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

Published: 2011-06-05

By Wilfried Heink-

“Slavica Publishers” in their Fall 2005 Journal “Kritika” published an article by Marina A. Sorokina titled:

People and Procedures: Toward a History of the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in the USSR”.

A little about Slavica publishers first:

Founded in 1966, Slavica Publishers, a division of Indiana University since 1997, is the leading U.S. speciality press devoted to scholarly monographs, collections of research articles, textbooks, reference works, and journals serving the field of Slavic languages and literatures, as well as Slavic and East European studies in general.”[1]

Unfortunately only institutions are allowed electronic access to the article [2], I thus ordered the journal from Slavic Publishers [3], received it but am unable to link to it. Throughout my essay I will quote from it, with page number, etc., provided, and that will have to do under the circumstances.

A little background first: The ESC was founded in November 1942 (details later), almost certainly as a direct result of the discovery, by the Germans, of the Katyn mass murder of Polish officials by the NKVD. This is being disputed however, not convincingly, and to dismiss this as a coincidence is just not plausible.[4] The ESC reports that were made public played a large role at the IMT, Michael J. Bazyler writes:

“Much of the Soviet evidence came from the work of their “Extraordinary State Commission for Ascertaining and Investigating Crimes Perpetrated by the German-Fascist Invaders and their Accomplices”. Created in November 1942, its task was to

“…keep complete records of the vile crimes perpetrated by the Germans and their accomplices and the damage inflicted by them on Soviet citizens and the socialist state; establish wherever possible the identity of the German-Fascist criminals guilty of the organization or execution of the crimes in occupied Soviet territories, so that they might be handed over to the courts for severe punishment; [and] unify and coordinate the work already performed by Soviet state organs in this area.”23 (23 Haim Goury, Facing the Glass Booth: The Jerusalem Trial of Adolf Eichmann [Michael Swirsky, transl.] [Detroit: Wayne State U. Press, 2004], 6-7.19 Ginsburgs, supra, p. 111.20 Id., pp.37-38)… These records proved indispensable at the IMT.”[5]

However, it appears that:

“Some of the reports prepared by the commission are now considered falsifications. Particularly, the first report of the commission was published on 24 August 1944 with the title "Finland demasked“. This report claimed that Finland had put the whole Soviet population of the occupied territories into Concentration camps in East Karelia during the Continuation War, where 40% had died according to the commission's data.”[6]

The above is about Finland, but the Sorokina article puts doubt on the whole of the reports. A little more background before delving into that article: From 18 October to 11 November 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin met at Moscow and in their October 1943 declaration [7], signed by President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill and Premier Stalin, stated:

“What is new is that many of the territories are now being redeemed by the advancing armies of the liberating powers, and that in their desperation the recoiling Hitlerites and Huns are redoubling their ruthless cruelties. This is now evidenced with particular clearness by monstrous crimes on the territory of the Soviet Union which is being liberated from Hitlerites, and on French and Italian territory.”

This is a clear reference to the Soviet “investigations” undertaken by the ESC, for D-Day did not happen till 1944. A guilty verdict was also issued at that declaration:

“…those German officers and men and members of the Nazi party who have been responsible for or have taken a consenting part in the above atrocities, massacres and executions will be sent back to the countries in which their abominable deeds were done in order that they may be judged and punished according to the laws of these liberated countries”.Evidence that without the ESC reports it would have been near impossible to convict German officers, and “The Holocaust” also rests in large part on those reports.[4] But, it appears no one has taken a closer look at those reports, no effort was ever made to verify what is claimed in those reports – locate the graves for instance – nothing; all of it was accepted at face value by the IMT. Just a few examples from the Nürnberg Trials:

“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 crime, 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.”[8]

We now know that the Russians were the killers at Katyn.[9] Then this:

“An SS member, Paul Waldmann, testifies to their existence. He was one of the participants in the crime perpetrated by the German fascists when 840,000 Russian prisoners of war in Sachsenhausen were annihilated at one time. The Exhibit Number USSR-52 (Document Number USSR-52) on Auschwitz has already been presented to the Court. I quote that particular extract from the testimony of an SS member, Waldmann, which mentions the mass execution in Sachsenhausen:

"The war prisoners murdered in this way were cremated in four movable crematoria, which were transported on car trailers."[10]

There is now talk of 12,000 Soviet POWs allegedly killed in gas vans in 1941, among them many Jews, but no mention of “movable crematoria”.[11] A little more about numbers:

“In only two camps of death the criminals exterminated 5 1/2 million people. In proof of this I quote the conclusions of the Extraordinary State Commission for Auschwitz. I will quote only a short excerpt. It is preceded by a detailed calculation. The Tribunal will find this reference on page 356 of the document book, second column of the text, fourth paragraph. I begin the quotation:

"However, employing rectified coefficients for the part-time use of the crematorium ovens and for the periods when they stood empty, the technical expert commission has ascertained that during the period of time that the Auschwitz Camp existed the German butchers exterminated in this camp not less than 4 million citizens of the U.S.S.R., Poland, France, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Holland, Belgium, and other countries."[12]

5.5 million in two camps? The estimate, and I would like to stress the word “estimate”, for Auschwitz now is 1.1 million killed. Allow me to add a little humor:

“I refer further to the report of the State Extraordinary Commission relative to the crimes in the city of Kiev. This report describes murders in the camps which will be also shown in the films today. I quote only one quotation from this report, which shows the methods of extermination of people in the Syretzk Camp. I quote page 289 paragraph 3, of the Russian text:

"Radomsky and Rieder used all kinds of devices for the extermination of Soviet citizens. For instance, they invented the following method of murder: Several Soviet prisoners would be forced to climb a tree and others had to saw it down. The prisoners would fall together with the tree and be killed."[13]

And finally, something about graves:

“As a proof of these same circumstances, that is to say, of the scale of the criminal activity of the Hitlerites in concealing the traces of their crimes, I refer now to the report of the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union for the town of Minsk. The members of the Tribunal will find this quotation on the back of page 215, second column of the text, paragraph 4. I quote a short excerpt:

"In the Blagovtschchina Woods 34 ditch graves were discovered, camouflaged with evergreen branches. Some of the graves reached a length of 50 meters. During a partial excavation of five of these graves, corpses and a layer of ashes 50 centimeters or 1 meter thick was discovered at a depth of 3 meters. Near the graves the commission discovered a great number of small human bones, hair, false teeth, and numerous small personal articles. The investigation has ascertained that the fascists exterminated here up to 150,000 persons.”[14]

To my knowledge no attempt has ever been made to verify this – to find the graves. This is one reason, and Sorokina cites more, to view the reports submitted by the ESC with scepticism. Prof. Maser writes that German historians, and no doubt not just them, are up to this day reluctant to investigate, out of concern to uncover details not compatible with what they have written over the years.[15] Put it in other words, out of concern for not confirming what is allegedly there.

Marina Sorokina starts out by writing in regards to the ChGK (Chrezvychainaia gosudarstvennaia komissiia), the “Extraordinary State Commission for the Establishment and Investigation of the Crimes of the Fascist German Invaders and Their Accomplices, and of the Damage They Caused to Citizens, Collective Farms, Public Organizations, State Enterprises, and Institutions of the USSR”, ESC for short, that “…six of its ten titular members were academicians of the Soviet Academy of Sciences”. She continues (quotation marks are in the original except for those at the beginning and on the end of a quote):

“The fact that the Stalinist “Extraordinary State Commission” could be viewed in the West as academic is quite telling, and demonstrates just how effective, propaganda-wise, the Soviet leadership was in its choice of who would play the role of “public prosecutor” of fascism. How and why did the Soviet authorities specifically select representatives of the scholarly elite to present testimony about Nazi atrocities to Western public opinion? What was the role of these representatives, and what was the level of their genuine participation in the process of preparing the future international war crimes tribunal on Nazism? Finally, what significance did the participation of a sizable group of scholars in the work of the ChGK, from academicians to research assistants, have for the postwar development of Soviet scholarship and the scientific community? These questions were initially the reason I began examining the investigation of war crimes, which might at first glance seem far removed from the field of the social history of science.”3[16]
These are questions that should be asked by any historian addressing this topic, but that seems to not be the case. Under footnote 3 she writes, in part: “I might add that the problem of “scholarship and war” has been examined in Russian historiography from only one angle: the role that scholars played in the victory over the Nazis.” Sorokina provides ample sources, too many to list here for one; and two, most are works by Russian authors, written in Russian (I used an on-line translator to translate some).


“It became impossible, however, to study these historical and scholarly processes without a firm understanding of the declared and undeclared tasks of the ChGK, its visible and invisible participants, the authors and editors of its final “Reports,” and the ways the commission created, collected, and drew general conclusions from the documents it generated. At the same time, it proved rather difficult to find treatment of the subject of Nazi war crimes investigations in the USSR in Western, Soviet, and Russian historiography alike.4 After the publication in the late 1940s and early 1950s of the monographs of B. S. Utevskii, m. Iu. Raginskii, and S. Ia. Rozenblit, which were products of the spirit and constraints of that time, subsequent published historical works on the subject tended to be primarily journalistic or legal in nature. Even after the ideological break of the 1990s, the subject has been treated mostly in the context of studying the fate of foreign prisoners of war.” (4. The book Bibliografiia rabot o Niurnbergskom protsesse nad glavnymi voennymi prestupnikami (Bibliography of works about the Nuremberg trial of major war criminals), Moscow: Institut gosudarstva i prava AN SSSR, 1986) is the best confirmation of this.)[17]

This is astonishing to say the least. The Soviets presented certified photo copies of documents at the IMT, promising to produce the originals later; they never did, and the court accepted this.[18] All of this is no secret, yet historians are reluctant to separate the chaff from the wheat, propaganda from fact. Sorokina made that effort, a positive sign and one can only hope that other historians will follow suit. She writes that her work “about a virtually unknown topic” garnered reactions “that ran the gamut from enthusiastic approval to complete rejection”. Sorokina needs to be congratulated for her effort.[19]

The first sub-chapter is titled “The War Myth: Sources and Historiography”.

National-level public investigations was…undistinguished in both the Russian empire and the USSR” she writes—in contrast to Europe and the US. At the beginning of the 18th century, Peter the Great ordered investigations into “various urgent and complicated cases”, those investigations “entrusted to special ‘political appointees’”, thus guaranteeing “that independent evaluations could not take place”.[20]


“Despite their radically different political tone and organizational arrangements, all these commissions had a common fate: the huge collection of documentary materials they amassed never became a subject of broad public discussion in Russia, and the publications they prepared based on these materials were never released to the public. More accurately, the public itself never demanded an accounting of the results of the investigations, either from the authorities or from the commissions, thus silently assenting to the politically motivated raison d’être for these institutions.”(my emphasis)[21]

The practice of not making the findings of commissions public has a long established history in Russia. Sorokina then gets into WWII:

“The history of World War II—or, as it was called in the Soviet Union, the “Great Fatherland War,” sometimes rendered as “Great Patriotic War”— proved no exception in this list of losses that were forgotten and discarded by the country. Among the many and varied Stalinist political myths that have been gradually destroyed in Russia in recent decades, the “myth of the war” has proved to be one of the most resilient. The myth has not only kept its official position in Russian public awareness and in academic historiography but in recent times has even consolidated its position.9

(9 See, for instance, N. A. Zolotarev, ed., Velikaia Otechestvennaia voina, 1941–1945: Voenno-istoricheskie ocherki, 4 vols. (Moscow: Nauka, 1998–99); and on the restriction of access to military archives, Georgii R. Ramazishvili, “Tsentral´nyi arkhiv Ministerstva oborony Rossiiskoi Federatsii: Problemy dostupa k dokumentam,” Otechestvennye arkhivy, no.2 [2004]: 70(Central.. Archive of the Ministry of Defence Rossiiskoi Federation: Problems of access to documents) The recent pompous Russian celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Great Victory offers substantial support for this conclusion.)(my emphasis)

Here we have the first indication of archives still inaccessible (footnote 9 above). Sorokina also labels the cult surrounding WWII “myth of the war,” and writes that by this “simple and bewitching logic, everything “ours” consisted of heroes and victims, and everything “alien” was associated with enemies and criminals.” She continues by writing that by “separating the myth’s dramatic personae from the lives of real people and concrete events guaranteed that for decades a “national amnesia” (obshchenatsional´noe zabvenie) would serve as an important element in the political stability of the Soviet regime.”[22]

Sorokina now gets to the subject matter and writes:

“One of the immediate participants in the creation of the Stalinist war myth was the ChGK, which was created on November 1942, by decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The commission had broad powers: it had the right to conduct investigations of Hitler’s war crimes and to determine the material damage suffered by the USSR, to coordinate the activities of all Soviet organizations in this field, to reveal the names of war criminals, and to publish official reports on their findings. The wide scope of activity given to the commission testifies to the importance the work of the ChGK had for Soviet party and state authorities.”[23]

She then tells us that “In addition to the ten “active members” of the ChGK, plus its staff, more than 100 auxiliary commissions operated during the war years in the union republics,” and:

“According to the calculations of the ChGK, around 3,000 public representatives took part in determining the facts about Nazi war crimes, and more than 7 million Soviet citizens directly collected and prepared documents for the ChGK, which in turn read through more than 54,000 statements and more than 50,000 protocols of witness interrogations and declarations of Nazi crimes, as well as approximately 4 million documents on the damage caused by the Nazis. The documentary evidence collected in the framework of the ChGK and the 7 published “Reports” were widely used in diplomatic notes of the Soviet People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and at the various Allied peace conferences of the war years. They were the heart of the documentary evidence used by the Soviet participants in the international tribunals at Nuremberg (1945–46) and Tokyo (1950), and they continued to be used into the 1960s for numerous Soviet domestic trials, both open and closed, of Nazi criminals and their accomplices.”(my emphasis)[24]

This would suggest that the investigations were thorough, and the findings widely publicized to make the public aware of those investigations and their outcome. One would also assume that professionals, i.e., experts in the field of crime investigations, forensic specialists and the like were employed to investigate. But, there is no mention if it, instead we have “3,000 public representatives” and “7 million Soviet citizens”. Something just doesn’t seem quite right, but a little about Nürnberg first. Sorokina continues:

It is important to note that in accordance with Article of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, ChGK materials, like official government documents and United Nations reports, had the status of incontrovertible evidence and were accepted by the tribunal without additional confirmation from these other sources.”

Yes, those of us who have taken a closer look at the Nürnberg proceedings are aware that whatever the Soviets produced was taken at face value, rarely were questions asked. And now to the reports themselves:

“Despite the significant public and political repercussions both in the USSR and abroad of the ChGK’s investigations of Nazi war crimes, until recently the commission’s activity could not be studied as a subject of independent historical research. From the moment of its creation, the work of the ChGK and the materials it collected—the archival fond for the ChGK contains more than 43,000 dela and is housed at the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF)—were surrounded by the strictest secrecy. For instance, in 1945 researchers at Sovinformbiuro were not allowed access to them,12 and representatives of the Jewish Antifascist Committee (JAC), who were preparing their “Black Book” on the Holocaust in the USSR and Poland, were given only a small number of materials that had been carefully selected by ChGK officials.13 Throughout the nearly half-century of the Cold War, the ChGK fond was closed to researchers, although various materials from it were published in collections of documents on the history of the Great Fatherland War, supporting the official Soviet version of events”.

(12 The chairman of the Sovinformbiuro Commission, which was supposed to provide for the publication abroad of new data on Nazi crimes, left an exquisite description of the atmosphere of secrecy: “We were only allowed to sit near the folders containing the dela and twiddle our thumbs, since without the permission of the director it was forbidden to open the folders and actually read them. We sat there, waited for awhile, and then left without having done anything” (GARF f. R–7021, op.116, d.326, l. 31). See also GARF f. R–7021, op.116, d. 404 (on permission to work in the ChGK archive).

13 As the writer Vasilii Grossman testified in a speech at a session of the JAC on 25 April 1946, the ChGK materials were “a little disappointing.” In his words, he was not able to find the materials he needed, having been given only a few protocols from the interrogations of German witnesses and German antifascists. See Il´ia Al´tman, “‘Chernaia kniga’: Zhizn´ i sud´ba,” Gorizont, no.10 (1989): 34. Along the same lines, the JAC secretary Itsik (Isaac) Fefer wrote that without the permission of the ChGK not a single document could be published (GARF f. R–7021, op.116, d. 404, l. 14).(my emphasis)[25]

Why the secrecy when all had been meticulously investigated as is claimed? As for witnesses, Prusin tells us how their testimony was obtained.[26] And why not allow Jews access to the archives to try and substantiate “The Holocaust”, something not done to this day? Then this:

“Despite its enormous size, the ChGK archive itself contains relatively few important documents from the “creative laboratory” of the commission, which is not surprising, since even in the first postwar years it was carefully “systematized” by ChGK officials under the control of the Soviet state security organs.”[27]

What, pray tell, is a “creative laboratory”? Was it Laboratory #12 of which Michael S. Voslensky spoke?[28] Voslensky wrote about a meat grinder in the “Knochenmühle” (bone grinder) in which bodies were ground up, the remnants flushed down the sewer. And, Vodka sat around in cases. No doubt this is where the stories about German bone grinders and drunken guards originated. But back to Sorokina and aside from the laboratory, what does “systematized” mean? Webster’s (1974) defines it as: “to arrange in accord with a definite plan or scheme : order systematically”. Why the need to arrange the findings according to a plan, why not publish them as is, since they had been scrutinized already, as will be shown later? Sorokina continues:

“At the same time, a series of politically important documents of the commission that expose its inner workings remained for many years under the faithful oversight of the main Communist Party archive.15 Here, in the personal fond of Viacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov,16 are the drafts of several “ChGK Reports” showing the corrections of Andrei Ianuar´evich Vyshinskii, as well as a set of documents about the writer Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi—Stalin’s “golden pen”—that relate to his work for the ChGK.17 Many ChGK documents are concentrated in the fondy for the secretariats of Molotov and Vyshinskii in the Archive of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation. Without question, however, the most complete set of documentary materials revealing the true history of the creation and activities of the ChGK can be found neither in GARF nor in the ministry of Foreign Affairs, but rather in the still-restricted Presidential Archive.”

(15 Now the Russian State Archive for Socio-Political History (Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsial´no-politicheskoi istorii, hereafter RGASPI), formerly the Central Party Archive of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the CC CPSU (TsPA IML).

16 RGASPI f. 8 (V. M. Molotov), op. , d. 5 .

17 Meanwhile, even in 1947 the main Archival Administration (GAU) of the Soviet ministry of Internal Affairs issued an order to hand over all materials on A. N. Tolstoi to the A. M. Gor´kii Institute of World Literature of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. See Elena Iu. Litvin, “Arkhiv A. N. Tolstogo v IMLI,” in A. N. Tolstoi: Novye materialy i issledovaniia, ed. V. V. Petelin (Moscow: Nasledie, 1995), 192)(my emphasis) [29]

What would Tolstoi, Stalin’s “golden pen” and member of the ChGK (ESC) know about crime investigations? As for “corrections”, Sorokina goes into more detail on those later on, and this then will also be the time to take a closer look at Andrei Ianuar´evich Vyshinskii, Molotov’s bureau chief. But the last sentence is what really counts, for still today access to certain Russian archives is restricted, contrary to what is claimed by some historians.

Sorokina then tells us that Natal’ia Lebedeva, as well as A.E. Epifanov,[30] did some research on the preparations for the Nürnberg Trials, but that “a series of crucial questions remain unanswered even after their publication – questions that had to do with the history of the commission and its significance for the formation and implication of Soviet Cold War ideology”. She then continues:

“For instance, why did the Soviet government even need to create the ChGK? It already had Sovinformbiuro and TASS for purposes of propaganda and counterpropaganda. Within the State Planning Committee (Gosplan) it already had the Central Administration of National Economic Accounting as an economic organ for the calculation of Nazi damages. In the security organs (NKVD-KGB), the People’s Commissariat/Ministry of Defense (SMERSH), and the public prosecutor’s office, it already had an intricate network of efficient intelligence and investigative organs. Did not the ChGK, to all intents and purposes, merely duplicate the functions of the state structures mentioned above? Did the ChGK really carry out independent investigations, or did it just use documents prepared especially for it? Why, despite the enormous mass of materials it collected, did the ChGK eventually publish only 7 small official “Reports” in 1943–45? By whom and according to what criteria were facts and crime locations selected for these reports? Why, despite the full political engagement of the ChGK, did its summary document—the “Report on the Conclusions of the Investigation into the Bloody Crimes of the German Fascist Invaders and Their Accomplices,” a draft of which was prepared in the autumn of 1945—not receive Stalin’s permission to be published, and thus languished in the ChGK archives? Finally, why did the Soviet leadership—which might have made wide and public use of this documentary evidence exposing Nazism for what it was—instead seal up the ChGK archival materials for decades, even to its own people? These questions all suggest that in reality the commission, in addition to its publicly stated tasks, must have also had its own hidden goals.

In 1994, P. N. Knyshevskii named one of these goals, conjecturing for the first time in Russian historiography that through the ChGK there was “a largely successful attempt to blame Hitler for a portion of the Soviet authorities’ own crimes.22 Along the same interpretative lines, in 1998 the writer Lev Bezymenskii, who had analyzed the process of preparation for those ChGK “Reports” that were connected with the Holocaust in the occupied Soviet territories, confirmed that some of the information published by the ChGK was the result of conscious and purposeful falsification on the part of Stalinist propagandists.23

(22 Pavel N. Knyshevskii, Dobycha: Tainy germanskikh reparatsii (Hunted: Mysteries of the German reparations)(Moscow: Soratnik, 1994), 5.

23 Lev A. Bezymenskii, “Informatsiia po-sovetski,”(Information in the Soviet) Znamia, no. 5 (1998): 191–99; and Bezymenskii, “Vospriiatie Kholokosta v Sovetskom Soiuze,”(Perceptions of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union) Rossiia i sovremennyi mir, no. 4 ( 1999): 153–68)(my emphasis)[31]

No comment necessary, Sorokina says it all, but she is not done:

“The first concrete case of such “transferred blame” had been established by 1990: the Katyn affair. In fabricating this case in 1943–44, a special commission of the ChGK chaired by Academician Nikolai Nilovich Burdenko was given the dual role of official mouthpiece of the Soviet counterpropagandists, on the one hand, and independent expert and participant in the investigation, on the other. Its role became all the more crucial in 1943, when the “Katyn commission” uncovered a whole series of reports by the German high command about the discovery on the occupied Soviet territories of sites of mass NKVD executions of Soviet citizens. It goes without saying what serious consequences the “political ricochet” of such revelations could have had for the Stalinist leadership, both at home and abroad. Fearing such consequences, Stalin and his circle did all they could to silence and distort Nuremberg Trial evidence dangerous to them. Today, of course, it is obvious that Katyn was far from being the only such case; the “Katyn model” of erasing crimes was widely used by the Stalinists in other situations, covered up by the authority of the ChGK and its auxiliary commissions. 25

(25 Thus the authors of the 1994 book Cherekskaia tragediia published data about the falsification of information in the Cherek district of Kabardino-Balkariia, where the local authorities and the auxiliary ChGK commission blamed the Nazis for the punitive actions of the NKVD and the material losses the population sustained in supplying the Soviet 37th Army. See K. G. Azamatov et al., Cherekskaia tragediia (Nal´chik: El´brus, 1994). The well known American researcher Patricia Kennedy Grimsted cites analogous facts in connection with the destruction of cultural treasures in Kiev (Grimsted, Trophies of War and Empire: The Archival Heritage of Ukraine, World War II, and the International Politics of Restitution [Cambridge, MA: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 2001], 184–88). For a different point of view, see Nikolai V. Petrovskii, Sokrytye stranitsy istorii (Moscow: KRUK-Prestizh, 2002 ), 68–78; and Margarita S. Zinich, Pokhishchennye sokrovishcha: Vyvoz natsistami rossiiskikh kul´turnykh tsennostei (Moscow: IRI RAN, 2003). Aleksandr A. Formozov also confirms that Soviet propaganda placed the blame for the destruction and damage done to cultural monuments in the 1930s on the Nazis, as well as on portions of the Red Army. See Formozov, Russkie arkheologi v period totalitarizma (Moscow: Znak, 2004), 290. Russian archivists say that the large losses sustained by the State Archival Fund in the war years, long blamed on Hitler’s forces, were actually the consequence either of bad evacuation planning or conscious destruction (for various reasons) by the archival officials themselves. See Ol´ga N. Kopylova, “K probleme sokhrannosti GAF SSSR v gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny,” Sovetskie arkhivy, no. 5 (1990): 37–45; and Tat´iana V. Khorkhordina, Istoriia Otechestva i arkhivy: 1917–1980-e gg. (Moscow: RGGU, 1994), 264–7 . Finally, church historians note that the mass destruction of religious buildings belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church, about which much was written that described it as the barbarism of the invaders, in fact occurred on a large scale even before the war. See Mikhail V. Shkarovskii, Russkaia pravoslavnaia tserkov´ pri Staline i Khrushcheve (Gosudarstvenno-tserkovnye otnosheniia v SSSR v 1939–1964 gg.) (Moscow: Izdatel´stvo Krutitskogo Patriarshego podvor´ia, 2000), 92, 98, 117–18, 146. For information on western Ukraine, see Oleh Romaniv and Inna Fedushchak, Zakhidnoukrains´ka trahediia 1941 (L´viv: Naukove tovarystvo imeni T. Shevchenka, 2000.)(my emphasis0 [32]

The Soviets distort evidence, and blame Germans for their own crimes? Of course they did, read footnote 25 carefully and one must ask why western “historians” are not interested in this. Sorokina continues:

“The questions of how widely this practice was applied, and who was behind it, are exceedingly sensitive for the Russian public; but the questions deserve in equal measure both a direct answer and solid corroboration.” 26

(26 On the use of the facts of Stalinist and Nazi war crimes in the nascent culture of post-Soviet memory, see Irina Paperno, “Exhuming the Bodies of Soviet Terror,” Representations 75 (Summer 2001): 89–118, which cites the relevant literature on the subject. I am grateful to Jan Plamper for bringing this work to my attention) [33]

She then writes that this is not an attempt by her: “to portray the Nazi war criminals as victims,” and that:

“At present, the abundant archival materials of the ChGK are being actively sought out by Russian and foreign researchers, above all as part of the process of reappraising the material, human, and cultural losses of the World War II years and related problems of restitution.

Using the ChGK materials without a clear understanding of the true reasons for the commission’s creation can end up being a sort of Pandora’s box for historians, with the “Stalinist school of falsification” continuing to determine the agenda of work just as before, invisibly but persistently. 27 [34]

(27 For examples of the uncritical use of ChGK documents, see Aleksei A. Sheviakov, “Gitlerovskii genotsid na territoriiakh SSSR,” Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniia, no.12 (1991): 3–11; and Sheviakov, “Zhertvy sredi mirnogo naseleniia v gody Otechestvennoi voiny,” Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniia, no.11 (1992): 3–17. Even the latest solid monograph on the subject—Pavel M. Polian, Zhertvy dvukh diktatur: Zhizn´, trud, unizhenie i smert´ sovetskikh voennoplennykh i ostarbaiterov na chuzhbine i na rodine (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2002), which begins with the publication of ChGK tables entitled “General Data on the Number of Victims of the Atrocities of the Germans and Their Accomplices in the Territories of the USSR as of March 1946” (10–11) does not consider how these totals were calculated and does not subject the ChGK data to critical analysis.)(my emphasis)

Thus even though efforts seem to be underway to shed some light on those “reports”, with all the distortions in the documentation it will be near impossible to find out who did what.

To be continued...


  1. http://slavica.com/
  2. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/kritika/v006/6.4sorokina.html
  3. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/kritika/toc/kri6.4.html
  4. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/holocaust_and_genocide_studies/v017/17.1prusin.html
  5. http://www.amnestyusa.org/events/western/pdf/AmnestyConference_BazylerMichaelCLE.pdf
  6. http://www.enotes.com/topic/Extraordinary_State_Commission
  7. http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1943/431000a.html
  8. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/02-14-46.asp, p.425
  9. http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2009/09/katyn/#more-408
  10. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/02-19-46.asp, p.586
  11. http://www.stiftung-bg.de/gums/en/index.htm
  12. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/02-19-46.asp, p.589
  13. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/02-19-46.asp, p.582
  14. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/02-19-46.asp, p.591
  15. Werner Maser, Fälschung, Dichtung und Wahrheit über Hitler und Stalin, Olzog Verlag GmbH, München 2004, p.332
  16. Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 6, 4 (Fall 2005): 797-831, Article: People and Procedures, Toward a History of the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in the USSR, by Marina Sorokina, pp.797/98
  17. Ibid, pp.798/99
  18. Franz W, Seidler, Das Recht in Siegerhand, Die 13 Nürnberger Prozesse 1945-1949, Pour le Mérite – Verlag für Militärgeschichte, Selent 2007, p.80; http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/02-08-46.asp p.202ff
  19. Sorokina, People…, p.799
  20. Ibid
  21. Ibid, p.800
  22. Ibid, pp.800/01
  23. Ibid, p.801
  24. Ibid, pp.802/02
  25. Ibid, p.802
  26. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/holocaust_and_genocide_studies/v017/17.1prusin.html, pp.15ff
  27. Sorokina, People…, pp.802/03
  28. Michael S. Voslensky, Das Geheimnis wird offenbar. Moskauer Archive erzählen 1917-1991, 1995 by Langen Müller in der F.A. Herbig Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, München, pp.54-62
  29. Sorokina, People…, p.803
  30. Ibid, p.803, footnote 18: Lebedeva, Podgotovka Niurnbergskogo protsessa (Preparations for the Nürnberg Trials); footnote 19: A.E. Epifanov, Otvetstvennost´ gitlerovskikh voennykh prestupnikov i ikh posobnikov v SSSR (Volgograd: n.p., 1997), published under the imprimatur of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. I might also note that in 1986, at the Moscow State Historical-Archival Institute, Tat´iana V. Borisova defended a senior thesis (diplomnaia rabota) on the ChGK under the direction of Tat´iana P. Korzhikhina.
  31. Ibid, p.804
  32. Ibid, pp.804/05
  33. Ibid, pp.806/07
  34. Ibid, p.806

Additional information about this document
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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 I
Published: 2011-06-05
First posted on CODOH: June 5, 2011, 7:32 a.m.
Last revision:
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