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The Schneerson Library is one-half of the so-called Schneerson Collection, which has been the subject of an acrimonious and drawn-out legal battle between Chabad and the Russian state.
The library consists of thousands of books amassed by the first five leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which was based throughout most of the 19th century in Lyubavichi, Russia. The Bolsheviks seized the library during the Russian Revolution and nationalized it.
The other half of the collection is the Schneerson archive — books and manuscripts and handwritten documents of the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who escaped Eastern Europe at the start of World War II. The archive was seized by the Nazis and then captured by the Red Army.
Chabad has sought for the library and archive to be returned as a single entity, but Gorin believes that this would be a mistake.
He said that Chabad in America ought to concentrate on seeking the return of the archive, given earlier precedents for the return of Nazi-looted property to its owners.
Russia has been much more reticent to release property seized by the Bolsheviks, especially overseas. In recent years, the Kremlin’s return of property to the Russian Orthodox Church, including churches, monasteries and religious items, has been highly controversial.
Gorin said that Putin’s suggestion for the articles seized by the Bolsheviks — to be housed in Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center — was a good compromise.
The $50 million museum, which opened to great fanfare last November, was bankrolled by oligarchs close to the Kremlin and is controlled by Chabad in Russia.
Gorin said that Putin’s statement came in response to a question from Viktor Vekselberg, one of Russia’s richest men and a prominent backer of Moscow’s Jewish museum, during Putin’s first visit there. Putin said that repatriating property seized by the Bolsheviks during and after the Russian Revolution to overseas organizations could open a “Pandora’s box,” given the massive volume of other properties the revolutionaries had nationalized. But he was open to the idea of the library being “placed on the center’s premises.”