30 Jews Occupy Lenin Library to Seek Release of Manuscripts
A group of American, Israeli and Soviet Jews occupied the giant Lenin Library on Saturday, demanding the release of thousands of manuscripts they say were seized from their sect’s founding father 70 years ago.
But the head of the country’s biggest library said he could not hand over the Hasidic books, as this might set a precedent for other pretenders to the state’s vast cultural archives.
About 30 Jews from the Lubavitch sect entered the library Friday, saying they had word from the Kremlin that their manuscripts would soon be released.
But when dusk fell and the books remained in storage, the group--most of them bearded young men wearing somber suits and hats--settled in for the night. They stayed on in the morning.
“We are here to take what is ours. We were promised,” said Rabbi Joseph Aronov. “Now they are scared to set a precedent, because most of the library’s stuff is stolen.”
Aronov heads the Israeli Lubavitch, an orthodox sect named after a suburb of the northwestern city of Smolensk that now has its headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y.
He said the group intended to keep up its vigil in the labyrinthine library, which contains 40 million books, newspapers and magazines, and expects imminent success after a fight that was given up under Stalin and revived in the religious detente of the 1980s.
Aronov said the 12,000 books belonged to the first Lubavitch rabbi, who fled Smolensk in 1915 as the German army approached.
They were taken over by the state after the 1917 revolution that established communism and suppressed religion, and became part of a huge cache of works of art and religious treasures.