Why should Russia return the Schneerson collection to the American Hasids?

by Alexei Peskov

The chief judge of the US District Court in Washington Royce Lamberth ruled that taking the so-called Schneerson collection by Russia was allegedly discriminatory and not for the public purpose and occurred without fair compensation to the Jewish religious organization called Chabad Lubavitch which is suing.

As Mr. Royce Lamberth claims historically valuable materials from the Schneerson collection are allegedly “unlawfully” possessed by the Russian side, to be precise, by the Russian state library and by the Russian military archive. On August 6, 2010, he ruled that Hasids had allegedly proved the legality of their claims to the ancient Jewish books and manuscripts.

In accordance with the court’s ruling, the Russian government should surrender the complete collection of religious books, manuscripts and documents to the American Embassy in Moscow or to the representatives of Chabad. Plaintiff attorneys were asked to report on the progress of the court’s ruling within 30 days from the abovementioned date.

So what is the real state of affairs in this complicated and still unresolved case?

Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson who lived in Lubavichi, which is situated on the territory of the present-day Smolensk region, started to gather his unique library back in the eighteenth century, that is, in the year 1772. His descendents used to add more books and manuscripts into the collection and at present it comprises 12 thousand rare books and 50 thousand rare documents including 381 manuscripts.

Part of the collection was nationalized by the Soviet government back in 1918, soon after the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, but the remainder was taken out of the Soviet Union by the descendent of Schneersons.

After the start of World War II Schneerson had to flee to the United States fearing reprisals from the Nazis. But at that time he couldn’t take the archive with him which soon got into the hands of the German Nazi and was later brought to Germany. This unique collection included 25 thousand pages of manuscripts.

When the Soviet army entered Germany at the end of the World War II, in 1945, this archive was found by the Soviet army servicemen and was subsequently handed over to the Soviet State Military Archive. And since the late eighties, when perestroika began in the Soviet Union, Lubavitch Hasids, have been seeking restitution of this collection from our country.

The Foreign Ministry of Russia issued a statement, in which it said that such a decision of the American side was illegal. According to the statement, “The Schneerson library never belonged to Chabad. It never left Russia and was nationalized because there were no legal heirs in the Schneerson family. The return of these books to the US is not an issue in principle.”

The statement says that “on the contrary, it is the American Hasids who must return to Russia seven books from the same collection that they lent from the Russian State Library in 1994 through the US Congress for two months and have withheld illegally for 16 years now.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry then went on to say that “By law, it would be logical, if the US court, mindful of the immunity of the Russian Federation and its property against the jurisdiction of a foreign court, ruled that this matter is outside its jurisdiction and any claims by plaintiffs must be dealt with Russian courts.”

The Foreign Ministry added that “unfortunately, the US judge made an unlawful decision, which cannot be enforced in Russia. There is no agreement between Russia and the US on mutual recognition and enforcement of civil judgments.”

Let us hope that the common sense will prevail, and a correct solution to this case will be found, in which Russia’s national rights will not be infringed upon.


The original article may be found here.


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