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.

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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.

Miscellaneous Imperial Family photos

Because I’ve been singularly working on finishing my alternative history in time for its 17 July release, I didn’t have any time left to put together a proper post. Instead, here are some of my photos of Russia’s Imperial Family.

1922 engagement photo of Prince Nikita Aleksandrovich (grandson of Aleksandr III) and childhood friend Countess Mariya Vorontsova-Dashkova. Their oldest son, Prince Nikita Nikitich, appears in my alternative history, as one of the five princes held as ransom by the Eichmann–Kommando in Budapest.

Tsar Ivan V, Peter the Great’s very handsome halfbrother and initial co-Tsar. Though Ivan was very severely disabled, he had a wife and five healthy daughters, and Peter was always so compassionate towards him. He never excluded him from co-ruling, even knowing it was mostly symbolic.

Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich, second surviving son of the rival Vladimirovichi branch of the family. Though he was quite the womanizer and overspender, he was also known as an excellent host, very friendly and cheerful, with gourmet foods and wines by his tables. He and his little brother Andrey were let out of Bolshevik captivity when their captor recognized Boris as the one who’d bought some of his artwork when he was a struggling artist in France.

Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna (née Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine), known as Ella, Empress Aleksandra’s older sister, widow of Grand Duke Sergey Aleksandrovich, in 1887. She later became a nun, and was murdered by the Bolsheviks. In comparison to her sister, she was popular from the moment she arrived in Russia.

Prince Igor Konstantinovich, who marries Grand Duchess Mariya in my alternative history. They have eleven children, ten of whom survive. Had they both lived, he would’ve been a great husband for her, since she wanted so much to marry a nice Russian soldier and have a large family. Knowing she was a hemophilia carrier, and such a sweet person, I gave them eight girls and only three boys. Their second hemophiliac son survives into adulthood and plays a very important role in capturing Hitler alive near the end of the war. Their surprise youngest child, Oleg, is the healthy son they’ve long dreamt of.

Found this among a few blurry pictures while going through my downloads to free up space on my computer, prior to reinstalling and updating my OS. I really hope that photo isn’t what it looks like!

Prince Oleg Konstantinovich, Igor’s favorite brother, said to be the most intelligent of the Konstantinovichi siblings. His death in the war in 1914 devastated their father.

Meet some of the people in my alternative history, Part III

Here are a few of the other real people who appear as characters in my alternative history, whom I haven’t already featured. Not everyone is from the Russian Imperial Family!

Captain Aleksandr Aronovich Pecherskiy (22 February 1909–19 January 1990) was born in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, and grew up in Rostov-na-Donu. He earned a diploma in literature and music, and worked as an accountant and manager of an amateur musicians’ school, and as an electrician at a train repair plant. He served in the army from 1931–33.

The day the war began, he was drafted as a junior lieutenant, and served with the 596th Howitzer Artillery Regiment. In autumn 1941, he saved his wounded commander from capture, but didn’t get any medals for his bravery.

He was captured in October 1941, and suffered with typhus for seven months. He and four other POWs escaped, but were recaptured that same day. They went to a penal camp and then a POW camp, where it was discovered he was circumcised. He admitted he was Jewish, knowing he’d be whipped for lying.

Severe punishments and several other POW camps followed. He ended up in Sobibór, where he organized and led the revolt and mass escape of 14 October 1943. After serving with two partisan groups, he reunited with the Red Army, and was promoted to Captain. He was wounded in Latvia in August 1944.

During the last years of Stalin’s reign, he lost his job, was briefly arrested, and was unable to find new employment. The Soviet government prevented him from testifying at several trials of Nazi war criminals abroad.

For his courage, he has received four medals (two posthumous), and many other awards and honors.

In my alternative history, Captain Pecherskiy and 50 other Jewish partisans, mostly escapees from camps and ghettoes, arrive at the Aleksandr Palace in September 1944 to petition Aleksey and Arkadiya to create all-Jewish regiments in the Imperial Russian Army. He becomes commander of an eponymous infantry regiment, and receives many medals and honors after the war.

King Mihai (Michael) of Romania (25 October 1921–5 December 2017) was the last king of Romania, and the last true surviving WWII head of state. He was the son of the repulsive King Carol II and Queen Mother Elena (née Princess Eleni of Greece and Denmark); grandson of King Konstantinos I of Greece and King Ferdinand and Queen Marie of Romania; great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria and Tsar Aleksandr II; great-great-great-grandson of Tsar Nicholas I.

Soon after Mihai’s birth, his sleazy father was embroiled in yet another scandalous relationship, and renounced his claim to the throne. Mihai became king in 1927, after Ferdinand’s death, with a regency including his uncle Nicolae.

Carol returned to Romania in 1930, and refused to reconcile with his wife. He forced her out of the country and only let her see Mihai a few months a year, on his own terms. After Carol abdicated in September 1940, Mihai became king again.

Mihai frequently suffered bouts of depression, feeling he were too young and inexperienced to be king, and upset at being treated like a pathetic figurehead by the ruling fascists and Germans passing through. His mother provided teachers to shape him into a strong, active king, and urged him to depose the fascist Prime Minister Ion Antonescu.

She also made him to understand he had to take a stand against Jewish deportations, or risk going down in history as King Mihai the Wicked. He listened to his mother (who posthumously was honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations).

In June 1944, Mihai began secret talks with members of the opposition, to discuss overthrowing Antonescu. His successful coup in August turned Romania to the Allies and shortened the war by as much as six months. Sadly, the Soviets forced him to abdicate in December 1947.

In 1948, Mihai married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma, with whom he had five daughters and enjoyed 68 years of marriage.

In my alternative history, Mihai and Nicolae secretly come to Russia in June 1944 to discuss the planned defection and overthrow of Antonescu. He returns in August for the belated baptism of Aleksey and Arkadiya’s surprise fifth child Shura and their nephew Oleg. It means a lot to him that Aleksey, who also came into a throne at a very young age, says he believes in him. Good kings are gradually made, not instantly created.