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Who Was That Woman?

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The Unseen Enemy
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The Strange Anastasia Mystery

By James Donahue

In the Russian Revolution of 1917-1918, when the Bolsheviks overpowered the Imperial Russian government and introduced Communism, the secret police murdered Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family, including the Tsar’s youngest daughter, Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova.

Persistent rumors grew of Anastasia’s possible escape grew, however, after several women came forth to claim that they were the Grand Duchess. Their stories were at first supported by the fact that the location of the bodies of the Tsar’s family was unknown until 1991. Even then, the bodies of two of the children, Alexei Nikolaevich and one of her sisters, either Anastasia or her sister Maria, were not found in the mass grave site.

It was not until April, 2008, that Russian forensic scientists confirmed that the charred remains of two bodies found near Ekaterinburg were the lost children of the royal family.

So how did the story of the girl’s miraculous escape become so widespread? And could there be any truth to the rumor?

Part of the mystery can possibly be found in her name. Anastasia apparently has several meanings in the Russian language. One of them is “the breaker of chains,” or “the prison opener.” This is because, in honor of her birth, the Tsar pardoned and reinstated students who had been thrown in prison for participating in riots the previous winter in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Another meaning of the name is “of the resurrection.” This strange twist has been spiritually linked to stories of her amazing survival and reappearance in Europe years after she was allegedly assassinated.

The overthrow of the Tsar came quickly, but the murder of the family did not occur until more than a year later. Nicholas II abdicated the throne in February, 1917, and the entire royal family was placed under house arrest at the Alexander Palace during the Russian Revolution. Then, as the Bolsheviks approached, the family was moved to Tobolsk, Siberia. Later, after the Bolsheviks seized control of most of Russia, the family was moved again to Yekaterinburg.

It was there the women were held captive until they were executed by a firing squad in the early hours of July 17, 1918. Yakov Yurovsky, who directed the execution, kept notes of the event. He wrote that the police officers were surprised when the bullets ricocheted off the corsets of two or three of the women. They found that the family’s crown jewels and diamonds had been sewn inside the corsets to hide them, and they served as armor against the bullets

Anastasia and Maria crouched up against a wall, covering their heads in terror until they were shot down by bullets. Another guard, however, told how Anastasia had been finished off with bayonets. Even after this at least one, if not two of the girls still showed signs of life as the bodies were being carried out and Yurovsky wrote that they were clubbed on the back of the head.

By Yurovsky’s account, all of the daughters of the Tsar of Russia were killed that morning and there was little, if any chance that Anastasia could have survived. Yet a woman named Anna Anderson appeared in Berlin in 1920, who claimed to be the lost Anastasia. She claimed that she had, indeed, survived the shooting and that a soldier, Alexander Tchaikovski, smuggled her away to Romania. She said she lived with him there and had a child until he was killed. She said after this she suffered a mental breakdown and lost the child to an orphanage. She made her way to Berlin and was discovered after an attempt at suicide was thwarted.

Thus began a long legal battle in the German court for recognition that continued from 1938 until 1970. The final decision of the court was that Anderson did not provide sufficient proof to claim the identity of the grand duchess. She died in 1984. DNA tests conducted in 1994 proved that the court verdict was correct.

Anderson was one of at least ten women who claimed to be Anastasia. Among them were two young women who claimed to be Anastasia and Maria, who were taken in by a priest in the Ural Mountains in 1919. They lived there as nuns until their deaths in 1964. They were buried under the names Anastasia and Maria Nikolaevna.