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Federal court allows Jewish group to sue Russia for return of religious texts

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] Friday ruled [opinion, PDF] that certain parts of a lawsuit brought by the Chabad Lubavitch [group website] Jewish Orthodox movement against the Russian government could proceed. Chabad Lubavitch seeks the return of an archive of 18th century religious texts that it alleged the Russian government had appropriated in violation of international law during World War II. Both parties had appealed a district court ruling [text, PDF] that allowed part of the lawsuit dealing with the archive, but dismissed claims against Russia seeking the return of a library of similar texts abandoned in 1915 by rabbis fleeing Russia. In Friday's ruling, the court affirmed federal jurisdiction over the claims, and allowed the plaintiff's claims regarding the archive and library texts to proceed to discovery. The court ruled against Russia's assertions regarding forum non conveniens, sovereign immunity, and act of state doctrine.

The plaintiffs accused Russia of violating international law when the government seized the archive materials from the Nazi regime in 1945. Prior to Russian custody, the religious texts had been seized by the Nazi military in Poland in 1939 and transferred to Germany. The district court had dismissed Chabad Lubavitch's claims against Russia [JURIST report] for the return of the 1915 library materials, finding that the allegations involved internal Russian matters rather than violations of international law.

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