Sunday, July 16, 2006
Romanov Family Murdered, July 17, 1918
Today in 1918, the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his family were murdered in a small village in Siberia. This marked the end of the Romanov dynasty, the last family to rule imperial Russia before the revolutions of 1917.
By the beginning of World War One in 1914, Russia was in poor economic and military condition. Tsar Nicholas II ruled a nation that had been on the brink of revolution since 1905. While the Russian Army did experience some success early on against the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empire’s forces, by 1915 the army could no longer hold its own against these powers and the might of the German war machine. In September of that year, Nicholas took personal command of the Russian Army, hoping that his presence at the front would increase morale. In his absence, his wife Alexandra oversaw almost all domestic issues. She was of German descent, a heritage that made her very unpopular. Furthermore, her closest advisor, Grigori Rasputin, was considered insane by many and rumors of an affair between the two circulated wildly.
As losses at the front mounted and strikes and riots began to erupt in the larger cities, it seemed as if Russia had become a rudderless ship. With few other options, Nicholas and his son abdicated in 1917, leaving his brother Mikhail as the rightful heir to the throne. Mikhail turned down the honor, meaning that the nation was left without a ruler.
A provisional government was formed, but was replaced in October, 1917 by the Bolsheviks, who would, after a bloody four-year civil war, unite the former empire under the banner of the Soviet Union. After Nicholas’ abdication, he and his family were confined in the Alexander Palace near St. Petersburg. Later, they were moved to Yekaterinburg on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains.
Even though the Bolsheviks claimed to be the legitimate government in Russia, this determination was far from universally accepted. The Cheka, the Soviet secret police formed in December, 1917, feared that a successful rescue of the Romanov family would give anti-Bolshevik groups enough legitimacy in Europe and elsewhere that the Tsar might be restored to power. So on the night of July 17, 1918, Yakov Yurovsky and a group of Cheka operatives murdered Nicholas, his wife Alexandra and their five children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei. Their bodies were initially dumped down a mineshaft near Yekaterinburg, but were later buried north of the city.
Skeletal remains believed to be those of the Romanov family were discovered in 1981, but were kept hidden from the Soviet government until a decade later. Initial investigation resulted in the announcement that two sets of remains were missing: those of Anastasia and Alexei. However, this has been disputed. A woman who went by the name Anna Anderson claimed to be Anastasia, but DNA testing of her remains proved this claim to be false.
In 2000, the entire Romanov family was canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church.