During the Bolshevik revolution, the Romanov dynasty was killed after over a hundred-year reign in Russia. The bodies of the parents and all five children were laid on the ground. But when the corpses were later moved and given a proper burial, the bodies of the son, Alexei, and the princess Anastasia were missing. This gave the Russian people hope that at least two of these innocent children managed to play dead long enough to escape.
Several years later, a young woman was admitted to a mental hospital in Germany. There were scars all over her body, and she clearly suffered some traumatic event, but her mind had blocked out the painful memories. She couldn’t even remember her own name. The only clue about where she came from was the fact that she spoke with a Russian accent. Months later, a Russian patient was admitted to that same hospital, and she immediately began to kneel in front of this young girl. She claimed that she recognized her as the missing Princess Anastasia.
But who was this young woman? Was she really the long-lost princess, or would this go down as one of the biggest frauds in history?
The Young Life of Anastasia
Anastasia Romanov was born in 1901 to Tsar Nicholas II, and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. Her proper title was “Grand Duchess”, but no one ever addressed the young girl with this proper title in her daily life. She had three older sisters- Olga, Maria, and Tatiana. Her younger brother, Alexei, was meant to ascend the throne someday. The Romanov children were the first royals to have such an extensive collection of family photographs. There are hundreds of pictures and videos of their family vacations, and playing games on the palace grounds. It was easy to see that they lived a carefree life. Their pictures were publicized all over Russia, and they were became the darlings of the country.
Anastasia was an extremely energetic toddler who had a bubbly personality. She was very intelligent, so she grew bored of her tutor’s lessons very quickly. She was a tomboy, and she enjoyed playing outside far more than doing lady-like activities with her sisters. She was described as clumsy, and she was always climbing on something or running around. She seemed to have an endless amount of energy. According to some of her cousins and ladies-in-waiting, Anastasia’s boredom manifested in some terrible ways. She would entertainment herself by playing pranks on people, and her cousins called her “evil”, and one of the servants called her a “terrorist”. She tripped her servants in the hallway, climbed up trees and refusing to come down, and hid rocks inside of snowballs. She would often cheat during games, and she lied a lot to get herself out of trouble.
At one point, a monk named Grigori Rasputin became the spiritual advisor of the Romanov family. Tsarina Alexandra wholeheartedly believed that he had magical powers that healed her son, Alexei, who was suffering from hemophilia. Rasputin was able to heal him on the brink of death. Because of this, she listened to his advice, and gave him free reign in the royal palace.
Anastasia may or may not have realized it, but her father, Nicholas, had a problem with drugs. In one of his diary entries, he wrote about waking up with a stuffy nose, and planning to fix it by snorting cocaine. Back then, cocaine was actually prescribed by doctors as a medication, so it didn’t hold the stigma that it does today. While she did not take recreational drugs, Tsarina Alexandra was described as being anxious and high-strung. Anastasia commented that her mother barely ever indulged in coffee or wine, because she had a bad stomach. She was also incredibly spiritual, and often went to mystics to help her make decisions about her day-to-day life. Rasputin was also known for using morphine, cocaine, and opium on a regular basis. Some historians believe that the closer he got to the Tsar and Tsarina, the more the couple became dependent on the drugs and guidance through fanatical religion that Rasputin was introducing them to.
After witnessing the terrible things that drugs did to the adults in her life, Anastasia became obsessed with clean eating and natural remedies. She spoke against drug use, and became a vegetarian. Every time she was sick, she would throw a fit, refusing to take any medicine, because she didn’t want to be like Rasputin and her father.
Servants noted that Rasputin was given a little too much access to the children. In 1910, one of the nannies, a woman named Sofia Ivanovna Tyutcheva, was particularly disturbed about the fact that the monk often witnessed the four girls when they were in their nightgowns. He had the freedom to enter the children’s nursery whenever he wanted. That same year, one of the other governesses, Maria Ivanovna Vishnyakova, claimed that Rasputin raped her. She tried to tell the Tsarina. Sadly, she was so brainwashed by Rasputin, that she refused to believe the governess.
The girls were growing older- the eldest daughters were already teenagers, and Anastasia was 9 years old. Tyutcheva knew of Rasputin’s reputation, and she believed Vishnyakova’s story about the rape. Their parents were far too preoccupied with their own issues, so this nanny tried to keep Rasputin away from the children.
The girls were very naive, and did not see any issue with him coming to visit them at night. They called him a “friend”, and when they told Tsarina Alexandra that the nanny was trying to keep him out of the nursery at night, she was fired. According to the children, Rasputin was simply visiting to tell them bedtime stories and help them say their prayers. Back in his hometown, Rasputin actually did have children of his own. So it’s always possible that he was acting on fatherly instinct, but his reputation of a sexual deviant would be enough for anyone to be worried.
After Tyutcheva was fired, she told everyone she knew about the story. This sparked a rumor that Rasputin had free reign to visit the princesses at night- in a sexual way. There is no evidence that Rasputin ever actually abused the Romanov children- but, of course, we will never really know what went on behind closed doors. However, it was around this time that Tsar Nicholas ordered Rasputin to leave St. Petersburg.
When World War I first began, Anastasia was only 13 years old. Her mother and sisters were old enough to volunteer as nurses for The Red Cross. She did her duty by playing pool and chess with the soldiers, and entertained people with her wild energy and laughter. As a teenager, Anastasia used her acting talents for good. What seemed like mean-spirited pranks she played in her childhood actually ended up being a love for comedy. Her family and members of the staff would often put on their own plays and performances. According to witnesses, Anastasia was naturally hilarious, and had everyone laughing so hard, they had tears in their eyes. Sometimes, she would bust out funny faces when the camera was trying to capture a candid moment of her and her sisters. In every difficult situation, Anastasia was always the one trying to fix it, and make everyone around her smile.
After the war, Russia was suffering a terrible depression. People were starving. Men had died during the war, and people desperately needed help. Many people viewed the royal family as part of the problem. Their reputation for bad decision-making with Rasputin didn’t help, either. It was time for Communism to take hold. By the time Anastasia turned 16, the Romanov Family was placed under house arrest by the Bolsheviks.
The Last Days Of The Romonovs
The Romanov family were ordered to leave their castle, and were put under house arrest. They were moved from place to place, and their last residence was at a place called Ipatiev House. Even in these dark moments, Anastasia was still trying to make everyone laugh and smile. It was noted that she adjusted the best to their new life in captivity. One of the guards told a story of Anastasia trying to open a window for some fresh air, and they shot at her, to stop her from trying to escape. She turned to the guard and stuck her tongue out, slammed the window shut, and walked away. Even in this awful situation, she was fearless.
At first, Lenin wrote that the family was in captivity, and promised that they were still alive. However, he soon realized that as long as the royal bloodline still existed, there would always be a chance that soldiers loyal to the Romonovs would try to overthrow him. He decided that the only way for Communism to exist was to execute the entire family.
The family was made to walk down to a basement, where a group of men were ordered to shoot at them. During the execution, they gunmen realized that the daughters were still alive, even after being shot multiple times in the chest. It turns out that they were all wearing corsets that had been lined with the royal gem stones, and this acted like a bulletproof vest. After this, each of the family members received a shot to the head to ensure that they actually did die.
However, some believe that these gem-lined corsets would have been enough for the gunmen to hesitate to kill the two youngest members of the family, Alexei and Anastasia. At this point, all of the older daughters were full-grown women, but Anastasia and Alexei were only 13 and 16 years old. They were innocent children, and they didn’t deserve to die. Many hoped that the guards would have taken pity on them.
One of the men in the firing squad, Rudolf Lacher, was originally from Austria, and he was staying in Russia as a prisoner of war. As a foreigner, he had no loyalty to the imperial family, and was ordered to serve the Bolsheviks. He claimed that he pulled over the truck when it got stuck in the mud. He could hear a rustling in the back, and when he went to check on the bodies, he discovered that Anastasia was still alive, and he helped her escape.
However, there were other quotes from Lacher that indicated the total opposite was true. He was once quoted saying that he didn’t care about killing the Romanov family. They weren’t relatives of his, and he was doing his duty for the Bolsheviks. But this confession was enough to spark the rumors that Anastasia had actually escaped.
In 1920, a young woman in Berlin, Germany attempted to jump off a bridge to commit suicide. Nearby police officers saved her life, and brought her to a mental hospital for treatment. She was beautiful, and spoke with a thick Russian accent. When the doctors asked her who she was, she replied that she didn’t know. There were scars all over her body, including a triangle-shaped indentation in her foot, and deep lacerations on her back. It was clear that she had survived some sort of horrific trauma, and her brain had shut down. Every night, she would wake up screaming to her nightmares. The memories were too painful for her to recall when she was awake. The doctors gave her the nickname “Miss Unknown.”
Two years later, Miss Unknown was still living in a mental hospital in Germany, when a Russian woman was admitted as a patient. The woman was shocked, and immediately kneeled in front of the young woman. She said that this was the missing Princess Anastasia. Miss Unknown didn’t confirm or deny this statement. She had no idea who she actually was, and becoming a princess sounded just fine. To the doctors, this actually made a lot of sense. Miss Unknown had clearly endured something horrific, and it was the answer to a mystery they had long been trying to solve.
Comparing photos of both Miss Unknown and Anastasia next to one another, it is easy to see why so many people believed this to be true. They have the same ears, nose, and eyes. Miss Unknown was also the same age. In 1922, newspapers began to claim that the princess had been found, and her photo was published.
Friends and family of the Romanovs came from all over the world to visit her. They would ask her questions that only Anastasia would know, and yet somehow, this woman knew many of the answers. The opinion of the friends and family was divided 50/50. While her case was under investigation, she was invited to stay in castles with Romanov cousins, and several people sent her money to help pay for her expenses.
Anastasia’s tutor, Sydney Gibbes, was one of the most outspoken critics. He vividly remembered his student’s personality. No matter how much they looked the same, this woman lacked Anastasia’s wit and sense of humor. Another tutor, Pierre Guillard, agreed that they found the true princess, at first. However, once he spent more time around this woman, he agreed that they were not the same person. She was soft-spoken and lady-like. For relatives who only saw her when she was on her best behavior, it was easier to imagine that she could be Anastasia. But for people who knew what she was really like, this was an entirely different person.
The surviving members of the royal family met up to discuss whether or not this woman deserved to receive the inheritance of the Romanov family. In the end, they came to a vote, and decided that there was not enough evidence to prove that she was the real Anastasia.
Her supporters were shocked, because they felt that she was clearly the true princess. Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, sister of Tsar Nicholas II and Anastasia’s aunt, wrote that she was outraged by this decision, and that the remaining family was just greedy.
For the friends and family who believed her, they felt very sorry for this disowned princess, and wanted to whatever they could to help her. She lived a life of luxury, and she was given anything she would ever want. She eventually moved to New York with a woman named Annie Burr Jennings, where she was able to live in a gorgeous penthouse. She changed her name to Anna Anderson. She met a man named Jack Manahan, who was a history teacher in Virginia. They lived out a very happy life together in the United States. Ms. Anderson went to her grave claiming that she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, historians searched for the bodies of the Romanov family. After confirming their identities through DNA tests with surviving relatives, they were given a proper burial at the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg, and canonized as saints in 1998. However, the bodies of Alexei and Anastasia were missing. This was enough to fuel the fire of the debate. Was Anna Anderson actually Anastasia, after all? This inspired several movies and plays, including the 1997 animated movie Anastasia.
In 2007, the bones of two human bodies were found buried in the middle of the woods Siberia. One was a male, and the other was female. The bones showed signs of being doused with acid and burned by fire, as well. It was finally confirmed through DNA testing that these were the missing bodies of Anastasia and Alexei.
According to records and forensic evidence, scientists and historians now believe that the men who killed the Romanovs attempted to burn the bodies, but started off with the two smallest- Alexi and Anastasia. They covered the bones in sulfuric acid, and then set them on fire. When they discovered that this did not completely destroy the evidence, they decided to move along and bury the rest of the bodies elsewhere. This is why the two children had been separated from the rest of their family.
As for Anna Anderson, she was dead years before the truth of her identity was revealed. It turns out that she was a Polish factory worker. She was married, and worked together with her husband. One day, a grenade was tossed into the factory, and exploded. She had to witness the love of her life and several co-workers dying around her, before receiving a serious head injury.
Her body was scarred from the shrapnel of the explosion. After recovering from her wounds, she had no family or friends to help her home. She somehow made her way to Germany, which is where the police found her, and the rest is history.
After revealing the truth of her identity, many people began to call Anna Anderson a “fraud” and a liar. Since she was able to live a life of luxury, many consider her to be a skilled con-woman. However, it’s very possible that in her mental state, she may have actually believed she really was Anastasia. Before she was discovered in the mental hospital, she was a young woman who had nothing left to live for. She was ready to take her own life. But becoming Anastasia gave her an identity, a purpose, and a family who loved her.
For the people who desperately needed to regain their faith in humanity, they needed to believe the innocent children had survived the slaughter. In her own way, Anna Anderson gave them a reason to believe in miracles.
From what we know about the real Anastasia, she lived to make people smile. If she knew that her memory and even the mere possibility of her being alive brought so much hope and joy to so many people, she would surely be proud.
By Shannon Quinn