Extraordinary State Commission
The Extraordinary State Commission researches the crimes of German Nazis at Janowska concentration camp, 1944
|Date||1940 – 1947|
|Location||Territories liberated during Soviet counter-offensive|
|Also known as||Extraordinary State Commission for ascertaining and investigating crimes perpetrated by the German–Fascist invaders and their accomplices|
|Cause||Mass murder, destruction and looting |
The Extraordinary State Commission was a Soviet government agency formed by the Council of People's Commissars on 2 November 1942, by a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. It was tasked with investigating World War II crimes against the Soviet Union and collecting documentation which would confirm material losses caused by Nazi Germany. Its full ceremonial name was: "Extraordinary State Commission for Ascertaining and Investigating Crimes Perpetrated by the German-Fascist Invaders and their Accomplices" (Russian: Чрезвычайная Государственная Комиссия, ChGK). The official aim of this agency included "punishing for the crimes of the German–fascist aggressors." According to its own data, 32,000 organization staff took part in the work of ChGK and around 7,000,000 Soviet citizens had participated in the collection of materials and evidence.
The Extraordinary State Commission was also tasked with compensating the state for damages suffered by the Soviet Union because of the war. This specific aim of the agency is usually referred to by historians as the work of the Trophy Commission which led the trophy brigades behind the frontline. The plunder of artwork was directed by Igor Grabar of the Bureau of Experts. The commission became instrumental in the removal of industrial installations, materials, and valuables from all Soviet-occupied territories during the Vistula–Oder Offensive of the Red Army including Hungary, Romania, Finland and Poland (within its prewar borders), and later, from the Soviet Zone of Germany. The commission's Arts Committee headed by Andrei Konstantinov was in charge of the registration and Soviet distribution of trophy artworks beginning June 1945. The transports included valuables stolen by Nazi Germany from as far as Latvia and Italy, appropriated by the Soviets.
Investigation of crimes
The 27 reports of the ChGK were the majority of Soviet evidentiary material in the Nuremberg process and the Japanese war criminals' process. The reports appeared in English in the daily publication Soviet War News issued by the Press Department of the Soviet Embassy in London. The first report, Protocol on the plunder by the German–Fascist invaders of Rostov Museum at Pyatigorsk, was published on June 28, 1943 and the last report, Statement on "Material Damage caused by the German-Fascist invaders to state enterprises and institutions, collective farms, public bodies and citizens of the U.S.S.R" was published on September 18, 1945. A complete collection of the 27 communiqués issued by the commission appears in the Soviet Government publication, Soviet Government Statement on Nazi Atrocities.
Some of the reports prepared by the Commission are now considered erroneous or outright fabrications. Particularly, the first report of the commission among notable others — published on 24 August 1944 — with the title "Finland demasked". This report purported that Finland had put the whole Soviet population of the occupied territories into concentration camps in East Karelia during the Continuation War of 1941 to 1944, where 40% had died according to Commission.
Another falsification (confirmed the Russian State Duma) concerned the 24 January 1944 communiqué about the Katyn massacre, published under the title "The Truth about Katyn". This lengthy document purported that the mass shootings of the Polish prisoners had been done by the Germans. In fact, the crime was committed by the Soviets on Joseph Stalin's orders. The truth was first revealed by the international Katyn Commission but confirmed by Soviet documents only after they had been declassified and made public by the Government of the Soviet Union in 1990 during the last days of the USSR. They proved conclusively that 21,857 Polish internees and prisoners of war were executed by the Soviet Union after 3 April 1940 including 14,552 prisoners from three largest Soviet POW camps at this time.[b] Of the total number of victims, 4,421 officers were shot one by one at the Kozelsk Optina Monastery, 3,820 at the Starobelsk POW camp, and 6,311 at the Ostashkov facility, in addition to 7,305 Poles secretly eliminated in Byelorussian and Ukrainian SSRs political prisons. The head of the NKVD department, Maj. General P. K. Soprunenko, organized "selections" of Polish officers to be massacred at Katyn and elsewhere.
Soviet Trophy Brigades
Already in 1942,[verification needed] the special Red Army Trophy Brigades were formed by the USSR. They were put in charge of removing valuables from occupied territories including Germany and taking them back to the Soviet Union usually by train convoys. The organization made responsible for receiving and cataloging these items was the "Commission on Reception and Registration of Trophy Valuables". It was established just before the war's end in April 1945. The institution was soon disbanded as it has been overwhelmed by the sheer number of objects being sent back to Russia by their troops. The early part of 1946 saw some 12,500 crates of books and documents, along with other valuables from German libraries, which were allocated to the State Historical Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage in Leningrad, and as far a field as Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. These items were nationalized by the Russian Duma in April 1998 under Boris Yeltsin, which also relieved any claims made on all Russian property still remaining in foreign lands.
A part of the Trophy Brigade concept was to dismantle anything of usefulness in Germany, and use it to rebuild the Soviet economy as retributions. “…The most important dismantling action, however, was carried out beginning in March 1946. Leuna [the Leunawerke, an I.G. Farbenindustrie manufacturing plant in Merseburg] deployed 30,732 of its workers and 7,376 other plant personnel to assist 400 Soviet officers and 1,000 to 1,200 soldiers from the Red Army to remove 120,000 tons of machines and structural iron and steel from the works. Included in a long list of affected installations were eight working compressors for synthetic gas, large scale installations for methanol synthesis, and various machines, apparatus, and installations for synthetic gasoline production. What is more, the Soviets seized 117 journals and 514 books from the works library, in all a total of 1,067 volumes.”
Looting of Germany
Vladimir Shabinsky, a Russian officer who later defected to the West, gave his personal account of his own service as member of a Soviet Trophy Brigade.
At that time , I was a lieutenant colonel in the Red Army. I was working in Berlin for the 'Special Committee' of the Soviet Government. Formed in late 1944 and headed by Georgy Malenkov, the committee was charged with removing factories, manufactured goods, raw materials, livestock, farm machinery, fertilizer, crops, laboratories, libraries, museums, scientific archives, engineers and scientists from all of Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union, after years of devastating war, was in desperate need of such items and experts. It also wanted to make sure that Germany would never again be a military and industrial power. When the Americans left Saxony and Thuringia, the Berlin staff of the Special Committee ordered me to evacuate a cement plant from the city of Nordhausen. Since the committee had 70,000 greedy agents operating in East Germany, I moved fast to claim this plant for my branch, the Ministry of Building Materials...” — Vladimir Shabinsky
The library section of the Russian Trophy Brigades was known as the "State Agency for Literature", or, "Gosfond". The Soviet government had created this agency to allocate the confiscated literature to Soviet libraries and cultural institutions. The plan was that Gosfond would allocate the materials to enhance existing collection in Russia and to acquire meaningful additions. They were, instead, overwhelmed with the numbers of books sent from Germany. Eventually, it degenerated into a mechanical process of distribution, and the beneficiary libraries were unable to absorb the works, or in some cases, to even store them. “In a meeting of March 14, 1946, a committee distributed 1,857 crates from some thirty institutional and private libraries (including those of top Nazis as von Ribbentrop and Goebbels) among five Soviet libraries: the National Lenin Library of the USSR, the National Historical Library, the National Polytechnical Library, the National Library for Foreign Literature and the National Saltykov-Shchedrin Public Library.”
Lieutenant Colonel Margarita Rudomino, director of the Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow, and an associate on the staff of the Plenipotentiary State Special Defense Committee, and part of the Soviet Trophy Brigade, argued that the German Library (Deutsche Bibliothek-Deutsche Bücherei) in Leipzig was needed for re-building Germany and restoring their cultural identity. Thus, over two million volumes were evacuated to Thuringia, but they were then returned to the Leipzig library. However, she also argued for the return of the books from the Sächsische Landesbibliothek (Saxon State Library) in Dresden, but they were sent to Russia by mistake, and they were returned, in part, in 1957.
Not all endings of captured documents went well. Many of the books sent to the Soviet Union by the Gosfond and the various Trophy Brigades did not benefit either the Soviets or anyone else. With the overwhelming numbers of materials received, they were often parceled out to smaller libraries and institutes, who often received materials wholly inappropriate for their missions. As a result, many of the items were stored haphazardly, seldom cataloged or inventories, and often were destroyed by neglect and inattention. Items which were needed at large research institutes were sent to smaller public libraries and agricultural stations, where the books were never cataloged and could not be recalled for inter-library loan or other useful activities.
Members of the Commission
The decree issued by the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R on 2 November 1942 confirmed the appointment of the following members of the commission:
- Nikolay Mikhailovich Shvernik (1888–1970) Chairman
- Academician Nikolay Nilovitsch Burdenko (1876–1946)
- Academician Boris Yevgenyevich Vedenyev (1884–1946)
- Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova (1910–1993)
- Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov (1896–1948)
- Nicholas (Yarushevich) - Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia (1892–1961)
- Academician Trofim Denisovitch Lysenko (1898–1976)
- Academician Yevgeni Viktorovich Tarle (1875–1955)
- Alexei Nikolayevich Tolstoi (1882–1945)
- Academician Ilya Pavlovich Trainin (1886–1949)
List of Reports submitted at Nuremberg
The Soviet prosecution introduced 31 reports from the Extraordinary State Commission as Exhibits for the prosecution at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.
- USSR-1 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on atrocities in the Stavropol region
- USSR-2 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on the destruction of industry, etc. in the Stalino region
- USSR-2(a) Report of a special commission on crimes in Stalino
- USSR-4 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on causing death by spreading epidemic of typhus
- USSR-5 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on the "Gross-lazarett" in the town of Slavuta
- USSR-6 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on crimes in the Lvov region
- USSR-8 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on crimes in Auschwitz Nazi death camps
- USSR-7 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on atrocities in Lithuania
- USSR-9 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on atrocities in Kiev
- USSR-29 Joint Polish and Soviet report of the Extraordinary State Commission
- USSR-35 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on losses sustained by State enterprises and establishments
- USSR-37 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on crimes in the city of Kupiansk
- USSR-38 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on German crimes in the city of Minsk
- USSR-39 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on atrocities in Estonia
- USSR-40 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission concerning destruction and atrocities in the Pushkin Reservation of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Science
- USSR-41 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on crimes in Latvia
- USSR-42 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on crimes in the town of Krasnodar and vicinity
- USSR-43 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on crimes in Kharkov and vicinity
- USSR-45 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on crimes in the town of Rovno and vicinity
- USSR-46 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on crimes in Ore1 and vicinity
- USSR-47 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on atrocities in the city of Odessa and vicinity
- USSR-49 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission dated 13 September 1944: destruction of works of art and art treasures
- USSR-50 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on the destruction of monuments in Novgorod
- USSR-54 Report by a special Soviet commission, 24 January 1944, concerning the shooting of Polish officer prisoners of war in the forest of Katyn
- USSR-55 Report of special Soviet commission on crimes in the city of Krasnodar and vicinity
- USSR-56 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on atrocities committed in Smolensk and vicinity
- USSR-63 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on crimes in Sevastopol and other cities
- USSR-246 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union concerning destruction of ecclesiastical buildings
- USSR-248 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission concerning the destruction of Kiev's Psychopathic Institute
- USSR-249 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on German atrocities in Kiev
- USSR-279 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on crimes in the city of Viazma and others in the Smolensk region
- USSR-415 Report of the Extraordinary State Commission on crimes committed against Soviet prisoners of war in the camp of Lamsdorf
Only one of these reports, USSR-54 (in German) concerning the Katyn massacre, appears in the English version of the NMT "Blue Series" collection of exhibits. An editor's note states that "the absence of a Soviet editorial staff [made] it impossible to publish any documents in Russian". As a result, of the 51 Soviet prosecution exhibits included in the document collection all are written in either English or German.
b ^ Aleksandr Shelepin (3 March 1959) note to Khrushchev, with information about the execution of 21,857 Poles including new secret proposal to destroy their personal files."Записка председателя КГБ при СМ СССР А.Н. Шелепина Н.С. Хрущеву о ликвидации всех учетных дел на польских граждан, расстрелянных в 1940 г. с приложением проекта постановления Президиума ЦК КПСС." 3 марта 1959 г. Рукопись. РГАСПИ. Ф.17. Оп.166. Д.621. Л.138–139. (Russian) Retrieved 23 November 2013. English translation available at Katyń Justice Delayed or Justice Denied? Law.case.edu.
- Dr Grzegorz Jasinski. "Polish Cultural Lossess in the years 1939-1945". Essays & Articles. Polish Resistance in World War II.
- Lawrence Raful (2006). The Nuremberg Trials: International Criminal Law Since 1945. Walter de Gruyter. p. 47. ISBN 3110944847 – via Google Books.
- Konstantin Akinsha & Grigorii Kozlov. "Tracking The Trophy Brigade". Top Ten ARTnews Stories. ARTnews.
Revealing the fate of thousands of artworks that disappeared into the Soviet Union after World War II.
- Erik Nemeth (2014). Cultural Security: Evaluating the Power of Culture in International Affairs. World Scientific. pp. 52, 92. ISBN 1783265507 – via Google Books.
- Kolasa, Ingo. 1996. “Where Have all the Volumes Gone? A Contribution to the Discussion of `captured government property’ and ‘trophy commissions.” College & Research Libraries. 11. Volume 57, Issue 6, Page 503. Die Deutsche Bibliothek in Frankfurt, Germany: PDF file, direct download from the Wayback Machine.
- Konstantin Akinsha, Grigoriĭ Kozlov, Sylvia Hochfield (1995). Beautiful Loot: The Soviet Plunder of Europe's Art Treasures. Random House. pp. 45, 163, 264. ISBN 0679443894 – via Google Books.
- Soviet War News, June 28, 1943. No. 597
- Soviet War News, September 18, 1945. No. 1257.
- Soviet Government Statements on Nazi Atrocities, Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers), Ltd, 1946, pp 77-317
- Fischer, Benjamin B., "The Katyn Controversy: Stalin's Killing Field". "Studies in Intelligence", Winter 1999–2000. Retrieved on 10 December 2005.
- Anna M. Cienciala; Wojciech Materski (2007). Katyn: a crime without punishment. Yale University Press. pp. 226–229. ISBN 978-0-300-10851-4. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
- "Russian parliament condemns Stalin for Katyn massacre". BBC News. 26 November 2010. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
- Łojek, Bożena (2000). Muzeum Katyńskie w Warszawie. Agencja Wydawm. CB Andrzej Zasieczny. p. 174. ISBN 978-83-86245-85-7. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
- Parrish, Michael (1996). The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939–1953. Praeger Press. pp. 324, 325. ISBN 978-0-275-95113-9.
- Harclerode, Peter and Brendan Pittaway, 2000, The Lost Masters: World War II and the Looting of Europe's Treasurehouses. Pages 201-203, 207-208, 224.
- Judt, Matthias and Burghard Ciesla. 1996. Technology Transfer out of Germany after 1945. Page 83.
- Shabinsky, Vladimir. 1958. “How I Found the Nazi Missile Secrets” Look. February 4, 1958. Page 20. In Mittelbau-Dora by Bruno Arich-Gerz.
- Genieva, Ekaterina. “German Book Collection in Russian Libraries.” IN: The Spoils of War: World War II and Its Aftermath: The Loss, Reappearance and Recovery of Cultural Property. Pages 221-222.
- Kolasa, Ingo. 1996. “Where Have all the Volumes Gone? A Contribution to the Discussion of `captured government property’ and ‘trophy commissions.” College & Research Libraries. 11. Volume 57, Issue 6, Page 502.
- Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, 1949, Volume XXIV "Exhibits of the Soviet Prosecution", pp. 170-186
- Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, 1949, Volume XXXIX "Documents and Other Material in Evidence", Editor's Note and pp. 241-555
- Alexander E. Epifanow: Die Außerordentliche Staatliche Kommission. Stöcker, Wien 1997.
- Stefan Karner: Zum Umgang mit der historischen Wahrheit in der Sowjetunion. Die "Außerordentliche Staatliche Kommission" 1942 bis 1951. In: W. Wadl (Hg.): Kärntner Landesgeschichte und Archivwissenschaft. Festschrift für Alfred Ogris. Klagenfurt 2001, Seite 508-523.
- Marina Sorokina, People and Procedures. Toward a History of the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in the USSR. In: Kritika. Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 6, 4 (Fall 2005), 797 - 831.
- Joachim Hoffmann, Stalins Vernichtungskrieg 1941-1945. Ch.8 Sowjetischen Untaten werden den Deutschen zugeschrieben.
- Kiril Feferman, “Soviet Investigation of Nazi Crimes in the USSR: Documenting the Holocaust.” In Journal of Genocide Research 5, 4 (2003), 587–602
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