I spent a happy and peaceful month in the Detention House, the only disturbing event being the socalled July Revolution, the first serious attempt of Lenin's party to seize the government. The Soviet already transcended in power the old Provisional Government, most of whose original members had by this time disappeared from politics. Kerensky was premier, nominally, but only because a remnant of the Russian Army still resisted the separate peace propaganda and remained on duty at the front.
Persons in the Detention House were prisoners in the sense that they were under guard and were not allowed to leave the house. The guards were complacent, though, and visiting between the rooms was permitted. I soon found that I was the only woman in the place, and that some of the men there had suffered greater tortures than I. There were between eighty and ninety officers, almost the last remnant of the garrison of Kronstadt where in the first days of the Revolution the soldiers went quite mad and murdered, in ways too horrible to relate, a great many officers, and even young naval cadets against whom they could have had no possible grudge. The officers in the Detention House were in a sad state of body and mind. We talked together sometimes in the dining room, and learning that they longed for the consolation of Holy Communion, I remembered that my hospital in Tsarskoe Selo possessed a movable altar and holy vessels. With the consent of Nadjaroff, commandant of the Detention House, the altar and my own priest were brought from Tsarskoe and the sacred ceremony was twice celebrated, the last time on July 29, My birthday.
I ought to say of the commandant Nadjaroff that he was an excellent man, kind to the prisoners, and conscientious in his work. The poor man had one fatal weakness, gambling. So strong a hold had this vice on an otherwise good man that when his money ran short he was not above borrowing and even begging from the prisoners and their friends. It seems almost too bad to record this blot on the character of a man who was kind and courteous to me, but I am trying to give the psychology as well as to portray the events of the Russian Revolution, and I must emphasize the fact that it was the weakness and self-indulgence of the people themselves that made the Revolution and its frightful aftermath possible.
From my first day in the Detention House I began to recover my health and my self-control. My windows were not barred, and through the open casement I feasted my eyes on the beauty of grass and trees, on the familiar little church of Sts. Kosma and Damian which stood almost opposite, and, strangest of all to me, of people walking or driving through the streets below. It took a few days for me to get used to a normal state of life, and at first, when night grew near, I was seized with such nervousness that they had to let a maid sleep in the room with me. As the fresh air and sunshine began to bring color to my face and I felt strength returning to my limbs I forgot my fears, and became something like the woman I had been before I was caged like a beast in the Fortress of Peter and Paul. Visitors were admitted both morning and afternoon, and I had the happiness of talking privately with my father and mother and with friends who still remained faithful. They brought me clothes, toilet articles, books, flowers, writing materials, and, best of all, news of what had happened during the months of my imprisonment. I learned of the rapid disintegration of the army under the weak and ineffectual Provisional Government, the tottering state of Kerensky's regime, and the threatening domination of the Soviets. What was in store for Russia no one knew, happily for Russians. Of the fall of the Soviets and the rise of Bolshevism no one yet had any premonition. The radical element was already in control, and there was a great deal of threatening talk of shooting the Emperor. However, the Imperial Family was still alive and in Tsarskoe Selo, which was as much as I had dared to hope.
Of the events of the July Revolution, the forerunner of the Bolshevist triumph of November, 1917, 1 know rather less than others who were at full liberty during that terrible week. It was about the 18th of the month, a brilliant summer day, when I was startled by long-continued shouting and bellowing of soldiers in a caserne not far from the house. In great excitement the men were running in and out of the yard calling on the lovarishi to arm themselves and join the uprising. As if by magic the streets filled with rough-looking people, singing wild songs, waving their arms, and forming processions behind huge scarlet banners on which I could read such inscriptions as "Down with the War!" "Down with the Provisional Government!" An endless line of these paraders passed and repassed, dirty, disorderly soldiers, equally dirty factory workers, yelling like crazed animals. Once in a while a gray motor truck would dash through the street, laden with shouting men and boys, rifles, and machine guns. In the distance we could hear shots and the ripping noise of the machine guns.
Of course we were all horribly frightened, especially the officers from Kronstadt, who knew that in case of invasion not one of them would be left alive. We were all advised to leave our rooms and take refuge in the corridors, as at any time the rioters might begin firing through the windows. But we were not out of danger even there because many of the guards openly sympathized with the rioters, and the head guard was so jubilant over the course of events that he went around boasting that he was quite prepared to surrender the house and all its inmates at the first demand of the Revolutionists. Some of the guards were better than this man, and one of them, a wearer of the St. George cross, said that in case of trouble he would try to get me to his sister's house, where I would be perfectly safe. For two nights nobody slept or even undressed. In the room next to mine was lodged old General Belaiev, former War Minister, whom imprisonment had left a sad wreck. He, like the other officers, fully expected death, and I found myself in the novel role of a cool and collected comforter. I, who had lately been afraid to sleep in a room by myself, now went from one old soldier to another urging them to keep up hope. The days passed, and the firing came no nearer, and within a week troops summoned from the front took possession of the city.
My examination under the High Commissioner Rudnev not being entirely finished, he came once or twice to the Detention House bringing with him on one occasion Korinsky, Procurator of St. Petersburg, a courteous gentleman, who at parting expressed a hope that I would soon be free. A few days later, August 5, if I remember correctly, M. Korinsky himself telephoned that if my parents would call at his office they would be given my warrant of release. Alas, my parents happened to be in Terioke that day, but too impatient to wait until the morrow I telephoned my uncle Lachkereff, who immediately hastened to the Procurator's office for the coveted warrant. Trembling with excitement, I stood at my window with several of my good friends waiting the result of his crrand. At six o'clock we heard a drosky driven at great speed over the cobbles, and as it came in sight we saw my uncle standing up and wildly waving the papers in his hand. "Free!" he called out. "Anna Alexandrovna, you are free!" The rest is confusion in my mind. There were laughter and sobs. People kissed and embraced me. I was in the drosky driving through St. Petersburg streets. I was in my uncle's house. The tea table was spread. It was like a dream.
After prison one gets used to freedom by slow degrees. It seems strange at first to be allowed to move about freely, to go to church, to walk, to drive, to go wherever one desires, through woods, along leafy country roads. Not that I was entirely free to go where I liked. I could not safely go to Tsarskoe Selo, even to my own house, which after my arrest had been taken over by the police, and not only ransacked for evidence against me, but looted of every valuable. It was my faithful old servant Berchik who gave me the details of the search. He, honest soul, who had been forty-five years in the service of my family, was offered ten thousand rubles if he would testify against the Empress and myself. On his indignant refusal the police arrested him, while they tore up the carpets and even the floors of my rooms, demanding of Berchik the whereabouts of secret passages to the palace, the private telegraph and telephone wires to Berlin, my hidden writing desks, and all sorts of nonsense. Especially were they anxious to discover my wine cellar, and when they found that I possessed none they were angry indeed. They took possession of all the letters and papers they could find, and at the end of the search ordered my cook to prepare them an elaborate supper. Then they left taking with them the silverware.
If I could not visit Tsarskoe and those whom I loved and longed to see, I could at least, and I did, hear from the Empress. just before the family were sent to their exile one of the maids smuggled out a letter which reached me safely and which I quote here, suppressing only the most intimate and affectionate passages.
"I cannot write much," the letter began, "my heart is too full. I love you, we love you, thank you, bless You, kiss the wound on your forehead. . . . I cannot find words. . . I know what will be your anguish with this great distance between us. They do not tell us where we go (we shall learn only on the train), nor for how long, but we think it is where you were last" (Tobolsk). "Beloved, the misery of leaving! Everything packed up, empty rooms, such pain, the home of twenty-three years. Yet you have suffered far more. Farewell. Somehow let me know you received this. We prayed long before the Virgin of Znamenia, and I remembered the last time it was on your bed. My heart and soul are torn to 90 so far from home and from you. To be for months without news is terrible. But God is merciful. He won't forsake you, and will bring us together again in sunny times. I fully believe it."
With the letter the Empress sent me a box of my jewels which she had carefully guarded, and I heard a fairly full account of how the summer had been spent. For a time she and the Emperor had been kept apart, being allowed to speak to each other only at table and in the presence of guards. Revolutionary agents tried every possible means of incriminating the Empress, whom they hated even more than the Emperor, but finally failing in their efforts they allowed the family to be togetheronce more. The day after they were sent to Siberia the maid visited me again with the story, of their departure. Kerensky personally arranged every detail, and intruded his presence for hours together on the unhappy family. Under his orders everything was made ready for a midnight journey but actually they did not leave the palace until six o'clock in the morning. All night the prisoners sat in their traveling clothes and wraps in the round hall of the palace. At five a courageous servant brought them fresh tea, which gave them a little comfort, especially Alexei, who stood the night badly. They drove away from the palace with perfect serenity as if going on a holiday to Finland or the Crimea. Even the Revolutionary newspapers, with grudging admiration, had to admit this.
A day or two later Mr. Gibbs, Alexei's English tutor, came to see me, and he told me that although he was not permitted to accompany the Imperial Family with the other tutors, M. Gilliard and M. Petroff, he intended to follow them to Tobolsk. He took a photograph of me for the Empress, who was anxious to see for herself if the long imprisonment had im. paired my health. As a matter of fact I was not very well just then, as I had something very like jaundice, so I am afraid my photograph was none too reassuring. At this time I was staying in the home of my sister's husband who was attached to the British Military Commission in St. Petersburg. It was a cool and comfort. able apartment, and I should have been contented to stay on indefinitely. But one day my brother-in-law, in deep embarrassment, showed me a letter from his sister, who was expected on a visit. This lady expressed herself unwilling to live under the same roof with a person as notorious as myself, and I, equally unwilling to associate with her, moved back to my uncle's hospitable home. But even there I found no serenity. I had been acquitted of all the crimes charged against me by the Provisional Government, but now the Government of Kerensky found new accusations to make of me. This time I was a counter-Revolutionist, and as papers served on me in the middle of the night of August 24 (Russian) ordered, I had to leave for an unknown destination within twenty-four hours. As I was without money and was really in need of a physician's care, my relatives began at once to petition every authority for a delay of at least twenty-four hours more. This was finally allowed, but two soldiers were immediately placed before my door and I was a prisoner in my uncle's apartment. Meanwhile my parents and friends continued to make every preparation for my comfort in exile, and two of my hospital staff, the director and a nurse, volunteered to go with me. The night before I left my poor parents stayed with me, none of us going to bed. Very early on a rainy morning two motor cars filled with police came for us. They were kind enough to let my parents accompany me almost to the Finnish side, and they explained that they had come so early because they feared street demonstrations.
At the station we found a miscellaneous company of alleged counter-Revolutionists including a few old acquaintances. Among these was former detective Manouiloff, a tall officer named Groten, the editor, Tanchevsky, and the curious little Siberian doctor Badmiev, with his equally curious wife and child and a young maid named Erika whom I came to know very well. Badmiev was the herb doctor who, it will be remembered, was supposed to purvey the deadly poisons which I was alleged to feed to the Tsarevitch. He was a small, round, shriveled man, excessively oldover a hundred, they said-and in appearance resembled a quaint carved Buddha out of an antiquarian shop. He had the smallest, blackest eyes imaginable, set in a face yellow and wrinkled, and his long, scraggly beard was as white as cotton. His wife, many years his junior, and his funny little child, Aida, were as Mongolian in appearance as himself. The maid, Erika, a girl of about eighteen, was not uncomely with her bright eyes and short, curly hair. All the "counter-Revolutionists" were herded together in one car. riage, the one farthest from the engine, and in charge of us was a Jewish official of the Kerensky Government. At Terioke I parted with my father and mother, the train moving on quickly to the Finnish town of Belieovstrov. Here we were met by an enormous crowd of soldiers and working people, all hostile, demanding to see the dangerous counter-Revolutionists. Especially they demanded to see me, but I shrank back in my seat, fearing every moment that the shower of stones against the carriage would break the windows. But quickly the conductor's whistle was blown and the train moved beyond the reach of the mob.
Worse was to come. When we reached Rikimeaki we found waiting us a larger and a still more furious crowd. Our carriage was unfastened from the train and the mob rushed in yelling that we must all be given up and killed. "Give us the Grand Dukes!" they shouted. "Give us Gurko!" I sat with my face buried in the shoulder of my nursing sister fearing that my end had come. My fears were not imaginary, for several ruffians pitched on me shouting that they had found Gourko in women's clothes. Frantically the sister explained that I was not General Gourko but only a woman ill and lame. Refusing to believe her, they demanded that I be stripped, and I have no doubt that this would have happened had not a motor car opportunely dashed up carrying a sailor deputation from the Helsingfors Soviet. These men pushed their way into the carriage, and without ceremony booted the invaders out. One man, a tall, slender youth named Antonoff, made a speech at the top of his voice, commanding the mob to disperse and to leave things in the hands of the Soviet. So authoritatively did he speak that the crowd obeyed him and allowed our carriage to be attached to another train bound for Helsingfors. Antonov remained with us, and in the friendliest fashion sat down beside me and bade me to be of good cheer. He did not know why we had been sent away from St. Petersburg, but the Soviet at Helsingfors, of which he was a member, had received a telegram, he thought directly from Kerensky, saying that we were being sent on, and when we arrived were to be placed under arrest. Doubtless there would be explanations, and after that we would surely be released. To my mind the thing seemed not quite so simple. Kerensky had sent us from St. Petersburg, but not to be imprisoned in Helsingfors. What he desired was that the mobs, notified of our arrival from his office, would kill us before we ever reached Helsingfors at all. No doubt he hoped at the same time to dispose of General Gourko and the Grand Dukes left in St. Petersburg. But Gourko was too clever for Kerensky, and made good his escape to Archangel, where he took refuge with the British Occupational Force. As for the Grand Dukes, they were, for some reason, at this time left undisturbed by the Revolutionists.
It was night when we reached Helsingfors and we found the station practically deserted. The main body of the prisoners were taken away into the darkness, but Antonov said that I and the nurse should spend the night in a hospital adjoining the station. We climbed several flights of steep stairs and passed through wards crowded with blue-gowned sick soldiers and sailors, not one of whom offered us the slightest rudeness. A skilled Finnish nurse undressed me and put me to bed, but unhappily not for long. Scarcely had I composed myself to sleep when the door opened, the lights flashed up, and Antonov, red and very angry, entered the room. He had gone to the Soviet authorities, confident that he could persuade them to let me remain in the hospital, at least until word came from St. Petersburg of our exact status. But they refused his request and ordered him to take me at once to the ship on which the other prisoners were confined. There being no appeal I dressed and limped down the long stairs to the street where a dense mob had assembled, shouting, threatening, crowding dangerously around the motor car. It is a horrible thing to hear a mob shrieking for one's blood. One feels like a cornered hare in the face of yelping hounds. With the strength of desperation I clung to the arm of Antonov, who for all I knew might yield suddenly and throw me to the crowd. Unworthy thought, for the man held me firmly, all the time demanding that the people give room and let us reach the car. When they saw me in the car their fury seemed to redouble. "Daughter of the Romanovs," they yelled, "how dare she ride in a motor car? Let her get out and walk. Standing up in the car Antonov repeated his commands that the mob disperse, and slowly at first and then more rapidly we got away. We reached the distant water front, and I was taken from the car to a ship. Picture my astonishment when I found myself standing on the deck of the Polar Star, the light and beautiful yacht on which I had so often sailed in Finnish waters with the Imperial Family. With all the Imperial property the Polar Star had been confiscated by the Provisional Government, and it was but another sign of the changing times that the yacht had later been taken away from the Provisional Government and was now the property of the Soviets, being the Zentrobalt, or headquarters of the Baltic fleet.
From the deck I was hurried past the open door of the main dining salon, once a place of ceremony and good living, now a dingy, disordered apartment where crowds of illiterate workmen gathered to dispose of the rest of Russia's ruined fleet and the future of our unhappy country. At least a hundred of these men were in the salon when I passed it first, and during the five days I spent on the yacht their voices seemed to go on in endless orations, ceaseless wrangling, twenty-four hours at a stretch. It was like nothing I can describe, like an ill-disciplined lunatic asylum. I was herded with the other "counter-Revolutionists" far below decks in what I conjectured had been the stokers' quarters. The stifling little cabins were filthy, like all the rest of the yacht, and they simply swarmed with vermin. It was so dark that night and day the electric lights burned, and I was thankful for that because somehow the bright light seemed to be a kind of protection against the swarm of grimacing, obscene sailors who infested the place, amusing themselves with discussions as to when and how we were likely to be killed. During the whole of the first night Antonov stood guard over us and warned the sailors that no murder could be done without authority from the Soviet. Over and over again they suggested that he leave the place, but he always replied firmly that he was respongible for the prisoners and could not go. Finally towards morning the sailors left, and afterwards we learned that their blood lust towards us was not merely simulated. They had gone directly from the yacht to the Petropavlovsk, the flagship of the fleet, and had killed every one of the old officers left on board.
Antonov left us early in the morning, left us expecting to return, but he never did return nor did we ever see or hear of him again. Such sudden disappearances were common enough even in those early days of the Russian Revolution, before murder became the fine art into which it has since developed. Five days we remained on the Polar Star, very miserable in our vermin-infested quarters below decks, but mercifully allowed part of each day in the open air. They might have allowed us longer time on deck had it not been for the hostile crowds that constantly thronged the quays. My time was spent in the shelter of the dockhouse near the main salon, a spot where in the old days the Empress and I loved to sit with our books and work. Here five years before, when the Empress Dowager visited the yacht, I had taken a photograph of her with her arm around the shoulders of the Emperor, both smiling and happy in the sparkling light of the fjord. Every corner of the yacht had been exquisitely clean and white in those days. Dirty as the yacht's present crew appeared, I cannot say they starved their prisoners or were cruel to them. We had soup, meat, bread, and tea, luxurious fare compared to Peter and Paul. Our worst condition was suspense of mind as to our ultimate fate. At every change of guard we begged news from St. Petersburg, but always we received the same answer. The Kerensky Government gave no reason or justification for our arrest. Two of the sailors were especially friendly to me because, as they explained, they came from Rojdestino, our family estate near Moscow. "If we had known that you were going to be brought here," they said, "we might have done something. But now it is too late." That night I found in my cabin a tiny note, ill-spelled and badly written, warning me that all of us were about to be transferred to the Fortress of Sveaborg in the Bay of Helsingfors. "We are so sorry," the note concluded. Although it was unsigned, I knew the note must have been sent in kindness by one of the men from my old home. But at the prospect of another imprisonment my heart turned sick with dread.
Next evening came Ostrovsky, head of the Helsingfors Okhrana, accompanied by several members of the main committee of the Soviet. Ostrovsky was a very young man, scarcely eighteen I should judge, but he had fierce eyes and all the assurance of a born leader. Turning to my nurse, to Mme. Badmiev, Erika the maid, and her little Mongolian charge Aida, he said roughly that they were free but that all the rest would be taken at once to the fortress. In a sudden panic of alarm I threw myself into the arms of my nursing sister and begged her to accompany me. But she too was fear-stricken and drew back while all the men laughed heartlessly. "What's the difference?" asked Ostrovsky brutally. "You're all going to be shot anyhow." At which the dauntless Erika, putting Aida into her mother's arms, came over to me and tucking her hand under my arms said: "I'm not afraid. I'm going wherever the doctor goes and I'll stand by you both." I gave the trembling nurse a small box containing all the trinkets I had brought with me, gave her messages to my father and mother, and followed my fellow unfortunates to the deck, down a slippery gangplank to waiting motor boats on which we traveled the half hour's journey from the yacht to the fortress.
Next chapter: XX
Website © Bob Atchison 1998, 1999 | Comments on the website | Search all Alexander Palace sites by Keywords | Website built by Pallasart Web Design.