March 01, 2011


Despite pressing the reset button, and agreeing on a key nuclear weapons reduction treaty, Russia and the United States have a new scandal brewing. In August, a U.S. court ruled that Russia must hand over a large Hasidic Jewish archive to a U.S. organization. In response, Russia said it will stop sending exhibitions to the United States until they are absolutely certain that Russia’s cultural property is not in danger of appropriation.

The archive in question is a collection of thousands of books and documents compiled by Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, who lived in Lyubavichi, present-day Smolensk region, in the nineteenth century. Part of the Schneersohn collection was sent to Moscow when he left Lyubavichi during WWI, fleeing the front. The collection was eventually nationalized by the Bolsheviks. Schneersohn took another part of the collection with him from the Soviet Union to Poland. There it was eventually seized, first by the Nazis and then by the Soviet army, which then sent it to the Russian State Library. Schneersohn died in 1950, leaving no heirs.

Though the U.S. Jewish community has been demanding the collection since the early 1990s, Russia argued that the collection is Russian state property and has ignored the court proceedings launched in 2004, never sending its representatives.

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