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Transfer of Schneerson collection to Jewish museum puts end to disputes

June 14, 2013, 3:43 UTC+3

The Schneerson collection to be available at a branch of the Russian State Library at Moscow’s Tolerance Centre

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MOSCOW, June 14 (Itar-Tass) - Documents from the “Schneerson Stock” are open to the general public and everyone can read them when knowing Yiddish or Hebrew. The documents can be read only in the reading room and are well protected.

The Russian authorities said the Schneerson collection would be available at a branch of the Russian State Library to be opened at Moscow’s Tolerance Centre.

“A branch of the Russian State Library to be opened at the Tolerance Centre will feature the Schneerson collection. In other words, it will be at the Russian State Library de jure and at the Tolerance Centre de facto. Therefore the community can use it and the Chassids will get access to the books but we will not break the law. And making sure we do not break the law is very important for us,” the Russian president’s special representative for international cultural cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoi said.

In August 2010, a U.S. court ruled in favour of the Chabad movement claiming that the library had become the property of Russia in a discriminatory manner, not for public needs and without fair compensation.

However the Russian Foreign Ministry refused to recognise the U.S. court ruling and demanded that the Chabad movement return seven books from the Schneerson collection.

In January 2013, a U.S. court ruled that Russia has to pay a daily fine of 50,000 U.S. dollars for the refusal to return the manuscripts and books to the Chabad movement.

Earlier this week, Washington’s district court postponed a hearing on the Chabad movement’s lawsuit against Russia over the so-called Schneerson collection, which was scheduled for Monday, June 10.

The Chassids said in their appeal for the postponement that the attempts, made over the past several months by the U.S. Department of State with their support, to conduct inter-governmental talks with Russia have so far failed to led to a transfer of any part of the collection to the Chabad movement in the United States.

They said they would reserve the right to use the rulings in their favour that have already been made by court and press for their enforcement.

The complainants said they might demand that Russian property in the U.S. be seized as compensation. The Russian authorities have replied by saying that Russia would take “strong countermeasures” against attempts to seize its property in the United States.

“The situation concerning the American federal court's ruling on the ‘Schneerson Collection’ is unacceptable,” the ministry said.

It described it as “legally null and void” and “contrary to international law”.

The Schneerson library is a collection of ancient Jewish books and manuscripts collected by Hasidic Rabbis. They led the Chabad movement in Lubavitchi, Belarus, in the territory of Russia’s modern Smolensk Region, which movement was the centre of one of the braches of Hasidism.

The library was founded in the early 20th century by Lubavitcher Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson on the basis of the collection put together since 1772. It now holds 12,000 books and 50,000 rare documents, including 381 manuscripts.

During World War I, Schneerson moved to Rostov on Don and sent a part of his library to Moscow for safekeeping. This part is now kept at the Russian State Library, and the other part was taken out of the country by Schneerson in 1927. Eventually it fell into the hands of the Nazi. Schneerson himself moved to New York.

He died in 1950, leaving no instructions concerning the library.

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