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Shooting of the Romanov family

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Title: Shooting of the Romanov family  
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Language: English
Subject: Nicholas II of Russia, July 17, 1918, Church of All Saints, Yekaterinburg, Imre Nagy
Collection: 1918 in Russia, Assassinations in Russia, House of Romanov, Mass Murder in Russia, Nicholas II of Russia, Russian Revolution, Yekaterinburg
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Shooting of the Romanov family

The Romanovs. From left to right: Olga, Maria, Nicholas II, Alexandra, Anastasia, Alexei, and Tatiana. Pictured at Livadia Palace in 1913

The Russian Imperial Romanov family (Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei) and all those who chose to accompany them into exile – notably Eugene Botkin, Anna Demidova, Alexei Trupp and Ivan Kharitonov – were shot in Yekaterinburg on 17 July 1918.[1] The execution of the Tsar and his family was carried out by the Ural Soviet which was led by Yakov Yurovsky. The action had been ordered by the government in Moscow by Vladimir Lenin and Yakov Sverdlov to prevent the rescue of the Imperial Family by approaching White forces during the ongoing Russian Civil War.[2][3]


  • Background 1
  • Execution 2
  • Executioners 3
  • Aftermath 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


On 22 March 1917, Nicholas, no longer a monarch and addressed with contempt by the sentries as "Nicholas Romanov", was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. He was placed under house arrest with his family by the Provisional Government. Surrounded by his guards, confined to their quarters, the Imperial family was inspected on Nicholas' first night back at home.[4]

In August 1917, Alexander Kerensky's provisional government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution. There they lived in the former Governor's mansion in considerable comfort. After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter, and talk of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. Nicholas was forbidden to wear epaulettes, and the sentries scrawled lewd drawings on the fence to offend his daughters. On 1 March 1918, the family was placed on soldier's rations, which meant parting with 10 devoted servants and giving up butter and coffee as luxuries.[5]

As the Bolsheviks gathered strength, the government in April moved Nicholas, Alexandra and their daughter Maria to Yekaterinburg. Alexei was too ill to accompany his parents and remained with his sisters Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia, not leaving Tobolsk until May 1918. The family was imprisoned with a few remaining retainers in Yekaterinburg's Ipatiev House, which was called The House of Special Purpose (Russian: Дом Особого Назначения).

The Bolsheviks had wanted to bring the tsar for a trial, but circumstances led to a quick decision to kill the whole family summarily.[6] The Romanovs were being held by the Red Army in Yekaterinburg. As the civil war continued and the White Army (a loose alliance of anti-communist forces) was threatening to capture the city, the fear was that the Romanovs would fall into White hands. This was unacceptable to the Bolsheviks for two reasons: first, the tsar or any of his family members could provide a beacon to rally support to the White cause; second, the tsar, or any of his family members if the tsar were dead, would be considered the legitimate ruler of Russia by the other European nations. This would have meant the ability to negotiate for greater foreign intervention on behalf of the Whites. Soon after the family was executed, the city did in fact fall to the White Army.

On 16 July 1918 forces of the Czechoslovak legions were closing on Yekaterinburg, not realizing that Russia's royal family was being held under house arrest there. The Bolsheviks, believing that the Czechoslovaks were on a mission to rescue the Russian royals, panicked and executed their wards. The real reason for the Czechoslovaks being en route to Yekaterinburg was to protect the Trans-Siberian Railway, of which they had total control. The Legions would arrive less than a week later to capture the city. These circumstances played a large part in the execution of the Russian royal family.[7]


From left to right: Grand Duchesses Maria, Olga, Anastasia and Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia in captivity at Tsarskoe Selo in the spring of 1917. One of the last known photographs of Tsar Nicholas II's daughters.

The telegram giving the order to execute the prisoners on behalf of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow was signed by Yakov Sverdlov. Around midnight, Yakov Yurovsky, the commandant of The House of Special Purpose, ordered the Romanovs' physician, Dr. Eugene Botkin, to awaken the sleeping family and ask them to put on their clothes, under the pretext that the family would be moved to a safe location due to impending chaos in Yekaterinburg.[8] The Romanovs were then ordered into a 6 × 5 meter (19.7 x 16.4 ft) semi-basement room. Nicholas asked if Yurovsky could bring three chairs, on which Tsarevich Alexei, his father and his mother sat.

The prisoners were told to wait in the cellar room while the truck that would transport them was being brought to the House. A few minutes later, an execution squad of secret police was brought in and Yurovsky read aloud the order given him by the Ural Executive Committee:

Nicholas, facing his family, turned and said "What? What?"[10] Yurovsky quickly repeated the order and the weapons were raised. The Empress and Grand Duchess Olga, according to a guard's reminiscence, had tried to cross themselves, but failed amid the shooting. Yurovsky reportedly raised his gun at Nicholas's torso and fired; Nicholas fell dead. Yurovsky then shot Alexei. The other executioners then began shooting chaotically until all the intended victims had fallen. Several more shots were fired and the doors opened to scatter the smoke.[10] There were some survivors, so P.Z. Yermakov stabbed them with bayonets because the shots could be heard outside.[10] The last to die were Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria, who were carrying a few pounds (over 1.3 kilograms) of diamonds sewn into their clothing, thus protecting them to an extent.[11] However, they were speared with bayonets as well. Olga sustained a gunshot wound to the head. Maria and Anastasia were said to have crouched up against a wall covering their heads in terror until they were shot down. Yurovsky himself killed Tatiana and Alexei. Tatiana died from a single bullet through the back of her head.[12] Alexei received two bullets to the head, right behind the ear after the executioners realized he had not been killed by the first shot.[13] Anna Demidova, Alexandra's maid, survived the initial onslaught but was quickly stabbed to death against the back wall while trying to defend herself with a small pillow which she had carried that was filled with precious gems and jewels.[14]

An official announcement appeared in the national press, two days later. It reported that the monarch had been executed on the order of Uralispolkom under pressure posed by the approach of the Czechoslovaks.[15] Although official Soviet accounts place the responsibility for the decision with the Uralispolkom, Leon Trotsky in his diary indicated that the execution took place on the authority of Vladimir Lenin. Trotsky wrote:

My next visit to Moscow took place after the fall of Yekaterinburg. Talking to Sverdlov I asked in passing, "Oh yes and where is the Tsar?" "It's all over," he answered. "He has been shot." "And where is his family?" "And the family with him." "All of them?" I asked, apparently with a touch of surprise. "All of them," replied Yakov Sverdlov. "What about it?" He was waiting to see my reaction. I made no reply. "And who made the decision?" I asked. "We decided it here. Ilyich [Lenin] believed that we shouldn't leave the Whites a live banner to rally around, especially under the present difficult circumstances."[16]

In 1989, the report of Yakov Yurovsky was published. According to the report, units of the Czechoslovak Legion, making their retreat out of Russia, were approaching Yekaterinburg. Fearing that the Legion would take the town and free him, the Bolshevik jailers executed Nicholas and his family, arguing that there was "no turning back".[17]


Ivan Plotnikov, history professor at the Maksim Gorky Ural State University, has established that the executioners were: Yakov Yurovsky, G. P. Nikulin, M. A. Medvedev (Kudrin), P. Z. Yermakov, S. P. Vaganov, A. G. Kabanov, P. S. Medvedev, V. N. Netrebin, and Y. M. Tselms. Filipp Isayevich Goloshchekin, a close associate of Yakov Sverdlov whom he had met in early July 1918 in Moscow, brought back the final orders to carry out the execution. Being a military commissar of the Uralispolom in Yekaterinburg, Goloshchekin however did not actually participate in the executions. Three Latvians refused at the last minute to take part in the execution.[18]


The Church on the Blood, built on the spot of Ipatyev House

Early next morning, when rumours spread in Yekaterinburg about the disposal site, Yurovsky removed the bodies and hid them elsewhere (). When the vehicle carrying the bodies broke down on the way to the next chosen site, Yurovsky made new arrangements, and buried most of the acid-covered bodies in a pit sealed and concealed with rubble, covered over with railroad ties and then earth () on Koptyaki Road, a cart track (subsequently abandoned) 12 miles (19 km) north of Yekaterinburg.

In July 1991, the remains of all the family and their retainers (except two of the children, who were identified in 2008) were found by amateur enthusiasts and reburied by the Russian government following a state funeral. A ceremony of Christian burial took place in 1998. The bodies were laid to rest with state honors in the St. Catherine Chapel of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, where most other Russian monarchs since Peter the Great lie. President Boris Yeltsin and his wife attended the funeral along with Romanov relations, including Prince Michael of Kent.

On 15 August 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church announced the canonization of the family for their "humbleness, patience and meekness".[19] However, reflecting the intense debate preceding the issue, the bishops did not proclaim the Romanovs as martyrs, but passion bearers instead (see Romanov sainthood).[19] On 1 October 2008, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled that Nicholas II and his family were victims of political repression and rehabilitated them.[20][21]

On Thursday, 26 August 2010, a Russian court ordered prosecutors to reopen an investigation into the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, although the Bolsheviks believed to have shot them in 1918 had died long before. The Russian Prosecutor General's main investigative unit said it had formally closed a criminal investigation into the killing of Nicholas because too much time had elapsed since the crime and because those responsible had died. However, Moscow’s Basmanny Court ordered the re-opening of the case, saying that a Supreme Court ruling blaming the state for the killings made the deaths of the actual gunmen irrelevant, according to a lawyer for the Tsar’s relatives and local news agencies.[22]

Over the years, a number of people have claimed to be survivors of the ill-fated family. The process to identify the remains was exhaustive. Russian authorities sent samples to Britain and to the United States for DNA analysis. The tests concluded that five of the skeletons were members of one family and four were unrelated. Three of the five were determined to be the children of two parents:

  1. The mother was linked to a maternal line relation, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, grandson of Alexandra's oldest sister Victoria, Marchioness of Milford-Haven, who gave a DNA sample that matched that of the remains.
  2. The father was determined to be related to Grand Duke George Alexandrovich, younger brother of Nicholas II.

British scientists said they were more than 98.5% sure that the remains were those of the Tsar, his family and their attendants.[23][24] Relics from the Ōtsu Scandal, a failed 1891 assassination-attempt on Nicholas, failed to provide sufficient evidence due to contamination. Nicholas's skeleton was confirmed to be his after it was excavated on 22 June 1992. On 5 December 2008 Russian and American scientists using DNA analysis definitively identified the remains excavated in 1991 as those of Nicholas II.[25]

See also


  1. ^ Robert K. Massie (2012). The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. Random House. pp. 3–24. 
  2. ^ Robert Gellately. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe Knopf, 2007 ISBN 1-4000-4005-1 p. 65.
  3. ^ Figes, Orlando (1997). A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891–1924.  
  4. ^ Tames, p. 56
  5. ^ Tames, p. 62
  6. ^ Dmitri Volkogonov (2008). Lenin. Simon and Schuster. p. 218. 
  7. ^ Bullock, David (2012) The Czech Legion 1914–20, Osprey Publishing ISBN 1780964587
  8. ^ Massie (2012). The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. pp. 3–24. 
  9. ^ William Clarke (2003). The Lost Fortune of the Tsars. St. Martin's Press. p. 66. 
  10. ^ a b c 100 великих казней, M., Вече, 1999, p. 439 ISBN 5-7838-0424-X
  11. ^ Massie, p. 8
  12. ^ King G. and Wilson P., The Fate of the Romonovs, p. 303
  13. ^ Massie, p. 6
  14. ^ Radzinsky (1992), pp. 380–393
  15. ^ Steinberg, Mark D.; Khrustalëv, Vladimir M. and Tucker, Elizabeth (1995). The Fall of the Romanovs. Yale University Press.  
  16. ^ King, G. (1999). The Last Empress, Replica Books, p. 358. ISBN 0735101043.
  17. ^  
  18. ^ Plotnikov, Ivan (2003). О команде убийц царской семьи и ее национальном составе Журнальный зал, No. 9 (Russian)
  19. ^ a b "'"Nicholas II And Family Canonized For 'Passion. New York Times. 15 August 2000. Retrieved 10 December 2008. 
  20. ^ BBCNews (1 October 2008). Russia's last tsar rehabilitated. Retrieved on 1 October 2008
  21. ^ Blomfield, Adrian (1 October 2008). Russia exonerates Tsar Nicholas II The Telegraph.
  22. ^ The New York Times, 27 August 2010
  23. ^ Gill, P; Ivanov, PL; Kimpton, C; Piercy, R; Benson, N; Tully, G; Evett, I; Hagelberg, E; Sullivan, K (1994). "Identification of the remains of the Romanov family by DNA analysis". Nature genetics 6 (2): 130–5.  
  24. ^ Van der Kiste, John and Hall, Coryne (2004) Once A Grand Duchess: Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II, Sutton Publishing p. 174 ISBN 0750935219
  25. ^ Coble, Michael D., et al. "Mystery solved: the identification of the two missing Romanov children using DNA analysis." PloS one 4.3 (2009):

Further reading

  • Helen Rappaport. The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg. St. Martin's Griffin, 2010. ISBN 978-0312603472
  • Robert K. Massie (2012). The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. Random House. pp. 3–24. 
  • Shay McNeal. The Secret Plot to Save the Tsar: New Truths Behind the Romanov Mystery. HarperCollins, 2003. ISBN 0-06-051755-7, ISBN 978-0-06-051755-7
  • Radzinsky, Edvard. The last Tsar: the life and death of Nicholas II (Random House, 2011)
  • Slater, Wendy. The many deaths of tsar Nicholas II: relics, remains and the Romanovs (Routledge, 2007)
  • Tames, R (1972) Last of the Tsars, Pan Books, ISBN 0330029029

External links

  • An eyewitness account (
  • In search of the Romanovs (
  • Execution Of The Romanov Family on YouTube as seen in the movie The Romanovs: An Imperial Family
  • Alexander Palace Time Machine
  • In Memory of the Royal Martyrs 17 July 1918
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