NEW YORK (Jun. 23)
Despite and even because of the passing of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Lubavitch emissaries are continuing to press the Russian government to return a Lubavitch library of more than 12,000 books and 300 manuscripts being held at the Russian State Library in Moscow.
The matter of the book was raised Tuesday during a meeting in Washington that some Jewish leaders held with visiting Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Retrieval of the collection, which was appropriated by the Soviets in 1921 and placed at the former Lenin Library, was a priority of the Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died June 12.
Although Russian President Boris Yeltsin and a Russian court ordered the books returned to Lubavitch as far back as 1991, only eight books have been given back to the Chasidic movement.
Seven of the books accompanied President Clinton on his return from Europe in February and another one was returned personally by Vice President Al Gore, who was given the book during a visit to Moscow in December.
Gore gave the book to Lubavitch emissary Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Eliyohu Cunin, who delivered it to the rebbe before he suffered a stroke.
Cunin, who lives in Los Angeles, has been shuttling back and forth between Moscow and Washington for several years in pursuit of the Lubavitch library, engaging the help of U.S. government officials in doing so.
Cunin, who has met personally with Yeltsin about the issue, said he had discussed it with Thomas Pickering, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, just two days before the Lubavitcher rebbe died.
This week, the Lubavitch emissary and two of his sons, who are also pursuing the return of the books, pressed their campaign on Chernomyrdin through top U.S. officials.
Four senators, including the Senate majority and minority leaders, wrote a letter to Chernomyrdin on Monday, asking that he bring the books with him when he visited Washington.
The letter from George Mitchell (D-Maine), the Senate majority leader; Bob Dole (R-Kan.), the minority leader; Joseph Lieberman, (D-Conn.); and Frank Lautenberg, (D-N.J.) said the matter of the books is “of great importance to us.”
“We have raised this issue on more than one occasion with President Yeltsin and former Ambassador (Vladimir) Lukin, both of whom assured us that the rest of the books would be returned in the near future,” the senators wrote.
“Many other agreements have been made by the Russian government, yet only eight books have been released to the Lubavitch community,” they wrote. Citing the rebbe’s passing, the senators added, “Our sadness that the rebbe did not live to see the entire collection engenders an even greater resolve to bring about the return of the books.”
However, the letter was sent after the prime minister had left for the United States.
At the meeting with Chernomyrdin on Tuesday, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an ecumenical organization that pursues religious rights issues around the world, raised the issue with the Russian prime minister. Schneier described Chernomyrdin as “sympathetic” to the cause.
Cunin said he believes there is anti-Semitism in the Russians’ failure to return the books. He cited the Russians’ recent return of books and artifacts to the Germans and to the Russian Orthodox Church.
However, a spokeswoman at the German Information Center here said Germany, too, had been promised the return of 500,000 artifacts and 5,185 books taken by the Red Army during World War II but had not, in fact, received them.