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US government challenges in court property claims of Hasidic Jewish group to Russia

August 21, 2015, 9:13 UTC+3 WASHINGTON
The claims concern the so-called Schneerson library, a collection of ancient Jewish books and manuscripts collected by Hasidic Rabbis
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© ITAR-TASS/Sergey Bobylev

WASHINGTON, August 21. /TASS/. The US government has challenged at a hearing on Thursday the property claims of the Hasidic Jewish organization to Russia amounting to $43.7 million in the case of the so-called Schneerson Collection and said it favored the settlement of the situation "through diplomatic negotiations" with Moscow.

The government representatives noted that the organization’s motion could not lead to the solution of the problem. According to their estimates, such a move by a court would be fraught with serious complications in relations with Russian and would set a precedent that could be dangerous for the American diplomacy in general. Nathan Swinton, a Trial Attorney with the United States Department of Justice, has said that the US Administration continues to proceed from the premise that returning the Schneerson Collection to the United States is only possible through diplomatic talks with Russia.

Defending his stance, Swinton noted that the Hasidic organization’s requirements contravened the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and did not serve the interests of the US government.

After the trial, Nathan Lewin, the attorney for the Hasidic group, told TASS that further developments in the case could be expected in the coming weeks.

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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