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The 1963 Krasnodar Trial

Extraordinary Media Coverage for an Ordinary Soviet Trial of Second World War Perpetrators
Le procès de Krasnodar de 1963 : une couverture médiatique extraordinaire pour un procès soviétique ordinaire de criminels de la Seconde Guerre mondiale
Vanessa Voisin
p. 383-428


In the city of Krasnodar, capital of the Russian Kuban´, a very special public trial took place from 10 to 24 October 1963. Its nine defendants embodied the darkest aspects of the Second World War in the USSR. Former auxiliary members and officers of Sonderkommando 10-a, they had taken part in the extreme violence committed by this subunit of Einsatzgruppe D, a paramilitary group in charge of the “cleansing” of southern Ukraine and Russia in the wake of the Wehrmacht. The echo given to this trial clearly distinguishes it from the dozens of other trials held throughout the Soviet Union after the 1955 partial amnesty of collaborators, and from trials in the south of the RSFSR more specifically. Numerous articles in the local and central press, a radio broadcast, a documentary film (In the Name of the Living), a best-selling book (The Abyss), and an aborted fiction film project added layers of stories, sounds and images to the story of these nine men, their victims, and the investigators who brought them to justice. The variations in the way the story is told in these various media constitute one of the common threads of the article, which also looks at how these works helped prolong the echo of the Krasnodar trial. The example of the media coverage of the Krasnodar trial goes against several preconceived ideas about the relationship between arts professionals and the police and judiciary. It confirms that artists sometimes enjoyed a margin of freedom during the Thaw and some time beyond. It illustrates various ways of filming a trial (1963 and 1965) and more still the wide array of renditions of court proceedings, from a live broadcast in the urban space to an engagé author’s highly literary short story. This case also shows how the same artist conveyed his vision of the trial depending on whether he was acting as a journalist, a screenwriter or author. The study confirms the importance of the political resources available to the various actors in this story between 1963 and 1967 with regard to the limits of the speakable and the demonstrable. The crucial role of a very committed artist, Lev Ginzburg, overcame great institutional and ideological resistance until the writer finally paid the price for his commitment. Ginzburg’s extremely daring depiction of wartime collaboration and – quite atypically – of Nazi ideology and the Holocaust makes his works singular, privileged though he was in literary circles. Last, it should be stressed that the intensity of the media coverage of this trial, Ginzburg’s particular role in German-Soviet relations, and the confidential steps taken in parallel by the Prosecutor-General of the USSR undoubtedly contributed to the (re)opening in the West of investigations of Germans involved in the crimes of Sonderkommando 10a and to their trial in West Germany between 1972 and 1980.

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Krasnodar, 1963 : Inter-professional and center-periphery cooperation
A meeting of passionate individuals and converging interests
A window onto investigations of state criminals
Multiple transmission registers and unexpected impact
Trials in public : live justice
During the trial : a polyphonic press
A time-diffracted echo
Perceived and actual limits of artistic discourse on the war
Renewing an old theme : The Trial of Fascism
Ginzburg’s Daring
Collaborators as “moral victims” of the occupation
Imperialism and Racism


In the city of Krasnodar, capital of the Russian Kuban´, a public trial took place from 10 to 24 October 1963. Its nine defendants embodied the darkest aspects of the Second World War in the USSR. Auxiliary members and officers of the Sonderkommando 10-a, they were accused of having taken part in the extreme violence committed by this sub-unit of the Einsatzgruppe D, responsible for the “cleansing” of southern Ukraine and Russia in the wake of the Wehrmacht. Until their arrest in 1962 or 1963, most of these nine men had managed to conceal their past collaboration. Only three of them had been arrested after the war, but for less serious forms of collaboration. New investigations by the KGB from the late 1950s finally led to their identification as murderers, “torturers” in Soviet terminology (karateli).

However, it is not the profile of the defendants that makes the Krasnodar trial singular in the history of the many trials of collaborators held after the partial amnesty of 1955. The ...

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Vanessa Voisin, «The 1963 Krasnodar Trial»Cahiers du monde russe, 61/3-4 | 2020, 383-428.

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Vanessa Voisin, «The 1963 Krasnodar Trial»Cahiers du monde russe [Онлайн], 61/3-4 | 2020, Выложить онлайн 02 janvier 2024, Наводить справки в 13 mai 2021. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/monderusse/12031; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/monderusse.12031

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Vanessa Voisin

Università di Bologna, Dipartimento di storia, cultura, civiltà (DiSCI), vanessadenise.voisin@unibo.it

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