“The Romanoffs” Between history and fiction, the enigma continues


It is not a coincidence that in the year of 2018, when the centenary of the “disappearance” of the Russian Imperial family, the Romanovs, was commemorated, the topic is again being discussed in newspapers, magazines, blogs and even in recently published books. Some of those books are pure fiction. Others claim with light arguments and little research, to conclude a mystery that continues to provide reasons to talk about it, and this is still far from being considered a “closed case”.

Television and cinema have not been able to escape from this Romanov fever. The story about what happened to the family of Nicholas II in 1918 has captivated a huge audience worldwide for many years. It all started with the famous movie “Anastasia” with Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner in 1956, and others like “Anastasia, the mystery of Anna” in 1986 or “Nicholas and Alexandra” produced by the famous British director Franklin J. Schaffner in 1917. All of them very successful and even Oscar winners. The “millennials” will probably remember the animated film “Anastasia” produced by Fox Animation Studios, and distributed worldwide by 20th Century Fox in 1997. Regarding documentaries, both about Anastasia and about her family, thousands have been produced in many languages ​​and we can watch some thanks to YouTube. Others of excellent quality and great attachment to “official” history have been produced and disseminated by local channels in Russia, France or Germany, or shown to the world through the History Channel or National Geographic, among others.

With the growing audience and success that channels such as NETFLIX, HULU and AMAZON video have obtained in recent years, a new television series “The Romanoffs,” announced with fanfare by Amazon, has many fans of this story very excited, waiting to see something new on their screens. The expensive production, with an investment of $50 million and whose “premier” is scheduled for October 12, will be an “anthology”, as it was announced by its creators. Mostly historical-fiction, each one of the eight episodes that will be aired, will portray stories of several people living around the world, who “believe” they are descendants of the famous Russian family, composed by Tsar Nicholas II, his wife the Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, their children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and the heir to the throne, the Tsarevich Alexis.

The cast of A-list actors and actresses that will bring these stories to life on the screen will probably attract many followers of their famous careers; even if they do not know the official history of the Romanovs, they probably will want to enjoy this new production of their idol Matthew Weiner. The producers are hoping that this series will be a big success like the one obtained by Weiner in his series “Mad Men”, which ended in 2015. Weiner decided to write the surname Romanov with double f, Romanoff, as used a few years ago, possibly to make it look more “original”.

But without creating more expectation, we believe that this series will resurrect the drama, passion, intrigue and mystery that continue to surround the “Romanov Case”. The mystery of Anastasia will be highlighted, mentioning her possible descendant and all the controversies that arose about this daughter of the Tsar, the youngest, which still many people believe that indeed survived the “supposed” Yekaterinburg massacre, where it is said that the rest of her family died


A century of history

The events that occurred during the First World War (1914-1918), the Russian Revolution and the fate of the Imperial Family of Russia before and during those historical events, have been studied and documented extensively. In March, 1917 Nicholas II  was forced to abdicate the throne, ending the reign of a dynasty that began in 1613. Nicholas II and his family became prisoners of the “Provisional Government”, which moved them to Tobolsk. They then fell into the grip of the Bolsheviks when they took control of Russia, following the October, 1917 revolution. The Romanovs were finally moved to the mining city of Yekaterinburg, in Siberia, in the spring of 1918.

It is said that on the night of July 16th, or the early hours of the 17th, the entire family of Tsar Nicholas II, disappeared from the Ipatiev House, where they were held captive. They were allegedly massacred in the basement by Yakov Yurovsky and other guards of the house. But from that moment, different versions began to circulate. The first was that only Nicholas II had been executed, while his wife and children had been taken elsewhere. The Bolsheviks, especially their elite in the Central Committee in Moscow, gave no explanation. A few weeks later, publications appeared in government newspapers announcing that the entire family had been eliminated, but still several months later the doubts remained. Other versions of a possible escape, carried out with the help of secret agents from several countries circulated in the area, and also appeared as news in European and American newspapers.

Photo of the Ipatiev house, last place where the Romanovs were seen alive

The first investigation “in situ” was made shortly after their disappearance, when the troops of Admiral Alexander Kolchak, who fought against the Bolsheviks, seized the city of Yekaterinburg on July 25, 1918. The first investigative commission was chaired by Alexander Nametkin, a delegate of the civil court of Ekaterinburg. Assisting him was Captain Malinovski, also a member of the commission. Malinovski  would later give  a formal recorded opinion in which he expressed his doubts about some remains found in a mine shaft which were attributed to the Imperial Family and their loyal servants.

The second investigation began on August 7, 1918, twenty-one days after the disappearance of the Romanovs, chaired by Judge Ivan Sergeiev. The transition between his predecessor Nametkin and the latter was carried out in an orderly, professional and friendly manner. Sergeiev found a trail still quite hot and was in charge of the investigation for the next six months. During that period of time, he visited the Ipatiev house numerous times, taking inventories and collecting samples. He also went to the mine where the charred remains of objects that were attributed to Nicholas, his family and his servants were found. Among them were alleged denture of Dr. Botkin, (doctor of the Tsarina), a human finger, several rods of corsets, some jewelry and pieces of cloth similar to that used in the Tsarina’s dresses. But after numerous interviews with individuals in the area, Sergeiev was not sure of the true fate of the family. He did believe that someone had been murdered in the basement of the house, but not a large group. On the other hand, several indications suggested that the family was still alive.

In the following months, according to The New York Times, a number of close relatives to Nicholas II, -like his own mother Maria Feodorovna, and his first cousin the Grand Duke Kyril Vladimirovich-, Stated that they had received letters from members of the Tsar’s family, assuring them  that they were alive and protected by loyal monarchists. In June 1919, another relative, Prince Felix Yusupov, told a correspondent of the Spanish newspaper “La Epoca” in Rome:

“I have reason to believe that the tsar, the Tsarina and the imperial family all live and are in a safe place.”

He added that he had read the letters the Tsar had sent to his mother during the previous winter of 1918.

The New York Times published that the family was still alive in January 1919

On 7 February 1919, Admiral Kolchak replaced Judge Ivan Sergeiev with Judge Nicholas Sokolov.  Arriving seven months after the first investigation, he would be the last individual who would follow-up on the work of his predecessors and collect other testimonies, some quite contradictory to the Bolshevik’s version that the whole family had been murdered. After arriving to France in 1923, Sokolov was accompanied by Prince Nicholas Orlov, (who participated in both editing and publication of the famous “Sokolov Report”), better known as the “official version” of what happened to the Romanovs. This is still today, in 2018, “the gospel” of this case.

Cover of the “Sokolov Report, published in France in 1924, after the death of the researcher

Other detailed investigations have been conducted after his initial report was published in 1924 to determine what really happened to the Russian imperial family, which coincided with discussions between members of the royal houses of Europe, monarchists, and historians all over the world.

An important fact is that no order was ever signed by Lenin to execute a regicide against the former sovereign. Even in more recent years, in 2010, an investigation was conducted in Russia, and according to Vladimir Solovyov of the Federal Investigative Committee, nothing was found. Nor was an order given by Beloborodov, head of the regional committee of the Urals, -or anyone else-, for Yurovsky to commit the massacre. Historians say that the decision to assassinate them all was taken exclusively by the Urals Soviet; but something so transcendent and tenebrous, would require an order to be issued. Someone had to give it and there should be a file containing the initial military order as well as any and all supplemental military orders.  But there is nothing. Perhaps the files of the CHEKA (Bolshevik secret police) of the Urals, whose headquarters were in Perm, could clarify the events, but those documents to this day are classified.

What we did find are “official” documents proving that at the end of March, 1945 Stalin ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of the imperial family in 1918. This fact is curious because of two things. First, because if the Bolsheviks had indeed killed them in 1918, as they announced, why were they having second thoughts about the regicide? Second: because at that exact moment in history, Russia was preparing the last great offensive to capture Berlin with the allies. Then it draws attention Stalin, Beria and Kobulov were distracted investigating the Romanovs. Or is it that they received information about one of them being alive that made them doubt?

All will be clarified in future publications.


Anastasia, the enigma that endures

Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanov as a girl

After the disappearance of the imperial family, several people emerged around the world claiming to be descendants of the Romanovs. They told of having “survived” the massacre aided by compassionate guards or rescued by some mysterious hand. The most famous was a mysterious young woman, who used several names in her life, being Anna Anderson the best known that she used from 1931 to 1984, when she died in Virginia, United States of America.

It is precisely the story of Anna Anderson/Anastasia the one that has been kept alive in the memory of several generations about that tragedy. Anastasia was one of the great mysteries of the 20th century, which seems to be reborn more strongly in the 21st  century. Her story has been told in hundreds of books, authorized or unauthorized biographies, novels, children’s stories, songs, movies and even in a 1997 animated film. More recently there have been plays and musicals that continue to attract audiences from London to New York, all immortalizing it and reinforcing that character of world legend. We also see how the Internet has joined this phenomenon called “Anastasia”, with the appearance of cyber pages, blogs, pages on FACEBOOK and discussion forums, in which believers and opponents express their opinions or face heated arguments to defend their beliefs about this lady.

Anna Anderson/Anastasia around 1924 in Germany

Since the early 1920’s, when a young girl appeared in Berlin claiming to be Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Nicholas II, and the only one who had somehow managed to survive the alleged massacre of the whole family, the theme around the real events that occurred in that summer of 1918 has been surrounded by controversy. The news that one of the daughters of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia could be alive, caught the attention of the international press back in 1922. Subsequently, the trial in Germany to establish her true identity began in 1938 and ended in 1970, when a court in Hamburg declared the case “non liquet”; that is, the plaintiff, Anna Anderson / Anastasia, could not prove her identity as Anastasia, but the opponents could not prove it was not her either. This famous trial appears on the pages of the Guinness Records as the longest in history.

Based on that “supposed survival” of Anastasia, the 8 episodes of the series “The Romanoffs” will be about her descendants, scattered all over the world.

Comparison of photos between Anna Anderson and Anastasia Nikolaevna

It is worth noting that according to the story of Anna Anderson/Anastasia, she actually had a son with a Bolshevik soldier, who according to herself, was the one who rescued her from the Ipatiev house and took her out of Russia. The boy was born in September, 1919 and she left him in an orphanage in Galatz, Romania, before crossing the Danube River, when she went to Germany to find her Aunt Irene of Hesse and by Rhine, sister of the tsarina. She thought about going back for him, but everything got complicated when she arrived in Berlin. After that, she never heard about the boy again and in her old age she just wanted to know what had happened with the child and to see him again before she died. Unfortunately, it did not happen.


The bones of contention

Remains unburied at Yekaterinburg in 1991

In 1991, some bones were unearthed from a mass grave located in a forest near Yekaterinburg, by two men. Forensic analyzes conducted at the time said that they supposedly belonged to the Russian Imperial Family, several of their servants and the Tsarina’s doctor. The problem was that among the nine skeletons found, only five were identified as those of Nicholas II, Alexandra and three of their daughters. The remains of the other two members of the family were missing. According to American forensic experts, the remains of Anastasia and Alexis were not in the grave. According to the Russians, the ones that were missing were Maria and Alexis.

Right there began a controversy that after twenty-seven years hasn’t been silenced. At the celebration of this centenary, the voices that disagreed that all those bones unearthed are those of the Romanovs continue to be heard increasingly loud and clear, with arguments from serious and respected historians, scientists and even the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 1998, when those “identified” remains were buried in the Cathedral of Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg, the Russian Patriarch Alexei II did not attend the funeral and sent two regular priests to perform the ceremony. According to newspapers at the  time, the patriarch prohibited the priests from mentioning the names of those who were going to be buried. Father Boris Glebov, presided over the funeral service in St. Petersburg and witnesses heard him say a few days before the ceremony: “The truth is that I do not know who I am burying.”

At the end of 2007, some additional bones appeared in Ekaterinburg, near the previous grave, which later on, in 2008, were acknowledged as the missing ones of Maria and Alexis. Several scientists were against such identification, saying that 44 fragments of bones were not enough to identify a person, much less two. In addition, coins and other indications that the tomb was from a time much later than 1918 appeared. The Orthodox Church refused to recognize those remains, and did not allow them to be buried next to the others in the Cathedral of Peter and Paul.

The controversy has continued for so many years, that in 2015 the Russian government announced that they were re-opening the investigation. They created a new commission, in order to see if everything is finally clarified and the Orthodox Church accepts, once and for all, that those remains are those of the Romanovs.

The new team investigating, led by Alexander Bastrykin, announced that new DNA tests would be carried out, since the previous ones, done in England in 1993-1994, had been questioned by experienced scientists like Dr. Nagai, Dr. Lev Zivothovsky, and Dr. Alec Knight. In addition, several historians complained that no historical documents had been taken into account. This time, there would be representation of the Orthodox Church throughout the investigation and historical documents would be examined. This is of particular importance since many new documents have surfaced in Russian and European archives related to the Romanovs, in the last ten years.

Last July, during the celebrations of the centenary, the government commission said they had  completed all the new scientific tests and that those remains unearthed in 1991 and the ones found in 2007 were those of Nicholas II and his family. The Orthodox Church said days later that for them the investigation is not concluded.

Is it that the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and other patriarchs, know some facts about the fate of the Romanovs, that in 2018 they have not revealed? If so, what prevents them from doing so?

The Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna with her daughters Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia


In search of the historical truth

Since 1992 other researchers and historians throughout the world, have been dedicated to  the search for “the truth”. Twenty-six years later the results have been fascinating. Thousands of documents found in public and private archives in nine countries in Europe and America, show that the fate of the Romanovs may not be exactly what history books tell. Photographs, letters, and notarized testimonies of honorable people, including members of several royal houses in Europe, support the thesis of the survival of the imperial family.

On the other hand, a group of forensic experts, historians and investigative journalists in Russia has been dedicated to supporting the Orthodox Church. Studying documents kept in Russian archives and carrying out exhaustive, very professional analysis of the skulls, teeth and bones of the “so-called Romanovs”, they have come to the conclusion that “definitely”, they could never belong to Nicholas, Alexandra and their children. These discoveries were made and published by Dr. Emil Agadzhanyan, an experienced dentist, as well as by Dr. Yuri Grigoriev, an expert in criminology, and by several historians such as Andrei Golitsyn, Veniamin Alexeev, Andrei Manovceb, Igor Eleferenko and Alexei Obolensky. Also the results of the analysis of historical documents agree with those made by Europeans and North Americans.

Hopefully, all this new historical information will be available in the near future, and documents never before revealed will be published, to clarify many dark spots and unanswered questions of this great mystery. Undoubtedly, a television series presenting all this new and fascinating history would be highly recommended, and it possibly would be very successful.


October 12

As we said before, this TV series “The Romanoffs” is mostly historical fiction. People already familiar with the real story of the Imperial Family of Russia will probably know how to distinguish the line between history and fiction. Probably most of the new audience will likely see this production as mere “entertainment,” in the best style of Hollywood. Others possibly become very interested, will question many things, and will try to read about “the real Romanovs” in general, or about Anastasia in particular. As has happened to many of us, they probably will be caught up “in the spell” of this enigma, which, although it is already one hundred years old, it continues to fascinate and gain new fans, trying to find out the truth.


Marie Stravlo

Dallas, Texas

September 15, 2018

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One Comment

  1. The Count of Mondaye

    Magnificently well researched article!

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