One Imperial pretender, two very different books, Part III (Selective reporting)

One of the many good things about King and Wilson’s book is that it documents all the reasons why this most famous of all pretenders wasn’t whom she claimed to be. One of those reasons was the selective reporting of information.

If one only goes by Peter Kurth’s book (which is an excellent biography on its own merits), and other sympathetic sources, as I did for many years, it seems like there’s a very strong case for this woman having been Grand Duchess Anastasiya. But now that many documents have been released from archives, the historical evidence paints a much different picture.

Take the famous list of 18 questions Prince Sigismund of Prussia (nephew of Empress Aleksandra and the only non-hemophiliac son of Princess Irene) and his brother-in-law Prince Friedrich of Saxe–Altenburg gave her in 1932. They all related to the Imperial Family’s stay in Spała, Poland in autumn 1912 (when Aleksey almost died of a very serious injury).

The princes refused to make these questions public, claiming the pretender’s opponents would accuse them of giving her the answers. They also believed none of the answers had appeared in print. King and Wilson provide all 18 of the questions, some of which answer one another, and others which point towards the answers.

Not only that, two-thirds of the answers had appeared in at least two memoirs, which the claimant had in her possession. She kept the list for five days, and when she returned it, not all the questions were answered. Other answers were wrong.

Pierre Gilliard, French tutor to Nicholas II’s children, went to Berlin with his wife Shura and Grand Duchess Olga Aleksandrova in 1925 to meet the claimant, and they all came away convinced she wasn’t Anastasiya. Gilliard was so convinced, he wrote a book laying out the case against her.

Unfortunately, twelve months prior, a book promoting her claim had been published by Harriet von Rathlef-Keilmann. The latter never hesitated to publish or report anything casting her in a favorable light. Not only that, her book stayed in print much longer. Gilliard’s book was also only published in French, and hasn’t been widely available for much of its history.

Gilliard was viciously attacked for daring not to accept the claimant and correctly pointing out errors (e.g., the claim that the Aleksandr Palace had a room with malachite windowsills), while Keilmann conveniently left out or reworded such damning evidence of fakery.

A lot of her supporters like to compare photos like these, since they have similar angles, lighting, or blurriness. They conveniently ignore all the myriad of photos where they look absolutely nothing alike. Even if Anastasiya had survived and sustained damage to her face, she would’ve looked like a deformed version of herself, not an entirely different person.

Additionally, she famously, repeatedly refused to speak Russian, though she understood the spoken language. She spoke wonderful German until Aleksey Volkov, an elderly groom of the chamber who escaped execution, expressed great surprise and confusion about her “exceptionally good German” and refusal to speak Russian. Overnight, her German deteriorated!

Still other things she allegedly remembered, or comments allegedly referring to things only the real Anastasiya would’ve known, never happened. They were invented by die-hard supporters, or took on a life of their own. For example, she was said to have perfect English and French, based on single brief sentences.

She had a convenient excuse for everything—memory loss, not paying attention, bad memories of Russian, feeling insulted her relatives were introduced under false names, covering her face, turning to the wall, not wanting to constantly recite names, dates, and facts to prove her identity.

She claimed, e.g., she knew who Princess Irene of Prussia (pictured above) was all along, but was very hurt Irene pretended to be someone else. Then why show zero recognition and run away? When Irene followed her, she found the claimant in bed, her back turned.

Other things she sussed out from leading questions and comments, and from all the White Russian émigrés she met in Berlin. Some of these visitors, like Feliks Dassel, are now known to have regularly visited her long before their supposed first meetings!

To be continued.


One Imperial pretender, two very different books, Part II (Wild stories, false memories)

One of the biggest reasons I was an Anastasian for almost twenty years, even long after many rounds of DNA testing from different countries and labs, was because this most famous of all pretenders had so many alleged memories only the real Anastasiya could’ve had. How very wrong I was.

A lot of what I believed has been proven to be the result of a decades-long game of telephone of sorts. The initial information was misreported, misunderstood, or selectively reported, and since there were no widely-available rebuttals, more and more people believed it and passed it along themselves.

Peter Kurth’s excellent biography is a prime example. I was led to believe she knew things only the real Anastasiya could’ve known, like a personal nickname for an obscure soldier; Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig’s secret diplomatic mission to Russia in 1916; and Gleb Botkin’s “funny animals.”

But as King and Wilson prove, she learnt these things by reading books and magazine articles, and talking to people with intimate knowledge. In Berlin, she met quite a few Russian émigrés who gave her such printed material and shared stories.

Some people read between lines that weren’t there, or interpreted things a certain way out of a fog of nostalgia or wanting to believe. When she began her decades-long charade, the people fighting over her identity weren’t far removed from the cataclysm that drove them from their homeland. Who could think straight in the midst of such raw emotions?

Franziska Schanzkowska also made many shocking mistakes the real Anastasiya never would’ve, and entirely made up other stories. Among them:

She claimed Nicholas II didn’t have a tattoo, when he had a large dragon on his right arm. He got it in Japan in 1891, and it was so big and colorful, it took seven hours to complete.

She claimed there was a room in the Aleksandr Palace with malachite columns and windowsills. It was quite obvious which palace she made this false claim about, in spite of her supporters insisting she was referring to the famous Malachite Room of the Winter Palace.

She claimed she reviewed her infantry regiment on horseback in 1916. In reality, Anastasiya was named honorary colonel-in-chief of the 148th Caspian Infantry Rifle Regiment in 1915, when they were already at the front.

She said she had a room next to Mariya, when “The Little Pair” always shared a room, in every single palace and residence.

She claimed she visited England several times, when Anastasiya only went in 1909.

When asked who Aunt Ella (Empress Aleksandra’s sister) was, she claimed it was a secret, and only later gave the answer.

She claimed Aleksandra’s favorite child was Mariya, when it was famously Tatyana.

She claimed Nicholas and Aleksandra had different bedrooms, though they always shared a room.

She claimed Trotskiy visited the Aleksandr Palace, was very rude to Nicholas, and stole jewelry in 1916. This visit never happened!

And so many other demonstrably false claims!

One of the things which makes Kurth’s biography so good, in spite of his obvious bias, is that he had a good filter. He knew how to report his subject in a very favorable light, and which things to leave out. The same can’t be said about the awful biography by the late James Blair Lovell.

Lovell not only made many embarrassing, easily-spotted mistakes, but he also reported every rambling, bizarre, mundane thing that ever came out of his subject’s mouth.

This nonsense includes the infamous, disgusting, evidenceless King Kong story (where the entire Imperial Family except 13-year-old Aleksey were gang-raped in front of one another in Yekaterinburg), and the fifth daughter claimant.

Her rescue story was likewise full of holes. She claimed a guard named Aleksandr Chaykovskiy (Tchaikovsky) smuggled her to Romania in a peasant wagon, with his brother Sergey and mother Veronika, and that they had a child conceived of rape.

No record of a guard by this name exists, nor is there evidence it was a pseudonym used by the real Stanislav Mishkevich. Not only that, it made zero sense to take a rescued Anastasiya into the path of the Red Army and away from the then-advancing White Army!

No records of this stay in Romania, their marriage, the birth and adoption of this child, or Chaykovskiy’s death in a street fight have ever been found. Moreover, the real Anastasiya wouldn’t have hesitated to go to her very accepting cousin Queen Marie. Once in Germany, she wouldn’t have hesitated to go to her aunt Irene or uncle Ernie.

To be continued.

One Imperial pretender, two very different books, Part I

Happy International Left-Handed Awareness Day!

I first read this book in November ’95, shortly before I turned sixteen. I checked it out of the Guilderland Library the day Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, 4 November. Kurth does such a great job of establishing a case for the claimant as Grand Duchess Anastasiya, it made me into an Anastasian for almost twenty years.

So strong was my belief, I did a research paper arguing her case my junior year of high school. My teacher told me I made a very strong case. This was after the first round of DNA results which disproved her claim, but based on what I’d read, I was positive monkey business had gone down with the chain of custody, and that shady characters with an agenda were behind it.

While I’m not normally into conspiracy theories, Kurth made such a compelling case for her, based on forensic comparisons of ears and faces, handwriting analysis, emotional reactions, and personal memories, I refused to believe this woman could’ve been anyone else, least of all a supposed mere Polish peasant.

Then, in 2007, Anastasiya and Aleksey’s remains were finally discovered and positively identified (and btw, are still being denied a funeral because the Russian Orthodox Church refuses to accept the results of countless DNA tests). Even after that momentous discovery, I still refused to believe the truth!

And then I discovered everything I thought I knew about this case was wrong.

I first read this book in 2015, and was absolutely blown away by all the newly-unearthed evidence not only proving Anna Anderson was indeed Franziska Schanzkowska, but that she couldn’t possibly have been Anastasiya either. Peter Kurth wrote a very good biography of her, but as King and Wilson prove, much of the information which seemed to prove her identity was at best misreported or misrepresented, and at worst outright falsehood.

Much of the widely-available documentation came from people highly sympathetic to her claim, like Harriet von Rathlef-Keilmann; Gleb Botkin and his sister Tatyana; and the von Kleist family. Those who strenuously opposed her claim, and rejected her after meeting her, like former tutor Pierre Gilliard, lady-in-waiting Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, and Anastasiya’s aunt Grand Duchess Olga Aleksandrovna, have had some quite nasty things said about them for decades.

The claimant didn’t look anything like Anastasiya, yet a lot of people believed her facial features had been altered beyond recognition because of traumatic injuries. Select findings from the long-running German legal battle seemed to prove their ears, foreheads, and faces were identical, but there was not only never a consensus, but other forensic examinations had the exact opposite results.

Additionally, a supposedly reversed ear photo which led to negative findings was shown to indeed NOT have been printed in reverse after all. Another supposedly matching ear photo was that of Grand Duchess Mariya.

In short, when examined critically, the forensic evidence, per the most advanced techniques of that era, didn’t exactly make a strong case.

People who knew the real Anastasiya very well, and who met the claimant, all soundly rejected her. These people included her aunts Olga and Irene; her French tutor Gilliard and his wife Shura (Anastasiya’s former nursemaid); her English tutor Sydney Gibbes; a number of former courtiers; Baroness Buxhoeveden; and several extended relatives.

Meanwhile, those who met the claimant and insisted she was Anastasiya had never known the real Anastasiya very well. These included people who only had limited or fleeting interactions with her, like Crown Princess Cecilie of Prussia.

Grand Duke Andrey Vladimirovich, her first-cousin once-removed, may have been the Tsar’s aide-de-camp, but even he admitted he didn’t know her very well. Another cousin, Xenia Leeds (née Princess Kseniya Georgiyevna), only met her eight years into the charade, and likewise hadn’t known the real Anastasiya very well or seen her since childhood.

Additionally, the claimant professed a lot of demonstrably false “memories,” made obvious mistakes, didn’t have nearly the linguistic abilities she was claimed to, showed no reaction to things the real Anastasiya would’ve recognised in a heartbeat, and spun an extremely implausible rescue story.

To be continued.

WeWriWa—A poem for the birthday boy


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I thought last week would be my last excerpt from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, for awhile, but I remembered today, 12 August, would’ve been my protagonist’s 114th birthday.

These are the concluding lines of the 530-word freeverse poem which opens the book. When I wrote it in November 2014, there were tears streaming down my face. That poem is quite possibly the most emotional thing I’ve ever written.

No one will ever know now what might’ve been.
No one ever does.
That’s what’s so haunting and heartbreaking about the death of anyone in the prime of life.
But in my beautiful dream,
he earned his place in history as Tsar Aleksey the Savior.
The forces of good and light defeated the forces of evil and darkness.
And in real life,
before Alyosha died,
Alyosha lived.
To the dead we owe honesty, respect, love, dignity,
for kindness to the dead can never be repaid
and could never have an ulterior motive.
Most of all,
we must remember the dead as they were in life,
for the fact that they lived,
not that they died.
And Aleksey lived.

Happy 25th birthday to The Wedding Album! (Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!)

Image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and thus consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

This year, I wanted to spotlight 1993’s The Wedding Album for Duran Duran Appreciation Day. Though it’s actually the band’s second of two eponymous albums, fans widely refer to it as The Wedding Album. Its nickname comes from Nick Egan’s cover art, wedding photographs of the then-four bandmembers’ parents.

Released 11 February 1993 (when I was in seventh grade), this was the band’s seventh studio album and a giant comeback after flagging success. Unfortunately, they didn’t choose the best followup to sustain this great momentum.

The album was recorded and edited from 1991–92, though the band’s new management company, Left Bank, pulled from its release schedule due to less than positive perceived public response. The music industry derided Left Bank for trying to revive the careers of several musical acts seen as outdated. As always, they cared more about the next hot act instead of performers who’d been around past an arbitrary expiration date.

But when this album was released, the music industry had to eat its words. It was #4 in the U.K., #7 in the U.S., #6 in Italy, #8 in Canada, #18 in Finland, #20 in Australia, #21 in Sweden, #22 in Germany, #23 in The Netherlands, and #32 in New Zealand. It was certified Gold in the U.K., and Platinum in the U.S.

Additionally, the album yielded two big hit singles, and a third lesser hit.

This is the track listing:

“Too Much Information” (#35 in the U.K.; #45 in the U.S.; #43 in Canada; #48 in New Zealand)
“Ordinary World” (#1 in Canada; #2 in Italy; #3 in Ireland, the U.S., and New Zealand; #16 in Germany and The Netherlands; #18 in Australia and Finland; #20 in Belgium)
“Love Voodoo”
“Drowning Man”
“Come Undone” (the song and music video that flipped the switch and made me into a Duranie on Valentine’s Day 2011!) (#2 in Canada; #6 in Italy; #7 in the U.S.; #9 in Ireland; #13 in the U.K.; #16 in New Zealand; #19 in Finland and Australia; #42 in Belgium and Germany)
“Breath After Breath”
“U.M.F.” (stands for “Ultimate Mind-Fuck”)
“Femme Fatale” (originally done by The Velvet Underground and written by Lou Reed)
“None of the Above”
“To Whom It May Concern”
“Sin of the City” (about the Happy Land nightclub fire of 25 March 1990 in the Bronx; mistakenly gives the death toll as 89 instead of 87)

It took a couple of listens for me to get fully into this album, but I slowly but surely came to really love it. However, some fans aren’t wild about the experimental tracks “Shotgun” and “Drowning Man,” and others feel the last few songs aren’t as strong as the earlier ones. I kind of agree with that criticism, but the album has such strong material, it helps to cancel out the weaker links.

My favourites are “Too Much Information,” “Breath After Breath,” “Sin of the City” (which I’ve heard as the soundtrack to at least one dream), and, of course, “Come Undone,” the song that made me come undone.