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Secret files tell of final terrors for Romanovs

Paul Lashmar
Friday 23 July 1999 00:02 BST

IT WAS a lady-in-waiting to the Russian royal family, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna, who caused most trouble for the Bolshevik killers when they came calling on 18 July 1918.

And 75 years later, documents which have been locked inside the most secret archives of the British state are chilling in their account of the murders: "She kept running about and hid herself behind a pillow, on her body were 32 wounds. The Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna fell down in a faint. When they began to examine her she began to scream wildly and they dispatched her with bayonets and butt ends of their rifles."

The assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and his family horrified the then British King, George V, and the fate of his close Russian relatives has been the subject of mystery and speculation ever since.

The newly declassified files, compiled at great personal risk by British diplomats and secret agents, were handed over yesterday by the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, to his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, at a ceremony at the Foreign Office. They contained hundreds of documents from the British archives on the death of the last Tsar and his family at the hands of the Bolsheviks. The exchange of documents came as Mr Cook and Mr Ivanov signed a memorandum of co-operation between the archives of the two foreign ministries. In return Mr Ivanov handed over original documents captured by Soviet forces from the Germans at the end of the Second World War. They relate largely to the fate of British prisoners of war held by the Germans.

According to a Foreign Office spokesman many of the British files on the murder of the Romanov family were classified as "top secret" until this release. They contain voluminous encrypted correspondence between the Foreign Office and its representatives in the field from 1918 to 1920. Some are hand-written letters between King George, Nicholas's cousin, and the then foreign secretary, AJ Balfour.

The Russian royal family was related to many of Europe's dynasties, and the Bolshevik revolution sent a chill wind through the rest of Europe. The files show how much the murder of the Tsar and his family shook the British state and confirmed the worst fears of the brutal nature of the Russian revolution.

The 38 bulky files now released to the Russians have taken British archivists several years to compile. They begin with a despatch from the British Consul in Ekaterinburg on 18 May 1918, noting the arrival of the Tsar and other members of the Russian royal family under a Red Army guard. The next, a terse telegram from Moscow, delivers stark news. "Ex-Emperor of Russia, Nicholas: Reports that he was shot on July 16 by order of Ekaterinburg Local Soviet." The memo is marked for the attention of the king.

Then begins a flurry of requests and reports across half the world to establish the truth of the allegations. Rumour and deceit are mixed together in the reports, along with vividly accurate accounts piecing together the grisly events of 16 and 17 July 1918. All this was done in the fog of war in which the British military actively intervened on the side of the pro-royalist "White Russians".

Victories by the pro-royalist army in the Ekaterinburg area in the weeks after the murders meant the assassinations could be investigated. The British kept themselves closely informed. An intelligence report dated 1 September 1918 from the British headquarters at Archangel to the Director of Military Intelligence in London reports: "Last night I received following information from an officer eye-witness whom I have no reason to doubt. After the Czechs took Ekaterinburg enquiries were made as to the whereabouts of the Imperial Family but these were without result. Then on the second day after the occupation a heap of charred bones was discovered in a mine shaft, about 30 versts north of the town. Among the ashes were shoe buckles, corset ribs diamonds and platinum crosses ... Amongst trinkets and buckles he recognised articles belonging to the Empress, her four daughters and the Tsarevitch." At the top of the report a note says a summary had been sent to King George V "omitting gruesome details".

The bodies had been burnt,dowsed in sulphuric acid and dumped. Among the remains they found a finger. "We do not know whose finger it was. I think it must belong to the Empress," reported one eye-witness. "It is very difficult to tell because it is so very swollen. They probably wanted to take off the ring, and as the fingers were so swollen and they could not get it off, they cut off the finger. It was lying there in the ashes as were the false teeth."

When the King did learn of the full gruesome details in July 1919 his aide, Lord Stamfordham, wrote to the Foreign Office, describing the King's horror and conveying the King's desire that such details should be kept from the press.

From these contemporary documents the nightmare of the last days of the Tsar emerge. Sydney Gibbs, the former tutor to the Tsarevitch, was with the royal family nearly to the end. His detailed account to Sir Charles Eliot, High Commissioner in Siberia - the Foreign Office's main investigator in the area - appears in the newly released documents.

He recorded their journey to Ekaterinburg in the hands of the Soviet secret police. "The carriages were strewn with hay on which they sat, or rather reclined. The roads were in a fearful condition, the thaws having already begun, and at one point they were obliged to cross the river on foot, the ice being already unsafe."

The treatment of the royal family, now held captive at Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, became increasingly harsh. Colonel Pavel Rodzianko says he believed the royal women were sexually abused by their guards. "I saw in the room in which the murder took place obscene drawings with inscriptions, partly obliterated since, but clear enough to read. There were horrible pictures of Rasputin and the Empress and inscriptions boasting of outrage, and the shrieks that were heard at night tend to confirm this. Anything more horrible than the last week of the family cannot be imagined."

Speculation about the fate of the Russian royal family onlyended in 1991, when bones discovered near Ekaterinburg were proved to be those of the Tsar and all the members of the family known to be with him at the time. Just a year ago the Tsar was finally reburied in a ceremony in St Petersburg.

End Of A Dynasty

THOSE WHO died at Ekaterinburg were Tsar Nicholas II; the Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna, born Princess Alix of Hesse; Alexei, the Tsarevitch; and four other children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.

The most legendary claimant to being a survivor was a woman who appeared in 1920 saying she was Anastasia, the youngest of the daughters.

The Romanov dynasty was linked by blood with many European royal families, including those of Britain and Germany.

In 1871 Emperor Alexander had bled to death after a terrorist bomb was thrown at him in St Petersburg. His son, Alexander III, unleashed a wave of repression. He died of liver disease, aged 49, in 1894, and was succeeded by his son, Nicholas.

In 1909 the Tsar travelled to England and saw his cousin and friend, the Prince of Wales, the future George V (above). The Romanovs arrived in style aboard the imperial yacht to attend Regatta Week at Cowes.

On his return the political situation worsened. The Russian army was defeated in the First World War. Revolution broke out in 1917, and a civil war lasted until 1920.

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