Judge Orders Russia To Report on Status of Chabad Library

Judge Orders Russia To Report on Status of Chabad Library

Central Chabad Library, Brooklyn, N.Y

by Miriam Davids - Washington, DC

January 27, 2009

(lubavitch.com) In the case of Chabad-Lubavitch vs. Russia, US District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth today accepted Chabad’s request to deny Russia’s legal counselors release from the case.

In a hearing on Tuesday, the Judge gave the defendants 45 days to find substitute counsel, and 60 days to report on the status of the Archive and Library of Chabad-Lubavitch, which Chabad now fears may have been compromised.

Tuesday’s ruling follows last week’s hearing when Chabad filed a motion for an injunction after learning that 12 pages of the manuscripts that are currently in litigation, were removed from the archives, possibly to be sold on the black market.

 “The Judge has basically taken the approach that we proposed, albeit in more limited steps in the hopes of reengaging Russia in the case,” Eliza Lewin of Lewin and Lewin, representing Chabad-Lubavitch, told Lubavitch.com.

Last week, attorneys (Squire and Dempsey) representing the Russian parties asked the Judge to be released from the case, claiming “a breakdown of communications” with their clients.

According to Ms. Lewin, defendants in the case, namely the Russian Federation, the Russian Ministry of Culture and Mass Communication, the Russian State Library and the Russian State Military Archives, have not had contact with their counselors since April.

The Judge instructed them to advise their clients that they risk a default ruling in the case if they do not have legal counsel in the U.S. court.

The Judge also said that if Russia flouts the court’s orders to report on the status of the library, and provide a catalogue of all of its contents as per the court’s instructions, it will grant Chabad permission to send a delegation to Russia to inspect the archives and the library.

Thursday, Judge Lamberth issued a restraining order against removing anything from the Archive and Library, pending final disposition of the case, and further ordered the defendants to locate and return original volumes of the Library and pages of the Archives that were removed.

Chabad-Lubavitch filed a lawsuit against Russia in 2004, claiming violations of international law  by the Russian government, and seeking the return of both a "Library" and "Archive" of sacred, irreplaceable religious books and manuscripts.

The Library was seized by the Soviets during the Bolshevik Revolution. The Archive was stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War and placed in a Gestapo-controlled castle. In 1945, the Soviet Army captured the castle and took the Archive as "war booty" to Moscow, where it remains at the Russian State Military Archive. The entire collection, according to Chabad, consists of some 12,000 books and 50,000 rare documents.

The Russians filed a motion to dismiss the claims, but in December 2006, Judge Lamberth refused to dismiss the lawsuit. He noted that efforts by Chabad to recover the books and manuscripts  for the benefit of Chabad-Lubavitch date back at least as far as 1939, by the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, who fled the German invasion of Poland.

The collection was formerly held by Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn who was born in Russia but forced by the Soviets to leave in 1927. He took the documents to Latvia and later Poland, but left them behind when the Nazis invaded. The collection was seized and taken to Germany, then recovered by the Soviet Army in 1945.

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