Books from the Schneerson Library, the subject of the Russian Culture Ministry's lawsuit against the Library of Congress, are Russia's treasured asset, First Deputy Culture Minister Grigory Ivliyev told Interfax on Monday.
"These 19th century books are very important for researchers, for those who read such literature and for the Jews professing Judaism. These books were published in Vilnius, Warsaw and Jerusalem," Ivliyev said.
Seven books from the collection of the Russian State Library's Eastern Literature Center were handed over to the Library of Congress for temporary use in 1994.
"By international book exchange rules, books may remain outside their home library for not more than 60 days. However, the books have never been returned to us. The Russian State Library referred a request to the Library of Congress in March, but no response has arrived to this day," he said.
The Library of Congress in turn handed the books over in temporary use to the American Hasidic Jews' organization Agudas Chassidei Chabad, he said. "In this connection this organization figures in the lawsuit, as well," Ivliyev said.
"All the parties have been informed about the lawsuit, and the outcome will depend on the court procedure which will definitely last long. The list of respondents also includes the United States as a state which participated in these books' handover and bears responsibility for them," he said.
The Schneerson Library is a collection of old Jewish books and manuscripts, put together by rabbis of the Chabad Jewish community in the late 18th century in Belarus IT is one of the Jewish religious relics.
Part of the collection amassed by Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, was nationalized by Bolsheviks in 1918 and ended up at the Russian State Library. The other part was taken out of the Soviet Union by Schneerson, who emigrated in the 1930s.
About 25,000 pages of manuscripts got into the hands of the Nazis, and were later seized by the Red Army and handed over to the Russian State Military Archive.
Lubavitchers (adherents of one of the Hasidic movements) have sought the restitution of the Schneerson collection since the late 1980s.
According to some reports, at the time Russia's first president Boris Yeltsin promised to James Baker, Secretary of State in the George Bush Sr. administration, that the sacred documents would be returned to the Hasids.
On August 6, 2010, a federal judge in Washington, Royce Lamberth, ruled that the Hasids proved the legitimacy of their claims to the ancient Jewish books and manuscripts, which, in his definition, are kept at the Russian State Library and the Russian Military Archive illegally.
The Russian Foreign Ministry challenged the judgment.
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