Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg

Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport

Book: Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport Read Free Book Online
Authors: Helen Rappaport
Tags: History, Biography, Non-Fiction
personal history of Alexandra Fedorovna . . . compiled by Count Paul Vassili, who predicted the fall of the Romanoff Dynasty almost four years ago’ and who delighted in telling readers that Alexandra was a product of the ‘hereditary madness’ of the House of Hesse-Darmstadt. Twenty-two members of the family had been confined to lunatic asylums over the last 100 years. Count Paul, it turns out, was none other than the prolific émigrée adventuress Princess Catherine Radziwill, a woman who had turned Romanov-baiting into a personal cottage industry.
    Despite the repeated denials from Moscow of this scandal-mongering by the ‘capitalist press’, rumours in the West about the Tsar’s execution or even escape from Russia persisted. The patent unreliability of witnesses who spread the rumours – first of execution, then of escape – clearly played into the Bolsheviks’ hands, as part of a general softening-up process of public opinion to the idea of the Romanovs’ eventual deaths. As early as January the
Washington Post
had reported that Nicholas and the children had escaped from Tobolsk, abandoning the now hopelessly insane Alexandra to a mental asylum in the city. Again, in late June the papers were full of stories from Russia that Nicholas had been shot during a vehement dispute with his guards on a special train taking him to Moscow. The former Tsar, reported Russia correspondent Herman Bernstein to
Washington Post
readers, was soon to face trial for despotism and violation of the people’s rights, followed by public execution to appease the starving and exhausted Russian masses. There was rumour too that the Tsarevich had died not long after his removal from Tobolsk. And now the latest rumour was that Nicholas along with his wife Alexandra and one of their children, the Grand Duchess Tatiana, had been murdered, this latest piece of fantasy coming from a priest at Tsarskoe Selo, who had already sung prayers for the dead to a weeping congregation. One New York paper even went so far as to bring out a premature obituary, which reflected the general lack of sympathy for the Tsar in the West, where a war still raged, now in its fourth devastating year, and he had already been virtually forgotten. The Tsar’s assassination, it claimed, had ‘long seemed a matter of course’. Nicholas had been ‘virtually a helpless figurehead born into outworn institutions with the shaping of which he had nothing to do and for the reform of which he was totally incapable’. Russia’s former ruler, it would seem, was already an irrelevance.
    In Ekaterinburg, of course, the Tsar and his family were still very much alive. Indeed their lives could not have been more uneventful. The Romanovs had ‘spent the day as usual’, as the Tsaritsa noted in an unusually short entry in her diary, recording that the only event had been the now daily inspection of their valuables by Yurovsky. A jolly good thing as far as Nicholas was concerned; it meant that Yurovsky and his subordinate Nikulin had begun to understand what kind of people had been ‘surrounding and protecting’ the family whilst simultaneously stealing from them. In the ever narrowing routine of his daily life, Nicholas found a welcome displacement activity in worry about his few remaining possessions.
    He had now turned 50, having noted in his diary with an air of tired surprise the arrival of his half-century on 19 May. It had never been an auspicious day, for he had been born on the feast day of St Job, the silent, patient sufferer. ‘Let the day perish wherein I was born’ was the lament that echoed through this biblical tale of sorrow, and many Russians, with their propensity for reading signs and symbols into everything, saw this as ominous. Not the least among them was Nicholas himself. Sooner or later, as he accepted, God would put him to the test, and like Job he would be called upon to endure calamities without reproach, trusting only to Divine Providence.

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