July 17, 2018
Around 2am on July 17, 1918, the Romanov family and servants were awoken and told to prepare for evacuation. The children slipped into their special undergarments before everyone was taken into a small, well-sealed room in the basement. While waiting, the ailing heir, Alexei, requested a seat. One was brought for his mother, Alexandra, too. As the family, servants, and doctor huddled together in what looked like a family portrait, a group of nine soldiers burst into the room. The house’s commander, Yakov Yurovsky, read aloud the order:
“Nikolai Alexandrovich, in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you.”
Stunned, Nicholas responded, “What? What?” The order was repeated followed by the raising of weapons. As Alexandra and their daughter, Olga, tried to bless themselves, they were interrupted by gunfire. While each executioner was assigned a specific target, many could not accept shooting the girls. Instead, all guns focused on the Tsar, and then the Tsarina, who were killed instantly. Shielded by the diamond-laced undergarments, the children miraculously survived the first attempt at massacre.
Afraid the citizens would hear the gunfire, Yurovsky ordered a cease-fire before directing the killers to bayonet and club the victims. Deflected by the diamonds, multiple bullets penetrated the plaster walls and ceiling, leaving the small room filled with gunpowder and dust. In efforts to clear the room, the doors were opened. While letting it air out, the executioners heard moans and cries from children who refused to die. They returned with their pistols, focusing on the heir, Alexei. Despite a whole magazine of bullets unloaded at the boy, he remained vigilant in his chair. Frustrated, Yurovsky ended the torture with a close shot to the head. Eventually the four girls received the same fate even after multiple stabbings.
From the beginning, Tsar Nicholas II’s reign over Russia was cursed. It opened with a dreadful tragedy, and closed with the bloody massacre of him and his family. It also brought an end to the Russian Romanov Dynasty that began in 1613.
As his father, Tsar Alexander III, grew gravely ill at only age forty-nine, 26-year-old Nicholas realized his accession to the throne was coming much earlier than expected. He met his fiancé, Princess Alix of Hesse, as a teenager at the wedding of Alix’s sister, Elizabeth, and Nicholas’ Uncle Sergei. Though in love for years, there were roadblocks. Strongly anti-German, Alexander opposed the marriage, as did Alix’s grandmother, Queen Victoria, who also expressed reservations. In addition, Alix herself struggled over the requirement that she abandon her strong Lutheran faith and convert to Russian Orthodoxy as her sister did. However, under the circumstances, love won and plans quickly moved forward as Nicholas sent for Alix. The evening of Alexander’s death on November 1, 1894, Nicholas was consecrated king. The next day, Alix converted, receiving the name Alexandra Feodorovna and the title Grand Duchess. By the end of the month, they were married.
The formal coronation ceremony occurred on May 26, 1896, with a celebration planned on May 30 for the people, complete with gifts and souvenirs. In addition, the French ambassador arranged a gala for the Tsar that night. The crowd started gathering in Khodynka Field at 5am, swelling to 500,000 people. Rumors soon circulated that there were not enough gifts resulting in a stampede. In the end, 1,389 participants were killed with another 1,300 injured.
Grieved by the tragedy, Nicholas wanted to spend the evening praying for the victims. However, advisors strongly encouraged Nicholas to attend the evening’s gala. He eventually relented to avoid straining relations with France. Nevertheless, his attendance damaged his domestic standing, portraying him as uncaring to the people.
Settling into his new role as Tsar, Nicholas inherited an already hostile aristocracy from his father, which he unfortunately continued. During the anti-Jewish movement in 1903-06, Nicholas and the Russian Orthodox Church publicly condemned the riots, while Nicholas privately admired the protesters. Anti-Semitism gave him a cause to rally the people behind, which he exploited while using the church as cover. Adolf Hitler applied the exact same tactic in Germany two decades later while Vladimir Putin is copying it once again in Russia today.
Although blessed with four girls, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, Russian law required a male heir to ascend the throne. Finally, the country rejoiced with the birth of Alexei in 1904. However, those tears of joy soon turned to tears of concern for his parents. Alexei suffered from hemophilia, as did many of Queen Victoria’s descendants, earning it the nickname “royal disease.”
During this same time, Nicholas’ trouble continued both domestically and abroad. In February of 1904, Russia entered the Russo-Japanese War while at home workers organized due to low wages, long hours and poor work conditions. Under the leadership of Father Geogry Gapon, thousands of unarmed workers marched towards the Winter Palace, the official royal home in St. Petersburg, in January 1905 to present a petition to the Tsar. While his mother and sister strongly urged him to meet with the protestors and listen to their grievances, Nicholas’ advisors successfully persuaded him to leave town.
On January 22, 1905, marchers peacefully entered the town singing religious and patriotic songs, including “God Save the Tsar!” Banners displayed images of Nicholas and religious leaders. Without warning, officers fired on marchers as cavalry tramped them. Known as Bloody Sunday or Red Sunday, hundreds were killed and wounded as survivors left the town crying, “The Tsar will not help us!” Sentiments of respect for the autocracy rapidly turned to bitterness as the declaration “we no longer have a Tsar” quickly spread throughout Russia. This, along with the Khodynka Tragedy, earned Nicholas the nickname “Bloody”.
Losing his people’s support and the war, Nicholas called for peace with Japan while negotiating with revolutionaries to squash the Revolution of 1905. To address their grievances, the Tsar composed a State Duma, or representative body. Yet, Nicholas’ hostility and strained relationships with its deputies, together with frequent dismissals of the Duma body, eventually cumulated with the Russian Revolution in 1917.
Meanwhile, anxiety over Alexei’s health prompted the imperial couple to seclude themselves for the safety of the Tsesarevich, or heir, while keeping his condition hidden from virtually everyone. Therefore, without any explanation for their withdrawal from society, resentment continued to grew as citizens felt shunned by the royal family.
Alexandra started gaining hope after meeting Grigory Rasputin on November 1, 1905. A self-proclaimed holy man, Rasputin gained favor with religious leaders and the aristocracy in St. Petersburg. On several occasions, Rasputin prayed for Alexei, including during one very close call with death. After each intervention, Alexei miraculously recovered. Even rumors of Rasputin’s debauchery could not break their close friendship with him as the Tsar made him a court official.
As countries entered World War I in 1914, Nicholas sought advice from Rasputin. (see ) Following multiple military failures and increased casualties, Rasputin convinced Nicholas that Russia would not win unless the Tsar personally took command on the front lines. With Nicholas away, Rasputin became Alexandra’s closest confidant and advisor. Therefore, his political power grew as he was intimately involved in a war he openly protested in court with anti-patriotic exhibitions. Furthermore, he shamelessly welcomed bribes, including liaisons with influential noble women, to increase his political clout.
Frustrations continued to fester against the Tsar as the Russian economy crumbled. Even Alexandra suffered from anti-German war views as some accused her of being a German spy. However, monarchists blamed Rasputin for the growing hardships. His constant criticism of religious figures questioned his holy man status, instead depicting him an anarchist undermining the Tsar by cultivating a revolution.
Fearful of his influence, assassins plotted his demise. At a special dinner, Russian nobleman Prince Felix Yusupov served Rasputin wine and cakes heavily poisoned with cyanide. After he remained unaffected, Yusupov shot Rasputin in a panic, leaving him to die. When Yusupov returned, Rasputin leapt up and attacked. Wrestling free, Yusupov fled to the courtyard followed by Rasputin, where another conspirator shot him two more times. Just to be sure, they rolled Rasputin in a carpet and dropped him into the Neva River. Despite working himself free, Rasputin drowned on December 30, 1916, with his body being found two days later.
With Rasputin gone, imperial sympathizers lost their scapegoat for Russia’s failures, both militarily and domestically. Therefore, indignation towards the aristocracy continued to increase. Taking advantage of the growing frustration with the Tsar, Vladimir Lenin led the Bolsheviks, the Russian Social Democratic Party, in a Revolution in 1917.
Under extreme pressure, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated his throne on March 15, 1917, three weeks before the United States declared war on Germany. (see ) Due to Alexei’s health, Nicholas abdicated to his brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, who deferred authority to the Duma until the people voted on their future government. Nicholas’ cousin, King George V, denied his request for asylum fearing it could foster a similar revolt against the British monarchy. France also denied help to the Romanovs.
Therefore, Alexander Kerensky and the Duma assumed control and installed a republican provisional government. The royal family was placed under house arrest at Alexander Palace, their chosen residence following Bloody Sunday. As the Bolshevik Revolution grew and Kerensky scrambled to contain the chaos, he moved the Romanov family to Tobolsk, Siberia, in August for their safety. The Bolsheviks seized power in October, magnifying the strict and tight conditions for the former ruling family. They also withdrew Russia from World War I so as to focus on their own Civil War. (see )
By March 1, 1918, all monarchical personnel, except for three servants and the family doctor, were removed from the palace. Delicacies such as butter and coffee were abolished and the family was reduced to living off food equivalent to a soldier’s rations. Talks began as to what to do with the royal family, including execution, as concerns grew their survival could allow members to claim rights to the throne. Therefore, it was decided to move the family once again.
Confiscating Nikolai Nikolayevich Ipatiev’s home in Ekaterinburg, the Bolsheviks renamed it “The House Of Special Purpose.” The newly boarded up home quickly became the Romanov family’s personal prison. Nicholas, Alexandra and daughter Marie, were transported first, with Alexei and the other three girls following later due to Alexei’s condition. Reunited in May, the family continued to pray for a miracle.
The Romanov’s found tasks to busy themselves with to pass the time. Known for having a plethora of jewels and diamonds, they smuggled many out in their baggage. In anticipation of a possible escape, they began sewing those gems inside their undergarments. If they were to obtain freedom, they would need funds to survive.
By June, the Bolshevik’s feared the family’s escape as the Czechoslovak Legion moved closer to the town and the imperial family. Even though they fought within the White Army, the group’s goal was to secure the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Regardless, fearing European monarchies sympathizing with any rescued Romanov survivors, the Bolsheviks put in motion their plans of execution, which transpired that fateful July 17 morning.
Despite Yurovsky’s instructions to "shoot straight at the heart to avoid an excessive quantity of blood and get it over quickly,” the ordeal lasted 20 minutes resulting in a horrible and grotesquely bloody massacre. However, that was only the beginning of the atrocities towards the imperial family. (see )
While this was the end of the 300-year-old Russian Romanov Dynasty, it was just the beginning of the Russian Communist Regime. (continued next week, ).
That’s my 2 cents.
A DYNASTY'S FALL