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.