Peter Kurth made such a strong case for establishing this most famous of all pretenders as Grand Duchess Anastasiya, denied by her family and rejected by the courts, I couldn’t believe she was anyone else. I dismissed her real identity as ardently as he did. It was a ridiculous conspiracy or bizarre case of mistaken identity.
Many years later, I very reluctantly began to concede perhaps she really wasn’t Anastasiya after all. But surely she couldn’t have been a supposed Polish peasant, since she knew too much about the Imperial Family.
And then I discovered the mountains of newly-unarchived evidence dashing any lingering false beliefs. This new evidence goes far beyond DNA in proving, without a shadow of a doubt, this person was one and the same as Franziska Schanzkowska.
FS was the only other identity ever ascribed to her, besides the one she lay claim to for almost 64 years. Her positive identification as FS was first reported in 1927, yet her supporters have always framed it as a cruel conspiracy by Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine to rob her of her inheritance.
Many people considered the matter settled, despite the fact that Franziska’s brother Felix quickly reneged on his positive identification of her. But thanks to the powerful, carefully-presented voices of her supporters, and the public’s preference for a fairytale story about a lost princess rejected by her family and fighting to reclaim her identity, falsehoods carried the day.
Her supporters are loath to compare the only known pre-1920 photo of FS with any of her later photos, because the similarities are so obvious. Comparing any of her photos with those of her birth family reveals great similarities too, whereas she doesn’t have much of any family resemblance with the Romanovs.
I won’t spoil all the stunning new revelations reported by King and Wilson, but suffice it to say, FS was no Polish peasant. She was Kashubian (a West Slavic group in Poland), and descended from minor nobility. Franziska got a rather good education, and was very intelligent.
Franziska had a rather bleak, dark childhood, and didn’t fit in with most of the people in her hometown. They resented how she wanted to “get above her raising” instead of matter-of-factly accepting her station in life.
Franziska’s life in Germany wasn’t any better. After she went missing in 1920, her hosts, the Wingenders, didn’t immediately alert the police. She came back to them in 1922, when she ran away from the von Kleists, but the Wingenders never attempted to look for her in all that time.
When she was pulled out of the canal, she had nothing to live for. In a way, FS really did die, since she never lived as Franziska again, apart from those four days in 1922. Once the idea of impersonating Anastasiya was planted in her head, and heavily encouraged by the émigrés she met, she ran with it.
Pretending to be Anastasiya meant she never had to work again, and was able to live rather comfortably, even after her height of popularity. She always had a place to live, friends in high places, money, her needs taken care of.
Her brother Felix recognised as much, and thus reneged on his earlier identification. He wanted to leave her to her new friends and “career.” When a meeting with all four of her siblings was arranged in 1937 (demanded by Hitler), they ultimately had to deny her to protect both her and Felix from serious legal consequences. Franziska was guilty of fraud, while Felix had lied on a legal document.
Doris Wingender, middle daughter of Franziska’s former hostess, was virulently attacked just as much as Pierre Gilliard, for daring to accept money and an exclusive newspaper contract for this story.
Kurth describes Dr. Wilhelm Völler, the attorney of major supporter Harriet von Rathlef-Keilmann, taking Doris to dinner by a hotel and stealing her newspaper contract from her purse while she was in the powder room.
Kurth doesn’t mention how Franziska very much recognised Felix when he came to see her by Castle Seeon, nor does he give any credence to the Wingenders’ account of Franziska coming to visit them, wearing clothes the von Kleists themselves recognised.
Decades later, during the trials, Doris submitted a photo of herself in those very clothes. It was discovered she’d drawn in buttons and a belt, and erased a figure. Kurth is horrorstruck the court ruled she didn’t do that maliciously or knowingly submit falsified evidence.
By summer 1927, eleven people had identified her as Franziska, yet her supporters continued to dismiss the evidence. Some spun conspiracy theories about what had happened to the “real” Franziska.
But no matter how much people wanted to believe this romantic fairytale and riveting conspiracy theories, DNA had the final say.
To be continued.