U.S. Court Denies Appeals: “Russia Must Return Chabad Archive”

Chabad leaders and lawyers. (Shalom Burkis)

Two rulings from the US Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit last week support the efforts of Chabad to recover seforim and manuscripts stolen by the Soviet Union and the Nazis, Collive reported on Wednesday.

The Russian government has continuously refused to return the Jewish items despite multiple court orders. The seforim and manuscripts belonged to the Friediker Rebbe who was forced to escape from Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution after he was condemned to death for spreading Yiddishkeit. During World War II, the Nazis seized the items and they were subsequently seized by the Soviet army after the Nazi defeat. The Soviets brought the stolen items to Moscow where they are holding them until today.

Years ago, Chabad won a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the Russian Federation was ordered to return the Schneerson Collection. When it refused to do so, the court issued sanctions which now total $150 million.

Chabad tried to collect the money owed them through VEB (a Russian instrumentality that functions as a bank) and Tenam (a uranium company that is indirectly owned by the Russian Federation). The companies both appealed but the court rejected both appeals and affirmed the earlier ruling against the Russian Federation.

“This is a tremendous victory for Chabad and for the Jewish people. Coming on the Fifth day of Chanukah, this decision allows Chabad to move forward in its century-long efforts to retrieve its sacred heritage and is a significant step forward in the process of allowing Chabad to recover those texts,” said Steven Lieberman of Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck, one of Chabad’s lawyers.

“We are grateful to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit for its rulings, which bring Chabad, and all the victims and survivors of Soviet and Nazi persecution, one step closer to the recovery of these holy documents.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)


  1. In addition to the outstanding advocacy by Steve Lieberman, it should be also be noted that much of the early legal work seeking return of the Rebbe’s seforim and documents was done by Nat Lewin and his daughter and partner Aliza Lewin going back over a decade. The combined pro bono efforts of these dedicated lawyers resulted in this milestone achievement. Now, by’h, there will be hopefully be closure on the actual recovery of the documents, although it is likely the Russians will still seek to drag out the proecess.

  2. Halachically once the Nazis took it, Chabad gave up on it and was mayaesh, so the Russians recovered it from hefker and why should they have to return it?

  3. How does an American court have jurisdiction over property in a foreign country? A very large number of people lost property due to the Communist revolutions. The only way an American court might have jurisdiction is if the property is sold and brought to the US. If a Russian court held that an American was entitled to something in the United States (e.g. Indians wanting Manhattan back, or Blacks wanting back-wages due to slavery), so you really think the United States would take a Russian judgement seriously. The lawsuit was a publicity stunt that will prove counterproductive in the long run.

  4. @RebEliezer
    And how do you know that they were mafkir it? In fact, they always swore (not literally, but in that sense) that they will get it back someday.

  5. RE – halocha is yeiush but legally the statute permits recovery in US courts for property stolen by the Germans yemach shemam.

    Akuperma – it’s a special long arm statute passed by Congress allowing claims such as these. One early case was over a painting. Google it.

  6. Akuperma and BM: How does any court have jurisdiction? Read the District Court opinion and the Appellate Court opinion, and they will probably set forth the basis of their jurisdiction. If you think the courts got it wrong, then you can explain why, not before you read the opinions.

  7. “The seforim and manuscripts belonged to the Friediker Rebbe”
    Missed the point.
    The Friediker Rebbe wrote they belong to אגודת חסידי חב”ד.
    That’s the whole victory that accord on ה’ טבת. That the seforim don’t belong to a private person (the Rebbe) and therefore can given over בירושה, rather (like the Rebetzin said) they belong to the Chassidim because the Rebbe belongs to the Chassidim.

  8. RebE – are you sure archives were first stolen by Nazis Yimakh shemam? Lubavich was on Russian territory and so was probably stolen by Soviets Yimakh shemam before that. So, the court is addressing the original thieves.

  9. So if a Russian court orders the City of New York to return Manhattan to the Indians, will the US honor the judgement.

    The example of the Nazis are irrelevant since we defeated that regime and on conquering them required the replacement government we set up to consider their acts to be void. Remember that the only reason anyone (outside of us) objected to the holocaust was that the Germans were defeated – and the Soviet Union never was defeated (it voted to dissolve when all its states declared independence in accordance with the Soviet Union constitution). The US never conquered the Soviet Union, and in fact recognized them as the lawful government meaning their acts of confiscation would be recognized.