Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The End of The Romanovs by Helen Rappaport

On the surface, Yurovsky might have imagined the service to have gone without incident, but there had in fact been profound and telling differences this time around, the significance of which Storozhev quickly noticed. The Imperial Family had not participated in the responses in the sung liturgy, as all Russins normally did. More disturbing still had been the fact that when, as part of the service, Deacon Buimirov had come to recite the traditional prayer for the dead- 'With the saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of your servant where there is neither pain, nor sorrow, nor suffering but life everlasting'- instinct had prompted him to sing it instead, upon which the Romanovs had all silently fallen to their knees. Storozhev had sensed, in that moment, the great spiritual comfort it had given them to share that particular prayer together. The same profound religious unity of the family was manifested again at the end of the service when Storozhev came to recite the prayer to the Mother of God, in which suffering man begs her to support him in the midst of sorrow and give him the strength with dignity to carry the cross of suffering sent down from heaven by God.

At the end of the service Yurovsky allowed the Tsar and Tsaritsa to be given the sacramental bread from Storozhev as they and their servants all came forward to kiss the cross. As he turned to leave, the Romanov girls took the opportunity of their close proximity to whisper a covert thank-you to Storozhev. He noticed that there were tears in their eyes.

As he went into the commandant's office to change out of his vestments, Storozhev let out a deep sigh; overhearing him, Yurovsky laughed and asked him why. The priest made some trivial excuse about feelin unwell, to which Yutovsky jokingly responded that he should keep his windows closed so he didn't get a chill. Then his voice dropped and his tone suddenly changed: "Well, they've said their prayers and unburdened themselves', such unexpected words, said, so it seemed to Storozhev, in utter seriousness. Thrown by the commandant's remark, he responded that he who believed in God's will always found his faith fortified through prayer. 'I have never discounted the power of religion', responded Yurovsky tartly, looking the priest straight in the eye, 'and say this to you in all honesty.' It was an extraordinary remark to come from the mouth of such a man; Storozhev responded by telling Yurovsky how grateful he was that the family had been allowed this opportunity to pray. 'But why should we prevent them?' Yutovsky said cuttingly.

Yurovsky knew only too well that what had just taken place was effectively the Romanovs' last rites, their panikhida. Perhaps somewhere deep inside the mind of this hardened Bolshevik and Jewish apostate the power of his own religious roots had stirred him, reminding him of long-forgotten moments of family prayer around the Friday night table and the profound significance to his own Jewish race of the mourners' Kaddish - the prayers for the dead.


  1. It had taken 20 minutes of increasingly frenzied activity to kill the Romanovs and their servants. Professional marksman given the same task would have taken 30 seconds. What should have been a quick, clean execution had turned into a bloodbath.

    Prior to the execution, Yutovsky had told the members of the squad who was to kill whom and to aim straight for the heart. That way there would be less blood and they would die quicker, he told them. Ermakov would later claim that they all knew exactly what they were supposed to do 'so there'd be no mistake'; he was the only one designated two targets: the Tsarita and Dr. Botkin. But once Yurovsky had fired the first shot at the Tsar, the men behind him opened fired in a fusillade of noise, smoke and fumes, making it impossible to be certain who exactly shot whom; later accounts are confused and contradict each other.

    Once the killers broke from the co-ordinated firing plan, the ratio of wild, inaccurate firing became even greater, with men taking potshots at each other's designated target. Many of the shots fired would have missed their targets altogether or only caused flesh rather than fatal wounds; none of them were absorbed by the wooden, plaster-covered walls as Yurovsky had hoped. With their victims panicking, screaming and crawling on the floor, the uncoordinated frenzy of the killers would have escalated.

    It is surprisingly easy for untrained marksman to miss a target, even at relatively close range, if one takes into account a lack of expertise, compounded by the stress of waiting and too much to drink. Yurovsky later admitted to Nikulin's 'poor mastery of his weapon and his inevitable nerves'.

    Visibility would have been a major problem too: the level of smoke from the guns had rapidily fogged out the light from the one feeble electric bulb, making the room so murky that it was almost impossible for anyone to see what they were doing except by the light of momentary firearms flashes. In addition, with eight or nine killers crowded into the doorway in three rows, one shooting over the shoulder of another, rather than spreading across the room, many of those firing might well have been grazed by bullets or their aim skewed by the recoil from the arm of the man in front of them. Others got singed by the residue from the guns.

    All of the killers, within seconds of the adrenalin kicking in, would have been overtaken by that strange phenomena of tunnel vision, when time goes in slow motion, and would not have been able to take into account of the real situation in the room as a whole an acted accordinglty. Their victims too would have gone into a state of trauma, seeing only the barrels of the guns in front of them, until the classic fight of flight response took over....

    As the smoke and fumes cleared amidst the pile of twisted bodies, the full horror of the murder scene was finally revealed. All the dead were hideously distorted, their faces contorted in their final agony and covered in blood. The bodies had numerous bullet wounds- some of them through-and-through wounds to soft tissue, caused by powerful, large calibre Mausers being fired at close range - as well as bones fratured or broken by gunshots. What remained of their smoke-charred clothes was covered by blood and tissue.

    Wasting no time, Yurocky ordered any valuables from the bodies to be collected up. The assasins slipped and slithered in the glutinous, coagulating mess as they searched among the pathetically blood-soaked handbags, shoes, pillows and slippers that had fallen from their victims and now lay tumbled in disarray across the floor, and gagged at the strange and terrible smell of death that hung in the room. As Petr Voikov turned the body of one of the Grand Duchesses over, it gave out a terrible gurgling sound and blood gushed from its mouth...

  2. Commandant Yutovsky, the agent of proletarian revenge, had now fulfilled his revolutionary duty and he was exhausted. He went upstairs to lie down in his office for a while a recover.

    It was now down to Petr Ermakov to play his essential part in ensuring the efficient disposal of the bodies in the forest. But Ermakov had turned up late, and drunk (like other guards having boozed away most of his pay the day before), and remained so for hours afterwards, his eyes bloodshot and his hair dishevelled. Could he remember the location of the site in the dark, and was he in any state to carry out his task at this late hours? No one seems to have given a thought beforehand as to how they would carry 11 badly bleeding bodies out to the waiting Fiat, or cope with the large bulky body of Dr. Botkin, which slipped to the floor as they tried to raise it.
    Worse came as they moved one of the daughter's bodies- probably Anastasia's - on to the stretcher, for she suddenly shrieked and sat up, covering her face with her hands. Ermakov grabbed Strekotin's rifle and started trying to finish her off with its bayonet, but finding it impossible to penetrate her chest pulled another pistol from his belt and shot her.

  3. "The Last Days of The Romanovs; Tragedy at Ekaterinburg" by Helen Rappaport; St. Martin's Press, 2008