Execution of the Romanov family
The Russian Imperial Romanov family (Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei) and all those who chose to accompany them into exile – notably Eugene Botkin, Anna Demidova, Alexei Trupp and Ivan Kharitonov – were shot in Yekaterinburg on 17 July 1918. The Tsar and his family were killed by Bolshevik troops led by Yakov Yurovsky under the orders of the Ural Regional Soviet. Despite being informed that "the entire family suffered the same fate as its head", the Bolsheviks only announced Nicholas's death, with Yakov Sverdlov stating that "Nicholas Romanov's wife and son have been sent to a secure place."
Some historians attribute the order to the government in Moscow, specifically Yakov Sverdlov and Vladimir Lenin, who wished to prevent the rescue of the Imperial Family by the approaching Czechoslovak Legion (fighting with the White Army against Bolsheviks) during the ongoing Russian Civil War. This is supported by a passage in Leon Trotsky's diary. A recent investigation led by Vladimir Solovyov concluded that, despite the opening of state archives in the post-Soviet years, there is yet no written document found that indicates that either Lenin or Sverdlov instigated the orders; however, they did endorse the executions after they occurred. Lenin had close control over the Romanovs although he ensured his name was not associated with their fate in any official documents.
On 22 March 1917, Nicholas, no longer a monarch and addressed with contempt by the sentries as "Nicholas Romanov", was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. He was placed under house arrest with his family by the Provisional Government, surrounded by guards and confined to their quarters.
In August 1917, Alexander Kerensky's provisional government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution. There they lived in the former governor's mansion in considerable comfort. After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter, and talk of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. Nicholas was forbidden to wear epaulettes, and the sentries scrawled lewd drawings on the fence to offend his daughters. On 1 March 1918, the family was placed on soldier's rations, which meant parting with 10 devoted servants and giving up butter and coffee.
As the Bolsheviks gathered strength, the government in April moved Nicholas, Alexandra, and their daughter Maria to Yekaterinburg under the direction of Vasily Yakovlev. Alexei was too ill to accompany his parents and remained with his sisters Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia, not leaving Tobolsk until May 1918. The family was imprisoned with a few remaining retainers in Yekaterinburg's Ipatiev House, which was designated The House of Special Purpose (Russian: Дом Особого Назначения).
The Romanovs were being held by the Red Army in Yekaterinburg, since Bolsheviks initially wanted to put them on trial. As the civil war continued and the White Army (a loose alliance of anti-Communist forces) was threatening to capture the city, the fear was that the Romanovs would fall into White hands. This was unacceptable to the Bolsheviks for two reasons: first, the tsar or any of his family members could provide a beacon to rally support to the White cause; second, the tsar, or any of his family members if the tsar were dead, would be considered the legitimate ruler of Russia by the other European nations. This would have meant the ability to negotiate for greater foreign intervention on behalf of the Whites. Soon after the family was executed, the city fell to the White Army.
In mid-July 1918, forces of the Czechoslovak Legion were closing on Yekaterinburg, to protect the Trans-Siberian Railway, of which they had control. According to historian David Bullock, the Bolsheviks falsely believed that the Czechoslovaks were on a mission to rescue the family, panicked and executed their wards. The Legions arrived less than a week later and on July 25 captured the city.
During the imperial family's imprisonment in late June, Petr Voikov directed the smuggling of letters written in French to the Ipatiev House claiming to be a monarchist officer seeking to rescue them, composed at the behest of the Cheka. These fabricated letters, along with the Romanov responses to them (written either on blank spaces or on the envelope), were ultimately used by Lenin's government to justify murdering the imperial family.
Around midnight, Yakov Yurovsky, the commandant of The House of Special Purpose, ordered the Romanovs' physician, Dr. Eugene Botkin, to awaken the sleeping family and ask them to put on their clothes, under the pretext that the family would be moved to a safe location due to impending chaos in Yekaterinburg. The Romanovs were then ordered into a 6 m × 5 m (20 ft × 16 ft) semi-basement room. Nicholas asked if Yurovsky could bring two chairs, on which Tsarevich Alexei and Alexandra sat.
The prisoners were told to wait in the cellar room while the truck that would transport them was being brought to the House. A few minutes later, an execution squad of secret police was brought in and Yurovsky read aloud the order given him by the Ural Executive Committee:
|“||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.||”|
Nicholas, facing his family, turned and said "What? What?" Yurovsky quickly repeated the order and the weapons were raised. The Empress and Grand Duchess Olga, according to a guard's reminiscence, had tried to cross themselves, but failed amid the shooting. Yurovsky reportedly raised his gun at Nicholas's torso and fired; Nicholas fell dead. Yurovsky then shot Alexei. The other executioners then began shooting chaotically until all the intended victims had fallen. Several more shots were fired and the doors opened to scatter the smoke. There were some survivors, so Peter Ermakov stabbed them with bayonets because the shots could be heard outside. The last to die were Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria, who were carrying a few pounds (over 1.3 kilograms) of diamonds sewn into their clothing, which had given them a degree of protection from the firing. However, they were speared with bayonets as well. Olga sustained a gunshot wound to the head. Maria and Anastasia were said to have crouched up against a wall covering their heads in terror until they were shot down. Yurovsky himself killed Tatiana and Alexei. Tatiana died from a single bullet through the back of her head. Alexei received two bullets to the head, right behind the ear after the executioners realized he had not been killed by the first shot. Anna Demidova, Alexandra's maid, survived the initial onslaught but was quickly stabbed to death against the back wall while trying to defend herself with a small pillow which she had carried that was filled with precious gems and jewels.
The bodies of the Romanovs and their servants were transported to a mineshaft in the Koptyaki forest. They were stripped of their clothing and valuables, the former piled up and burned while Yurovsky took inventory of their jewellery. They were then lowered into a shallow pit and sprinkled with sulphuric acid. Yurovsky unsuccessfully tried to collapse the mine with hand grenades, after which his men covered it with loose earth and branches. They returned to the mineshaft on 18 July and hauled the bodies out for reburial at another location after the pit was deemed too shallow. During transportation to the deeper copper mines west of Ekaterinburg on 19 July, the Fiat truck carrying the bodies got stuck in a dip in the road near Porosenkov Log (Pig's Meadow). At this point, Yurovsky decided to bury them under the road where the truck had stalled. His men dumped the bodies in a grave that was barely 60 centimetres (2 ft) deep. They were again doused in sulphuric acid, their faces smashed with rifle butts and finally covered with quicklime.
Yurovsky separated the Tsarevich Alexei and one of his sisters, either Maria or Anastasia, to be buried about 15 metres (50 ft) away, in an attempt to confuse anyone who might discover the mass grave with only nine bodies. Alexei and his sister were partially burned, their bones pounded to fragments with shovels and tossed into a smaller grave. Only 44 partial bone fragments from both corpses remained, which were not found until August 2007.
Ivan Plotnikov, history professor at the Maksim Gorky Ural State University, has established that the executioners were: Yakov Yurovsky, G. P. Nikulin, M. A. Medvedev (Kudrin), Peter Ermakov, S. P. Vaganov, A. G. Kabanov, P. S. Medvedev, V. N. Netrebin, and Y. M. Tselms. Filipp Goloshchekin, a close associate of Yakov Sverdlov, being a military commissar of the Uralispolkom in Yekaterinburg, however did not actually participate, and two or three guards refused to take part. Petr Voikov was given the specific task of arranging for the disposal of their remains, obtaining 570 litres (150 gal) of gasoline and 180 kilograms (400 lbs) of sulphuric acid, the latter from the Yekaterinburg pharmacy. After the killings, he was to declare that "The world will never know what we did with them."
Early next morning, when rumours spread in Yekaterinburg about the disposal site, Yurovsky removed the bodies and hid them elsewhere (railroad ties and then earth ( ) on Koptyaki Road, a cart track (subsequently abandoned) 19 kilometres (12 mi) north of Yekaterinburg.). When the vehicle carrying the bodies broke down on the way to the next chosen site, Yurovsky made new arrangements, and buried most of the acid-covered bodies in a pit sealed and concealed with rubble, covered over with
An official announcement appeared in the national press, two days later. It reported that the monarch had been executed on the order of Uralispolkom under pressure posed by the approach of the Czechoslovaks. Although official Soviet accounts place the responsibility for the decision with the Uralispolkom, Leon Trotsky in his diary reportedly suggested Vladimir Lenin. Trotsky wrote:
My next visit to Moscow took place after the fall of Yekaterinburg. Talking to Sverdlov I asked in passing, "Oh yes and where is the Tsar?" "It's all over," he answered. "He has been shot." "And where is his family?" "And the family with him." "All of them?" I asked, apparently with a touch of surprise. "All of them," replied Yakov Sverdlov. "What about it?" He was waiting to see my reaction. I made no reply. "And who made the decision?" I asked. "We decided it here. Ilyich [Lenin] believed that we shouldn't leave the Whites a live banner to rally around, especially under the present difficult circumstances."
However, as of 2011 there has been no conclusive evidence that either Lenin or Sverdlov gave the order. V.N. Solovyov, the leader of the Investigative Committee of Russia's 1993 investigation on the shooting of the Romanov family, has concluded that there is no reliable document that indicates that either Lenin or Sverdlov were responsible. He declared:
According to the presumption of innocence, no one can be held criminally liable without guilt being proven. In the criminal case, an unprecedented search for archival sources taking all available materials into account was conducted by authoritative experts, such as Sergey Mironenko, the director of the largest archive in the country, the State Archive of the Russian Federation. The study involved the main experts on the subject - historians and archivists. And I can confidently say that today there is no reliable document that would prove the initiative of Lenin and Sverdlov.— V.N. Solovyov
The written record taking the chain of command and the ultimate responsibility for the fate of the Romanovs back to Lenin was, from the beginning, either never made or carefully concealed. Lenin operated with extreme caution, his favoured method being to issue instructions in coded telegrams, insisting that the original and even the telegraph ribbon on which it was sent be destroyed. Uncovered documents in Archive No. 2 (Lenin), Archive No. 86 (Sverdlov) as well as the archives of the Council of People's Commissars and the All-Russian Central Executive Committee revealed that a host of party 'errand boys' were regularly designated to relay his instructions, and in all such decisions he regularly insisted that no written evidence be preserved. The 55 volumes of Lenin's Collected Works were scrupulously censored. The task of Soviet historiography was to protect Lenin's reputation at all costs and thus ensure that no discredit was brought on him. In this respect, responsibility for the 'liquidation' of the Romanovs went to the Ural Regional Soviet and Ekaterinburg Cheka.
In 1993, the report of Yakov Yurovsky from 1922 was published. According to the report, units of the Czechoslovak Legion were approaching Yekaterinburg. On 17 July 1918, Yakov and other Bolshevik jailers, fearing that the Legion would free Nicholas after conquering the town, executed him and his family. The next day, Yakov departed for Moscow with a report to Sverdlov. As soon as the Czechoslovaks seized Ekaterinburg, his apartment was pillaged.
|Skull of Skeleton №4 (Nikolai Romanov)|
Over the years, a number of people claimed to be survivors of the ill-fated family. In May 1979, the remains of most of the family and their retainers were found by amateur enthusiasts, who kept the discovery secret until the collapse of Communism. In July 1991, the bodies of five family members (the Tsar, Tsarina, and three of their daughters) were exhumed. After forensic examination and DNA identification, the bodies were laid to rest with state honors in the St. Catherine Chapel of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, where most other Russian monarchs since Peter the Great lie. President Boris Yeltsin and his wife attended the funeral along with Romanov relations, including Prince Michael of Kent. The remaining two bodies of Tsesarevich Alexei and one of his sisters were discovered in 2007.
On 15 August 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church announced the canonization of the family for their "humbleness, patience and meekness". However, reflecting the intense debate preceding the issue, the bishops did not proclaim the Romanovs as martyrs, but passion bearers instead (see Romanov sainthood). On 1 October 2008, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled that Nicholas II and his family were victims of political repression and rehabilitated them.
On Thursday, 26 August 2010, a Russian court ordered prosecutors to reopen an investigation into the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, although the Bolsheviks believed to have shot them in 1918 had died long before. The Russian Prosecutor General's main investigative unit said it had formally closed a criminal investigation into the killing of Nicholas because too much time had elapsed since the crime and because those responsible had died. However, Moscow’s Basmanny Court ordered the re-opening of the case, saying that a Supreme Court ruling blaming the state for the killings made the deaths of the actual gunmen irrelevant, according to a lawyer for the Tsar’s relatives and local news agencies.
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