The Soviet Commission of Investigation on Nazi War Crimes: Between Re-conquering Territory, Writing a War Story, and Judicial Functions

By Nathalie Moine

The Soviet commission is well known for the reports it published but also misunderstood for the scope of work it accomplished in the field. This article explores the circumstances in which it was created. It discusses models followed by the Soviets responsible for creating the commission, which drew on Russian or Western experiences in the First World War. It then shows how the work of gathering information followed a more general pattern which blended local initiatives with the involvement of other institutions. By transforming itself into several local commissions, the central commission could reaffirm the legitimacy of Soviet actors in power, who were then in the process of reconquering territory. At the same time, the accumulated material offers a vision of the period of occupation which is a great deal more complex than that produced by those published communiqués which, for several decades to come, would contribute to the official story of the war. Finally, the article shows the practical uses of this information in the postwar trials, still not well known, which were led by Soviet authorities against war criminals, enemy soldiers or collaborators.

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