Memories of Russia: 1916 - 1919 by Princess Paley

Chapter XXXII

I Seek Help From Gorky. Schinkler is Shot in the British Embassy. The Wholesale Bolshevist Executions Which Followed

Following the advice of friends who were competent to speak, three days after the imprisonment of the Grand Duke I requested and obtained an interview with Maxim Gorky in his luxurious flat in the Kronwerksky Perspective, No. 23. He apologised over the telephone for having to keep his bed while he received me as he was suffering from bronchitis. I entered his bedroom and saw this man, one of the evil geniuses of Russia. He was all the more dangerous by reason of his talent and through his gift for describing with a certain picturesqueness the misery of the Russian people and the alleged tyranny of the autocratic regime.

There he was, in bed, pale, his hair lying fiat, his face wide, with projecting cheek~bones and a drooping moustache which covered a mouth too large and with thick lips; the very type of a Russian worker, of a factory-hand. Beside him was seated the famous singer Chaliapin, with his big, clean-shaven face, round and rubicund - this Chaliapin who made his debut in Paris at a concert given by us at Boulogne-sur-Seine, together with Dimitry Smirnoff and the entire Russian Company brought by Serge de Diaghilew, who had come thither to acclaim Moussorgsky's Boris Goudanoff! Chaliapin greeted me coldly and kept silent all the time I was talking with Gorky.

The purpose of my visit - always the same purpose - was to ask for help to get the Grand Duke out of prison. A part from his birth and his title, what grievance could they have against him? Gorky promised to intercede with Ouritzky but he did not conceal the difficulties and obstacles he would come up against. At the close of our conversation, he asked me:

"What is the relationship the youug poet Paley? "

"He is my son. . .

He turned round nervously in his bed, hit the pillow with his fist and said:

"I had a letter from him recently. I think he has succeeded in saving himself,"

"You have had a letter from him?" I exclaimed. "I beg of you, show it to me! I am so anxious, in such anguish about him."

His pallor became a little intensified.

"I can't show you this letter," he said, "besides it is a technical letter, from a poet to a poet - there is nothing in it that would tell you anything about him."

But what was the date of this letter? ,Vas it after July 5th/18th, the day of their flight? " I asked, beside myself with excitement.

"I can't tell you any thing - I can't show you anything. " I saw that persistence would be fruitless! but the hope that Vladimir was alive took still stronger root in my tormented heart! Lies, lies, it was all nothing but lies!

When I got up to go, calmed by Gorky's promise and by the news of this letter from my son, Chaliapin followed me into the ante-room. There, suddenly becoming communicative and affectionate, he took my two hands in his, kissed them and said:

" My Princess (Moia Kniaguiniouschka), I must see you! May I come to you to-morrow and at what hour? I want to convince you that Chaliapin is no ingrate and that he remembers what he owes to his patron, the Grand Duke! "

He did come next day to Marianne's flat and drank a bottle of Madeira and promised any amount of protection for his Grand Duke. He had not language abusive enough for the Bolshevist regime. Alas! how many persons have played this double game during this Revolution 1 Chaliapin, for his part, did not move a little finger to save anybody. He is an opportunist who prostrates himself before the regicides as he formerly prostrated himself before the Emperor and the Imperial Family.

I went to see the Grand Duke every Tuesday and every Friday. Sometimes the odious Commissary was absent and then our meetings were a real comfort to both of us. Dr. Obnissky, by the help of one of his patients, a lawyer named Serguieff in the service of the Soviet, obtained, in spite of everything, permission to attend my husband, He saw him three times a week, on between you and Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Thus our dear prisoner had almost daily news of his family, for before going to see him the Doctor always asked for news of me and my children.

On August 19th/September 1st, during my visit to the prison, I noticed unusual signs of excitement. There was a great coming and going and everyone looked happy. The news had spread that Schinkler was mortally wounded. He had set out at four o'clock the day before at the head of an expedition which was to execute a search in the British Embassy and had been received there by the naval attache Cromie who opposed the search on the grounds of diplomatic immunity. Schinkler, accompanied by some of his men, sought to get past. A struggle ensued. Captain Cromie, in defence of the honour of England, used his Browning revolver, shot two Bolshevists and severely wounded the Commissary; but the latter fired in reply and killed the brave naval officer on the spot; the latter's body was exposed during several days at one of the windows of the Embassy. Schinkler recovered eventually from the effects of his wound.

If such a drama had taken place in the days of the Tsardom one can easily imagine what kind of complaints and demands would have been made by England! What an amount of diplomatic ink would have been shed! What a fuss there would have been and what apologies would have been exacted! On this occasion there was nothing of the kind. England swallowed this affront although nothing would have been easier than to punish the Soviets whose power had not yet reached its height. Alas! at this period already Lloyd George had decided to pass over everything in order to come to an understanding with the Bolshevists! The fact that the murder was executed within the confines of the Embassy, without any reparation being insisted on, dealt a severe blow to the prestige of England in the eyes of the Russian population.

Schinkler's wound was recognised to be so grave that another Commissary was appointed in his place. This was a Lett, named Treulieb. Big, fair-haired, fat, he was not like the majority of his compatriots, whose cruelty has become proverbial and who, with the Chinese, formed Lenin's and Trotzky's most trusty bodyguard. This Treulieb was an easy going personage fond of the pleasures of the table, but he loved to give himself the airs of an important personage. He was amusing and grotesque. Without any education, without intelligence, his arguments were easily coped with. I persuaded him to allow the little daughters, accompanied by their good Jacqueline, to pay their father two visits in prison. This pathetic and moving scene touched the heart even of the Commissary. And then our relations being as far as was possible satisfactory, Treulieb coufided to me that he had no complaint to make against the Grand Dukes Paul, George Michailovitch, Dimitri Constantinovitch and Prince Gabriel. Only the Grand Duke Nicholas Michallovitch was difficult to manage: when taking exercise he kept shouting out and misbehaving; in the evening, after lights were put out, he relit his lamps to read and write and on Treulieb making a remark to him one day, he said to him: Dourak! It seemed to me that the Graud Duke really did not behave sensibly and that his conduct did harm to the others. My husband was of my opinion.

Once on arriving at my rendezvous, I saw a prisoner seated on the sofa beside a young woman. I did not know either of them. When my husband was shown into the room, the prisoner, who was easily to be recognised as a military man, rose, stood up straight and held his hands close to his sides (the salute in Russia when a soldier is bare-headed). and he would not sit down again until the Grand Duke begged him to do so. This took place in the presence of the Commissary and I have often thought with admiration of this act of civic courage. It was General Arseniew and his wife. Luckier than my husband he was released later and I met them again in 1919 in Finland, where they were the compassionate witnesses of my misfortune.

On another occasion Mme. de Scavenius had come to bring food to a French woman who was imprisoned. She did not know my husband. I introduced her and in this prison office she made him a deep curtsy as though we were holding a Court reception. The act of this gracious and fascinating woman proved the nobility of her heart.

The King of Sweden had asked his representative in Petrograd, Count Koskull (Brandstrom was away) to go and see the Grand Duke Paul. Koskull paid him a long visit and I hoped that this would influence the Tche-ka in favour of setting him free. I went to see Count Koskull who promised to intercede with the Soviets. I believe he did not do so-at least, I never heard anything further of him. M. de Scavenius, similarly, was asked by the King of Denmark to visit the imprisoned princes. Countess Kleinmichel told me some days later that the Grand Duke Paul made a great impression on M de Scavenius by his lofty bearing, his air of distinction and nobility.

"There we have a true. Sovereign," said M. de Scavenius: .. with what dignity he bears the misfortunes which overwhelm him! "

I have given these various facts regarding the Grand Duke's time in prison all together here, so as not to have to return to the subject.

I did not miss any of the interviews which were allowed me. The rest of the time, with the help of devoted friends, we spent trying to find some means of securing his release. Soon we came to realise that this was not possible while he was in the Schpalernaia prison and that some new combination of circumstances was needed.

On August 30th/September 13th, the news became known that Ouritzky, the Fouquir-Tinvillie of the Russian Revolution, had been assassinated as he was entering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One of his co-religionists, a young man named Kaneguisser, had fired a shot at him point-blauk. The ball penetrated his eye and while Ouritzky sank to the ground, to expire at once, the young Jew jumped on his bicycle and rode as quickly as ever he could from the Winter Palace to the Millionaia; there, seeing that he was being pursued, he plunged into the courtyard of a house adjoining the New Club. It was through this circumstance that nearly all the members of the Club came to be assassinated later, being suspected of having instigated the murder. This murder of Ouritzky was the signal for savage executions on the part of the Bolshevists. Already in July, when one of their number, a Jew named Volodarsky, was killed, they had made his death the pretext for suppressing the entire "Bourgeois Press," so-called, and only Communist newspapers were allowed. The death of Ouritzky was avenged with the blood of thousands of innocent victims absolutely unconnected with the deed. All those members of the club who could get away from Petrograd (most of them by Orscha in the Ukraine) were saved, but hundreds of poor wretches were tortured and then assassinated in atrocious fashion. Among those whom we knew, we had to mourn the assassination of Count Alexis Zarnekau, my brother-in-law's brother, who had been only ten days married; of Vladimir Trepoff, brother of the former President of the Council; Count Bourtourline, Narischkin, young Count Grabbe, General Lomen, General Dobrovolsky, Colonel Guerardy, Count Tatistcheff, Sabouroff (the former Governor of Petrograd), Nicholas Bezall and any number of others. The Red Terror, bloody and hideous, was hovering over the city.

It was Bokiy and Yesseltevitch, who signed the sentences for Bokiy, took Ouritzky's place at the Tche-ka for a time. In October, it was a woman, Yacovleva, who became the Chief. This female monster, who was surrounded by a strong guard and who was addicted to acts of sadism, herself shot down the condemned persons with her Browning revolver. Their cries of agony, their death-pangs, were to her a source of delight.

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