From the Publisher
“The brutal 1918 massacre of the Romanov family may be familiar, but in Russian scholar Rappaport's hands, the tale becomes as shocking and immediate as a thriller. Drawing on new archives and forensics, she crafts a portrait of the final weeks of Russia's last imperial family, cramped in the House of Special Purpose in Ekaterinburg. Though Tsar Nicholas's rule was harsh, the love and religious devotion he and his family shared makes them sympathetic. The Romanovs are now saints in Russian Orthodoxy, symbols of faith and hope. This gripping read helps you understand why.” People magazine (3 ½ stars)
“Synthesizing a variety of sources, Rappaport details the Romanovs' last two weeks. . . . How the last czar and his family died was one of Russia's best-kept secrets for decades, and Rappaport spares none of the gory details of the panicked bloodbath . . . and botched burial of the corpses . . . this is an absorbing, lucid and authoritative work.” Publishers Weekly
“British historian Rappaport combines detailed scholarship with an engaging narrative style. . . . The book's most gripping sections describe the days and hours leading up to and including the family's execution. Rappaport spares few details . . . Solid political and social history, related with the vigor of a true-crime thriller.” Kirkus Reviews
“Rappaport fills out her story with vivid detail and superb characterization, building the tension and drama to its brutal climax, sparing no stomach-turning details. She draws us in so well, that we very nearly smell the dusty drapes and taste the sweat hanging thick in the air of that tragic Siberian summer. We can't stop reading, wondering what will happen next, even though we know full well what happens next. Meticulously researched and intimately drawn, this is a must read for anyone interested in the sad fate of the Romanovs, or for anyone interested in plumbing the depths of human depravity, witnessing the nobility of calm resignation, or reliving the tragedy that foretold the executions of hundreds of thousands of innocents in the decades to come.” Russian Life
“The Last Days of the Romanovs was, quite simply, stunning. It dealt with a subject that has long fascinated me, and I can say without reservation that it is the most detailed, authentic and gripping account of the bloody end of the Romanovs that I have ever read. I was staggered at how Helen Rappaport reconstructed and evoked such searingly vivid images; they are still with me now. Chilling and poignant, this is how history books should be written.” Alison Weir, author of Henry VIII: The King and His Court
“The Last Days of the Romanovs is perhaps the most accurate depiction of the demise of Nicholas and Alexandra that I've read. Beautifully researched and written, Helen Rappaport's newest book is notable not only for its balanced view of Russia's last imperial family, but its realistic portrayal of a close-knit family in distress.” Robert Alexander, bestselling author of The Romanov Bride
“That perfect but rare blend of history, sense of place, human tragedy, drama and atmosphere. . . . [The Last Days of the Romanovs] kept me up for 2 nights. . . . This book is going to be a bestseller . . . it will be the best read you will have had for ages.” Susan Hill, author of The Various Haunts of Men and The Pure in Heart
“Helen Rappaport has brought her subjects back to life with a sombre intensity. . . . The book is essentially a compassionate account of a close-knit, deeply devout and surprisingly ordinary family caught up in quite extraordinary circumstances. The atmosphere of dark menace that permeated the House of Special Purpose is very well captured as their Bolshevik captors gradually closed down their links with the outside world; sealing and whitewashing the windows and erecting a second perimeter fence. . . . I found this book a deeply touching anniversary tribute.” The Independent (UK)
“A highly accessible account . . . rather than romanticizing the family members, the author explores their numerous character defects. Set against the rich political backdrop of the bloody birth of the revolution, the result is extraordinary and powerful.” Oxford Times (UK)
“The Last Days of the Romanovs is well researched and has some excellent photographs . . . Rappaport successfully evokes the claustrophobic atmosphere within the house. . . . Nor does she spare the gruesome details of the massacre.” Daily Telegraph (UK)
“An unromanticised telling of the family's incarceration in the Ipatiev house and the circus that went on around them. [The Last Days of the Romanovs] brilliantly shows how history is never simple but always enthralling when written with this style.” Bookseller (UK)
“An effective and engaging synthesis . . . with skill and imagination [Rappaport] juxtaposes the escalating chaos outside with the day-to-day tedium of the prisoners. . . . The result is an intriguing personal angle on what had seemed an exhausted subject.” Sunday Times (UK)
“[Helen Rappaport] skilfully weaves together the grimly repetitive routine of the doomed family with the high drama engulfing the killers as they add the finishing touches to their terrible plan. Though some of the material is familiar, Rappaport's countdown format makes The Last Days of the Romanovs freshly compelling.” New Statesman (UK)
“As a short work of history it is informative and concise, telling you everything you need to know to understand what went on. As a fresh look at a crucial point in Russian and world history it presents new evidence and some fascinating first-hand accounts. As a family drama - parents alongside their children unaware of their deadly fate - it is claustrophobic and gripping. I cannot recall the last time I enjoyed a history book as much as this.” Scott Pack, Me and My Big Mouth blog author (UK)
author of The Various Haunts of Men and The Pure i Susan Hill
That perfect but rare blend of history, sense of place, human tragedy, drama and atmosphere. . . . [The Last Days of the Romanovs] kept me up for 2 nights. . . . This book is going to be a bestseller . . . it will be the best read you will have had for ages.
Synthesizing a variety of sources, British historian Rappaport (Joseph Stalin) details the Romanovs' last two weeks, imprisoned in a cramped private house in Ekaterinburg, a violently anti-czarist industrial city in the Ural Mountains where Nicholas II; his wife, Alexandra; and their five children were executed on July 17, 1918. The czar's rescue was a low priority for the Allies, and several escape plots by Russian monarchists came to naught. A lax guard was replaced by a rigorous new regime on July 4, headed by Yakov Yurovsky, whose family's impoverished Siberian exile had fueled his burning hatred for the imperial family, and his ruthless assistant and surrogate son, Grigory Nikulin. How the last czar and his family died was one of Russia's best-kept secrets for decades, and Rappaport spares none of the gory details of the panicked bloodbath (it took an entire clip of bullets to finish off the czarevitch because an undergarment sewn with jewels protected the boy's torso) and botched burial of the corpses. Although parts of the Romanov saga are familiar and Rappaport's sympathy for the czar often seems naïve, this is an absorbing, lucid and authoritative work. 16 pages of photos. (Feb. 3)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Using a wide range of primary sources in English and Russian, Rappaport (Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion), a British author who specializes in Russian studies, concentrates on the final weeks of the Romanov family's house arrest before their execution in Ekaterinburg in July 1918. Weaving in political and historical context, the author deftly conveys the tense and claustrophobic atmosphere in the "House of Special Purpose," as the family's place of detention was euphemistically called. The most engaging sections of the narrative are those that delve into the personalities of the family, showing them as flawed but sympathetic. The author details how their utter devotion to one another, their country, and their religion sustained them in their final days and contrasts their state of resigned calm with their jailers' merciless plans to "liquidate" the family. An epilog touches on the canonization of the family as saints in Russian Orthodoxy and their enduring mystique. Poignant but never maudlin, this book is an absorbing read, though the more serious reader might wish for more detailed notes on sources. Recommended for academic and large public libraries. (Illustrations not seen.)
Megan Hahn Fraser
You-are-there account of the grim 1918 countdown toward the deaths of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. British historian Rappaport (No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War, 2007, etc.) combines detailed scholarship with an engaging narrative style. She lays the groundwork by summarizing Nicholas' tumultuous reign and the list of grievances that Russia's new communist regime and many citizens had against him. Short mini-biographies of the royal couple, their four daughters and one son make the point that isolation from their subjects caused resentment to build and made the leaders of the Bolshevik government intent on swift, brutal justice. Rappaport doesn't break much new ground in her descriptions of the cramped conditions and onerous restrictions that defined the Romanovs' lives under heavy guard from April 30 to July 17, 1918, in the Siberian city of Ekaterinburg. She does, however, strongly convey how far they had fallen and how difficult living in such close quarters was, especially for the Tsaritsa Alexandra and her son, Tsarevich Alexey, who were both quite ill. Rappaport's research uncovered some previously unknown efforts by British and German monarchs to rescue the Romanovs and provide them with safe haven. These efforts were stymied by "flabbiness of will," in addition to internal and external political obstacles, she concludes. The book's most gripping sections describe the days and hours leading up to and including the family's execution. Rappaport spares few details; indeed, some unduly lengthy recitals of meals and similar trivialities could have been omitted. There's no flab, however, in her grisly evocation of the scene after theexecution: "The corpses, many of them with hideous, gaping head wounds and broken and dislocated limbs, were now horribly mangled and ugly, their hair matted with caked blood. It was almost impossible to associate these wretched twisted bodies with the five charming, vibrant children of the official publicity."Solid political and social history, related with the vigor of a true-crime thriller. Agent: Charlie Viney/Mulcahy & Viney
Read an Excerpt
The Last Days of the Romanovs
Tragedy at Eckaterinburg
By Helen Rappaport
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2008 Helen Rappaport
All rights reserved.
Behind the Palisade
30 APRIL–3 JULY 1918
It took five days of bone-rattling travel by tarantass – a crude springless carriage – for the Romanovs to get from Tobolsk to Tyumen. During the journey, Alexandra and Maria huddled together and shivered as they were jolted across rivers and through spring floods and quagmires of mud. Drained and exhausted, Alexandra had been glad of the company of Maria, who had volunteered to come with them as a comfort to her. Nicholas, in contrast, seemed cheerful, glad to be on the move and out in the fresh frosty air.
Faced with the choice of accompanying her husband to Moscow, as she thought, and defending his position, or staying behind to nurse the sick Alexey in Tobolsk, Alexandra had agonised over her decision, torn between the overwhelming emotional pull of her son and her ingrained fears for Nicholas. Eventually she resolved that her first duty was to the Tsar, if only for her malleable husband's own protection.
At Tyumen the royal party transferred to the heavily guarded first-class carriage of Special Train No. 8 VA, commandeered by Vasily Yakovlev. En route Yakovlev continued to give the official line that Nicholas was being sent back to the capital to be put on trial. Privately, the Tsar and the Tsaritsa were convinced that fate would intervene and that this would be but the first stage in the Imperial Family's safe passage out of Russia. After a series of delays, the train arrived at Omsk, the junction of two major lines on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and the couple were suddenly gripped by alarm. Where would they be taken next? Eastwards across Siberia to Vladivostok and out of Russia via Japan? Or west towards Moscow and a public trial? Nothing was said as the train idled for hours in a siding at Lyubinskaya while Yakovlev parlayed over the telegraph with Moscow. Finally a change of plan was agreed. The train moved off, back in the direction of Tyumen. The Tsar and Tsaritsa were to be escorted not to Moscow after all, but to Ekaterinburg, where the Ural Regional Soviet would take custody of them.
At 8.40 a.m. on Tuesday 30 April, the train pulled into the city with its blinds drawn. As it did, Nicholas and Alexandra's anxiety levels rocketed. For here, at last, they encountered the full, ugly force of Russia in revolution. As the Tsaritsa later recalled in her diary, the day might have been 'gloriously warm and sunny', but the welcoming committee had been decidedly frosty. Rumours of the imminent arrival of the hated Tsar and Tsaritsa had spread like wildfire and an angry mob had gathered at the main railway station demanding that they be paraded before them. Fearful of a lynching, the Urals military commissar, Filipp Goloshchekin, who had been waiting to receive the Romanovs, decided to send the train on to the city's freight station No. 2 at Shartash, on the eastern outskirts. The Romanovs' first sight of Ekaterinburg was, after several hours kept sitting in the train, a goods siding at four in the afternoon. Waiting for them on the platform was a group of stony-faced Bolsheviks – Aleksandr Beloborodov, chair of the Ural Regional Soviet, Boris Didkovsky, his deputy, and Sergey Chutskaev, a member of the Ekaterinburg Soviet and the local secret police, the Cheka.
The Tsar and his family were now received into the hands of the Ural Regional Soviet for 'detention under surveillance', along with Dr Evgeny Botkin, their maid Anna Demidova, the valet Terenty Chemodurov and footman Ivan Sednev. With a bureaucratic flourish, Beloborodov signed the official receipt for them, like so much baggage. Aleksandr Avdeev, who with Yakovlev had accompanied the Tsar and Tsaritsa from Tobolsk, was appointed commandant of the Romanovs' new place of confinement. Later that hot summer afternoon the party made the short journey to Voznesensky Prospekt along eerily deserted streets, in closed motor cars, escorted by a truck bristling with armed soldiers. As their car pulled into the courtyard of the Ipatiev House, the former Tsar and his wife looked their last on Russia and the outside world. It was Passion Week and the bells – the beautiful bells that had so beguiled Anton Chekhov – were ringing out across the city. But they could not drown out the sound of the heavy wooden courtyard gates as they slammed shut behind them.
The Tsar and Tsaritsa moved to enter the Ipatiev House, to be greeted at the entrance by Goloshchekin, who had gone on ahead to meet them and now turned to his former monarch and declared: 'Citizen Nicholas Romanov, you may enter.' Impervious to insult, reconciled to his fate, Nicholas did not react, but the slight cut the Tsaritsa to the quick. Though Alexandra would continue, stubbornly, to take exception to Bolshevik disrespect, from now on there would be no more acknowledgement of Romanov status and titles, which, even in Tobolsk, had still been part of the daily protocol observed by staff and guards alike. The former Tsar of Russia was now an ordinary Soviet citizen like any other, with his own ration card. While he may have looked on their life at Tobolsk as a kind of house arrest, here Nicholas finally found himself in prison, within that vast annexe of the Russian empire that was itself a prison: Siberia.
Via emphatic instructions sent from Moscow by Yakov Sverdlov to the Ural Regional Soviet, it was the clear intention of the Kremlin leadership that the family should now be confined 'in the strictest way'. Seething with class hatred and desire for revenge on 'Nicholas the Bloody', the Ekaterinburg Bolsheviks delighted in withdrawing comforts previously accorded the Imperial Family. If the relative idyll in Tobolsk had prevented them taking their fate seriously, then now, surely, their presence in Ekaterinburg was for Nicholas and Alexandra a stark awakening. On her arrival it prompted the Tsaritsa to inscribe the date and a reverse swastika on the bedroom wall, a last faint gesture that this ancient symbol of faith, love and hope might eventually bring release.
Together with Maria, the Tsar and Tsaritsa spent their first three weeks at the Ipatiev House cooped up together in a single bedroom with only the use of the bathroom and sitting room, where Dr Botkin and the servants Chemodurov and Sednev slept; Anna Demidova occupied a small room in the back. The electricity supply was sporadic, but when she could, Alexandra wrote endless letters to the children in Tobolsk, as Nicholas read aloud from the Gospels. Despite the glorious sunshine, heavy snowfalls had continued well into May and emotional comforts were few until, at 11 a.m. on the unseasonably cold and snowy morning of the 23rd, the remaining four children arrived from the city station. But the 27-strong Tobolsk entourage who had travelled with them were informed that they could go no further. The Ekaterinburg Soviet had no wish to burden itself with the additional expense of their maintenance. They were left sitting on the train at Ekaterinburg station, to be later dispersed, a few to freedom but most to prison (where the Tsar's loyal aide Prince Dolkorukov had already been taken on arrival in April). Only three more servants, the cook Ivan Kharitonov, the kitchen boy Leonid Sednev (the nephew of Ivan Sednev) and the manservant Alexey Trupp, were allowed to follow the Imperial Family into the Ipatiev House, bringing with them Alexey's beloved pet spaniel, Joy, and Tatiana's two dogs, Jimmy and Ortipo.
The arrival of Alexey, Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia from Tobolsk, of which the Tsar and Tsaritsa were forewarned only a few hours before their arrival, greatly lifted the family's flagging spirits. There was no doubt, Nicholas noted in his diary, that the four children had all suffered personally and spiritually when left in Tobolsk on their own. But theclosely interdependent family unit was once more reunited and what greater joy could there be than for it to be during Passion Week – the most sacred festival in the Orthodox calendar. That evening they gathered together in front of their treasured icons and said fervent prayers of thanks. But Alexandra had already noted with alarm that her son was worryingly frail and wasted, having lost 14 pounds since his latest attack of haemophilia. That same first evening, all it took was one small slip and twist of the knee getting into bed and Alexey spent the whole of the night in unremitting pain. The Tsaritsa lay nearby, sleepless and watchful, listening to the boy's moans, as she had done for so many long nights now over the last 13 years.
But at least the family had each other again – and God. Their only line of resistance to the new and far more draconian regime imposed on them was to turn in on themselves and draw on their intense religious faith. It would sustain them through the days to come as they entered into a new, strange state of suspended animation. Existing but not living; locked in the deadening familiarity of a narrow, tedious daily ritual which day by day led them ever closer to – what? Release? Escape? Rescue? Whatever their ultimate fate might be, of one thing this strangely insular family were certain. God would take a hand in their fate.
And he was doing so already in that of several of their Romanov relatives now, unbeknown to the Imperial Family, being held in the city. The Tsaritsa's sister Grand Duchess Elizabeth (known as Ella), Grand Duke Sergey, the Tsar's cousin, and Princes Ioann Konstantinovich, Konstantin Konstantinovich and Igor Konstantinovich (three Romanov brothers descended from Konstantin, the second son of Nicholas I), together with Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley, had all been brought to Ekaterinburg in May and shut up in the Atamanov lodging house. But at least they had been allowed out to celebrate midnight mass in the cathedral at Easter, a privilege denied the Imperial Family. Here they had stood holding lighted candles of red wax, praying that the transcendent beauty of the Easter liturgy would bring hope and release. Prince Paley, himself a soulful and talented poet, wrote home to his mother of his anguish for his Romanov cousins. He had ventured up to the Ipatiev House in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Imperial Family, but the palisade was too high and the windows at that time were covered with newspaper. Meek, calm, submissive to his fate, he confided to officer's wife Madame Semchevsky his personal anguish for 'our poor Russia'. The country had, for him, become like some once majestic and powerful ship, now being engulfed by the waves and vanishing into the darkness. The great pools of Prince Paley's melancholy eyes spoke volumes for his sense of loss, remembered Semchevskaya, reflected in the lines of a poem he read that evening: 'Our near and dear ones are so terrifyingly far away; our enemies so terrifyingly near ...' – sentiments no doubt shared by his Romanov relatives a few streets away.
As a place of confinement, the Ipatiev House at No. 49 Voznesensky Prospekt was adequate, if cramped. It had been the original intention of the Ural Regional Soviet to incarcerate Nicholas in the city's prison, but security problems had prevented it. A suitable private house had been opted for instead, the Ipatiev House finally being chosen in preference to the residence of local doctor Kensorin Arkhipov because it was closer to the Cheka headquarters. Though boasting 21 rooms, it was small by the standards of the more spacious and airy Governor's House in Tobolsk. But situated as it was at the top of one of the few gentle hills leading out of Ekaterinburg, it had a fine view of the lake, public gardens and city below, through which the River Iset wound its course. Built between 1875 and 1879 by a mining engineer, Andrey Redikortsev, its present owner, Nikolay Ipatiev, had acquired the house in around 1908 for 6,000 roubles. Boasting as it did a private bathroom and flush toilet, it was considered one of the most modern residences in the city. Ipatiev was a well-respected citizen and intellectual, a member of the Ekaterinburg Duma who had been involved in the construction of the Perm–Kungur–Ekaterinburg section of the Trans-Siberian Railway and who ran his railway engineering business from the house's basement rooms. He had been out of Ekaterinburg taking a rest cure for his weak heart, and friends from Petrograd had been staying in the house, when order no. 2778 had arrived from the Ekaterinburg Soviet on 27 April, giving 48 hours' notice to quit. Ipatiev had hurried back to rescue some personal belongings but largely left the house intact with all its comfortable furnishings, down to the stuffed bear on the upstairs landing.
The house appeared rather low and unimposing from the outside, because it was built into the side of the hill, so that the lower semi-basement was only visible at its full height from the side, along Voznesensky Lane. But it was attractive and reassuringly Russian in style rather than classically elegant. It was built on the site of an old wooden church, pulled down in the eighteenth century when the grand new Voznesensky Cathedral had been built across the road.
Constructed of brick and stone and faced with white stucco, it had carved decorations on the doors and window frames and under the eaves and faced a dusty, unpaved street shaded by linden trees. Opposite was Voznesensky Square with its baroque cathedral and the grandly classical Rastorguev-Kharitonov mansion, but beyond, the poorer log and frame houses of ordinary working-class Ekaterinburgers were a stark reminder of the contrast between wealth and poverty still to be seen all over the city. Near the front door stood a small shrine dedicated to St Nicholas, built where the altar of the old wooden church had been located, but the family could not see this poignant and ironic reminder of the Tsar's patron saint because a palisade blocked it from view.
Having failed to keep the family's presence in the city a secret (it had been announced in the daily Ural'skiy Rabochiy on 9 May), the Romanovs' Bolshevik captors had initiated a deliberate policy of isolation and desensitisation from the very beginning. Before the Tsar's arrival the house had been descended on by a gang of 100 workmen who hastily surrounded it with a high palisade of sawn timber and telegraph poles standing a few feet from the front of the house. Originally about 12 feet, the palisade was heightened at the end of May, but worse was to come. On 5 June a second, higher palisade was thrown up in an even larger sweep, enclosing the entire house from the courtyard at the northern end, right across and down into Voznesensky Lane. The front entrance to the house was now dominated by Guard Post No. 1, the first of 10 placed in and around the building, and the exterior of this fortress was patrolled twice hourly – day and night – by a constantly changing roster of guards. All 10 guard posts had connecting bells to both Commandant Avdeev's room and the guardhouse across the street.
With the palisade only 14 feet from their windows, Alexandra's 'lovely world' was now finally shut off from the family. Despite the approach of summer, every window had been sealed tight, and on 15 May the world outside was whitewashed from view when an old man came and painted the windows over, thus ensuring no one could see in or out. Nicholas wrote that it felt 'as if there is a fog outside'. No matter how bright the day, there was a perpetual gloom indoors. As the temperature rose and the rooms became increasingly stuffy, the Tsar made repeated requests to Avdeev for the windows to be reopened. The Bolsheviks were reluctant to accede: the Romanovs already had access to the fortochka, a small winter ventilator in the upper section of a window looking on to Voznesensky Prospekt. Repeatedly, early in the morning, the sentries outside had noticed the head of one or other of the daughters peeking out. Warnings were ignored, and finally one morning a sentry had fired when Anastasia's head had appeared, the bullet striking the upper sill and ricocheting into the plaster on the bedroom wall.
Excerpted from The Last Days of the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport. Copyright © 2008 Helen Rappaport. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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