JOURNEY TO EKATERINBURG
The Kommissar Rodionoff was chafing at the Tsarevich's slow recovery, which prevented the Imperial children's removal from Tobolsk. The little boy was sitting up for an hour in his chair for the first time, his temperature having been normal only for two days, when the Kommissar came in unexpectedly and announced that as the Tsarevich was well again he would give orders for the immediate departure of the party for Ekaterinburg. It was with difficulty that the doctor managed to make him postpone the journey for a couple of days, pointing out that the lad was not fit to travel after a month's severe illness. The Kommissar grumblingly agreed, and the journey was fixed for May 20.
The party consisted of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia, the Tsarevich, General Tatistcheff. Countess Hendrikoff, Mademoiselle Schneider, and myself, as well as the tutors. Dr. Derevenko, the Grand Duchesses' former nursery governess, Mademoiselle A. A. Tegleva, and some servants. I persuaded Miss Mather to remain at Tobolsk and dismissed my maid, who returned to her parents. The young people and I had a joyful meeting after those long months of separation. I was horrified to see how ill the Tsarevich still looked. He was terribly thin and could not walk, as his knee had got quite stiff from lying with it bent for so long. He was very pale and his large dark eyes seemed still larger in the small narrow face. Olga Nicolaevna had also greatly changed. The suspense and anxiety of her parents' absence, and the responsibility she bore when left as head of the house with her sick brother to look after, had changed the lovely, bright girl of twenty-two into a faded and sad middle-aged woman. She was the only one of the young girls who acutely realised the danger that their parents were in. Letters from the Empress came seldom, though she wrote daily to her children. (She numbered her letters and they saw that many never reached them.)
The Grand Duchesses wore simple travelling dresses and all three had bobbed hair. They had had it cut after their sharp attack of measles during the revolutionary days of 19171 and had kept it so, as it was more convenient in the circumstances.
We started on our journey with the utmost foreboding. We were all shipped on the Kouss, the boat on which the Imperial Family had come to Tobolsk. Rodionoff had sentinels posted everywhere, even at the doors of the lavatories, and ordered all of us ladies to leave our cabin doors open all night. No one undressed. The little Tsarevich was locked into the cabin he occupied with his sailor attendant Nagorny, for fear, I suppose, that he should "swim away." A sharp watch was kept over us all, and we were told to speak Russian only and this very distinctly, in order that the men detailed to be our personal guards should understand what we said. The rest of the soldiery did not come near us and spent the day on their part of the deck, singing and playing the accordion. Some had fine voices, and it carried us back to happier days and the concerts for wounded soldiers in the hospitals, when they sang the "Volga Boatmen's Song" and "Stenka Rasin."
By order of Rodionoff everything that was in the Governor's and Korniloff's houses, whether belonging to the Imperial Family or not, was put on board the ship. Rows of the most garish bedroom crockery stood on deck, coming from no one knew where. Olga Nicolaevna was in despair when she saw the archbishop's carriage and horse, which he had lent to take the Tsarevich to the boat, also being taken on board. "But he will need it. It is not ours, please tell them," she said. I assured her that my protestations would not help. We were prisoners and had to be passive. A lot of firing was going on, the soldiers shooting at harmless wild duck and anything else they fancied with their machine-guns.
After a long day and night on the boat we arrived at Tyumen, where, after lengthy discussions between our Kommissar and the local authorities, who wanted to arrest us. in their turn, we embarked in the train that was to take us farther. We were marched over the landing-stage, each one of us accompanied by two soldiers. The Tsarevich was carried, as he could not walk.
The train that was waiting was indescribably dirty. A combined second- and third-class carriage was assigned to the children and the Household, while the tutors and the servants were all bundled into an equally dirty cattle-truck which had been fitted out with deal benches but was officially called a fourth-class carriage. Again we have the same picture, sentries at every door, watching our every movement and following us at every step. At least we thought this could not last long, for the distance from Tyumen to Ekaterinburg was only 42.0 miles. Providentially the Empress's page, a man named Wolkoff, who acted as butler, had taken some cold meat and a large bottle of milk from Tobolsk, for the authorities had not provided us with food or drink. There were neither plates nor forks, so General Tatistcheff's penknife was used to cut up the meat and bread, which we made into sandwiches, and, luckily, we had some goblets in our dressing-cases.
Tatistcheff foretold that the treatment meted out to us on this journey boded no good for the regime we should find in force at Ekaterinburg. He greatly feared that we of the Household would be parted from the Imperial Family. Nastinka Hendrikoff said openly to me that she had a premonition that all our days were numbered. She, personally, had gone through much sorrow that year. She was passionately devoted to the Empress, and the long months of captivity had tried her to the utmost and had developed intensely the religious side of her nature. Indeed she now lived an entirely spiritual life, and had so fixed her thoughts on approaching death that it had no terror for ner. She was very pretty and looked younger than her twenty-eight years, but she welcomed the thought of death, so weary had she become of life and so much detached from earthly interests. I felt her drifting away to higher planes.
I fully shared my companion's apprehensions as to the future, and it was not easy to start cheerful topics so as to hide our secret thoughts from the young girls.
The Grand Duchesses were very quiet and never complained of anything. They felt that my advent had brought them again into touch with the outside world, and laboured under the delusion that it heralded further small concessions. The Tsarevich lay all day, while we tried to amuse him as best we could. The poor little man longed for Monsieur Gilliard's company. He knew so well how to entertain him and make him forget how ill and weak he still felt. No entreaties, however, would persuade Rodionoff to allow either Monsieur Gilliard or Mr. Gibbes to join us in our carriage. Rodionoff seemed to enjoy refusing and vexing those in his power, and his sneering remarks were harder to bear than direct insults. The other Kommissar, the stoker Khokhriakoff, though he was a very important person in the Ekaterinburg Soviet, played a secondary part here. He sometimes seemed even to pity the sick boy and tried to make his surroundings more comfortable while he was still at Tobolsk.
I saw how little ill-will the Emperor's daughters bore to their gaolers when Khokhriakoff hurt his foot in stepping off a ladder. Remembering the many wounded she had nursed during the war, Olga Nicolaevna was immediately full of solicitude and was anxious to look at his foot and bind it up. He was not a gaoler to her but a Russian sailor. The injury was nothing of importance and the man refused gruffly to have it seen to. I foresaw that he would never accept the aid of any of us, but Olga Nicolaevna was much distressed at not being able to help a human being in pain and worried over the "poor fellow" all the time.
The last bit of our journey seemed interminable. We began to ask ourselves if it were indeed to Ekaterinburg that we were being taken, and if there were not again some trickery, as had been the case with the Emperor and Empress. At last, shortly after midnight, the train stopped for a longer time than usual. In the darkness outside we heard voices, then we saw soldiers passing the windows, and some Kommissars entered our carriage. These were the Ekaterinburg authorities. They conferred with Rodionoff and Khokhriakoff, and we were finally told that we had arrived at the freight station of Ekaterinburg, but that on account of the lateness of the hour we could not leave the train till the morning. We all laid down, fully dressed, to rest before whatever the morrow might bring. Early next day a Kommissar called Avdeeff appeared, to take away the Grand Duchesses and the Tsarevich. Avdeeff, a workman from the Zlokazov works near Ekaterinburg, was the Kommissar who had charge of the Emperor and Empress. He was a coarse drunkard under whose rule his unfortunate victims suffered much. He ordered us all to leave our carriage. It was a grey, drizzly day. The station was surrounded by large forests, and beyond the open platforms we saw a line of one-horse cabs drawn up, beside which was a band of armed soldiers. Tatistcheff and I asked the Kommissars if the children were being taken to their parents. Rodionoff gave no answer, but Avdeeff said that this was so. The Grand Duchesses were told to leave the carriage first. The Tsarevich followed, being again carried by Nagorny. Not one of us was allowed to assist them with their luggage. The young girls staggered under the load of their heavy bags, and when Nagorny wanted to help the Grand Duchess Tatiana, who held a dog under one arm and dragged a heavy black valise full of linen besides, he was rudely pushed away. Our turn had yet to come, and we stood helpless, watching the scene. The Imperial children were all put into the cabs - on the step of each stood two sentries with rifles - and they were driven away...
Before they left we kissed each other good-bye, and we all had a dim feeling that this was a crucial moment. We had been marched away separately at every previous change from boat to train, but this seemed to be different. Tatiana Nicolaevna tried to take the matter lightly. "What is the use of all these leave-takings? We shall all rejoice in each other's company in half an hour's time!" But one of the sentries said ominously to me, "Better say 'Good-bye,' citizeness," and in his sinister face I read that this was a real parting.
Then came Tatistcheff's turn. He, too, took leave of us ladies, and in the lingering grip of his hand I felt he had the same feeling. After him Countess Hendrikoff and Mademoiselle Schneider were taken away. I was about to follow them, but the sentries barred the door with their rifles. Rodionoff came up and said that as there was no remaining conveyance I should have to wait. He locked the door of the carriage from outside, put the key in his pocket and, after assuring himself that the sentries were at their posts, went away. For several hours I waited in agonising suspense, for I was tortured with anxiety for my young princesses. We had not been told where they were being taken, and I trembled at the idea that they might perhaps not have been allowed to join their parents after all. I had little doubt that my companions would not be permitted to stay with the Imperial Family. We had heard at Tobolsk that Prince Dolgoroukoff had never been inside the Ipatieff house where the Emperor and Empress were confined, but had been taken straight to prison on his arrival at Ekaterinburg.
At last Rodionoff appeared. He announced to me that the local Soviet had examined my case and that I was free. "But where are the others?" I cried. "This," he said, grinning, "I will not tell you. If you know too much you will soon get old," quoting a Russian proverb. No persuasion would make him answer, so taking my bag I left the carriage, not knowing where I should wend my steps. Ekaterinburg was under martial law. I knew not a soul in the town and the passport I had was most incriminating, for it was still the same old diplomatic one.
I was at my wits' end when one of the sentries, now off duty, took pity on me and told me he would escort me to the main station, "where there was a carriage full of people of your kind." My guide was as good as his word and led me to the so-called fourth-class carriage in which were Monsieur Gilliard, Mr. Gibbes, and the servants. There I spent the night. We all hoped that on the next day we should be joined by the rest of the Household, or should at least learn something about them.
Early on the morrow we saw from our carriage the unloading of the luggage that had come from Tobolsk, to the accompaniment of most unpleasant scenes. A few moments sufficed for a considerable crowd to collect around the van. I cannot describe the faces I saw; all the escaped gaol-birds and their womenfolk seemed to have forgathered. These were faces that bore the imprint of every vice written in large letters on them: fat faces, lean faces, but all with deadly, intense hatred stamped on them. They mocked and jeered as the luggage was taken out. There were many boxes, for not only were the Imperial Family's belongings in the van, but also those of the people who came with them, and the things that Rodionoff had seen fit to take away from Tobolsk.
A box was opened for some reason or other, and some pairs of old boots belonging to the Emperor came to view. "He has six pairs, and I have none!" shouted a man, pointing to his bare feet. At this one of the crowd cried "Death to the tyrant! Death to the bourgoui!" "All these boxes contain the gold dresses of these wanton women!" another cried, pointing to us. "Off with their heads!" A huge man with a red face, wild hair and beard, and dressed only in a torn shirt and trousers, got on a box and began a speech: "Tovaristchy!" (Comrades). "While these blood-suckers were gloating over their ill-gotten gains, we were sweating the sap of our lives in working for them. Now it is their turn; down with them; hang them; drown them in the lake," etc., etc. The soldiers who were looking on laughed; some applauded.
Rodionoff and Khokhriakoff came at this juncture, and, seeing that the crowd) was likely to prevent the unloading of the vans, had the platform cleared by the soldiers. The Kommissars began sorting the luggage, giving their orders: "This and that goes to the Ipatieff house, [Buxhoeveden's footnote: The house in which the Emperor and Empress were imprisoned.] these other things to the Soviet." Most of Their Majesties' belongings went to the Soviet or to the lodgings of the Kommissars themselves, and were never seen again by their lawful owners!
I managed to induce Rodionoff to tell me definitely where the Grand Duchesses were. After some sparring he finally said that they had really been taken to their parents and that the whole family was together. We rejoiced greatly at this, for we knew what separation would have meant to them all. About the fate of the others he would give us no information. The servants, prowling about the town, learned afterwards that both Tatistcheff and the ladies had been taken straight to different prisons. I could never manage to get into touch with any of them. I asked Rodionoff to give a parcel of underclothing and a few lines to Nastinka Hendrikoff, as I guessed that she would never see any of her luggage, but though he took the parcel he never delivered it.
Only two of the servants who had come with us were taken to the lpatieff house. One was a footman named Troup, who was to replace the Emperor's valet who had been taken ill, while the other was the Tsarevich's attendant, Nagorny.
When Mr. Gibbes and Monsieur Gilliard tried to insist on their privilege, as free men and foreigners, of being admitted into the Ipatieff house, they met with the same refusal that I had also got when I approached Rodionoff with a similar request on the day before. Dr. Derevenko alone was living in the town. As a medical man he was on a different footing from the rest of the Household, and was allowed to attend the sick Tsarevich, but was closely watched on the few occasions on which he was called to the Ipatieff house.
My companions and I, though we were officially free, were evidently carefully shadowed. Armed soldiers always prowled about the station and lounged near our car. There were so many of them that it was difficult to guess which was to be our special escort. Whenever we went to dine at the station restaurant soldiers sat on each side of us and listened attentively to every word we uttered. The streets were full of sailors and soldiers, and we generally had the uncomfortable sensation, when we walked abroad, of somebody slinking behind us. I had often had the same feeling at Tobolsk and had got into the way of stopping whenever I noticed this and pretending I was deeply engrossed by something I saw in the street till my "follower" had passed me, when I walked behind him in my turn. I had got so used to this manoeuvre that I caught myself stopping short in the street when I heard steps behind me, for months after my return to Europe! Naturally in these conditions we went about as little as possible, but when we did go into the town we saw a good deal of movement in the streets. A great many cars rushed hither and thither, full of Kommissars. A German Red Cross mission had just arrived at Ekaterinburg in connection with the repatriation of the former prisoners of war, and the Bolsheviks were doing their best to be amiable to their guests, as the Germans played a great part after the Brest-Litovsk treaty. I saw German Generals and nurses being driven about the town, and their train, a beautiful one, was drawn up on the main line of the station, not far away from ours.
Did this delegation know of the danger to the Emperor and his family, or were they deluded into believing in the Bolsheviks' feelings of humanity? Certainly had they themselves offered to do anything for them the Emperor and Empress would not have accepted their help, but I always wondered how it was that through this Red Cross delegation the news of the desperate plight of the Russian Sovereigns did not filter through abroad. I personally could not approach the Germans, for I considered that we were still at war with them, the Emperor never having recognised the peace treaty concluded with them by the Bolsheviks.
Even the civil population of Ekaterinburg that we met in the streets seemed all akin to the ruffians that we had seen at the station when the luggage was being dealt with. Ekaterinburg was a large mining centre, and it had become one of the chief strongholds of the Bolsheviks after the revolution. Most of the criminal element from the whole of Siberia had assembled there, which explained the types we saw. I was also struck by the evidences of class hatred that were shown in the casual conversations we overheard in shops and in the street. I suppose that all the more moderate elements in the population were too terrorised to show themselves.
These impressions formed by our surroundings added to the anxiety we felt for the Imperial Family. We could not communicate with them in any way, as we had seen from the want of success that followed my attempt to write to my colleague that letters were evidently not forwarded. We discussed among ourselves what steps we could take to help the Imperial prisoners, but could think of nothing we could do that might not make matters still worse for them. We knew from bitter experience, both at Tsarskoe Selo and at Tobolsk, that if we irritated the Kommissars by requests of any kind they would vent their displeasure on the prisoners. We were assured by some neutral foreigners whom I happened to meet, and who were in a position to have a better grasp of the situation than we had, that the Imperial Family were in no immediate danger.
The presence of a consular body at Ekaterinburg also seemed to us to denote a certain guarantee that measures for the maintenance of order would be taken by the authorities, and at the same time we hoped that through these consuls some news of the Emperor's presence in the town might reach authorities abroad and might lead to orders for some relaxation in the severity of the treatment meted out to the prisoners. Both the tutors and I were tied hand and foot, for none of us had valid documents and very little money. We could only stay where we were and await events. We did not again see the Kommissars who had brought us from Tobolsk, for their mission was now ended.
Everything connected with the State prisoners was so much shrouded in mystery by the Bolsheviks that many of the townspeople did not even know of the Emperor's presence at Ekaterinburg! All questions concerning them were regarded with such suspicion that it took us a couple of days even to locate the lpatieff house. This was situated in the centre of the town and was entirely surrounded by a high new wooden paling, which completely shut it off from the street. This paling was much higher even than the one round the yard at Tobolsk, and the prisoners inside the house could not have seen anything out of their windows, the panes of which were also all whitewashed.
Once, standing on some steps at the door of a house close by, I saw a hand and a pink-sleeved arm opening the topmost pane. According to the blouse the hand must have belonged either to the Grand Duchess Marie or Anastasia. They could not see me through their windows, and this was to be the last glimpse that I was to have of any of them!
After we had stayed for a week at Ekaterinburg we suddenly received a written order from the Soviet that we were all to leave the territory of the Government of Perm (in which Ekaterinburg lies) within twelve hours, and that we were to take up our abode in the town of Tobolsk. The order was peremptory; we could do nothing but obey. We hoped that perhaps the Tobolsk authorities might prove amenable and would give us permits to return later. Gilliard, Gibbes, and I clubbed together to pay for the fourth-class van in which we were to travel, for the servants had little money. If we hired the whole truck we would at least be together and would not have Bolshevik soldiery in our midst. With aching hearts we saw our carriage hooked on to an endlessly long refugee train, eastward bound. On June 3 we started back along the way we had come, still hoping that we might somehow ultimately manage to get into touch with the unfortunate family who were now completely isolated in the clutches of the Ural Soviet.
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Contact Bob Atchison for comments on this site.
Other books on Russian History from the Alexander Palace Association:
The Life and Tragedy of Alexandra Feodorovna by Sophie Buxhoeveden | Memories of the Russian Court by Anna Vyrubova | Thirteen Years at the Russian Court by Pierre Gilliard | Last Days at Tsarskoe Selo by Paul Beckendorff | St. Petersburg - Imperial City | Charles Cameron - Imperial Architect by Georges Loukomski | Tsarskoe Selo in 1910
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