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Based on a careful analysis of more than 500 of these previously unpublished documents, along with numerous newly discovered photos, The Fate of the Romanovs makes compelling revisions to many long-held beliefs about the Romanovs' final months and moments.
Ashrill whistle shattered the silence of the snowy
afternoon as the Red Cross train slowly steamed into the siding
at Tarnopol. Weary soldiers, bundled against the freezing
rain, shuffled noiselessly along the crowded platform, heads bent low,
eyes hollow and resigned. Amid the sea of disconsolate faces, J. P.
Demidov, muffled in a thick astrakhan coat and hat, made his way across
the siding, jumped into a waiting motorcar, and left the despair of the
station in his wake.
It was the first winter of the Great War. In the devastation of
Russian-occupied Galicia, a rising tide of miseries threatened to overtake
the Imperial Army. Four months earlier, poorly trained, uneducated
peasants proudly wore their new uniforms as they marched west,
toward the advancing German and Austro-Hungarian armies under the
late summer sun; for many, the clean leather boots had been the first
pair of decent shoes they owned. But the four months could have been
four years for the changes they wrought. Uniforms were ragged, mud-died,
stained with food, sweat, urine, and their comrades' blood, and the
new boots-so impressive in the bright August sunshine-revealed
their shabby manufacture as theImperial Army waded through the
marshes of Poland and the Danube. Disease and dejection hung like
specters over these men, slowly replacing the patriotic ideals and short
conflict promised in the far-off days of summer.
Demidov's motorcar snaked through the streets of Tarnopol,
clogged with refugees shuffling through the slush among the ruins of
bombed buildings as they dodged piles of fallen brick and burned
timbers. The pale, expansive sky, dotted with leafless fingers of gnarled
trees, disappeared into a shadowy stretch of swirling snow, broken only
by ribbons of black crows that scattered and spread at the distant thud
of enemy artillery fire. Misery was everywhere.
The Red Cross train on which Demidov arrived sat at the platform,
angrily belching smoke into the winter sky. Dispatched by the Duma,
the Russian parliament, it carried new bandages, linens, uniforms, supplies, and
fresh medical personnel to replace the depleted Russian
stores. Russia's presence in Galicia was hard-won, a much-needed boost
to the nation following disastrous defeats in eastern Prussia. But the
Galician campaign, waged by hungry and demoralized men slowly
overwhelmed by growing discontent of war, marked the beginning of a
weary bond shared by soldiers across the Continent.
As a deputy in the Duma, Demidov had supervised the legislature's
Red Cross train on its journey across the vast sweep of the Russian
Empire; having safely delivered it, he remained in Tarnopol, directing
the distribution of supplies. One night he met a middle-aged woman,
said to be a mystic. Without warning, she fell into a trance and began to
murmur a string of prophecies. When Demidov asked about the war,
she replied that the Russian army would suffer defeat in Galicia, soldiers
giving themselves over to the enemy. The Allies would be victorious,
but Russia would not last out the war.
"What about the emperor?" Demidov asked.
"I can see him in a room, on the floor, killed," she slowly answered.
"And the empress?" Demidov pressed.
"Dead, by his side," she replied.
"Where are the children, then?"
"I cannot see them," she announced. "But beyond the corpses of the
emperor and the empress, I can see many more bodies."
Demidov left, shaken. The following day he boarded a train and
returned across the frozen winter landscape to Petrograd. The capital
provided a stark contrast to the wretched scenes in Galicia: here, the
wide boulevards were jammed with French motorcars and fashionable
carriages, conveying privileged passengers to the pastel palaces lining
the icy Neva River. Here, life carried on largely as before; in Galicia, it
had ground to a tragic halt. But the tranquillity would not last. In
twenty-six months the mighty Russian Empire collapsed, victim of a
revolution that enveloped the glittering world of the imperial court.
And the seer's vision of regicide became horrific fact only eighteen
months later, when the 304-year-old Romanov Dynasty came to its
bloody, inexorable end in a small cellar room in the Ural Mountains
mining town of Ekaterinburg.
* * *
The romanov dynasty had ruled Russia for nearly three hundred
years when, in 1894, Nicholas II acceded to the imperial throne. As the
empire entered the twentieth century, the decades of fear and respect
enveloping the imperial house had eroded, replaced with antipathy and
alienation. The dynasty languished on an ethereal plane, subsumed in
its own Byzantine opulence and a sense of impending doom. Shortly
after the last emperor came to the throne, the young writer Dimitri
Merezhovskii ominously recorded: "In the House of the Romanovs ...
a mysterious curse descends from generation to generation. Murders
and adultery, blood and mud.... Peter I kills his son; Alexander I kills
his father; Catherine II kills her husband. And besides these great and
famous victims there are the mean, unknown and unhappy abortions of
the autocracy ... suffocated like mice in dark corners, in the cells of the
Schlusselburg Fortress. The block, the rope and poison-these are
the true emblems of Russian autocracy. God's unction on the brows of
the Tsars has become the brand of Cain."
In their centuries of rule, the Romanovs had wavered between failed
reforms and brutal repression, bourgeois domesticity interrupted by
murderous family plots. Though rich in artistic and cultural wealth,
their empire bore little resemblance to a modern industrial state. The
vast majority of Russia's 140 million subjects were uneducated peasants,
their lives governed by a centuries-old struggle for survival; the handful
of privileged aristocrats lived in splendid isolation in their baroque
and neoclassical palaces in St. Petersburg and Moscow, spoke French
and English instead of Russian, and spent holidays gambling away fortunes
in Baden-Baden, Nice, and Monte Carlo. Yet between these two
extremes stretched a growing class of urbanized peasants seeking a better
life as factory workers, only to discover poverty and despair; and the
small intelligentsia of merchants, lawyers, and students who devoured
philosophical works and questioned the autocracy.
Russia entered the twentieth century poised on the edge of a volcano,
demanding a steady hand and firm character to guide it through
the uncertain waters of the modern era. It was the empire's misfortune,
and Nicholas II's personal tragedy, that he took the throne at this crucial
moment. Hopelessly ill equipped to deal with the burdens of his
exalted position, and incapable of decisive action in the face of impending
catastrophe, he presided over the dynasty's last years as an impotent
spectator, unwilling and unable to avoid the wave of horrors that swept
over Russia and drowned his country and his family. Even his birth on
May 6,1868, seemed to hint at the tragedy to come. In the liturgical
calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church, it was the Feast of St. Job, an
ill omen to the impressionable Nicholas. With tragic fatalism, Nicholas
passively ascribed every catastrophe that befell his empire, every terrible
drama suffered in his private life, to "God's will."
He was the eldest of the six children born to the future emperor
Alexander III and his wife, Marie Feodorovna, a daughter of King
Christian IX of Denmark. A second son, Alexander, was born in 1869,
but lived for less than a year. In Nicholas's first fourteen years, the family
grew rapidly. He was joined in the nursery by two brothers, Grand
Duke George Alexandrovich, who was born in 1871, and Grand Duke
Michael Alexandrovich, in 1878;and two sisters, Grand Duchess Xenia
Alexandrovna, in 1875,and Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, in
1882. Raised in an atmosphere of familial love that stressed subservience
as a cardinal virtue, Nicholas was unfailingly deferential, yet
suffered under his father's heavy hand. Alexander made no attempt to
disguise his disappointment in the shy, sensitive young boy who would
one day follow him to the imperial throne. He "loathed everything that
savored of weakness," recalled one official, and his eldest son bore the
brunt of his wrath. In an attempt to shape Nicholas in his own image,
Alexander bullied him, crushing his instincts and even insulting him in
front of his friends by yelling, "You are a little girlie!"
Never one to argue, Nicholas simply accepted this treatment; with
each passing year he became increasingly quiet and withdrawn, hampered
by indecision and a lack of self-confidence, a situation his mother
encouraged. Not particularly well educated, Marie Feodorovna was a
clinging, possessive woman who spoiled Nicholas as much as her husband
bullied him. She kept her son in an oppressive cocoon where he
remained emotionally dependent. Friends and influences beyond this
artificial world were regarded with suspicion, and allowed only with
great reluctance. Happy though they may have been with this bourgeois
family life, Alexander and Marie fatally crippled their eldest son. He
passed into adulthood immature and incapable of reasoned judgment;
instead, he was subject only to emotion, relying on instinct and on
passion-whether familial love or religious fervor-when making important
This claustrophobic existence was heightened by the terrible uncertainty
surrounding the imperial throne. At age twelve, Nicholas
watched helplessly as his grandfather Alexander II bled to death before
his eyes, victim of a revolutionary bomb. Six years later, on the anniversary
of the tragedy, Nicholas and his family barely escaped assassination
themselves when six men, carrying the workings of crude bombs, were
discovered in the streets of St. Petersburg. An investigation found that
they were part of a larger plot, driven by revolutionary students at St.
Petersburg University; after a brief trial, the conspirators were found
guilty and hung, the last public executions in imperial Russia. Among
those who went to the gallows was a young man named Alexander
Ulyanov, elder brother of the boy who would become Vladimir Lenin.
Such incidents seared Nicholas's own conception of his future, a situation
exacerbated by Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the political tutor who
warned that violence was the natural outcome of any move toward
democracy in Russia. The tutor made no intellectual distinction between
the violent revolutionaries who engaged in acts of terror, and the majority
of students and the intelligentsia who peacefully campaigned for
reform, a dangerous and inaccurate foundation on which the young
Nicholas built his few political views. Pobedonostsev emphasized the
mystical nature of the Russian autocracy as a unique bond between sovereign
and people. According to him, "real" Russians, loyal Russians,
stood unquestionably behind the imperial throne, accepted the autocracy
as divinely mandated, and prayed fervently for their sovereign. In
turn, the emperor was endowed with divine grace, answerable to no one
but his own conscience. Democratic concessions, Pobedonostsev
declared, only disguised encroachment of the emperor's divine rights, a
severing of this mystical relationship with the Russian people.
Nothing in Nicholas's education prepared him for what was to
come. He had a passion for history; spoke Russian, French, German,
Danish, and English; liked dancing; and impressed those whom he
met with his quiet, thoughtful demeanor. Nor did his five-year career
as an officer in the Preobrajensky Guards
Regiment provide any intellectual or
moral development. Rather than
assume leadership, Nicholas reacted
passively to military life, happy to
take orders and follow a regimented
routine with a rigidly
defined hierarchy where his
entire path was laid out for him
by senior officers, leaving no
unwelcome questions of choice.
Even when he came to the imperial
throne, at age twenty-six,
Nicholas remained distinctly
naive and immature, lacking the
vision and force of will necessary to
guide his country through the tumultuous
decades that followed.
Nicholas had a string of diverting
youthful romances, but his true
passion lay elsewhere. He first met Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine
when she attended the wedding of her sister Elizabeth, known as Ella,
to his uncle Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich, in 1884. Within a week
the sixteen-year-old tsesarevich was convinced of his love for the shy,
twelve-year-old German princess, and this conviction deepened in the
winter of 1889, when she stayed with her sister and brother-in-law in
St. Petersburg. That winter, Nicholas was a handsome young officer
with light brown hair and deep blue eyes, a dashing figure in his
Imperial Guards uniform if, at five feet, seven inches tall, just slightly
shorter than the princess herself. Alix, too, had blossomed into a quietly
beautiful young woman, with golden hair and blue-gray eyes. The skating parties,
balls, and dinners gave way to an extensive correspondence
after she returned to her home in Darmstadt, and the young lovers
found eager conspirators in Serge and Ella, who used their position at
court to influence Alexander III and Marie Feodorovna.
In the case of Alix of Hesse, there was much to overcome. Beautiful
though she was, she failed to win over the imperial couple during her
visits to Russia. Confirmed into the Lutheran Church at age sixteen,
Alix was preternaturally serious, and consumed with religious passion;
coupled with a prim Victorian morality and distaste for frivolity, she left
unfavorable impressions on those she encountered. Her emotions were
guarded, her social skills undeveloped, creating a veneer of boredom, of
disinterest, and of distinct unease. Her cousin Queen Marie of Romania
later declared that Alix was "not of 'those who win'; she was too distrustful,
too much on the defensive.... She had no warm feeling for any
of us and this was of course strongly felt in her attitude, which was never
welcoming. Some of this was no doubt owing to shyness, but the way
she closed her narrow lips after the first rather forced greeting gave you
the feeling that this was all she was ready to concede and that she was
finished with you then and there.... She made you, in fact, feel an
intruding outsider, which is of all sensations the most chilling and
uncomfortable. The pinched, unwilling, patronizing smile with which
she received all you said as if it were not worth while answering, was one
of the most disheartening impressions I ever received. When she talked,
it was almost in a whisper, and hardly moving her lips as though it were
too much trouble to pronounce a word aloud. Although there was little
difference in age between us, she had a way of making me feel as though
I were not even grown up."
After her mother's premature death in 1878, Alix found herself in a
world dominated by forceful women.
Excerpted from The Fate of the Romanovs
by Greg King Penny Wilson Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Cast of Characters.
1. The Ruin of an Empire.
2. A Traitor to the Revolution.
3. The House of Special Purpose.
4. “It Was Dreadful, What They Did . . .”
5. The Seventy-eight Days.
6. Russia in Chaos.
7. The First to Die.
8. The June Conspiracies.
9. “A Happy Hour with the Grandest People in the World”.
10. The Coming Storm: Enter Yurovsky.
11. Murderous Intentions.
13. The Four Brothers.
15. The Investigations.
16. “Holy Relics of Our Saints”.
17. Unearthing the Past.
18. “An Unknown Grave from the Soviet Period”.
19. Bones of Contention.
20. “It’s All Secret, All Political”.
21. The Secret of Koptyaki Forest.
22. “Drowned in This Mist of Holiness”.
Appendix 1: Ekaterinburg Guards.
Appendix 2: Inventory of Romanov Possessions in Ekaterinburg.
Appendix 3: The Romanovs’ Jewels.
Posted October 8, 2007
The book gives an exhaustive account of the Romanov¿s final days in captivity but is it not clear what was relevant. Some material presented is highly speculative.The authors state that mtDNA is derived from the nucleus of each cell. It is not. MtDNA is in fact derived from the cytoplasm of the cell, in organelles called mitochondria. This is elementary biology. The book attempts to undermine the credibility of the DNA results by using assertions such as ¿the DNA was badly corrupted¿, ¿engaged in statistical wizardry in an effort to bolster their results¿, ¿entire stretches were missing¿, ¿manipulation¿, ¿spliced together¿, ¿did not provide an unaltered genetic code¿, 'forced to look for overlapping¿. The implication is that the DNA tests were suspect. The book misquotes memoirs of two servants, Gibbes and Volkov.Overall, the book was extremely tedious and too detailed by half.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 12, 2007
This is the most updated and most historically accurate Romanov book out there. It shatters many of the old things we were taught about the Imperial Family's last days and paints the family in a more human light, not as saints but as humans. It paints the most violent execution scene and demonstrates how the 2 missing bodies are not where Yurovsky said they would be.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 31, 2006
Posted January 4, 2004
their is so much information...old and new...in this book. i really recommend for any Romanov fan, I don't think you will really be disappointed unless you honestly thought that this book was going present all new evidenceWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 7, 2004
This book was touted on the web as an effort that would set the record straight on 'The Fate of the Romanovs.' Sadly, the co-mingled fact and fiction has failed to garner the attention of one noted academic on the subject of Russia. The likes of Pipes, Figes and others have weighed in with a deafening silence. I struggled to complete the book. Tedious is an understatement. Unfortunately it often read like the hysterical gossip the participants of royalty web sites hope to pass off as serious intellectual discourse. Do not waste your time or money if you hope to gain a better understanding of the political and military situation surrounding the last days of the Romanovs.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 11, 2003
The authors of this book have promised to shatter long held beliefs about the murders of Tsar Nicholas II and his family with their startling new revelations and use of original sources. It is more like they have retouched the negative prints used as evidence in a murder case and cross examined witnesses during a retrial of the defendant. The attempt to cast Yakov Yurovsky in a more sympathetic light fails because of his own confessions. The attempt to link one of the Grand Duchesses to scandal fails because of the unreliable witness testimony. And, of course, there IS the attempt to convince the reader that there are grounds for a bonafide case of two missing persons simply because Alexei and Maria were not in the mass grave. Yet here we find Yurovsky's repeated insistence that he definitely disposed of the Heir, which sounds more and more plausible, along with one other person (which lent itself to manipulation). And so we have the authors desperately trying to set up those same old circular arguments about Anastasia in the chapter that deals with the identification of the remains. New information? Little sops have been thrown, assumptions about the characters of people who cannot stick up for themselves have been made, and many lies are stuck in with comparatively few truths. Whatever unfamiliar details are worth knowing come up 'like splendid fragments.... With rubbish mixed, and glittering in the dust.' I have come away with nothing shattered. Yurovsky still oversaw the slaughter of the family, the old scandalous rumors remain old rumors, and Alexei and Anastasia died with their parents, sisters and remaining servants in the early morning hours of July 17, 1918.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 1, 2009
No text was provided for this review.
Posted February 8, 2011
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