What I Found in Library Rebbe Schneerson Claimed as His — and Why Chabad Feud Rages

Hasidic Trove on Display in Moscow as Court Fight Continues

Our Man in Moscow: Paul Berger flashes the card that gave him access to the Schneersohn archive at a new Moscow Jewish  museum.
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Our Man in Moscow: Paul Berger flashes the card that gave him access to the Schneersohn archive at a new Moscow Jewish museum.

By Paul Berger

Published February 18, 2014, issue of February 21, 2014.
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Although Putin’s compromise was welcomed in Moscow, it has failed to mollify Chabad in New York.

In 2010, Agudas Chasidei Chabad, the umbrella organization of the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement, won a lawsuit seeking the return of the Schneersohn Library and a separate collection known as the Schneersohn Archive in U.S. District Court.

In January 2013, Royce Lamberth, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, imposed a $50,000-a-day fine on the Russian government for each day that it does not return the collection.

The Russian government has said that it does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction. But the Aguch, as Agudas Chasidei Chabad is known, is pressing on. The group recently filed a motion for an interim judgment of $14.7 million to pressure the Russian government to comply with the ruling.

“Russia’s deposit of a fraction of the volumes from the Schneerson Library into a branch of the government-controlled Russian State Library at the Jewish Museum in Moscow does not remedy Russia’s unilateral seizure, retention and claimed ownership of these sacred books,” Nathan Lewin, a lawyer for the Aguch, said in a statement to the Forward.

“Russia’s placement of the books at the museum is analogous to one who looted Jewish owned art during the Holocaust claiming that placing the artwork in a museum, where the original owner and his/her descendants may view the art, should be satisfactory, as opposed to returning the art to its rightful owner.”

Lewin’s daughter, Alyza Lewin, who also represents the Aguch, said that the group could seize Russian property in America under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act if the Russian government does not return the Schneersohn materials or pay up.

Alyza Lewin added that the Aguch would not try to seize artworks, as Russia has claimed. “Artwork is protected by statute,” she said. “That was a red herring raised by the Russian Federation to distract from the fact that it was refusing to return property it had stolen.”

Nevertheless, major Russian museums continue to refuse to loan artworks to American museums, and American museums have likewise stopped lending artworks to Russia. A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, told the Forward, “The situation with loans has not changed from or to Russia since 2011.”

Gorin says the Federation of Jewish Communities does not dispute that the books belong to the Aguch in New York. But he disagrees with the American group’s aggressive tactics. “You can’t ruin the world for the battle of justice,” Gorin says. “Compromise is the way of the human being.”

Gorin says that the Aguch’s strategy risks souring relations between the Russian-Jewish community and the Kremlin. Perhaps more important for the Aguch, Gorin says it threatens Chabad’s chances of securing the separate second half of the Schneersohn Collection — the Schneersohn Archive — which stands a far greater chance than the Schneersohn Library of one day being repatriated to New York.

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