The seven-decade run of the communist killing spree got its symbolic start one hundred years ago today when the Soviets butchered the last royal family of Russia.
The 1917 Russian Revolution had two phases:
• A liberal phase early in the year that resulted in the abdication of Tsar Nicholas Romanov 50.
• The communist takeover late in the year that effectively installed Vladimir Lenin, later followed by Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and other twentieth century monsters.
Nicholas Romanov’s wife Alexandra 46 was the granddaughter of England’s Queen Victoria. The couple had four daughters and a son. The children at the time of the abdication were: Olga 22, Tatiana 21, Maria 19, Anastasia 17, and Alexei 13.
The communists put the family under house arrest in a large dwelling near the Ural Mountains, cut off from the rest of the world. The Romanov survived for the first seven or eight months after the communist takeover. Their hope was to get to England.
The communists had a problem: What to do with Nicholas Romanov and his family? If they killed them it could outrage the world. If they lived, they could become a symbol of resistance.
They opted to kill the Romanov family.
At little after midnight on July 17, 1918, the Romanov’s handler ordered them into the basement of the dwelling on a pretense of safety. He stunned the family with a prepared statement: “The presidium of the Regional Soviet, fulfilling the will of the Revolution, has decreed that the former Tsar Nicholas Romanov, guilty of countless bloody crimes against the people should be shot.”
A firing squad appeared from behind him. Accounts vary but most hold that Nicholas died after several shots and Alexandra died with a bullet to the head. But the children survived briefly because the bullets ricocheted off jewelry that had been sown into their clothing. The killers resorted to an undisciplined bayonet attack and in a few minutes the family and several servants were dead.
The disposal of the bodes was a botched affair. They were strewn in the nearby forest.
The Soviet government was cagey about the demise of the Romanovs and did not confirm their deaths until 1926. Stalin censored discussion of the killings in 1938.
From the 1920s onward, women claiming to be one of the daughters – usually Anastasia, who they claimed had survived the massacre – appeared periodically. All such claims were bogus but these gambits kept the story alive.
When, in 1991, thanks to twentieth century heroes like Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Saint John Paul II, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and others, the USSR fell apart, sleuths found the burial sites. What remained of the bodies was identified through DNA analysis. They were given burials.
At the turn of the millennium the Russian Orthodox Church sainted the whole family.
The killing of one family of seven people plus servants a hundred years ago may barely deserve a footnote.
But in some ways, from the very wording of the “decree” which was their death warrant, those murders ushered in a time of government sanctioned murder that tolled in the tens of millions before it was over.