Moscow: US can't decide Jewish documents' fate

Russia says Chabad can pursue case of scrolls seized by Nazis, Soviets in country's legal system.

torah scroll 88 248 (photo credit: courtesy)
torah scroll 88 248
(photo credit: courtesy)
Russia on Friday stated it would not consider orders issued by a US court as binding, saying that the American legal system could not tell the country how to handle sacred Jewish documents held in its state library that were seized by the Nazi and Soviet armies. The documents are at the center of a lawsuit brought by members of Chabad-Lubavitch, who are suing Russia in a US court to recover thousands of manuscripts, prayers, lectures and philosophical discourses by leading rabbis dating back to the 18th century. The case is being handled by the chief judge of the US District Court in Washington, Royce Lamberth, who in January ordered Russia to preserve the documents over Chabad's fears they were not being properly cared for and could be sold on the black market. On Friday, Russia said that even though it respected the US court, it would not participate in the litigation in order to protect its sovereignty. The United States should use diplomatic channels to deal with any problems it has about the collection, and Chabad can pursue claims in Russian courts, Russia said. "This court has no authority to enter orders with respect to the property owned by the Russian Federation and in its possession, and the Russian Federation will not consider any such orders to be binding on it," it said. Lamberth agreed to take the case in a US court because he said both the Nazi seizure and the Russian government's appropriation of the collection, which Chabad says totals 12,000 books and 50,000 rare documents, violated international law. The collection was formerly held by Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, a leader of Chabad-Lubavitch 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 and he fled to the United States. The collection was seized and taken to Germany, then recovered by the Soviet Army in 1945. Attorneys representing Chabad at the law firm Bingham McCutchen said after five years of litigation, Russia "is now acting like a child who has lost the game and wants to start all over on its home court." "Obviously, Russia cannot justify why it has refused to return Jewish manuscripts which were stolen by the Nazis and then looted by the Soviet Army during the Second World War," the attorneys said in a statement. "The plundering of religious texts during war is contrary to the Hague convention and the norms of any civilized society."