Chabad sues Russia in bid to restore historic collection

The suit hopes to retrieve the Schneerson archives, which have been in the possession of the Russian government.

By World Israel News Staff

The U.S.-based Chabad-Lubavitch association has filed a lawsuit in Jerusalem to freeze the transfer of Russian assets in Jerusalem back to Moscow in a bid to retrieve the historical “Schneerson Collection” archives.

The lawsuit, filed by local attorneys Uri Keidar and Avi Blum and U.S. attorney, Nat Lewin, aims to enforce a verdict of a U.S. court to restore the collection to its rightful owners, as well as pay a fine of $170 million for contempt of court.

In July, the U.S. called on Israel’s Attorney General, Gali Baharav-Miara, demanding a freeze in the transfer of ownership of real estate assets in Jerusalem to the Russian government until it returns the collection, which they maintain is being held illegally by Russia.

According to Kedar, the archives comprise some 12,000 books and original writings belonging to a dynasty of Lubavitch rabbis from before the Russian Revolution at the end of the 18th century and until today.

The collection “is a heritage asset for the entire Jewish people, in a way that goes beyond the boundaries of Chabad Hasidism,” Kedar said.

“For historical reasons, since the end of World War I, the Schneerson Collection has been in the possession of the government in Russia, which was formerly the Soviet regime in the Soviet Union, and now the Russian government,” he explained.

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For decades, Chabad has demanded that Moscow return the Schneerson Collection from the Museum of Tolerance in Moscow to the Chabad Hasidic Center in New York.

“The Schneerson Collection has historical Jewish importance, and therefore it is only natural that the State of Israel will mobilize for this historic task, and will do everything in its power on the legal and practical level, to assist my client’s worldwide efforts to return the Schneerson Collection to its possession at the Chabad Hasidic Center in the U.S.,” Kedar writes in the suit.

Around 30,000 pages belonging to the collection were looted by the Nazis.

Rabbi Shlomo Kunin, a member of the Chabad movement who was appointed by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe himself as part of a taskforce to retrieve the books, said: “The sad irony is that part of the book collection is what Hitler looted, and intended to create a museum with them is now found as war booty in the ‘Museum of Tolerance’ in Russia.”

“We have no doubt that the task will be completed as [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson] wishes and that the books will be returned to the Rebbe’s library whether the Russians like it or not, and there is no delay or obstacle that will stand in our way to carrying out this holy task,” he said.

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U.S. attorney Steve Lieberman said: “We are not talking about dollars, we are not talking about barrels of oil. We are talking about books that are valued by members of the Chabad movement and by a great many thousands of millions of Jews around the world.”

In its crackdown against Jewish institutions in Russia, the Kremlin has banned entry to the country to several Chabad rabbis, including one of the attorneys on the case, Nat Lewin. The assistant secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Alexei Pavlov, last month penned an op-ed calling Chabad-Lubavitch a “neo-pagan cult.” Another official later apologized for the article.