The unsolved mystery of the Russian princess Anastasia

The unsolved mystery of the Russian princess Anastasia

Anastasia’s supposed survival was one of the celebrated mysteries of the 20th century. A number of women claimed to be her, offering varying stories as to how she had survived the killings of the rest of the family. Anna Anderson, the best known Anastasia impostor, first surfaced publicly between 1920 and 1922. She contended that she had feigned death among the bodies of her family members and servants, and was able to make her escape with the help of a compassionate guard who rescued her from among the corpses after noticing that she was still alive. Her legal battle for recognition from 1938 to 1970 continued a lifelong controversy and was the longest running case ever heard by the German courts, where it was officially filed. The final decision of the court was that Anderson had not provided sufficient proof to claim the identity of the grand duchess.

Anderson died in 1984 and her body was cremated. DNA tests were conducted in 1994 on a tissue sample from Anderson located in a hospital and the blood of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a great-nephew of Empress Alexandra. According to Dr Gill who conducted the tests, “If you accept that these samples came from Anna Anderson, then Anna Anderson could not be related to Tsar Nicholas or Tsarina Alexandra.” Anderson’s mitochondrial DNA was a match with a great-nephew of Franziska Schanzkowska, a missing Polish factory worker. Some supporters of Anderson’s claim acknowledged that the DNA tests proving she could not have been the Grand Duchess had “won the day.”

Anna Anderson was one of at least ten women who claimed to be Anastasia. Some other lesser known claimants were Nadezhda Ivanovna Vasilyeva and Eugenia Smith.Two young women claiming to be Anastasia and her sister Maria were taken in by a priest in the Ural Mountains in 1919 where they lived as nuns until their deaths in 1964. They were buried under the names Anastasia and Maria Nikolaevna.

The unsolved mystery of the Russian princess Anastasia

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna in captivity at Tobolsk in the spring of 1918

Rumors of Anastasia’s survival were embellished with various contemporary reports of trains and houses being searched for “Anastasia Romanov” by Bolshevik soldiers and secret police. When she was briefly imprisoned at Perm in 1918, Princess Helena Petrovna, the wife of Anastasia’s distant cousin, Prince John Constantinovich of Russia, reported that a guard brought a girl who called herself Anastasia Romanova to her cell and asked if the girl was the daughter of the Tsar. Helena Petrovna said she did not recognize the girl and the guard took her away. Although other witnesses in Perm later reported that they saw Anastasia, her mother and sisters in Perm after the murder, that story is now widely discredited as nothing more than a rumor. Rumors that they were alive were fueled by deliberate misinformation designed to hide the fact that the family was dead. A few days after they had been murdered, the German government sent several telegrams to Russia demanding “the safety of the princesses of German blood”. Russia had recently signed a peace treaty with the Germans, and did not want to upset them by letting them know the women were dead, so they told them they had been moved to a safer location.

In another incident, eight witnesses reported the recapture of a young woman after an apparent escape attempt in September 1918 at a railway station at Siding 37, northwest of Perm. These witnesses were Maxim Grigoyev, Tatiana Sitnikova and her son Fyodor Sitnikov, Ivan Kuklin and Matrina Kuklina, Vassily Ryabov, Ustinya Varankina, and Dr Pavel Utkin, a physician who treated the girl after the incident. Some of the witnesses identified the girl as Anastasia when they were shown photographs of the grand duchess by White Russian Army investigators. Utkin also told the White Russian Army investigators that the injured girl, whom he treated at Cheka headquarters in Perm, told him, “I am the daughter of the ruler, Anastasia.” Utkin obtained a prescription from a pharmacy for a patient named “N” at the orders of the secret police. White Army investigators later independently located records for the prescription. During the same time period in mid-1918 there were several reports of young people in Russia passing themselves off as Romanov escapees. Boris Soloviev, the husband of Rasputin’s daughter Maria, defrauded prominent Russian families by asking for money for a Romanov impostor to escape to China. Soloviev also found young women willing to masquerade as one of the grand duchesses to assist in deceiving the families he had defrauded.

Some biographers’ accounts speculated that the opportunity for one or more of the guards to rescue a survivor existed. Yakov Yurovsky demanded that the guards come to his office and turn over items they had stolen following the murder. There was reportedly a span of time when the bodies of the victims were left largely unattended in the truck, in the basement and in the corridor of the house. Some guards who had not participated in the murders and had been sympathetic to the grand duchesses were reportedly left in the basement with the bodies

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