The Insider! Lost Royals!
The Real Duchess!
In 1917, Bolsheviks murdered the Romanov family, ending the reign of the tsars and beginning the Communist era in Russia. When the royal family was consigned to an unmarked grave, the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna went missing. A woman calling herself Anna Anderson soon appeared, claiming to be the missing duchess. Was she an imposter or the real thing?
Born on June 18, 1901, Anastasia had three elder sisters, Olga, Tatiana, and Maria, and a younger brother, Alexei, born in 1904. The unrest began soon after her brother's arrival. Nicholas II upheld his father's oppressive policies, inciting socialist groups to agitate for his overthrow. In 1905 the first Russian Revolution ignited when government troops fired on a crowd of workers who were marching to petition the tsar. This attack let to further peasant revolts, workers' strikes, and naval mutinies.
Inside the Alexander Palace, however, the Romanov family lived an idyllic life. Anastasia was considered the most intelligent and most mischievous of the tsar's daughters. Her childhood playmate Tatiana Botkin described her as "lively and rough . . . roguish." Her cousin Princess Xenia described her as "frightfully temperamental, wild and rough." Like her mother, Anastasia was a beauty, with light brown hair and blue eyes. Like her sisters, Anastasia spoke both English and Russian, though the girls' Russian was childish due to their isolation from the outside world.
When World War I began, Nicholas took command of the Russian army. In his absence, Alexandra ran the government with her advisor Rasputin, a controversial holy man whom she had consulted about Alexei's hemophilia. Over time Rasputin took over the government. In 1916 a band of conspirators that included members of the imperial family murdered Rasputin, but the damage to the royals was irreparable. Workers in Petrograd and Moscow rioted and mutiny spread through the military, a revolt that would be known The Bolshevik Revolution.
On March 15, 1917, Nicholas was forced to abdicate. Soldiers invaded the palace and took the imperial family prisoner. The family was moved to Siberia, where they lived until July 16, 1918, when they were taken to a cellar and shot. Anastasia's parents and sister Olga died at once. To the soldier's surprise, bullets bounced off Anastasia, Tatiana, and Maria, who had sewn diamonds into their clothes. Tatiana and Maria were killed eventually, but Anastasia's death was never confirmed. Impersonators began appearing. The most famous was Anna Anderson.
On the night of February 17, 1920, less than two years after the royal murders, a woman jumped off a bridge in Berlin. She was rescued and taken to a hospital. As she had no ID and refused to give her identity, she was sent to a mental asylum, where she claimed to be Anastasia. She said that survived because the soldiers' bayonets were blunt. A soldier named Tschaikovsky rescued her and took her to Romania. The woman then walked to Berlin to seek out her aunt, Princess Irene. When her resolve faltered, she tried to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge.
The woman, who began calling herself Anna Anderson in the 1920s, attracted many supporters and many deniers. Crown Princess Cecilie, the daughter-in-law of the former Kaiser and a relative of Anastasia, came to believe that Anderson was the lost grand duchess. One of Anastasia's aunts, Grand Duchess Olga, met Anderson several times and finally she declared that Anderson was not Anastasia. After spending two days with Anderson, Nicholas II's cousin Grand Duke Alexander exclaimed, "I have seen Nicky's daughter! I have seen Nicky's daughter!" Other staunch supporters included Anastasia's cousin Princess Xenia and Tatiana Botkin, whose father was murdered with the imperial family. When Princess Irene met the woman, she denied that she resembled Anastasia, though she later admitted, "She is similar, she is similar." Irene's son, Prince Sigismund, Anastasia's childhood friend, was convinced that Anderson was the grand duchess.
Determined to prove that Anderson was an imposter, Anastasia's uncle, Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse backed an investigation that concluded Anderson was a Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska who had disappeared right before Anna Anderson surfaced. In 1938 Anderson brought suit in a German court to prove her identity and claim part of an inheritance. The case dragged on until 1970 when the court ruled that Anderson had not proved that she was Anastasia. Still experts continued to take Anderson's side. One famous anthropologist, Dr. Otto Reche, studied photographs and testified in court that Anastasia and Anna Anderson had to be either the same person or identical twins. In 1977 a prominent forensic expert, Dr. Moritz Furtmayr, identified Anderson as Anastasia. In 1984 Anderson died of pneumonia and was cremated at her own request. DNA analysis of hair and tissue samples from Anderson seemed to prove that she was Franziska Schanzkowska.
In 1991, the remains of the rest of the imperial family were located and exhumed. DNA testing confirmed that the recovered skeletons included Nicholas, Alexandra, and three of their daughters. Two bodies remained missing: those of Alexei and one of his sisters, possibly Anastasia. On July 17, 1998, 80 years after the assassination, the imperial family and the servants who died with them were interred in the St. Catherine Chapel of St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. The whereabouts of Anastasia remain unknown.
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