In a cellar in Ekaterinburg
Did you know that four servants died along with last of the Romanovs? All in a basement in a house in Ekaterinburg? Ipatiev House to be precise. An ignominious end to the smaller lives outshone by luminous compatriots – though all were rendered equal by a greater leveler. After the initial surprise of discovering that the Bolsheviks put to death some domestic workers, I realised that it made a grim kind of sense: these servants were witnesses, sympathisers even; too close to the Tsar to be trusted and too far from the proletariat to be saved.
Their names: Anna Demidova, Ivan Kharitonov, Alexei Trupp, and Dr. Eugene Botkin. Each had chosen to accompany the last royal family into “exile”: a “choice” that tragically determined a much darker conclusion. Perhaps they believed that the agents and servants of the revolution would settle for their displacement, along with that of their royal charges. Perhaps also that the Romanovs were too significant a dynasty to simply exterminate, or that the prospect of executing children like livestock and degrading their dead flesh with sulphuric acid (visually erasing them as objects of veneration), was too appalling even for the revolutionary cause. Sadly, however, the architects of the Revolution really were capable of anything; on the orders of Vladimir Lenin and Yakov Sverdlov, this was proven to be so.
Two main factors appear to have been at work. Firstly, the reality that if even one member of the royal family survived, then he or she would be recognised as the true heir to the Russian throne by sympathetic global powers, forcing an issue of ongoing contention for the new Soviet leaders. Secondly, at that time the White Army – loyal to the Tsar and opposing the Communist Red Army – were in conceivable striking distance. This desperate situation may have determined the path of events, or at least accelerated their conclusion: if left alive, the Tsar and his family could be liberated from incarceration, to provide an immeasurable boost to the White movement’s morale, and a liability for the Revolutionary cause. What if they could be reinstated? What if they were restored to power in months or even years to come? What if?
The sheer weight of these issues would inevitably drag the Tsar and his family into the cold dirt, taking down anyone in close association with them. Damned by association. Dr. Botkin, who had resolved to carry out his professional duties to the end, managed to leave a letter behind, unfinished and poignantly filled with visions of his children and the acknowledgement that his resolve would indeed render them orphans. Anna Demidova, reportedly timid by nature, spoke of her fear at the hands of the Bolsheviks, fear of the fate they would bestow upon her. She attempted to save some royal gems by carrying them sewn into pillow-cases. Alexei Trupp was a footman to the Romanovs and notably, a Roman Catholic in a nation of predominantly Orthodox faith. Ivan Kharitonov was a cook in the Romanov household. His grandson would attend a belated funeral service in Peter and Paul Cathedral, St Petersburg on 17th July 1998, in memory of Kharitonov and those who died with him. In 1981 all four of them were canonized as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), as victims of Soviet oppression.
By report, the mass execution by a firing squad of 12 was a messy affair. Some of the victims survived minutes after the initial burst of fire, partially shielded by gems and jewelry sewn into their clothing, or cowering against the back wall while the first ones perished, only to be bayoneted to death or dispatched by subsequent rounds to the head.
In 1974 Ipatyev House, where the murders took place, was designated a national monument. However, three years later in September 1977 it was demolished under orders from a certain Boris Yeltsin, a local party official who had in turn received instructions from Moscow. There was some concern that the location had been or would become identified as a pro-Tsarist – and therefore anti-communist – shrine or rallying point. On the site there now stands the “Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land”, consecrated on 16th June 2003.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 36)
History and features of the Russian city of Ekaterinburg.
[Photo by fung.leo]