World War One: The Mystery of Anastasia

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One of the greatest Mysteries of the First World War is that of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra.

Anastasia was one of four children of Russia’s Royal couple, who were murdered in 1918. Since the Royal Family’s execution in July 1918, there have been speculative rumours regarding the location and possible survival of Anastasia. The rumour was fuelled by the fact that the location of her grave has been disputed and was unknown during the decades of Communist rule in Russia. The mass grave of the Russian Royal family was located near Ekaterinburg. The grave held the remains of the Tsar, the Tsarina and three daughters. Despite the discovery of the grave, the bodies of Alexei and either his older sister Anastasia or Maria were not in the grave.

Following the execution, many women claiming to be Anastasia surfaced in Russia and across Europe. One woman in particular was Anna Anderson. Anderson is the most notorious of Anastasia imposters, who surfaced in the early twenties. Her argument was that she had feigned death, hid amongst the bodies of her ‘royal’ family and escaped with the help of a compassionate ‘Red’ Soldier. Anderson’s legal battle was the longest running in German history, as Anderson battle for recognition between 1938 and 1970. The final decision of the court was that she had not proven enough evidence to support her claim. Following her death in 1984, DNA tests were taken from tissue samples in a hospital and a blood sample taken from HRH Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. The results showed that Anderson’s DNA was not a match with Prince Phillips as His Royal Highness is the Grand Nephew of the Tsarina.

Anderson was merely one of a dozen women claiming to be the lost Princess. Two women claiming to be Maria and Anastasia were taken by priests to the Ural Mountains in 1919 where they lived as nuns until their deaths. The execution of the Royal family did not stop rumours and reports circulating regarding Anastasias survival. The rumours fuelled a ‘man hunt’ style search for the Romanov woman. One possible lead was that in 1918, at Perm, the imprisoned Princess Helena Petrovna stated that a guard had shown her a girl who claimed to be Anastasia. Petrovna stated that she did not recognise the girl and subsequently the young girl was taken away.

It is important to note that the rumours stating that the Royal Family were not dead, merely fuelled the rumours that the Romanov’s were alive. In particular, a number of days after the family were executed; the German government decreed that the safety of the Royal Family was paramount. This is due to the fact that all Royal houses of the early 20th century were related. Following signing the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the new Communist Russia did not wish to alienate foreign powers, thus other states were told the Royal family had been moved. This may be the background to the Perm story.

Historians have argued and speculated that the opportunity for one of the guards to rescue a member of, or the Royal family, did exist. Following the shooting, the Guards responsible were ordered to turn over items looted from the bodies. It is argued that a significant time span existed where the bodies were left unattended in the truck, basement and corridor of the house. Guards who were sympathetic to the Romanov family were left with the bodies.

Another theory is that Anastasia and Alexei managed to escape and lived in Bulgaria. In 1953, Peter Zamiatkin, who was a Royal Bodyguard, told a fellow patient that he had taken Anastasia and Alexei to his birth village on orders from the Tsar. In the aftermath of the execution, Zamiatkin reportedly escaped with the two children. The two children then lived out the rest of their lives under aliases in the Bulgarian town of Gabarevo.

The Romanov grave was formally excavated in 1991, despite being found nearly a decade earlier.

The grave only held nine of the supposed eleven who were executed. It was believed by some historians and scientists that the remains of Anastasia and her younger brother Alexei were not part of the burial. The Russians contested this idea, claiming that one of the missing bodies was that of Maria, not Anastasia. Whilst the Russians used technical computer programming to reconstruct photographs of Anastasia with the skulls in the grave, the Americans believed the missing body to be Anastasias due to none of the skeletons showing evidence of immaturity.

The Royal family was formally buried in 1998, and a 5’7 body was interned under the name of Anastasia

The final twist of this mysterious story came in 2007. The “Yurovsky Note” claimed that two bodies were removed from the grave and cremated some distance away in order to disguise the execution and burial of the Romanov’s. On August 23rd 2007 Russian archaeologists discovered the remains of two burned partial skeletons in the region where the Royal family was buried. The remains were assessed and one skeleton was discovered to be male and between the ages of 10 and 15, the other skeleton was roughly between the ages of 18 and 23. The two remains were discovered with various calibres of bullets and shards of a container containing sulphuric acid.

Multiple testing by various organisations confirmed that the remains belonged to Alexei and one of his sisters. This proved conclusively that all family members were killed in 1918. Finally, Russian forensic scientists confirmed on the 30th April 2008 that the remains were those of Alexei and one of his 4 sisters. In March 2009, the final results of DNA testing were published by Dr. Michael Coble of the U.S. Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, proving that all 4 Grand Duchesses have finally been accounted for, and no one escaped the murder.