The mysterious fate of Anastasia and Alexei.
Bolshevik Party Meeting. Lenin
is seen at right.
The mystery has raged for over eighty years. According to the history books, in 1918 Bolshevik revolutionaries brutally executed all seven members of the Russian royal family, the Romanovs. Immediately following the murders, however, rumors appeared claiming that one, or perhaps two, of the Romanov children had escaped the assassination. Is there any evidence to support even the possibility that seventeen-year-old Anastasia and/or thirteen-year-old Alexei were somehow secreted away from the murder scene? Or is this merely a romantic story that has been repeated generation after generation?Over the years, many people have come forth to claim their identities as either Anastasia or Alexei. Movies, plays, and even a ballet have repeatedly captured the publics fascination with this story that just won't die.' Until recently, many dismissed the story entirely as pure fiction. However, political changes in the Soviet Union during the 1990s produced a government that is more open to research into the haunting Romanov mystery. Today, historical information and improved forensic research have provided exciting evidence that points to a new conclusion based on facts, not rumors. It is indeed possible that Anastasia and Alexei survived the execution designed to end the Romanov dynasty forever.
The first break
The first breaking solving the mystery came in 1989 when the Russian government released importantinformation about the Romanovs' mass grave. Although the rumors had always insisted that discovery of the secret grave would confirm that two Romanovs had escaped, the location of the grave had never been revealed. In 1976 a Soviet writer claimed that he had uncovered the common grave in woods near the murder site, but its location was kept secret by the Communist government (Kurth 100). The 1989 revelation of this grave site was important to Romanov scholars because it did support the often-retold escape stories: although eleven people were reported executed (seven Romanov family members and four attendants), only nine bodies were found in the grave (Massie 43). But was this really the Romanov grave? The next important historical information came in 1992 from Edvard Radzinsky, a Russian playwright whose research on the Romanovs could now be published. Radzinsky had spent two decades studying the Central State Archives in Moscow, discovering the unread diaries of the murdered Czar Nicholas II and Czarina Alexandra and, even more important, the previously secret "Yurovsky note." Yakov Yurovsky was the leader of the execution squad, and his statement contained not only his description of the horrible night but also testimony from other guards at the scene (Radzinsky 373). The "Yurovsky note" clearly emphasized the chaos of the execution and contributed to the possible explanation surrounding the persistent rumors of two survivors. According to Yurovsky, in the early hours of July 17, 1918, the Romanov family-the Czar, the Czarina, four daughters, and son-were taken with their personal physician and three servants into the cellar in the house where they had been held prisoners by the revolutionaries. During the executions, the room filled with smoke and noise, and the bullets seemed to be oddly ricocheting, "jumping around the room like hail" (qtd. in Radzmsky 389). Although many bullets were fired at close range, Yurovsky mentions that the deaths of all five children were strangely hard to accomplish. Finally, as the guards hurriedly prepared to load the bodies onto a waiting truck, one of the guards heard a daughter cry out and then it was discovered that, amazingly, all the daughters were still alive (391). The daughters were then supposedly murdered by a drunken guard with a bayonet, who again experienced difficulty: "the point would not go through [the] corset" (qtd. in Radzmsky 391).
What the guards did NOT know
What the guards did NOT know until much later (at the grave site) was that at least three of the daughters, and possibly all the children, were wearing "corsets made of a solid mass of diamonds" (Radzmsky 373). The hidden Romanov jewels had acted like bullet-proof vests and were the reason the bullets and bayonet were deflected (373). Radzinsky argues that the chaos of the dark night, the drunken state of nervous, hurried guards, and the protective corsets cast serious doubt on the success of all the murder attempts (392). The trip to the grave site was not smooth either. The truck broke down twice, and it was hard to move the bodies from the truck through the woods to the actual grave site. Yurovsky wrote that to lighten the load two bodies were cremated, supposedly the Czarina and her son, but he also claims that by mistake the family maid was confused with Czarina Alexandra (Radzinsky 410). Although the cremation story would account for the two bodies missing in the common grave, no remains or signs of a cremation site have ever been found. Consequently, many Romanov researchers have another explanation. They argue that the two youngest Romanovs, wounded but still alive thanks to their protective corsets of jewels, were secretly removed from the truck during a breakdown by guards who regretted their part in the killing of the Romanov children (Smith). After all, why stop to burn only two bodies? Why just two and not all? Wouldn't such a cremation have taken valuable time and attracted attention7 Why choose the boy and not Nicholas, the hated Czar? Could Yurovsky have been covering up the fact that by the time they reached the grave site two bodies were missing--the boy and a female (Radzinsky 416)? Although the newly recovered historical evidence added important pieces, it did not solve the puzzle. However, forensic research, using techniques not available until 1993, began to shed light on the decades-old controversy. An international team of geneticists conducted DNA analysis on the nine recovered skeletons. Through mitochondr:al-DNA sequencing, a process that analyzes DNA strains, and comparison to DNA samples donated by living relatives of the Romanovs, the team concluded in July 1993 that the skeletons were indeed the remains of five members of the Romanov family and four members of their household staff (Dricks). Yurovsky's story about the cremation of the maid was therefore not true-two Romanovs were missing! Taking the next step, scientists used computer modeling to superimpose facial photographs onto the skulls to determine structural matches that would tell which family members the skeletons actually were. The computer technology and dental work positively identified the Czar and Czarina as two of the bodies.
Then more news:
All of the remaining Romanov skeletons were of young females (Elliott 61). Alexei, the heir to the throne, was one of the missmg--just as the rumors have always claimed. To discover if the missing daughter was in fact Anastasia, the scientists compared the size and age of the girls to the skeletons. More controversy erupted. Although some Russian scientists argued that the missing skeleton was that of daughter Marie, Dr. William Maples, head of the American forensics team, strongly disagreed. According to Dr. Maples, all the skeletons were too tall and too developed to be Anastasia: "The bones we have show completed growth, which indicates more mature individuals" (qtd in Toufexis 65). Dr. Peter Gill, head of the British Forensic Science Service that also studied the bones, agreed (O'Sullivan 6). According to these respected scientists, Anastasia was definitely not in the grave. Six more years of sophisticated scientific experiments followed these initial studies, DNA tests were replicated and results confirmed (Glausiusz). Finally, in February 1998, a special federal commission chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov officially announced its findings to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the world: the bones were, beyond a shadow of scientific doubt, those of the Romanovs--but the bodies of Alexei and one sister (Anastasia7) remained unaccounted for (Varoli). Throughout the years, stories speculating on the Romanov assassination have always focused on the survival of the beautiful Anastasia and her sickly brother, Alexei, often describing a devoted guard smuggling them out through dark woods or secret passages. Doubters have always said that the stories were folktales not worth serious investigation. American and British forensic research, however.
argues this much: the real fate of Anastasia and Alexei is still unknown. Therefore, their survival of the execution is still a possibility. Finally, after the decades of rumors, there is a scientific basis for continuing the search for the missing Romanovs. Someday, the mystery of their fate will be solved and the controversy will rest in peace.
Aug. 23, 2007
<center>Tsarevich Alexei had a special bond with his sister Anastasia, who was only three years older.
The scientists in a Russian provincial capital say they may have unearthed the remains of two of Czar Nicholas children, hoping to solve one of the enduring mysteries surrounding the start of the Bolshevik Revolution. An archaeologist in the city, Yekaterinburg, said clues left by a leader of the assassins of the czar and his family had led investigators to a roadside makeshift grave where they found the possible remains of the czar's son, Aleksei, and one of his daughters. Under Lenin's orders, the czar and his family were shot and killed in 1918 in the basement of a house in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Ural Mountains in the heart of the country, their bodies most likely doused with acid. In 1991, during the last days of the Soviet Union, the remains of Nicholas, his wife, Aleksandra, and three of his five children were discovered in the city, and seven years later they were interred in a cathedral in St. Petersburg that holds the crypts of other Russian royals. But the remains of Aleksei, the heir to the throne, and one daughter - probably Maria, though there is some dispute about which one - were not located. In 2002, scientists thought that they might have found those remains, but testing proved them wrong. On Thursday, though, Sergei Pogorelov, an archaeologist in Yekaterinburg, said in an interview with a Russian television station that newly unearthed remains might be the missing ones. He said an anthropologist had determined that these bones were those of a boy, 10 to 13 years old, and a young woman, 18 to 23 years old. "Additional analysis and comparisons will be carried out," he stressed. Whatever the results of that testing, which is expected to include DNA matching, they will most likely not settle the matter. The leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church has never fully acknowledged that the remains of the Czar were discovered in 1991, even though scientists conducted extensive DNA tests, using samples from relatives of the royal family, that appeared to prove their authenticity. On Friday, the church leadership in Moscow expressed skepticism about this new find. In fact, hoaxes, blunders and all manner of misinformation have long abounded when it comes to the Romanovs and their fate. For decades after the assassinations, people would surface and claim that they were family members who had somehow survived the bloodshed. Many came forward claiming to be the czar's daughter, Anastasia.