The last days of the Emperor and his family - The assassination of the Grand Dukes in Siberia and St. Petersburg - The Grand Duke Alexander vainly approaches the Allied Governments - Exile.
THE series of odious crimes committed by the Bolsheviks against the Imperial family began with the murder of the Grand Duke Michael, the Tsar's younger brother. He was arrested in February 1918 at his residence of Gatchina, and shot at Perm, in Siberia, in June of the same year. The second crime was the assassination of the Tsar, the Tsarina and their children.
Since the first days of the Revolution, the Emperor and his family had been interned in Tsarskoe Selo. Then one day in August 1917 they learned that the Provisional Government had decided to change their place of detention, and their hopes rose high as they thought they might be sent to the Crimea. They were deeply disappointed when they were told that they were going to Tobolsk, in Siberia.
ABOVE: The Governor's Mansion in Tobolsk where the Imperial Family was held captive.
A small group of staunch friends was granted permission to share their lot. They were: Countess Hendrikov, lady-in-waiting; Mlle Schneider, lectrice to the Empress; Prince Dolgorukov, Marshal of the Court; General Tatistchev; Dr. Botkin and Dr. Derevenko; M. Gilliard and Mr. Gibbs, the Swiss and English tutors; Nagorny, the sailor attached to the Tsarevich, who carried the little invalid when be was unable to walk; and several other loyal servants.
The river boat which conveyed the prisoners from Tyumen to Tobolsk passed through Pokrovskoie, Rasputin's native village. From the deck, the Imperial family could distinctly see the house of the starets. The events which had taken place since his death had strengthened the Empress' faith in her Siberian prophet, and she saw in this a fresh sign of his protection.
The prisoners were lodged in the governor's house at Tobolsk. Their jailers were continually obliged to disperse the faithful people who would come and stand under their Sovereigns' windows and raise their caps and cross themselves when passing the house.
ABOVE: Nicholas and Aleksey saw wood in Tobolsk.
At first the Imperial family lived under fairly tolerable conditions. The soldiers who guarded them behaved decently, and their colonel, Kobylinsky, was sincerely attached to his prisoners and did all in his power for their comfort. But, after the Bolshevik coup d'etat, the Soldiers' Committee usurped the authority vested in Kobylinsky, and the prisoners were subjected to every sort of unpleasantness. In February 1918, after the Army was demobilized, the old soldiers who made up the guard were replaced by arrogant youngsters, and the plight of the prisoners grew worse each day. All attempts to liberate them had failed. In the first place, the Emperor had repeatedly declared that be would not attempt to escape if it meant his having to leave Russia. Another reason for the failure of these attempts was the presence of one Solovieff, Rasputin's son-in-law, sent to Tobolsk by Anna Vyrubova with the object of forming a clandestine center with a view to preparations for the Imperial family's escape. It turned out that this sinister personage-in whom Anna Vyrubova bad complete faith-was a secret agent of both the Bolsheviks and the Germans. The latter, who then occupied part of Russia, wanted to bring the Emperor back to Moscow so that be might ratify the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It was therefore imperative that no one who was loyal to the Tsar should have any contact with the prisoners. Solovieff took good care of that.. He established relations with the prisoners through Father Alexis, their father-confessor, and managed to convince the Empress that he alone, guided by Rasputin's spirit, could ensure the safety of the Emperor and that of his family. He made her believe that a group of three hundred loyal officers stood ready to deliver them when he gave the word. Anyone belonging to the royalist organizations formed for the purpose of rescuing the Emperor and his family inevitably fell into his bands, and, no less inevitably, disappeared. When Solovieff and his wife were arrested at Vladivostock by the White Army in 1919 an examination of their papers gave ample proof of their guilt, but the couple managed to escape and take refuge in Germany.
In April 1918, Commissar Yakovlev, vested with unlimited powers, was sent from Moscow with a detachment of a hundred and fifty men. Three days after his arrival, be informed the Emperor that he had come to take him away, but gave him no hint as to his destination. He merely assured him that he would not be harmed, and that if anyone wished to accompany him be would raise no objection.
This placed the Tsarina in a cruel dilemma, for the Tsarevich bad been taken seriously ill a few days before and was not in a condition to be moved, The unhappy mother was torn both ways: she could not bring herself to leave her son, nor could she let her husband set off without her for an unknown destination. Finally she decided to follow her husband, leaving her son in the care of three of her daughters, his tutor M. Gilliard, and Dr. Derevenko. The Grand Duchess Marie, Prince Dolgorukov, Dr. Botkin and three servants went with the Emperor.
The journey was extremely tiring and arduous. It was made in a tarantass (a wicker cart without seats, used by peasants in the Ural district), over terrible roads with deep ruts. They changed horses in Pokrovskoe, under the windows of Rasputin's house. The next stop, an unexpected one, was in Ekaterinburg. The prisoners were confined in the house of a certain Ipatiev, a wealthy local merchant. It has since been proved that Yakovlev was supposed to take his prisoners to Moscow, and that the reason he stopped in Ekaterinburg was to avoid a trap to seize the Emperor which had been set by the Ural Government, probably in conjunction with Moscow. Yakovlev's real intentions have never been fully cleared up. Some people believe that he was trying to save the prisoners. One fact is certain, however: that later on, having joined the White Army, he was captured by the Bolsheviks and shot.
Three weeks after the departure of their parents the Tsarevich, whose health had improved, and the three Grand Duchesses, were also removed from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg. The joy of being together again somewhat mitigated the Imperial family's misery and suffering.
ABOVE: The Ipatiev House.
A wooden barricade reaching to the second story had been rapidly built around Ipatiev's home, to turn it into a prison. Sentries and machine guns were placed everywhere, inside the house and out.
Escape was now impossible. Germany, having lost all hope of obtaining the Emperor's signature to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, abandoned the Imperial family to its fate.
The prisoners could no longer have any doubt as to what this would be. The conditions under which they lived during this last stage of their martyrdom defy description. No humiliation was spared them, but they suffered most from being forced to live in such close contact with their jailers, who were unspeakably boorish and offensive, and almost always drunk. The doors of the room occupied by the Grand Duchesses had been removed, and the soldiers entered it as and when they pleased.
Yet, upheld by an unshakable faith in God, the prisoners seemed to be no longer affected by their surroundings. They were already living in another world, on another plane. Their calmness and gentleness made a deep impression upon their jailers, who gradually treated them with less brutality. Since their arrival at Ekaterinburg, the prisoners had been separated from most of their companions. Fortunately, Dr. Botkin was allowed to stay with them, and a few servants as well. These faithful and devoted friends were a great consolation to the Imperial family during the last days of their lives.
The assassination of the prisoners had been decided on. The White Army, created in Siberia by Koltchak, was drawing nearer and nearer. This settled their fate.
I will not give an account of this abominable crime; the facts are now too well known. In spite of the care taken by the murderers to remove all traces of their crime, all the facts have been collated with untiring patience and devotion by Sokolov, the examining magistrate who directed the inquiry into the massacre of the Imperial family. These records have been published and M. Gilliard, the Tsarevich's tutor, has told the whole story in his book The Tragic Fate of Nicholas II. In 1920, after the collapse of Admiral Koltchak's government, M. Gilliard met Sokolov and his chief, General Dietrichs, in Harbin. They were very anxious to place the records of the inquiry in safekeeping, as the Bolsheviks were trying to lay hands on them. General Janin, Head of the French Mission which had been evacuated to Manchuria, consented to bring them back to Europe, along with the few remaining relics of the Imperial family. This explains how all the details of the crime and the names of the actual murderers came to light. One thing is not explained, and that is a strange discovery made by Sokolov, the examining magistrate, which he described to me himself. On the wall of the cellar in Ipatiev's house, he found two inscriptions. The first was a copy of the twenty-first verse of Heine's poem "Balthazar": "Balthazar war in selbiger Nacht von seinem Knechten urngebracht." (That same night, Balthazar was murdered by his servants.) The second was in Hebrew and was later translated: "Here was slain the Head of the Church and of the State. The order has been obeyed."
(With the exception of the two foreign tutors, all those who followed the Imperial family into captivity paid for their devotion with their lives.. The sailor Nagorny, a humble Ukrainian peasant, could have saved his life by disowning his Emperor; he preferred death.
Twenty-four hours after the assassination of the Imperial family, another tragedy was enacted in the little town of Alapaievsk, about a hundred and fifty versts away (roughly, ninety miles).
The Grand Duchess Elisabeth, the Grand Duke Serge Mikhailovich, Princes John, Constantine and Igor (the sons of the Grand Duke Constantine), Prince Vladimir Paley, Sister Varvara and the Grand Duke Serge's secretary - all were arrested in the spring of 1918, taken to Alapaievsk and imprisoned in the schoolhouse.
Their life at first was bearable. They were even allowed to go to church; but soon things changed and the odious ill-treatment inflicted on them was aggravated by the brutality and insolence of their jailers.
I have already referred to the death of the Grand Duchess and her companions. In October 1918 their bodies were found in the shaft of a deserted mine into which they had been thrown alive, after being stunned with blows from rifle butts.
After these assassinations in Siberia and the Ural came the murder of the Grand Dukes who had remained in St. Petersburg. My father-in-law's two brothers, the Grand Duke Nicholas and the Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, the Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, the Grand Duke Dmitri Constantinovich and his nephew Prince Gabriel had all been arrested and imprisoned. Thanks to the energy and devotion of his wife, Prince Gabriel was freed and escaped the fate of his relatives. The others were all transferred to the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul and soon afterward were shot. The Grand Duke George and the Grand Duke Dmitri died praying; the Grand Duke Paul, who was very ill, was shot on a stretcher; the Grand Duke Nicholas joked with his executioners, and held a favorite kitten in his arms. They were the last Romanov victims of the Bolshevik Revolution. Thus ended in blood and ashes the reign of one of the world's most powerful dynasties which, after ruling over Russia for more than three centuries and serving as the instrument of her greatness, was the involuntary cause of her downfall.
According to the terms of the Armistice signed on November 1, 1918, the Germans were to evacuate the Crimea and all the other parts of Russia they had occupied during the previous spring. Several hundred Russian officers who had succeeded in making their way to the Crimea with the object of protecting the remaining members of the Imperial family now announced their intention of joining the White Army. My brothers-in-law Andrew, Theodore and Nikita and I decided to do likewise, and we wrote to General Denikin, the commander-in-chief, asking him to enroll us. He replied that, for political reasons, members or connections of the Romanov family were undesirable in the ranks of the White Army. This was a great disappointment, for it was our earnest wish to take part in the unequal struggle against the destructive forces which had taken possession of our country. A great wave of patriotism swept over those parts of Russia in which the new army was being raised under the leadership of some of Russia's best soldiers. The names of Generals Alexeeff, Kornilov, Denikin, Kaledin, Youdenitch and of Admiral Koltchak will go down in Russian history as those of great national heroes.
Toward the end of 1918, the Allied Fleet arrived in the Crimea. My father-in-law left Russia on a British ship, accompanied by his son Andrew and Andrew's wife. His object was to see the heads of the Allied governments and explain to them the situation in Russia, as they were apparently far from realizing its gravity. Clemenceau could not receive him, but his secretary was most charming and very polite. The Grand Duke met with no better response elsewhere, and was even refused a visa for England. We are now facing the consequences of the tragic lack of foresight of the politicians who then governed Europe.
When the Red Army approached the Crimea, we realized that as far as we were concerned the end had come. On the morning of April 7, the commander of the British Naval forces at Sebastopol called at Harax, where the Dowager Empress lived. King Gorge V had placed the dreadnought Marlborough at her disposal, as he considered that events called for her immediate departure from Russia, The British commander insisted that she should go aboard that very evening. At first she flatly refused, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that he finally persuaded her to go. As it happened, we were all at Harax at the time of his visit, for it was the Grand Duchess Ksenia's birthday.. The Empress gave me a letter for the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholalevich, in which she told him of her decision to leave, and asked him and his family to come with her.
The news that the Dowager Empress and the Grand Duke Nicholas were on the verge of departure spread through the town like wildfire and caused a panic. Requests poured in from thousands of refugees, begging to be evacuated. But one warship could not take off all those whose lives would be endangered by the arrival of the Bolsheviks. Irina and I went on board the Marlborough after the Empress, the Grand Duchess Ksenia and my brothers-in-law had embarked. When Irina told the Empress that nothing had been organized or provided for the evacuation of all these poor people, Her Majesty told the Allied authorities that she refused to leave unless immediate steps were taken to rescue them.
As a result of her firmness, a number of allied warships steamed into Yalta to fetch away the refugees. Next day, together with my parents, we joined the Empress on the Marlborough.
Another ship left Yalta just before we did; on board her were the Crimean officers, en route to join the White Army. The Marlborough had not yet weighed anchor; standing in the bow, the Empress watched the ship pass by. Tears streamed down her cheeks as these young men, going to certain death, saluted her. Behind their Empress, they could discern the tall figure of their former commander-in-chief, the Grand Duke Nicholas.
On leaving our country with heavy hearts, that 13th day of April 1919 we knew that we were going into exile; but how long it would last, none of us could tell. Who could have dreamed that thirty-three years later it would still be impossible to foresee the end?
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