Investigation of Nazi war crimes
In February and March 1945, the Procuracy of the First Ukrainian Front, acting under the supervision of the Extraordinary Soviet State Commission for the Investigation of the Crimes of the German-Fascist Aggressors, worked to secure and examine evidence of the crimes that the Germans committed in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. The Commission for the Investigation of German-Nazi Crimes in Oświęcim (and later the District Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Cracow) carried out similar work from April.
The Soviet Commission secured, as material evidence of crime, the plundered victims’ property that the Germans did not manage to ship out, and collected testimony from more than 500 surviving prisoners. It also carried out almost 3 thousand examinations of former prisoners and over 500 autopsies. The Polish commission, in turn, secured thousands of documents found on the grounds, questioned many ex-prisoners, and sent samples of victims’ hair and some metal components of the gas chambers to the Institute of Forensic Research in Cracow. Analysis there revealed the presence of hydrogen cyanide and compounds of hydrogen cyanide. The Supreme National Tribunal used the material collected by the commission in the trials of former commandant Rudolf Höss and the 40 members of the Auschwitz garrison.
On May 8, 1945, the Soviet commission issued a communiqué presenting the results of its investigations. One of them most important findings was the figure of 4 million people who died or were killed in the camp, which quickly became fixed in the public mind and served as an impediment to later research on the issue.