Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter IX

My sorrows begin

The report had got about fhat old General Ivanoff had come to the support of the Empress with five hundred Knights of St. George; he had, as a matter of fact, reached Kolpino, where he was arrested by rebel troops much stronger in numbers. Following upon this, on March 4th/17th, the Provisional Government, quaking with fear, placed the Empress, her children and all those round her under arrest. It was General Korniloff who was to acquaint the Empress with the fact of her arrest. Prince Pontiatine and General Groten were arrested at the Town Hall of Tsarskoe-Selo, to which they both were in the habit of going in connection with their work which concerned the requisite food supplies for the Palace. The Chief of the Police of the Palace, Colonel Guerardy, and Count. Tatischeff were also arrested, and all four were brought together in one of the Tsarskoe-Selo colleges, where they were roughly used and deprived of food and afterwards they were shut up in the fortress of Saints Peter and Paul at Petrograd. They left with the Empress, only Mme. Narischkine, Grand Mistress of the Court, Count and Countess Benckendorff and Countess Hendrikoff. Mme. Wirouboff who was also down with measles was with her too. The new War Minister, Gutchkoff, appointed Captain Kotzebue, of the Cavalry, Commandant of the Palace, hoping that he would act like a real jailer, as he had promised, but, Kotzebue, to his honour, accepted this post only that he might be able to come to the help of the prisoners and mitigate the hardships of their existence as far as possible. He allowed them to have uncensored correspondence, sent off telephone messages for them, bought for them secretly the things they needed. Accordingly, when Kerensky got wind of this noble behaviour, he removed him from the Palace and placed there a friend of his, the vulgar Korovitchenko, whom we sent for one day in order to get direct news of the Sovereign. This individual came the moment he was invited, sat down and crossed his legs and lit a cigarette in our presence without asking permission.

However painful the memory may be, I must mention how many officers and generals perished during those tragic days. One of the first among the killed was General Count Gustave Stackelberg, the husband of a friend whom I love tenderly. Some revolutionary soldiers forced their way into their house in. the Millionaia and made the General follow them on the way to the Duma, but they had scarcely left his residence when a gun-shot rang out. The frightened soldiers imagined they were being pursued and began to fire. Count Stackelberg began running down the street, but the soldiers shot him down a few yards from his own home. He was the best, the noblest, the most peaceful of men, and he was one of the first victims. Count Mengden, Count Kleinmichel, General Schildknecht, Waloneff the engineer, and so many others were martyred and killed at this beginning of the Revolution which Prince Lvoff boasted was "free from blood" (bezkrovnaia)'. At the time, it was said that it was officers with German names who were the chief victims. At that rate, France should recog-, nise no names from Alsace or Lorraine.

One cannot think without disgust of what happened at Viborg in Finland, where there was a great garrison of reserved troops. Several admirals and great numbers of officers were massacred by the soldiers and sailors. "The Drownings of Viborg" will remain eternally a vision of horror. One poor little child clinging to its father, whom the soldiers were about to throw into the Gulf of Finland, had both its arms cut through by a sabre.

As for me personally, over and above what I suffered for the Imperial Family, I had to go through terrible anguish, for my son by my first marriage - Alexander de Pistolekors. At the commencement of hostilities, he had offered himself as a volunteer and was appointed to a post in the Censorship at Petrograd, but wanting to fight he enrolled himself in the celebrated "Wild Division," and went through the whole war in the Carpathians against the Austrians. He went to the farthest point reached by our troops, that is, to Turka. After two years of privations, and of battles in atrocious conditions, the doctors insisted on his being sent back from the front; in December, 1916 he was attached to the staff of the Governor-General of Finland, General Zeine. It was at Helsingfors that the Revolution found him two months later. On the morning of March 4th/17th-fortunately I did not know it until long afterwards-some drunken soldiers forced their way into his room in the hotel in which he lived, a Societtatshus, insulted him, tore off his epaulettes and, hitting him with the butt-ends of their rifles, drove him down into the street. They told him they were taking him out on the open square to be shot. He consigned his soul to God and mentally took farewell of all of us whom he loved. Led out on the public square, he saw many other officers there, like himself condemned to die. They were made to stand in a semicircle, and the soldiers began shooting them down one by one with ignoble jests and jeers and a refinement of cruelty. My son, who was the eleventh out of nineteen, saw the first fall, then the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth. .. At that instant, an automobile, filled with naval officers, their arms tied behind their backs, arrived noisily. . ., A hideous scene was now enacted. The mob of soldiers, drunk with blood and wine, rushed upon these unfortunate men and in a few seconds tore them to pieces. . . While this was in progress a rescuer, a soldier whose name never transpired, shouted in rough tones to the fourteen condemned men who were still standing out in the square: "What are you doing there, off with you to prison, you --" and he ended with a gross expression.

They all followed him, trembling lest the ruse should be discovered. Taken to the prison, they were shut up in dungeons, but they were saved from the fury of the mob and they were set free two days later.On reading in the newspapers descriptions of the dreadful scene in Helsingfors - when none of the. victims; except some of the admirals who were killed, were named - I trembled for my son. The Provisional Government had named as Commissary for Finland one of its best orators and perhaps also one of the few honest men among them, the Cadet Roditcheff. Without knowing him I telegraphed to him, begging him to give me news of my son. Here textually is what he replied:

The corpse of Pistolekors has not been found among the victims.


I trembled with fright and was only half reassured. Fortunately my son was not long out of prison before he sent me a telegram saying he was safe and sound, and that he would arrive next day at Petrograd. Some weeks later he joined the British Tank Corps, in British officers' uniform, under the command of Colonel Locker-Lampson, "not wishing," he said, " to wear again epaulettes given me by the Emperor and soiled by impious hands." I shall now resume the thread of my sad story of the first days of the Revolution at Tsarskoe Selo, On March 5th/18th, at half-past eleven in the evening, we were together in my boudoir, the Grand Duke, mv son Vladimir and I. The eternal telephone began ringing. I went to it. It was Wolkoff, the Empress's valet de chambre, who had formerly served with the Grand Duke. He said:
"Her Majesty the Empress begs monseigneur to come to her at once."

"Mon Dieu!  What has happened?" I exclaimed.

"Do not be alarmed, Mme. la Princesse," he answered. "Nothing bad-in fact, it may turn out to be quite good: the War Minister Gutchkoff and the Commander of the troops, General Korniloff, have sent word to Her Majesty, the Empress, that they will come to see her at midnight."

Astonished over this nocturnal visit, the Grand Duke had the automobiles brought round at once (the two automobiles which we had at Tsarskoe were taken from us later by the Bolshevists), and went off to the Alexander Palace, taking Vladimir with him, for he believed that they might perhaps be of some use, the two of them together-one can never tell at such moments! I waited for them, resolved not to go to bed until their return. They came back at two-thirty in the morning, and this is what they had to tell me. On arriving at the Palace they were received by the Grand Marshal of the Court, Count Benckendorff, Kotzebue, and Count Adam Zamolsky, who has happened?" I behaved admirably during these days of trial. (Count Zamolsky remained with the Empress as aide-de-camp permanently on duty until the return of the Emperor, and would certainly have shared their captivity if the Provisional Government had permitted it.)

The Grand Duke went in at once to where the Empress was waiting. He found her alone, wearing her nurse's uniform, absolutely calm. She told him that Gutchkoff and Korniloff, who were making an inspection of the garrison at Tsarskoe-Selo, had asked her to receive them at midnight. She had not felt that she ought to refuse, despite her natural reluctance to receive these people. The Grand Duke remained with her two hours. At last, at one-thirty-my personal impression is that they kept her waiting to humiliate her-Gutchkoff and Korniloff were ushered in to Her Majesty.

The Grand Duke found both of them repulsive in appearance and antipathetic in an extreme degree. Gutchkoff's false and shifty glance was hidden behind black spectacles, while Korniloff, a pronounced type of Kalmuck, with cheek-bones standing out, kept his eyes on the ground. Both looked extremely ill at ease. At last Gutchkoff decided to ask the Empress if she had not any desires to express.

"Yes," she replied, "I beg you first of all to set at liberty the innocent persons whom you have taken away from the Palace and who are under arrest at the college (Prince Pontiatine, Groten, Guerardy, Tatischef!, etc.); and then I request that my hospital may not lack anything and may be allowed to be kept going."

This noble woman asked for nothing for herself.

. . . Just as Gutchkoff and Korniloff were going the Grand Duke advanced some steps towards them:

"Her Majesty has not confessed to you," he said, " that she is extremely inconvenienced by the guard which surrounds the Palace. For forty-eight hours past the men have been shouting and singing, and going so far as to open doors and look inside. Will you call your soldiers to order and a sense of decency? Their conduct has been just damnable!"

They both promised to lecture the guard (the Provisional Government, having no force, was able to proceed only by persuasion). Gutchkoff and Korniloff withdrew, without the Grand Duke deigning to shake hands with them.

Next day, the Grand Duke sent to Gutchkoff his resignation as Inspector-General of the Guard, and that of Vladimir as 1st-Lieutenant in the Regiment of the Emperor's Hussars. The idea of serving under these new-comers repelled them. It was just as well he did, for, three days later, General Alexeieff who, after having been in relations of close intimacy with the Emperor during the war, was continuing his work at lVIohileff and had completely gone over to the Provisional Government, sent the Grand Duke the following telegram:

You are deprived of your functions as Inspector General in Chief of the Guard.


The Grand Duke replied, pointedly:

I gave in my resignation four days before your telegram.


The humiliation, the wounds to one's amourpropre, were beginning. We had not yet come to the organised robbery and legalised theft of the Bolshevists', but a breath of blackguardism was afloat in the air. In those interminable speeches of his, when the saliva spurted out of his mouth, Kerensky lost no opportunity of attacking the Imperial Family:

"We have no longer need of the Rasputins and the Romanoffs," he cried out before a mob of enraptured listeners.

On March 10th/23rd, after saying adieu - alas! an adieu for ever - to Her Majesty, the Empress Dowager, and after taking farewell of his troops, the Emperor, kept in sight always by his jailers, arrived at Tsarskoe-Selo. An automobile brought him, accompanied by his faithful Court Marshal, Prince Basil (Valia) Dolgoroukoff, to the barrier of the Park - to the entrance nearest to the palace. The barrier was locked and yet the officer on duty could not have been in ignorance of the arrival of the Sovereign. The Emperor waited ten minutes, and then uttered these words which I have from Countess Benckendorff. . mother of Prince Walia Dolgoroukoff; "I see I have nothing more to do here." . .. At last the officer on duty was good enough to put himself out to the extent of opening the barrier, which closed again immediately. The Emperor was a prisoner with his children and his wife. Their meeting was full of pathos. The Emperor went and kissed his ailing children, then he shut himself up with the Empress and they were able to pour out their sorrows to each other and to pray God to give them strength to bear these first trials.

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