. The Lubavitcher Hasidim have sought the “return” of the Schneerson Collection ever since the late 1980s. According to some reports, the first President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, promised at that time to James Baker, Secretary of State under President George H W Bush, to return the sacred documents to the Chasidim.

From Voices from Russia

The original article may be found here.

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