Our tribulations in Germany - We return to Russia via Copenhagen and Finland - The birth of my daughter - My father's mission abroad - He is appointed Governor General of Moscow - The situation grows worse - Rasputin.
We arrived at Kissingen in July, where we found things most unpleasant. The Germans were all gloating over ridiculous stories about Rasputin which had been published in the newspapers and tended to throw discredit on the Tsar and the Tsarina.
My father was extremely optimistic, but the news grew more alarming every day. Shortly after our arrival we had a telegram from the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicolaievna, the wife of our future commander-in-chief, urging us to return home as quickly as possible if we wished to avoid being held up in Germany. On July 30 Russia answered the Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia by decreeing a general mobilization. All Kissingen seethed with excitement. Crowds in the streets yelled and shouted insults at the Russians. The police had to be called in to restore order. It was clear that it was high time for us to leave, and we decided to go to Berlin. My mother was ill and had to be carried to the station on a stretcher.
Berlin was in a state of chaos. At the Continental Hotel where we were staying, the greatest confusion reigned. The morning after we arrived we were wakened at eight o'clock by the police, who had come to arrest us, together with our doctor, my father's secretary, and all our male servants. My father telephoned at once to the Russian Embassy, and was informed that everyone there was busy and that no one could be spared to attend to us.
Meanwhile, about fifty of us were shut up in a hotel bedroom just about large enough to hold fifteen. We remained standing there for two hours, so tightly packed that we could not move. Finally we were taken to the police station where, after our papers had been examined and we had been addressed as "dirty Russian pigs," we were warned that any of us who had not left Berlin by six o'clock would be arrested. It was past five when I returned to the hotel. My family were in a frenzy, convinced that they would never see me again. Time pressed, a decision had to be taken. Irina telephoned to her cousin, Crown Princess Cecilie, who promised to speak to the Kaiser at once and give us an immediate answer. On his side, my father appealed for help to Sverbeeff, our ambassador: "Alas, my role here is over," said the latter. "I don't see what I can do for you, but come back to see me in the evening."
As time was so short and we expected to be arrested at any moment, my father applied to the Spanish Ambassador, who had taken over the protection of Russian interests in Germany, and asked him to send one of his secretaries to see him.
In the meantime, the Crown Princess telephoned to say that she was in despair, but could do nothing for us. She promised to come to see us, but warned us that the Kaiser considered us his prisoners and that his aide-de-camp would call on us, bringing a paper which we would have to sign. The German Emperor gave us the choice of three places of residence, and guaranteed that we would be treated with consideration. Upon which an official of the Spanish Embassy arrived, and we barely had time to explain the situation to him when the Kaiser's envoy was shown in. He solemnly drew a large sheet of paper covered with red seals from his briefcase, and handed it to us with a flourish. This paper stated that we promised to refrain from all political action and agreed to remain in Germany "forever." My poor mother nearly had a fit. She wanted to go and see the Kaiser in person. I gave the paper to the Spanish diplomat to read.
"How can you be expected to sign such a piece of idiocy!" he exclaimed.. "Surely, there's some mistake. The clause should read 'for the duration of hostilities' not 'for ever.' "
After a short discussion, we requested the aide-de-camp to return with the corrected text next morning at eleven. My father went with the Spanish diplomat to see Sverbeeff. It was agreed that the former would ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs, von Jagow, to place a special train at the disposal of the Russian Ambassador, for members of the embassy and any of his compatriots who wished to leave the country. A list of the passengers would be sent him immediately. Sverbeeff assured my father that our names and those of our staff would be included in the list. He also told my father that the Dowager Empress of Russia and my mother-in-law, the Grand Duchess Ksenia, had passed through Berlin that very day. On hearing that we were at the Continental Hotel, they had tried to get in touch with us, hoping that we could return to Russia with them. But it was too late; their own position had become critical, and the Imperial train was obliged to leave Berlin at once to escape the hostile demonstrations of a crowd which broke the windowpanes and tore down the blinds of the car in which Her Majesty sat.
Early next morning we went to the Russian Embassy and from there to the station, where we were to take the train for Copenhagen. No military or even police guard was detailed to accompany us, as is customary on the official departure of an ambassador, so that we were entirely at the mercy of a frenzied crowd who threw stones at us all the way to the station. It was a wonder we were not lynched. Several of the embassy staff, some of whom had their wives and children with them, were struck over the head with sticks; they were covered with blood, while others had had half their clothes torn off them. As our car was the last, we were luckily taken for servants and escaped unmolested. Our servants managed to join us a few moments before the train left; they had gone to the wrong station and in their panic had lost all our luggage on the way. My English valet, Arthur, who had remained at the hotel to give the impression that we were still there, remained a prisoner in Germany until the end of the war.
We heaved a sigh of relief when the train moved out. Later we heard that the Kaiser's emissary reached the hotel shortly after our departure, and that when Emperor William learned that we had fled he gave orders that we should be arrested at the frontier. Fortunately the order arrived too late, and we crossed the frontier without further trouble. As for the unlucky aide-decamp, he paid for his failure in the trenches.
On reaching Copenhagen we went straight to the Hotel d'Angleterre where we arrived without even a toothbrush. A number of people called on us at once: the King and Queen of Denmark and their whole family, the Dowager Empress of Russia, my mother-in-law, and a great many other people who happened to be passing through the Danish capital. They were all extremely agitated by what had happened. The Dowager Empress asked that several trains should be placed at the disposal of those who lacked the means to return home and this was immediately done.
We left Denmark the following day. From the deck of the ferry boat which took us to Sweden, the Dowager Empress watched with visible emotion her native shores growing fainter and fainter; but her duty lay with the Russian people.
Above: Nicholas proclaims WWI from the balcony of the Winter Palace.
The Imperial train was waiting for us when we reached Finland. All along the way, Her Majesty received enthusiastic ovations from the Finns. These friendly demonstrations gave the lie to the rumors of a Finnish insurrection which had reached us in Denmark.
The general aspect of St. Petersburg was much the same as ever. Nothing suggested that we were at war.
The Empress Marie, who was going to Peterhof, invited us to stay with her for a time.
Peterhof is some distance from St. Petersburg, on the shores of the Baltic Sea. The pinkish-golden palace, its terraces and formal French park adorned with a series of marvelous fountains, have earned it the name of the Russian Versailles. A long canal, bordered by high trees and fountains, ran down to the sea. It was preceded by a water stairway and a large ornamental lake in the center of which was a group representing Samson and the lion; an immense spray of water shot up from the lion's open jaws. Two of the innumerable fountains in the Peterhof park caused an incident which amused the Dowager Empress' entourage for a long time. Among Her Majesty's ladies-in-waiting were two old spinsters well known for their punctuality. So when they arrived half an hour late for lunch one day, everyone was surprise Plied with questions, the good ladies blushingly admitted that they had arranged to meet at the entrance of the park in front of the statue of Adam. But as they could not tell Adam from Eve, one waited in front of Adam and the other in front of Eve, hence the confusion
The palace of Peterhof, built in the eighteenth century by the Empress Elisabeth, was destroyed by shellfire during the last war. It was never lived in, but only used for receptions. The Tsar had a house in the park, close to the seaside. A little further up was the Dowager Empress' "Cottage," and then "The Farm" where my family-in-law lived. Irina was born there.
After spending a few weeks at Peterhof, we went with the Empress Marie to the Elaguine Palace, an Imperial residence situated on one of the islands in the estuary of the river Neva. Irina fell ill with measles there, which made us quite anxious, as she was expecting a baby. As soon as she recovered we settled in our own house, in the Moika. As our rooms were not ready for us, we occupied the ones I used to share with my brother.
As an only son, I was not called up for military service, and I immediately began converting our various houses into hospitals. The Empress Marie was president of the Red Cross, which of course made things easy for me, and soon the first hospital for serious cases was opened in my Liteinaia house. I put my whole heart into this work, feeling that it was better to allay pain than to inflict it. I had a picked staff: doctors and nurses were all the best I could find.
The military campaign had opened brilliantly by a deep breakthrough into East Prussia; the offensive was launched prematurely at the demand of the Allies to relieve the congested western front. At the end of August, through lack of ordnance, General Samsonoff's army corps was surrounded near Tannenberg. The General, not wishing to survive the loss of his army, shot himself. The offensive was successfully renewed on the Austrian front, but in February 1915 a further offensive in East Prussia ended in the disaster of Augustovo. On May 2, the Austro-German Army broke through the Southwestern Russian front. Our troops were underfed, ill-equipped, and had no ammunition, yet under these appalling conditions they fought against the best-equipped army in the world. Whole regiments were taken prisoner without having had a chance to resist, owing to the lack of equipment which failed to arrive in time. The heroism of our soldiers could not make up for the incapacity of those in command, for the total disorganization of transport facilities, and for the shortage of ammunition; the retreat became a rout. Behind the front, public opinion was roused. There was talk of treason in which the Tsarina and Rasputin were implicated, and the weakness of the Tsar caused much indignation.
At that time, and particularly in Moscow which was essentially a commercial town, big business was mostly in the hands of Germans, whose arrogance passed all bounds. A great many highranking officers in the Army and important court officials bore German names. Most of them came of Baltic stock, and had nothing in common with our enemy, but the effect upon the masses was none the less deplorable. The people firmly believed the absurd stories that were rife, for instance that the Tsar, out of pure kindness of heart, had given captured German generals appointments in his suite. But it was a matter of general astonishment that important posts should have been given to men whose names and origins were not one hundred per cent Russian. German propaganda exploited this state of things, and attempted to stir up the people against the Imperial family by reminding them that the Tsarina and most of the Grand Duchesses were of German extraction. The fact that the Empress hated Prussia in general, and the Hohenzollerns in particular, did not seem to matter. One day my mother drew the attention of the Tsar to the bad impression made by having so many German names among court officials: "Dear Princess," be answered, "what can I do about it? They are all so attached to me, and so devoted. True, some of them arc old, and even a bit feeble-minded, like my poor Friedrichs (* Then Minister of the Court.) who, the other day, came up to me, clapped me on the shoulder and said: "Well, well, there you are. Were you invited to lunch too?' "
On March 21, 1915, my wife gave birth to a girl who was named Irina after her mother. I shall never forget my happiness when I heard the child's first cry. The midwife, Mine Gunst, was a good creature but very garrulous. Her patients mostly belonged to European court circles, so she knew a vast amount of court gossip and when on the subject would talk away for hours. I must say that her stories were most entertaining, and that I took as much pleasure in listening as she did in telling them, sometimes forgetting that the young mother needed her services.
The christening took place in our chapel, in the presence of the Imperial family. The Tsar was godfather and the Dowager Empress godmother, Like her father, my daughter was almost drowned in the baptismal font.
In 1915 the Tsar sent my father on a mission abroad. Knowing his eccentric and rather whimsical nature, my mother was worried when she heard of this; she was afraid to let him go without her. Her fears turned out to be groundless; my father carried out his mission very successfully. His first visit was to Rumania, whose king and queen he knew personally. At that time Rumania was not ready for war, and hesitated as to whose side to take. In the course of a long interview with King Carol at which his Prime Minister Bratianu was present, my father made a frank expose of the Russian point of view, and was given the formal assurance that when the time came Rumania would side with the Allies. The Sinaia Palace impressed him greatly, particularly the Queen's apartments which were full of large stone crosses, skins of wild animals, magnificent furs and human skulls.
During his visit to Paris, my father met President Poincare, General Joffre and several other leading personalities. At Joffre's headquarters in Chantilly my father decorated the French commander-in-chief with the Cross of St. George which the Tsar had sent him.
My father's visit to the trenches filled him with admiration for the courage and high spirits of the troops. Amusing inscriptions over the entrances to dugouts gave an idea of the French soldier's happy disposition: "In Memory of Marie, Lisette," "Good-by Adelaide," "My love-nest without a Rose." When dining the same evening at the Ritz, he was surprised to see the room filled with British officers. They were perfectly groomed, although they had only left the trenches that same afternoon, and would return there the next morning after dining in Paris and sleeping all night in their cars for the sake of economy. To see them smoking their pipes, so cool and unconcerned, it was difficult to believe that within a few hours they would be deep in the mud again.
In London, life was more austere and orderly. My father was received by King George V and Queen Mary the day after his arrival. He thought they both looked tired and worried as if the whole responsibility for the war lay on their shoulders. He talked with Lord Kitchener, whose fine, penetrating intellect he admired even more than his commanding presence.
Lord Kitchener was very well informed on Russian affairs, and thought they would give cause for great anxiety in the future.
On returning to the Continent my father paid a visit to the King and Queen of the Belgians, whose noble, courageous attitude had enhanced their prestige in the eyes of their own people and their allies. He also met the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII), the Duke of Connaught, and General French, who was extremely active in spite of his age.
Before leaving France my father had a last meeting at Chantilly with General Joffre, to pass on to him the impressions he had gathered in England from the talks he had had in that country.
His mission ended, my father returned to Russia. The Tsar made him Governor General of Moscow but he did not hold that office long. One man could not fight the German faction singlebanded, for it held all the important posts. My father found treason and espionage everywhere, and he used the sternest measures to try to rid Moscow of the enemy's secret domination. But, as most of the ministers of state owed their positions to Rasputin's influence and were pro-German, they proved resolutely hostile to the new Governor General and thwarted all his plans. My father was disgusted by the systematic opposition of the Government, and went to General Headquarters where be had a conference with the Tsar, the Commander-in-Chief, the General Staff and the Cabinet. Bluntly and without mincing his words, he explained the situation as he found it in Moscow, and openly named the culprits. His violent diatribe had a tremendous effect. No one, until that moment, had dared to raise his voice publicly to the Tsar against men in positions of authority. Unfortunately it all came to nothing. The pro-German party that surrounded the Tsar was powerful enough to counteract rapidly the effect of the Governor General's plain speaking. On returning to Moscow, my father was informed that he had been relieved of his office. All patriotic Russians were indignant at this measure, and at the Tsar's weakness in tolerating it. It proved impossible to fight against the German camarilla. My father, much discouraged, retired to the Crimea with my mother, while I remained in St. Petersburg to continue my hospital work. But I soon found it impossible to go on leading a life of case when all the men of my age were at the front. I decided to enter the Corps des Pages and take an officer's training course. The year I spent in a military school was not easy but it certainly did me a lot of good, and the discipline was excellent for my independent spirit which was so unamenable to any form of discipline.
At the end of August 1915, it was officially announced that the Grand Duke Nicholas had been relieved of his post as commander-in-chief and appointed to the Caucasus; the Tsar was taking command of the armies in person. The news was, on the whole, badly received, for everyone knew that pressure had been brought to bear on him by Rasputin, and that this important step had been taken at his instigation. To overcome the Sovereign's irresolution the starets had appealed to his religious feeling. Although the Tsar's opposition was feeble, it was in Rasputin's interest to remove him as far from St. Petersburg as possible. With the Tsar at the front, be had a clear field. From then on, he made almost daily visits to TsarskoieSelo. His opinions and advice amounted to orders, and were immediately transmitted to General Headquarters. Not a single important measure was taken at the front without his being consulted. The blind confidence which the Tsarina placed in him caused her unwisely to refer the most important, and even the most secret, matters to him. Through her, Rasputin governed Russia.
A plot was hatched by the Grand Dukes and several members of the aristocracy to remove the Tsarina from power and force her to retire to a convent.. Rasputin was to be sent back to Siberia, the Tsar deposed and the Tsarevich placed on the throne. Everyone plotted, even the generals. As for the British Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan, his dealings with radical elements caused him to be accused by many Russians of secretly working for the Revolution.
Some of the people closest to the Tsar and Tsarina attempted to open their eyes to the fact that Rasputin's influence was a danger to Russia and to the dynasty. They always received the same reply: "This is all slander; saints have always been slandered." When photographs of the starets taking part in an orgy were shown to the Tsarina, she indignantly ordered the police to find the wretch who had dared to impersonate the "holy man" and disgrace him in the eyes of the Emperor. The Dowager Empress wrote to her son, begging him to send Rasputin away and to forbid the Tsarina to interfere in affairs of state. Many others did the same. The Empress was informed of this by the Emperor himself, who concealed nothing from her, and she broke off all relations with those who dared to criticize her.
My mother had been among the first to protest against the "starets." After a long conversation with the Tsarina, she thought she had succeeded in shaking her confidence in her "miracle worker." But Rasputin's clique was on the watch. A thousand pretexts to keep my mother away were found very quickly. She had had no contact with the Empress for some time when, in the summer of 1916, she resolved to make a last attempt, and asked to be received at the Alexander Palace. Her Majesty greeted her very coldly and, on hearing the object of her visit, requested her to leave. My mother said that she would not do so until she had spoken her mind. She talked at great length. When she had finished, the Empress, who had listened in silence, rose and dismissed her with the words: "I hope never to see you again."
Later, the Grand Duchess Elisabeth, who appeared very rarely at Tsarskoe Selo, made a last attempt to convince her sister. She promised to come and see us on leaving the Alexander Palace. We all waited eagerly for her arrival, anxious to hear the result of the interview. She entered the room trembling and in tears: "She drove me away like a dog!" she cried. "Poor Nicky, poor Russia! "
Meanwhile, Germany was fully aware of the situation at the Court of Russia, and placed spies among the starets' entourage. Rasputin, made garrulous by alcohol, gave away plenty of information, more or less deliberately. I have reason to believe that it was through these channels that Germany found out the exact date of Lord Kitchener's departure for Russia. He had been entrusted with the task of convincing the Tsar that Rasputin should go, and the Tsarina be deprived of all possibility of interfering in affairs of state. His ship was torpedoed on June 6, 1916.
The situation at the front became more and more serious, and the Tsar grew weaker and weaker under the influence of drugs administered to him daily by order of Rasputin whose power had reached its zenith. Not content with dismissing and appointing ministers and generals, and attacking the highest dignitaries of the Church, he had formed a plan to remove the Tsar from the throne, replace him by the sick little Tsarevich, proclaim the Tsarina regent, and sign a separate peace with Germany.
All hope of opening the eyes of the Tsar being given up, what means remained of ridding Russia of her evil genius? The Grand Duke Dmitri and Purishkevich, a member of the Duma, had come to the same conclusion as I had. Before even discussing the matter among ourselves, all three of us knew that Rasputin must go, even if that meant destroying him.
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