The summer of 1919 was marked by the great reverses which were to bring, a few months later, the downfall of Admiral Kolchak's government. The Bolshevik troops had retaken Perm and were threatening Ekaterinburg. The work undertaken in the clearing at Koptiaki had to be abandoned before its completion. On July 12th, N. Sokolov, heartbroken, decided to leave for Omsk. There he spent the month of August, and then, seeing that the situation was growing still worse, he went on to Tchita, whilst I remained at Omsk.
A few weeks after his departure, two Russian officers came to the French Military Mission and asked to speak to me. They told me that General D- had an important communication to make to me, and begged me to be so kind as to go and see him. We got into the car which was waiting, and a few moments later I found myself in his presence.
General D- informed me that he wanted to show me a 'boy who claimed to be the Tsarevich'. I knew in fact that a rumour was spreading in Omsk that the Tsarevich was still alive. He was announced to be in a small town of Altai. I had been told that the inhabitants had greeted him with enthusiasm, the schoolchildren had made a collection on his behalf, and the governor of the station had offered him, on his knees, bread and salt. In addition, Admiral Kolchak had received a telegram asking him to come to the assistance of the pretended Tsarevich (Shortly after my departure the bogus Tsarevich ultimately confessed the imposture). I had paid no attention to these stories.
Fearing that these circumstances might give rise to difficulties, the Admiral had had the "Pretender" brought to Omsk; and General D- had called for me, thinking that my evidence would settle the difficulty and put a stop to the legend that was beginning to grow up.
The door of the next room was opened a little, and I was able to observe, unknown to him, a boy, taller and stronger than the Tsarevich, who seemed to me fifteen or sixteen years old. His sailor's costume, the colour of his hair, and the way it was arranged were vaguely reminiscent of Aleksey Nicolaievich. There the resemblance ended.
I told General D- the result of my observations. The boy was introduced to me. I put several questions to him in French: he remained dumb. When a reply was insisted upon he said that he understood everything I had said but had his own reasons for only speaking Russian. I then addressed him in that language. This, too, brought no results. He said he had decided to answer no one but Admiral Kolchak himself. So our interview ended.
Chance had brought across my path the first of the countless pretenders who doubtless for many years to come will be a source of trouble and agitation among the ignorant and credulous masses of the Russian peasantry.
In March, 1920, 1 rejoined General Diteriks and N. Sokolov at Harbin, whither they had drifted, like myself, after the collapse of Admiral Kolchak's government. They were in a state of great agitation, for the situation in Manchuria was growing daily more precarious, and it was expected that at any moment the Chinese eastern railway might fall into the hands of the Reds. Bolshevik spies were already beginning to swarm over the station and its surroundings. What was to be done with the documents of the enquiry? Where could they be put in safety? General Diteriks and N. Sokolov had appealed to the British High Commissioner before his departure for Pekin, asking him to take to Europe the relics of the Imperial family and the evidence of the enquiry. He had asked for instructions from his Government. The reply was a long time coming. It came at last... It was in the negative!
I then appealed personally to General Janin, informing him of the situation.
"I am quite ready to help you," he told me. "I can do it on my own responsibility, as there is not time to refer the matter to my Government. But it shall not be said that a French General refused the relics of one who was the faithful ally of France. Ask General Diteriks to furnish me with a written request expressing his certainty of my consent; I should consider doubt as a reflection on me."
The letter was sent, and General Diteriks came to an understanding with General Janin as to the arrangements for transmitting the precious objects to the person named by him in Europe.
Two days later, General Diteriks, his two orderly officers, N. Sokolov, and myself took on our shoulders the heavy valises prepared beforehand and carried them to General
Janin's train, which was standing a short distance from the station. In single file we were approaching the platform when those in the rear suddenly saw several figures start up out of the shadows and accost us, shouting: "Where are you going? What have you got in those bags?" As we hurried on without reply they made as if to stop us and, ordered us to open our valises. The distance that remained was fortunately not very great; we dashed forward at full speed, and a moment later reached the General's carriage, the sentries having already run up to meet us.
At last all the evidence was in safety. It was time, for, as had just been proved, we were marked down. An hour later we slipped out of the train one after the other and made our way unobserved between the carriages of others standing near.
On the next day General Diteriks brought General Janin the box containing the relics of the Imperial family.
This happened on March 19th, 1920.
There was nothing now to keep me in Siberia. I felt that I had fulfilled the last duty towards those to whom I was attached by such poignant memories. More than two years had passed since I had been separated from them at Ekaterinburg.
Ekaterinburg! As I was leaving Russia, with what emotion I lived again, down to the least details, the painful scenes which this name called up in my mind! Ekaterinburg to me meant the despair of feeling my every effort vain; cruel and brutal separation; for them it was to be the last stage of their long Calvary, two months of suffering to be endured before the supreme deliverance.
It was the period when Germany was determined to triumph at any price and believed that victory was at last within her grasp; and while William fraternized with Lenin, his armies were making one more thrust at Paris.
In this total collapse of Russia there were still two points of resistance; in this abysmal night two fires remained where the flame of faith still burned bright. There was, on the one hand, General Alexeiev's gallant little army of volunteers, struggling desperately against the Soviet regiments stiffened by German officers. On the other, behind the wooden enclosures which imprisoned him, the Tsar, too, was leading his last fight. Supported by the Tsarina, he had refused all compromise. Nothing remained but to sacrifice their lives; they were ready to do this rather than bargain with the enemy who had ruined their country by violating its honour.
And death came, but death refused to separate those whom life had so closely bound together, and it took them all seven, united in one faith and one love.
I feel that events have spoken for themselves. Anything I might be able to add now - intensely as my feelings have been quickened by recalling those days of anguish relived sometimes from hour to hour - would appear mere vain literature and misplaced sentimentality compared with the poignant significance of the facts.
I must, however, assert here this conviction: it is impossible that those of whom I have spoken should have suffered their martyrdom in vain. I know not when it will be, nor how; but one day or other, without any doubt, when brutality has bled itself to death in the excess of its fury, humanity will draw from the memory of their sufferings an invincible force for moral reparation.
Whatever revolt may rankle in the heart, and however just vengeance may be, to hope for an expiation in blood would be an insult to their memory.
The Tsar and Tsarina died believing themselves martyrs to their country: they have died martyrs to humanity. Their real greatness is not to be measured by the prestige of their Imperial dignity, but by the wonderful moral heights to which they gradually attained. They have become a force, an ideal; and in the very outrage they have suffered we find a touching testimony to that wonderful serenity of soul against which violence and passion can avail nothing and which triumphs unto death.
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