Today, June 18th, 2012 would have been the 111th birthday of one of the most fascinating women of recent history – Anastasia Romanov.

To celebrate her birthday, Sourcebooks has kindly offered to give away a copy of The Last Romanov by Dora Levy Mossanen. The giveaway is open to all residents of Canada and the U.S. To enter, read the following biography and leave your thoughts. The most poignant comment, the one that touches my heart the most, will win the book. 

The story of Anastasia Romanov is one of the most heart-wrenching stories ever told; it is about the horrific fate that she and her family suffered during the Bolshevik Revolution. To this day, the tragedy still resurrects doubt as to what exactly happened to the young Grand Duchess of Russia.

Anastasia Romanov

Anastasia was born into great wealth and privilege in the late spring of 1901. She came into the world amid the opulence of a vast palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. She was the youngest of four daughters born to Nicholas II and his wife Aleksandra.

Nicholas                                Aleksandra

After four daughters, at long last, several later, a son, the future heir to the throne of Russia, was born to the handsome couple.  

Vigorous and energetic, Anastasia was well loved as a child. She and her siblings were close-knit and spent all their time together. Despite their royal status, the children were not overly pampered or spoiled. In fact, they adhered to strict royal protocols and faced a rigid daily schedule for their schooling and meals. They spent their evenings together with Nicholas reading to them. Sometimes their aunt organized small balls to help the children prepare them for their future responsibilities.

Anastasia as a young child

Always rambunctious and active, Anastasia did not enjoy the confines of the school room. Science and numbers and figures confounded her. Spelling and grammar bored her and seemed to difficult to master. The drudgery of school work competed with her desire for fun and pranks and frolic. She preferred the outdoors where she could escape to hide in a tree or play. She possessed a strong competitive spirit to the point where she would not hesitate to do anything to win, even if it meant cheating or harming an opponent.

Small Anastasia was a cheerful child with a great sense of humor. A tomboy at heart! She loved her brother Alexy and they often entered into great acts of mischief together.

Anastasia and Alexei

Ever the spirited one, Anastasia indulged her fondness for chocolate and her favourite Pomeranian named Shvibzik. As she became older, she even began to secretly smoke and spent entire days reading novels.

One day, Aleksandra met a man named Grigory Rasputin. From that day onward, he was integrated into their daily lives. Anastasia was especially enchanted with the principled, elderly man. To him she confided her secrets, the yearnings of her heart. Their friendship was one of mutual trust and great respect. So all encompassing was their relationship, that her tutor complained about Rasputin to the Tsar and Tsarina. The tutor was fired and Rasputin’s standing in the family remained.

Grigory Rasputin

Meanwhile, rumours and gossip about the family’s strange relationship with Rasputin spread through the realm. Tsar Nicholas’ siblings voiced the greatest displeasure. Reluctantly, Nicholas sent Rasputin away to put a little distance between them. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, Rasputin was murdered. Poor Anastasia grieved long and hard at the death of her good friend and mentor.

World War I brought many changes into their lives. Their beautiful palace became a hospital for the wounded. Aleksandra and her eldest daughters tended the injured in the infirmary. Maria and Anastasia, too young for such hard work, read or wrote letters on the soldiers’ behalf, entertaining them as best as they could with games or books.

The Romanov Children

In early 1917, Anastasia and her siblings contracted measles, and it was while they were convalescing that the first of the family’s troubles began. Nicholas was away from home. The masses in Russia were revolting. Rebels had surrounded the palace. A fearful Aleksandra kept the truth from her children, explaining the armed soldiers outside as mere military exercises.

One month later, Aleksandra received the news that her husband had abdicated the throne. The rebels took the Romanov family into custody. When Nicholas returned home the family were constrained in their home, unable to leave for any reason. Outside the palace gates, whenever the public caught a glimpse of the imprisoned royals, they shouted nasty insults to the royals. Despite all the turmoil, the Romanovs strove to maintain as normal a life as possible.

That summer, the rebels decided to transfer the family to Tobolsk in Siberia. The family wished their servants farewell. After being herded into a train, the family was swept away from their beloved Saint Petersburg. Life in Tobolsk was restricted and boring. There was nothing to entertain the children. Soldiers surrounded them at all times. Even so, nothing could restrict the antics of the spirited Anastasia.

Picture of Maria with Anastasia sticking out her tongue at photographer

A year passed. Aleksandra and Maria accompanied Nicholas to Moscow for his trial. Anastasia and her other sisters remained at home to care for their Aleksey who was ill again. Upon their arrival, they were searched and all valuables were confiscated. While they waited for the trial, Aleksandra wrote to her children and asked them to hide the family medicine (a code name for jewels). Anastasia and her sisters sewed them into their clothing.

Thereafter, Anastasia, her sisters, and Aleksey were sent to Yekaterinburg in well-guarded, closed carriages, to join their parents. 

Photo of Anastasia on train to Yekaterinburg.
This is the last known picture of Anastasia before her death

There, they were held under even stricter confinement. They were not allowed outdoors and were not even permitted to open a window. Ever the free spirit, and longing for the outdoors, a frustrated Anastasia dared to swing open a window. A sentry witnessed her act and fired at her, closely missing her.   

The family began to show the first signs of stress at their severe treatment. Rumour of an alleged plot to rescue the Tsar began to circulate. This spurred the rebels into action. On the night of 17 July, sentries woke up the unsuspecting family and herded them all into the cellar. The made the family sit on the chairs. The girls took their hand-bags with them, and Anastasia even took Jimmy, her dog. Then the firing began.

After it was done, many believe that Anastasia, Maria and Tatiana were still alive – the jewels sewn in their dresses had saved their lives – and the soldiers had to finish the wounded girls off by hitting them hard with bayonet caps and butt-stocks. The murderers then gathered the bodies, wrapped them in bed sheets, and brought them to the outskirts of the village of Ganina Yama to be buried. The murderers wanted to keep their burial place a secret, but villagers noticed the grim cavalcade. The Red Army chased the peasants away, menacing them with guns. At the burial site, the killers went to work again. This time, to cover their tracks and any evidence that could identify the members of the Romanov family, they disfigured their victim’s faces with sulfuric acid, knives, and butt-stocks. Villagers heard the shell explosions at the ominous location. Others found some jewels that presumably belonged to the Tsar’s family, left behind by executioners eager to cover up their horrific crime.

Later, a crime investigators questioned the locals and ordered the burial site excavated, but the command was countermanded.  

Rumors that one of the Tsar’s daughters had managed to escape and stay alive began circulating. Homes, inns, hotels, barns, trains, and farms were searched, but to no avail.

In 1991, 70 years after the tragic event, excavations at the suspected burial site commenced. It did not take long to discover the bodies. They had been buried at little more than one meter in depth. Most of the bodies were identified, but that of Anastasia could not be verified. This gave credence to the rumours that she may have survived the killing. But if this was true, what happened to Anastasia? Where was the illusive, spirited young woman? Had she truly survived, living a quiet, unnoticed life somewhere in an obscure village, town, or country?

In the aftermath of the murders, many “Anastasias” have come forward to lay claim to her name and title. DNA tests have since disproved their claims. The truth will perhaps never be known. Wherever she is, I hope that Anastasia has the peace that eluded her in the last days she spent on earth.

From History and Women