Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter XXII

Impending perils

Since January, 1918, peace preliminaries had been begun between the Central Empires and Soviet Russia. On January 29th/ February rrth, at Brest-Litovsk, Trotzky, wishing to show how clever he was, refused to sign the Treaty, but pronounced that ambiguous phrase "neither peace nor war," and as a proof of his good faith he launched a decree of complete demobilisation. There was a general sauve-qui-peul. The trains became inaccessible. The roofs of the railway carriages, the footboards, the outer walls even, were covered with clusters of drab-hued men.

The Germans, however, made it clear to Trotzky that it was necessary to choose between the state of peace and the state of war, and that there was no room for any third condition of things. General Hofmann's thump with his fist on the table had a formidable reverberation. The result of it all was that on February 10th/23rd, after having taken Minsk, Polotsk, Reval and Pskov, the first German divisions had achieved such an advance that the allied Military Missions made it known to the ten Ambassadors and Ministers of the Entente that they declined all responsibility for the consequences that a continued sojourn in Petrograd might have for these representatives of the Allied states. The Germans might within a few hours be occupying the town and might capture not only the diplomatic and consular bodies, but also all their papers and their ciphers.

In the meantime the discussions at Smolny went on night and day, without any decision being come to and without the slightest opposition being offered to the invader. Nevertheless, the Ambassador of France had at once offered Trotzky the financial and technical support of France if the soviet power resolved to fight.

On February 13th/26th the Ambassadors of the United States and Japan, and the Legations of China, Siam and Brazil set forth eastwards to go to Siberia and. the extreme East if necessary. On February 15th/28th the French, English, Italian, Belgian, Serbian, Greek and Portuguese also left Petro grad, under the guidance of the French Ambassador, on their way to Tammerfors in Finland, and with a view if possible to getting through the lines of the Finns, White and Red, divided into two camps by the Civil War.

It was General Mannerheim who, some time later, quelled the Red danger in Finland. He is adored there, and there is no hovel which is not adorned with a portrait of this national hero.

At last the Germans reached N arva, which is only two hours distant from Petrograd. Prince Leopold of Bavaria issued a manifesto in which he proposed to crush Bolshevism and declared it to be a madness contagious for the rest of Europe. Lenin, Trotzkyand their crew saw the imminent danger; they preferred complete humiliation, and it was on their knees before the enemy that on March 3rd, at Brest-Litovsk, they signed a Peace, more stringent and crushing than that which had been offered them at the beginning of February. The Soviet Ambassador, Joffe, installed himself in the Russian Embassy in Berlin. The Allied Embassies returned to Petrograd until April 3rd, when they left again for Vologda. The scandalous Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, so humiliating for the Russians, was signed and entry into Russia was again practicable without there being any fear of the occupation of Petrograd by German troops.

We ourselves did not know now what to think about things. It was in vain that the Comte de Saint-Sauveur assured us that the Allies would arrive by Archangel and save us - we felt that they had their own hands too full to come to our help. The proximity of the Germans, who were not advancing on Petrograd, but who were not clearing out of Russia as the Russian Commissaries would have liked, filled these latter with terrible alarm. Cowards by nature, they pictured themselves all arrested, bound and hanged, their legs dangling in the air, while the spectre of a monarchical restoration intensified their fears. Thus it came about the middle of March that the Jewish Commissary, Moses Salomonovitch Ouritzky, signed an order that all the members of the ex-Imperial Family and all those who belonged to it by any kind of relationship whatever, should on the morrow, without delay, present themselves at the Gorochovaia No.2, to the Tche-Ka - the Petrograd Extraordinary Commission. After a family council we decided to get Dr. Obnissky to make out a certificate of illhealth for the Grand Duke which I myself should take to the Tche-Ka. We decided that Vladimir, who did not bear the name of Romanoff, should remain at home with him and thus pass unnoticed, perhaps. But we counted without the hateful cleverness of the Jews and their extraordinary methods of getting together information.

On the morrow, at the hour fixed, provided with the doctor's certificate, I presented myself at the Gorochovaia No.2. A sentry asked me for my permit - I had none. He asked me on what business I had come.

"For the registration of members of the Romanoff family."

"Pass!" he said. Up to the second floor on the left.

I climbed up the steep stairs, which had formerly been the servants' staircase of the Chief of the Petrograd Police, and on which machine-guns now stood on every landing. I reached the hall indicated and found there the Grand Duke Dimitry Constantinovitch, first cousin of the Grand Duke Paul and brother of the Grand Duke Constantine, the poet, and the latter's three sons, John, Constantine and Igor. While we awaited the sitting we talked gaily together. At the end of a quarter of an hour there came in an ill-dressed individual, with his hair all in disorder, his face worn and sallow, clean-shaven, eyes of a pale yellow, with an evil look in them, a pointed nose and thin, closely compressed lips. I learnt afterwards that this was Gleb Ivanovitch Bokiy, Ouritzky's right-hand man. He placed himself at a writing-table and began to question in turn the princes who were present. When my turn came he turned a hard and disdainful glance on me.

"Who are you? Why are you here? Women were not called on to come."

"You don't imagine that I came for the pleasure of the thing? " I replied. "But you summoned my husband, Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovitch, and as he is ill and could not come I have come in his place."

"You have a doctor's certificate? "

"Here it is."

He glanced through the paper and said:

"This won't do for us. Your doctors write what they like. We shall send our own, who will know as well as Dr. Obnissky how to make a diagnosis. Dictate to me the names and Christian names of your husband."

I began:

"His Imperial Highness Monseigneur the Grand Duke Paul. . ."

"Enough," he said irritably. "All that is at an end."

I write: 'The Citizen Paul Alexandrovitch Romanoff, born at Tsarskoe-Selo, September 21St/ October 3rd, 1860.' His father? "

"The Tsar Alexander II." He scratched his head. Then he went on:

"I think these details are useless. Tell me, hasn't this Paul Romanoff a son? "

"Yes."

"What is his name? "

" Dimitry Paulovitch."

"Ah, that's the man!" And his wicked mouth twisted into a smile. "And where is he ? "

"He is at present in Persia."

"In Persia? . . . It is a pity," he added, drumming on the table with his pointed fingers.

"But Paul Romanoff has another son, hasn't he ? " My heart was beating very fast. "Yes, but he does not bear the name of Romanoff. "

"But he is nevertheless the son of him who bears the name of Paul Romanoff? "

" Yes."

"Then where is he? Why is he not here? No one has the right to ignore the decrees. Let him present himself here at midday to-morrow! "

Then, turning towards the other princes, he said:

"You can withdraw, gentlemen."

As we were passing through the adjoining room a man dressed in what used to be the uniform of an usher, was busy sweeping the floor. He looked at me kindly with tears in his eyes.

"These brutes are tormenting you," he said. "When I think how these wretches venture to humiliate in this way the members of the Imperial Family, my heart shudders (Ajno serdtze drogit)." And he lifted his arm heavily.

I went out of the house all trembling and returned to Tsarskoe-SeIo by the first train. I told my husband of the forthcoming visit of the Bolshevist doctor, and I said to my son that he must present himself next day to the Tche-Ka. Nevertheless, I lived in the hope that my son, not having enjoyed the prerogatives of the Imperial Family, they might in a spirit of justice spare him any trials, I still imagined we had to do with human beings, with people who had suffered and who therefore, in their way, thirsted after freedom and justice. I did not yet realise that the Bolshevists were simply bandits who. killed to steal, to take possession of what belonged to others. At that moment, the monsters were not yet showing their claws.

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