Chabad Seeks to Recover its Archives and Library

The case of Chabad suing several entities in Russia is one of the most important recent examples of claimants trying to recover cultural property, in this case from the Russian Federation. This case is important because it involves a claim against a foreign sovereign for expropriation in violation of international law.

The library and archives sought had been collected by Chabad's leaders form the textual basis of the spiritual beliefs of the Chabad-Lubovitch movement of Orthodox Judaism. Over a period of ninety years the library was confiscated by the Soviet Union, and the archives by the Nazis.

In 2004 Chabad sought relief from the United States District Court for the Central District of California but, at Russia's request, the case was transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Russia then moved to dismiss the claim on the grounds of sovereign immunity, inconvenient forum and the act of state doctrine. In 2006, the District Court denied Russia’s motion to dismiss claim for the archives but dismissed the claim for the library (a decision the D.C. Circuit later reversed).

Eventually, the Russian Federation decided to refuse to participate in the action. On October 27, 2009, Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge in the U.S. District Court entered a default and on July 30, 2010, the Court ordered the Russian Federation to return the archives and books to Chabad. The Associated Press reported that Russia rejected this order as a "rude violation" of international law. Although Chabad has offered settlement negotiations, Russia has refused and decided not to lend any more artworks to U.S. museums.

On March 5, 2012, Chabad requested that the Court hold Russia in contempt of court and impose sanctions. Prior to acting on the motion for sanctions, the Court invited the United States to file a brief stating its views. The Court noted that this was necessary due to “the serious impact such an order could have on the foreign policy interests of the United States”. The United States will advise the court of its position by August 10, 2012.


Legal Papers


Court Rulings & Decisions

Claimant's Briefs

Press & Scholarly

Press & Scholarly