A closer look at the Soviet “Extraordinary State Commission”(ESC) which claimed to have investigated “Fascist Crimes” Part III

Published: 2011-07-07

By Wilfried Heink-

The third sub-chapter in the essay by Marina Sorokina is entitled, “The Curve of Your Life is Sloping Upward in Interesting Ways”. (A letter to I. P. Trainin is the source of the quotation used as the heading for this section, ARAN f. 586 [I. P. Trainin], op. 4, d. 3, l.)[1]

Sorokina starts out with:

“For the task of translating the materials into the language of propaganda, Stalin selected a colorful assortment of professionals to serve on the Soviet commission to investigate Nazi war crimes: a trade union leader, the top-ranking politician of a famous and historic city, a female pilot, an Orthodox priest, a writer, a power-engineering specialist, a doctor, an agronomist, a historian specializing in international relations, and a lawyer. moreover, the last six of these also held the prestigious rank of academician.”[2]

Why the need to “translate the materials into the language of propaganda”? Why not just evaluate the reports, the “material”, and publish it? To evaluate anything, experts are needed and this commission was a collection of people of different expertises, not one of them trained in investigating crimes. How then could this commission appraise what was placed in front of it, i.e., the reports of crimes allegedly committed by the “fascist invaders”? And as has been shown, material was collected: “…from local soviets, the People’s Commissariat of Health, and the Union of Architects to academic bodies such as the Commission on the History of the Fatherland War and the Institute of the History of material Culture, among others.”(see part I)[3] Nothing here about investigations by experts in the field of crime investigation, forensic experts and the like. How did this commission of academicians, union leaders, pilots, etc., ascertain whether what was put in front of them was a report of a crime and not just a tall tale? They couldn’t, as this was not their duty; they were selected to add “legitimacy” to whatever was concocted by others. It appears that an attempt was not even made to involve experts—all of it was only for propaganda purposes.

Here then the composition of the ChGK:

Nikolai Mikhailovich Shvernik (1888–1970), the head of the Soviet trade unions; Andrei Aleksandrovich Zhdanov (1896–1948), the first secretary of the Leningrad city and regional party committees, and a member of the Politburo; metropolitan Nikolai of Kiev and Galicia (whose secular name was Boris Dorofeevich Iarushevich, 1892 –1961); Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova (1910–93), pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union; and six full members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences: the historian Evgenii Viktorovich Tarle(1875–1955), the engineer Boris Evgen´evich Vedeneev (1884–1946), the physician Nikolai Nilovich Burdenko (1876–1946), the agrobiologist Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (1898–1976), the writer Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi (1882 –1945), and the legal scholar Il´ia Pavlovich Trainin (1886–1949)[4]

Sorokina continues:

Despite their differences in age,65 social origin, and education, almost all the members of the ChGK were in their own way upwardly mobile “careerists” who owed their rise on the professional ladder to the changes that had taken place in their respective institutions after the October Revolution of 1917, and in this sense they personified the concrete opportunities Soviet power had created for specific people…The ChGK members had doubtless been chosen according to their absolute personal devotion to the country’s supreme leader, as well as for the equally important fact that their devotion was proven. Even leaving aside high Soviet officials like Shvernik and Zhdanov, Stalin had met more than once with almost all the ChGK members before the war, and had directly helped advance their careers” (my emphasis)

(65 The age range of the commission members spanned 35 years: the oldest, Tarle, was born in 1875 and the youngest, Grizodubova, in 1910) [5]

A collection of party hacks, apparatchiks and opportunists beholden to Stalin: not even a hint of impartiality and not one expert in crime investigations among them. Sorokina then goes into detail about each one of them, and some of it is of interest:

Nikolai Burdenko, the highest-ranking Soviet doctor of the time, was part of the special elite of “Kremlin medicine” in the late 930s, having personally treated Stalin, members of the Politburo and the government, and Comintern officials… It might also be noted that as a consequence of old wounds Burdenko lost his hearing as early as 1937, and in the autumn of 1941 he suffered a stroke that deprived him of movement and speech. An energetic but seriously ill man, Burdenko would serve as the principal medical expert on the ChGK and the chair of its special commission on Katyn.”[6]

His participation in the Katyn cover-up of 1944 reveals Burdenko as a liar. His commission determined that the bodies of Polish officials were buried in the fall of 1941, when in fact they had been murdered and buried by the NKVD in 1940. A little about the Katyn commission from the IMT, 14 February 1946:

We find, in the Indictment, that one of the most important criminal acts for which the major war criminals are responsible was the mass execution of Polish prisoners of war, shot in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk by the German fascist invaders.


I submit to the Tribunal, as a proof of this crone, official documents of the special commission for the establishment and the investigation of the circumstances which attended the executions. The commission acted in accordance with a directive of the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union. In addition to members of the Extraordinary State Commission-namely Academicians Burdenko, Alexis Tolstoy, and the Metropolitan Nicolas- this commission was composed of the President of the Pan-Slavonia Committee, Lieutenant General Gundorov; the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Union of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Kolesnikov; of the People's Commissar for Education in the R.S.S.F.R., Academician Potemkin; the Supreme Chief of the Medical Department of the Red Army, General Smirnov; and the Chairman of the District Executive Committee of Smolensk, Melnikov. The commission also included several of the best known medicolegal experts.”[7]

Not only can Burdenko be dismissed as untrustworthy, but the same goes for Tolstoi and Nikolai, although his name is spelled “Nicolas” above. Later on Soviet officials still did not dare reveal what really happened at Katyn when the Stalin era came to a close. They feared that if they admitted that their predecessors committed crimes of that enormity, people might feel that the present regime was capable of committing them[8], but also because people might ask what other crimes the Germans were blamed for that were actually committed by the NKVD. Sorokina:

Valentina Grizodubova was the captain of the female crew that in 1938 completed a famous nonstop flight from Moscow to the Far East, and had numerous unofficial meetings with Stalin while preparing for the flight…In the war years, Grizodubova’s agency was responsible for fulfilling a special government order on flights to foreign countries, and she herself, in addition to directing the long-distance aviation group that took care of special orders for supplying partisan divisions, also headed up the Antifascist Committee of Soviet Women”[9]

Aside from having no clue about crime investigations, Grizodubova can be dismissed as biased, and extremely so.

Now to Il´ia Trainin, who as “…a Jewish youth with not so much as a middle-school education, was made head of the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Law”.[10] “…in the prerevolutionary years (Trainin) was involved primarily in the “expropriation of the expropriators,” was repeatedly arrested, exiled to Siberia, and deported abroad; in 1920, he came to work for Stalin in the People’s Commissariat for Nationalities. He wrote for the journal Zhizn´ natsional´nostei on both theoretical and practical questions that had to do with the nationalities issue. Having demonstrated an ability both to undergird and to implement the general policy personified by his boss, Trainin soon found himself in charge of the censorship of literature and theater (as chairman of the main Committee for the Control of Repertoire, or Glavrepertkom), then introduced order into the administration of the Sovkino film agency (1926–30) and the Communist Academy’s Institute of Soviet Construction and Law(from 1931 on). It was specifically to him that in 1942 Vyshinskii handed over his position as director of the Soviet Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Law—making him the country’s highest-ranking academic jurist…”[11]

Not much needs to be said: Trainin was willing “…to implement the general policy personified by his boss”, i.e., Stalin. Sorokina writes, on footnote 72, p. 820: “It is hardly possible to agree with the opinion that Trainin was an “authoritative scholar… On the contrary, it is more likely that he owed his surprising career entirely to a keen understanding of how to conduct himself around Stalin”. Trainin was also responsible for Article 21 of the IMT Statute [12], which states:

"The Tribunal shall not require proof of facts of common knowledge but shall take judicial notice thereof. It shall also take judicial notice of official governmental documents and reports of the United Nations, including the acts and documents of the committees set up in the various allied countries for the investigation of war crimes, and of records and findings of military and other Tribunals of any of the United Nations"[13]

Thus it was possible to introduce “copies” of documents and forgeries as evidence at the IMT, as well as some of the findings by this ChGK, ESC, all of it accepted by the Tribunal without question. (footnote 12)[14]

“The scholarly authority Tarle (Evgenii Viktorovich), a renowned specialist on French history, international relations, and Russian foreign policy,  had such an unquestionably high stature that even despite his lack of party affiliation he was recruited to join various experts’ committees in the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, where he examined significant foreign policy questions for the Stalinist regime. At the same time, however, an event occurred in Tarle’s life that in large measure determined his subsequent public behavior: in January 1930, the academician was arrested in Leningrad in connection with the notorious “Academy of Sciences affair” (also known as the “Platonov–Tarle affair”) and was exiled for five years to Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan). After a while, Tarle was returned on Stalin’s personal orders and restored to the Academy of Sciences. A man of European culture and enormous talent, Tarle was so shaken by these experiences that had unexpectedly befallen him that in the mid-1930s he practically became the historical mouthpiece for the “great leader of peoples,” providing professional support for the latter’s geopolitical ambitions.”[15]

Another member of the ChGK (ESC) who owed his existence to Stalin.

“’Bravo, Comrade Lysenko, bravo!’ These words, spoken by Stalin in February 1935 at the Second All-Union Congress of Collective-Farm Shock Workers, decisively paved the way for the long and dizzying career of Trofim Lysenko, academician of the Soviet Academy of Sciences (1939), president of the All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences (1938–56, 1961–62), director of the Genetics Institute of the Academy of Sciences (1940–65), and deputy chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (1938–56). Much has been written about how the Lysenko phenomenon was the result of Stalin’s direct patronage.”74

(74 See Zhores Medvedev, The Rise and Fall of T. D. Lysenko, trans. I. Michael Lerner (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969); and Valerii Soifer, Lysenko and the Tragedy of Soviet Science (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994).[16]

“Stalin’s direct patronage”: no comment is even necessary. Voslensky writes that in the 1950s, Lysenko, a careerist and conniver, developed a theory that was supposed to increase agricultural production. As a consequence, the other scientists were chased from the academy. The most famous of them, Nikolai Vavilov, died in jail.[17]

“The famous writer, Aleksei Tolstoi, originally had a decidedly negative attitude toward the Bolsheviks and even cooperated with the propaganda bureau of General Denikin’s Volunteer Army during the Civil War years(1918–19). Later settling in Paris and Berlin, he actively wrote for the émigré press. This did not prevent him from returning home, however: having “changed landmarks”, Tolstoi arrived in the USSR in August 1923, and from this moment on he gave himself to the new regime to such a degree that without a trace of irony he may be called the main “court author” of the prewar regime. Like many Soviet authors, Tolstoi quite consciously made singing the praises of Stalin the springboard for his success, in return for which he received all the privileges available to Soviet writers.”[18]

Tolstoi, Stalin’s “golden pen,” was mentioned above in connection with the Soviet Katyn investigation of 1944. He obviously gave his blessings to anything put before him. Tolstoi was also involved in the sham Krasnodar trial pertaining to the Stavropol region: “Investigation of the crimes committed by the German fascists in the Stavropol region was directed by a prominent Soviet writer and member of the Extraordinary State Commission, Academician Alexey Nikolaevitch Tolstoy, who now is deceased.”.[19] Not only was he involved but the investigations were “directed” by Tolstoi, and in that trial experts determined that the gas vans were diesel powered: all of the accused voluntarily admitted to the alleged killings, a trademark of Soviet sham trials.[20]

In the 1920s, while still the bishop of Peterhof, Nikolai was repeatedly arrested by the political police (OGPU). He somehow survived and from 1927 to 1940 served as head of the eparchies of Leningrad, Novgorod, and Pskov; in 1940, he became exarch of western Ukraine and Belorussia. At the beginning of the war (July 1941), Nikolai was raised to the rank of metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia, and from the summer of 1941 on, he ran, to all intents and purposes, the eparchy of Moscow. He attended the most important meetings of Orthodox hierarchs with Stalin during the war years 1943, 1945); and when the patriarchate was restored, he was considered as a serious candidate for the position of patriarch of all Rus”.[21]

To “somehow survive” as a bishop in the Russia under Stalin was no small feat. We have this for example:

“During these years [The Great Terror 1936-1938] the authorities sought the "complete liquidation" (to use their own expression) of the last remaining members of the clergy. The census of January 1937 revealed that approximately 70 percent of the popula­tion, despite the pressures placed on them, still replied in the affirmative when asked "Are you a believer?" Hence Soviet leaders embarked on a third and decisive offensive against the church. In April 1937 Malenkov sent a note to Stalin suggesting that legislation concerning religious organizations was out­dated, and he proposed the abrogation of the decree of 8 April 1929. "This decree," he noted, "gave a legal basis for the most active sections of the churches and cults to create a whole organized network of individuals hostile to the Soviet regime." He concluded: "The time has come to finish once and for all with all clerical organizations and ecclesiastical hierarchies." Thousands of priests and nearly all the bishops were sent to camps, and this time the vast majority were executed. Of the 20,000 churches and mosques that were still active in 1936, fewer than 1,000 were still open for services at the beginning of 1941. In early 1941 the number of officially registered clerics of all religions had fallen to 5,665 (more than half of whom came from the Baltic territories, Poland, Moldavia and western Ukraine, all of which had been incorporated in 1939-1941), from over 24,000 in 1936.”[22]

We don’t know why Nikolai was spared, but we may assume that he had Stalin to thank for it. Sorokina sums it up:

As one can see from this brief survey of the lives of the members of the  ChGK, their absolute loyalty to the Stalinist regime was guaranteed by a tried-and-true method—the carrot and the stick. In each of these people’s lives some event had occurred that in the context of totalitarianism made them completely dependent on the state, making it possible for the state, in one way or another, to monitor or even direct their behavior.”[23]

Yes indeed, and because of that “absolute loyalty to the Stalinist regime”, and in some cases to Stalin himself, anything produced by the ChGK (ESC) can safely be dismissed as payment for services rendered. Sorokina continues by telling us that the person named as chair of the ChGK, Nikolai Mikhailovich Shvernik, was also of interest. He was chosen because he was: “…a person who, first, was not publicly connected with the internal purges and trials of the 1930s and, second, had been in charge of the Council (later “Commission”) on Evacuation under the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR and thus had experienced from the inside the many hidden vicissitudes of this process. Stalin accurately saw in the faceless Shvernik a faithful guardian of the most hidden state secrets. Not coincidentally, after the 20th Party Congress, and for the entire period of the “Thaw” (1956–66), Shvernik headed the Soviet Communist Party Control Committee (from 1962 on called the Party Commission), a special organ for party security that, together with the KGB and the ministry of Internal Affairs, guarded all information about the illegal activities of the Stalinist regime for many years.”[24]

Solzhenitsyn tells us a little about the Council, Commission, on Evacuation. On 24 June 1941, two days after German troops entered Russia, this commission was established. Its chair was Shvernik, with Kossygin and Pervuchin as co-chairs. The task: evacuate to safety all party offices and their officials, all industrial installations as well as raw materials, all workers of those industrial plants and their families—up until November 1941 some 12 million people were evacuated. That figure included about 1.1 million eastern Jews and 200,000 western Jews.[25] How many of the party officials and workers were Jews is unknown.

Sorokina then lists the responsibilities of each of the commission members. Trainin, a Jew, was in charge of “…the calculation of atrocities committed by the German occupiers and their accomplices against Soviet citizens”. Lysenko estimated the damage done to farms; Vedeneev to industry; Grizobudova to co-ops and trade unions; Tolstoi, Burdenko and Nikolai calculated the damage done “…to cultural, scholarly, and medical institutions, buildings, and religious paraphernalia”.[26] The job descriptions of the latter three is of interest: no doubt any church destroyed by the Soviets, see above, was counted as a crime committed by the “fascist Invaders and their Accomplices”. Regarding the destruction of property by the Soviets, Solzhenitsyn writes that it was especially appalling to see Jewish communists take part in the destruction of Russian churches.[27]


In reality, however, the commission members’ oversight was limited by the fact that the commission’s final documents had to be signed. As protocols of the ChGK show, in practice the commission hardly met, and agreement on its protocols was by “survey”: out of 7 sessions in 1943–44, only 4 involved an actual gathering of the commission members, and these 4 had rather insignificant agendas. The real levers of control over the activity of the ChGK were in the hands of its powerful bosses, who formulated the “political orders,” which the commission apparatus merely implemented.”[28]

And here we have it again, the ChGK (ESC) was only a front, controlled by powerful politicians in the background: “The personnel roster…meant to reflect its special character as an ‘export’”[29] During the war: “…the staff ChGK (department chiefs and inspectors) numbered approximately 50 people… Although the ChGK department “chiefs” (nachal´niki) were the key figures on the staff, none of them had acquired any professional experience before the war in the area for which their particular department was responsible, much less in questions of international criminal law.”80  (my emphasis)

(80 For more detail, see my “Svideteli Niurnberga: Ot ankety k biografii,” in Pravo na imia: Biografiia kak paradigma istoricheskogo protsessa. Vtorye chteniia pamiati V. Iofe. Sbornik dokladov (St. Petersburg: NITC memorial, 2005), 50–63)[30]

Sorokina writes that ChGK officials:

“…were typical mid-level Soviet careerists: a lowly social origin; Red Army service in the Civil War; then, as a rule, a flourishing party or Komsomol career in the provinces; and finally, after receiving a higher education at a communist university or party school, a party or economic career in the capitalThe central ChGK was only the tip of a multi-layered iceberg, the bulk of which was made up of a complex system of local commissions assisting in the work of the ChGK, from the republic, krai, and oblast levels (these numbered 19 by the beginning of 1944) down to the village level. Also forming an integral part of this structure were the numerous departmental commissions that accumulated data on the damage caused to institutions and organizations of various people’s commissariats. The makeup of the regional commissions was fundamentally different from that of the central ChGK: they were headed by teams of three, consisting of the first secretary of the regional party committee, plus the heads of the corresponding local Council of People’s Commissars and the NKVD-KGB, which recruited “public representatives” for work on the commissions.82 No document, however, mandated the participation of representatives of the public prosecutor’s office in the investigations.”(my emphasis)

(82  The local commissions were created according to a decree of the Soviet Council of People’s Commissars, no. 299 (“On the Work of the ChGK”), dated 16 March 1943, and personally signed by Stalin. Attached to this document was the “Decree” on the ChGK. Other decrees of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR that regulated the activity of the ChGK were signed by Molotov)

Party hacks and the like “investigated”, but no experts were allowed. As for the participation of the NKVD-KGB, Sorokina tells us that because local party and state officials were busy: “…the decision to staff the local commissions in this manner meant that the whole process of gathering firsthand information on the crimes of the Nazis and the damage they caused was directed and controlled by the local branches of the NKVD-KGB and SmERSH.”( SmERSH was short for Smert´ shpionam! Death to Spies!)[31]

Thus we have the NKVD, responsible for murdering millions of their own peoples, gathering information on crimes allegedly committed by the Germans. Who is to say that they did not just reveal evidence of their own crimes, as happened at Katyn, since few if any Soviet citizens would have dared to protest?

Katyn is not the only example. There are many more and Hoffmann provides details of some. The NKVD committed numerous crimes in the Kharkov region; thousands upon thousands of people were liquidated between 1937 and 1941. When Soviet troops reclaimed Kharkov in the spring of 1943 for a short period of time, NKVD border patrols killed 4,000 people, charging them with collaboration. Among them were young woman who allegedly had sexual encounters with Germans.[32] At Katyn the ChGK (ESC) under Burdenko had “unequivocally established” that the crime was committed by Germans:

“Voslensky, who was an insider, remembers how uneasy everyone felt when the Burdenko report was presented in the Moscow Academy of Science. Especially the part about “shooting in the back of the neck”, presented as a German method, was met with silence because all of them knew that “8gr. of lead in the neck” was an NKVD method”[33]

At the Kharkov Trial the expert commission stated:

“Investigation and medico-legal examinations have established that in addition to poisoning with carbon monoxide, the Germans applied on a large scale, in Kharkov and its environs, mass shooting from automatic firearms, firing as a rule into the back of the head, the back of the neck and the spine. (my emphasis)[34]

Hoffmann rightly concludes that since the NKVD were the killers at Katyn, and since their well-known method of killing was a shot in the neck (Voslensky), we may reasonably conclude that those victims found at Kharkov et al, also killed by shots in the neck, were victims of the NKVD. And these same NKVD killers compiled the “evidence” of German crimes, which no “historian” has yet questioned. Not one of the alleged crime sites has been investigated by impartial bodies, or by experts in crime investigations. Not only were no experts involved in compiling the few ChGK reports, but what was submitted was “edited” before release. More on that will be included in the last part.

To be continued…



  1. Marina Sorokina, People and Procedures, p.817, footnote 64
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid, p.813
  4. Ibid, p.817
  5. Ibid, 817/18
  6. Ibid, p.818
  7. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/02-14-46.asp, pp.425/26; also http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2009/09/katyn/
  8. Michael S. Voslensky, Das Geheimnis wird offenbar. Moskauer Archive erzählen 1917-1991, 1995 by Langen Müller in der F.A. Herbig Verlagsbuchhandlung München, p.32
  9. Sorokina, People and Procedures, pp.819/20
  10. Ibid, p.818
  11. Ibid, p.820
  12. Joachim Hoffmann, Stalins Vernichtungskrieg 1941-1945, Verlag für Wissenschaften, München 1996, p.180
  13. http://www.icls.de/dokumente/imt_statute.pdf
  14. Franz W. Seidler, das Recht in Siegerhand. Die 13 Nürnberger Prozesse 1945-1949, Pout le Mérite – Verlag für Militärgeschichte, Selent 2007, p.80; http://avalon.law.edu/imt/02-08-46.asp, pp.202ff
  15. Sorokina, People and Procedures, p.829/21
  16. Ibid
  17. Voslensky, Das Geheimnis wird offenbar, p.254
  18. Sorokina, People and Procedures, p.821
  19. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/02-19-46.asp, p.572
  20. Regarding the methods used by the Soviets to obtain confessions, see http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/holocaust_and_genocide_studies/v017/17.1prusin.html
  21. Sorokina, People and Procedures, p.822
  22. Stéphane Courtois, et al, The Black Book of Communism. Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England 1999, pp.200/01
  23. Sorokina, People and Procedures, p.822
  24. Ibid
  25. Alexander Solschenizyn, Zweihundert Jahre zusammen. Die Juden in der Sowjetunion, F.A. Herbig-Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, München 2003, pp.362/63
  26. Sorokina, People and Procedures, pp.822/23
  27. Solschenizyn, Zweihundert Jahre zusammen, pp.286/87
  28. Sorokina, People and Procedures, p.823
  29. Ibid, p.817
  30. Ibid, p.823
  31. Ibid, 823/24
  32. Hoffmann, Stalins Vernichtungskrieg, pp. 181ff
  33. Michael S. Voslensky, Das Geheimnis wird offenbar. Moskauer Archive erzählen 1917-1991, 1995 by Langen Müller in der F.A. Herbig Verlagsbuchhandlung München, p.31; http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2009/09/katyn/;  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/06-03-46.asp, pp.289/90
  34. The people's verdict; a full report of the proceedings at the Krasnodar and Kharkov German atrocity trials, Hutchinson & Co (Publishers)Ltd., London, New York, Melbourne 1944, p.111

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Author(s): Wilfried Heink
Title: A closer look at the Soviet “Extraordinary State Commission”(ESC) which claimed to have investigated “Fascist Crimes” Part III
Published: 2011-07-07
First posted on CODOH: July 7, 2011, 12:43 p.m.
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