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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Romanov mystery solved: DNA testing ends ninety years of speculation

It was one of the most tantalizing mysteries of the Twentieth Century. And had I not been so busy with other things, I would not have missed the announcement about three weeks ago that the last members of Tsar Nicholas II's family had finally been found...

Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia, and his family in a photo taken in 1911

Nicholas and his family, along with several faithful servants, were executed by the Bolsheviks in the town of Yekaterinburg on July 17th, 1918, a little over a year after his abdication from the throne. Rumors and legend have persisted over the decades that at least one of the Romanov children survived the slaughter. Most fancifully, it's been suggested that Nicholas' only son Alexei and youngest daughter Anastasia had somehow been secretly spared.

In 1991, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, the remains of Nicholas II and most of the Romanov family were found. After exhaustive research it was discovered that two of his children were still missing: at least one daughter, and Alexei. The Romanov enigma would endure for nearly another two decades.

And then in the summer of 2007 the remains of two children were found in the area of the Romanov execution. They matched a report by the Romanovs' executioner, who said that two of the bodies had been burned and buried separately from those of the family. For the past several months the remains have been undergoing DNA analysis.

And now we know for certain: none of the Romanovs escaped execution. It has been confirmed that the remains are those of Alexei and his sister Maria, the third oldest of Nicholas II's daughters.

I'll admit: I was one of those who ever since first reading about the Romanovs had secretly hoped that at least one of them had yet survived. And it would have been neat for there to have been this one great mystery of the previous century left unsolved, which would have always left a little room to have a glimmer of hope.

There is no hope now. Nicholas, his wife and all their issue were massacred, leaving no survivors.

But at least now, with no more doubt, they will soon be together as a family again: on Earth as they are in Heaven. As it should be.


Unknown said...

So sad.

Anonymous said...

Its strange that you honor Nicholas II when he caused Russia to fall into calamity without caring at all for the people. Nicholas was as bad as your President Bush.

Chris Knight said...

Nicholas II's single greatest flaw, I've come to believe, was that he felt obligated to live up to his father's legacy. From the very beginning of his reign, he demonstrated that he was trapped by the shadow of Alexander III.

It wasn't just what his father left him, either. In spite of his wealth and power (he is the third richest man throughout all of human history) Nicholas II was very much a prisoner of his throne and the diplomatic niceties that came with it. The Bloody Sunday incident of 1905, I cannot believe that Nicholas would have followed through on that were it not for senior government officials telling him he "had no choice" but to put it down (when it wasn't even a real revolt at all).

And then there was World War I, which took the problems that Russia already had and magnified them terribly. Had World War I not happened, it's possible that things might have gone very differently for Nicholas II. Did Russia have a choice but to commit to the war? We've been debating that for almost a hundred years now.

He was trapped. And so was his family.

I don't believe that it's fair at all comparing Tsar Nicholas II to George W. Bush. One was very much a victim of birth and circumstance, and the other asked for the responsibilities of office and proceeded to squander not only what was entrusted to him, but also countless lives and untold billions of dollars. In the greater scheme of things, Bush has done far worse to his country - and in a much shorter period of time - than Nicholas II ever did to his own.

Chris Knight said...

After finding this news about the Romanovs (and because I've had some time to kill while working on some things tonight) I've spent the better part of this evening reading up more about them.

It's particularly interesting to read about the kind of life that Anastasia had. For a girl who grew up the youngest daughter of one of the world's most powerful men a hundred years ago, she had a remarkably modern life that today's typical American teen would have no problem recognizing. Anastasia loved going to see movies, especially the ones coming out of what was then early Hollywood. She also enjoyed talking on the phone. She was very fond of dogs and playing practical jokes. And she loved to read romantic novels.

And it must be said: she was a very beautiful girl.

Anonymous said...

Tsar Nicholas the II was a devout Christian man and in earthly terms that was his weakness. He did not have interest in administration or military like his father did. It is not without reason that we among the Orthodox hold Nicholas and his family up as passion bearers. They died with Christ like love and humility.

Anonymous said...

"Its strange that you honor Nicholas II when he caused Russia to fall into calamity without caring at all for the people. Nicholas was as bad as your President Bush"

Wrong. The Bolsheviks CAUSED Russia to fall into calamity. Lenin, Stalin, etc. were responsible for the deaths of millions of Russians. Ever heard of Red Terror ? Now ask yourself this.. ever heard of Tsar Nicholas II terror ? I think not.

Don't sit there and blame Tsar Nicholas when he at least gave some effort to stop the Bolsheviks.


Anonymous said...

Comparing the Romanovs and President Bush is nearly impossible because they were about 90 years apart, 2 different government systems and two different countries and there is no need to drag President Bush into this discussion.

Nicholas the II was not a good Czar but no one deserved to die like he and his family did. And than for 80 years they were denied a christian burial and 90 years for the two children who were just found.

I used to read so much on the Last Tzar and his family that I would cry and I would have nightmares. In 1998, I was privalged to be in St. Petersburg less than a month after the family was buried in the Peter and Paul Cathederal and I have to say I left that Cathedral with a feeling of deep sadness for those lives that had been ended before there time especially the children but also a feeling that things had come full circle. It was the double headed Eagle, the symbol of Imperial Russia, The Red, White, and blue flag--the flag of Imperial Russia was being flown and the Last Tzar was being discussed when his name had been banned during the Soviet days.