On this day, one hundred years ago, one of the great crimes of the 20th century was carried out by the Bolsheviks, in Ekaterinburg. They murdered Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, children, and servants.
The Romanov family had been in Bolshevik custody for some time, and were being held at the Ipatiev House in the Siberian town. Moscow decided that the Romanovs should be executed to prevent counterrevolutionary forces from rescuing them. The local Bolsheviks in charge of their fate ordered them all to go into the basement. From the account given by Yakov Yurovsky, the lead assassin:
Having gone down to the room (At the entrance to the room, on the right there was a very wide window), I ordered them to stand along the wall. Obviously, at that moment they did not imagine what awaited them. Alexandra Feodrovna [the Tsaritsa] said “There are not even chairs here.” Nicholas was carrying Alexei [the Tsarevich]. He stood in the room with him in his arms. Then I ordered a couple of chairs. On one of them, to the right of the entrance, almost in the corner, Alexandra Feodrovna sat down. The daughters and [Alexandra’s maid] Demidova stood next to her, to the left of the entrance. Beside them Alexei was seated in the armchair. Behind him Dr. Botkin, the cook and the others stood. Nicholas stood opposite Alexei. At the same time I ordered the men to go down and to be ready in their places when the command was given. Nicholas had put Alexei on the chair and stood in such a way, that he shielded him. Alexei sat in the left corner from the entrance, and so far as I can remember, I said to Nicholas approximately this: His royal and close relatives inside the country and abroad were trying to save him, but the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies resolved to shoot them. He asked “What?” and turned toward Alexei. At that moment I shot him and killed him outright. He did not get time to face us to get an answer. At that moment disorganized, not orderly firing began. The room was small, but everybody could come in and carry out the shooting according to the set order. But many shot through the doorway. Bullets began to ricochet because the wall was brick. Moreover, the firing intensified when the victims shouts arose. I managed to stop the firing but with great difficulty.
A bullet, fired by somebody in the back, hummed near my head and grazed either the palm or finger (I do not remember) of somebody. When the firing stopped, it turned out that the daughters, Alexandra Feodrovna and, it seems, Demidova and Alexei too, were alive. I think they had fallen from fear or maybe intentionally, and so they were alive. Then we proceeded to finish the shooting. (Previously I had suggested shooting at the heart to avoid a lot of blood). Alexei remained sitting petrified. I killed him.
That poor little boy. Think of it!
They shot the daughters but did not kill them. Then Yermakov resorted to a bayonet, but that did not work either. Finally they killed them by shooting them in the head. Only in the forest did I finally discover the reason why it had been so hard to kill the daughters and Alexandra Feodrovna.
The Romanov women, thinking they were going to be moved somewhere, had sewn the family’s jewels into their corsets. The jewels thus acted like armor.
Wikipedia’s detailed account of the murders, which took 20 minutes, is filled with blood-curdling detail. Afterward, as the bodies were being taken to burial, a couple of the Bolsheviks sexually molested the Tsaritsa’s body.
This was the kind of man, and the kind of spirit, that ruled Russia for most of the hellish 20th century.
The Romanovs were buried in a hidden grave, which was not discovered until 1979, by two amateur sleuths. In 1989, one of the two revealed the truth to a newspaper. Today, most of the Romanov remains have been reburied in a St. Petersburg cathedral; only the remains of Alexei and one of his sisters, though recovered, have yet to be interred. In 1981, ROCOR (the Russian Orthodox Church in exile) canonized the Romanovs as martyrs. In the year 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate canonized the family not as martyrs, but as “passion-bearers,” Christians who meet their death with holy resignation, as distinct from martyrs, who are killed specifically because they are Christians.
The Ipatiev House was destroyed at the Communist regime’s direction in 1977. In 2000, with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, the Russian Orthodox Church constructed on the site a church now called The Church On The Blood. The main altar is directly over the spot of the family’s execution.
Last night, at midnight, over 100,000 Russian Orthodox gathered outside the church for an open-air Divine Liturgy in memory of the murdered family. My friend Deacon Alex Petrovsky, a Russian-American from Cincinnati, was granted the rare honor of being the only American to serve at the liturgy. Not only did he serve, but as you can see here, he was allowed to chant a litany. He will remember that for the rest of his days.
Lenin is dead, as is Bolshevism. Christianity has been resurrected in Russia, and the passion-bearing (or martyred) Romanovs live in glory for eternity.
UPDATE: I was hoping I wouldn’t have to say this, but, well, I do. The Romanovs are considered to be saints by Orthodox Christians like me. I do not begrudge anybody the opportunity to criticize the Russian monarchy, or Romanov rule itself. I am not a monarchist, and even if I were, it is fair to criticize the policies and character of the king. That said, they are canonized saints because they died in a holy way. I will not approve your comment if you speak viciously of them.
UPDATE.2: Reader Tom the First:
Caryll Houselander (1901-1954), a Catholic mystic, had a vision when the Tsar Nicholas and his family were murdered, recounted by her biographer, Maisie Ward:
” ‘The murder of the Russian Emperor and his family took place in a cellar in Ekaterinburg on the night of July 17, 1918. …
” ‘I was on my way to buy potatoes, hurrying because I had been warned that they were wanted for dinner, and so I must not linger. Suddenly, I was held still, as if a magnet held my feet to a particular spot in the middle of the road. In front of me, above me, literally wiping out not only the grey street and sky, but the whole world, was something which I can only call a gigantic and living Russian icon. I had never seen a Russian icon at the time, nor, I think, any reproduction of one. I have seen very many since, but none that has approached this one in beauty.
” ‘It was an icon of Christ the King crucified.
” ‘Stretched on a cross of fire in a vestment which blazed and flamed with jewels, crowned with a great grown of gold which weighed His head down, Christ was lifted above the world in our drab street, lifted up and filling the sky. His arms reaching, as it seemed from one end of the world to the other, the wounds on His hands and feet rubies, but molten rubies that bled with light. Everything, even the glowing folds of the vestments, seemed to be burning and stirring with life and movement as flames of fire do; the spread arms with the long stretched hands tapering from the jewelled sleeves were like gorgeous wings covering the world; Christ Himself with His head bowed down by the crown, brooding over the world. In the midst of this splendour the austere simplicity of that beautiful face stood sharp with grief. But the eyes and mouth smiled with an ineffable love which consumes sorrow and pain as rags are consumed in a burning fire.’
“In the same street, shortly after, as she read posters announcing the Czar’s assassination, Caryll saw his picture on the newspaper page, and it was the face of her vision, ‘but without its glory … between one heartbeat and the next, I had seen the drama and reality of Christ’s Passion in kings. … At the same moment I had a premonition of the things that were to come, of the vast stretch and anguish of the Passion of Christ in which the kings of the world, the hierarchies and common people would be one, in one terrible glory. … I realized that every crown is Christ’s crown, and the crown of gold is a crown of thorns.’ ”
“The chief effect of this experience was at the time a deep conviction that it would be through Russia that Christ ‘would return to the world to take possession of all mankind. … The blood of kings was to fall crimson on Russian snows, but mingled with it the blood of peasants, raised by their martyrdom to kingship; and from that great vivifying stream would flow the blood of martyrs all over the world, redeeming the world.’ ”
(from “Caryll Houselander: That Divine Eccentric,” by Maisie Ward, Sheed & Ward, 1962, pages 65-67)