Discovery in Soviet Archive Casts New light over the Event of July 1918

For more than seven decades the ultimate fate of Nicholas II and his family has been the topic for rumors and the creation of myths. They continue despite the thorough investigation made by the White Army’s examining magistrate Nickolas Sokolov, with the help of depositions and evidence of the situation itself, which showed that the entire family including the family doctor and three servants were killed by shooting. Another unclear question left open is where are the bodies buried? No one has found the bodies. The theory is that they were burned and destroyed with concentrated sulphuric acid, according to experts who later studied the case.

Rumors about the rescue and survival started during the chaotic state of affairs that ruled the year after the revolution and, as a result of the bolshevik’s efforts to ease the horrible truth, they let officials and the press announce that only the Czar was shot and the remaining family had gone away.

During the Soviet Union Glasnost the original document has now turned up which gives the final answer to most of what has been unclear. The content of the document has been brought out in two articles in the Soviet Russian publication Ogonjok by author-historian Edvard Radzinsky. Since the 1970s he has been writing the history of Nicholas II. During his search for source material he found in "October Revolution Central Archives" a thin map with a notation "Commission with ex-Czar Nicholas II". This included some official (and intentionally misleading) telegrams from the Ural Soviet to the Central Committee in Moscow concerning the Czar’s execution. Also found were Nicholas’ and Czarinna Alexandra’s diary and — the most sensational of all — a complete account of the mass-execution and measures taken to cover the trail, written by the Commandant for the Czar’s family’s last imprisonment in Jekaterinburg (now Sverdlovsk). It was he who also personally served as chief of the execution platoon.

Radzinsky received a further sensational contribution to his historical writing in the form of a letter from the son of one of the executioners, sent since 1964. He had assisted in an interview with the surviving witnesses. But first some facts about the Czar’s family and what preceded the terrible end.

Tsarskoje Selo — Tobolsk — Jekaterinburg

Some people don’t believe that Nicholas Romanov was the picture of a blood-thirsty tyrant that the revolutionaries gave of him. He was a considerate, modest and cultured man devoted and loyal to his wife Alexandra (born Princess Alix of Hesse) and a good father to the five children, daughters Olga, Tatjana, Maria, Anastasia and son Alexej, who suffered from the awful hemophilia.

As a ruler Nicholas was too weak for the demands placed upon him. He, together with Alexandra who began to mix in with the authority, bore the debt for the many mistakes in domestic politics and for the unsuccessful war. After the March revolution in 1917 and the Czar’s abdication, the provisional government put the Czar’s family under house arrest in the palace in Tsarskoje Selo. It was in practice a prison and they were guarded closely. After the bolshevik’s first unsuccessful attempted coup in July, prime minister Kerensky saw that nearness to the restless Petrograd created danger for the safety of the family, and they were moved in August 1917 to Tobolsk in Siberia. There they lived as "privileged prisoners" in the governor’s house which was placed at their disposal. However, the October revolution brought new rulers, the bolsheviks, who took over custody and conditions gradually became more difficult for the prisoners.

In May 1918 the Czar’s family was unexpectedly moved to Jekaterinburg. They were placed in the wealthy Ipatjev’s house which was requisitioned because of its suitability, with the designation "special house for the purpose." It was a spacious two-story building and there the family had rooms on the upper floor (except for what was used as the Commandant’s office). At this point in time, the number of prisoners was 12, including Dr. Botkin and four servants. The house was fenced in with double railings and with guards who numbered over 50, who were equipped with both machine guns and small arms.

Concerning the state of affairs in Ipatjev’s house, Sokolov relates details in his book which was published some years later, and which were also confirmed by Radzinsky in his article in Ogonjok.

Death in the "special house for the purpose"

In the beginning of July the inner guard was suddenly replaced with a unit of "Latvian Czechs". Included in the group were also German and Austrian prisoners of war who went over to Soviet authority. The Soviet Commandant was also replaced and in his place came the previously named Commandant Jurovsky, a barber-surgeon who advanced through the local Czechs. A young Czech, Russian Nikulin served as his "assistant" and as chief guard, the Russian Medvedjev. These three later appear to be capable of dreadful actions.

It has been expressed that the bolsheviks had planned to hold a kind of trial for the ex-Czar. But toward the middle of July it was clear that the White Army was approaching Jekaterinburg and this likely sealed the family’s fate. The Ural Soviets telegraphically asked the council in Moscow how they should proceed with the captives.

In the archive file an entry found in the diary from the very last days does not directly suggest that the captives had a feeling that the end was so near. Nicholas wrote on 11 July: "In the morning at 11:30 three workers came to the open window and lifted up a heavy grill that they screwed firmly from the outside. Jurovsky has said nothing to us about this beforehand. We did not think much about it. I began to read the 8th part of Saltykov.

13 July, Saturday, Alexej bathed for the first time after Tobolsk. His knee is better but he still can not bend it completely. The weather is warm and beautiful. I have not had any news from outside."

Alexandra mentioned in her diary the 4th of July, the day that the guards were changed, that the new commandant had already come to see the baby’s leg ("baby" = Alexej became the object of the barber-surgeon’s professionnal interest). She found his young assistant was a sympathetic young man in comparison with the vulgar and unpleasant guards. (It was this "sympathetic young man" who would later shoot Alexej!). And at the end of the notes for

16 July at bedtime, some hours before the last awakening:

Gray Morning

"3/16 July, Tuesday. A gray morning; later the beautiful sun came out. Baby is slightly cold. Everyone went out for a half-hour walk. Olga and I stayed inside. We prepared the medicine. Tatjana read from Prophet Amos’ book and Prophet Obediah’s book. Thereafter we sat and talked. The Commissar came frequently to our room and at the last he had an egg for Baby. Eight o’clock supper. Sednejev was suddenly called to meet his father’s brother and with that, went away. (Sednjev was the children’s servant and the same age as Alexej, and by leaving he was saved). I wonder if this was true and if we would see more of him. -- played bezique with Nicholas. Went and laid down at 11:30."

Those who went to bed this summer evening in the upper floor in Ipatjev’s house were the following: Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov, their four daughters, aged 16 to 23, their 14-year-old son and also Dr. Eugen Botkin, lady’s maid Anna Demidova, servant/footman Alexej Trupp and the cook Ivan Hartonov. They were awakened at 2:30 in the night.. Here we let executioner Jurovsky himself tell us. The text is direct from the original in the archives. Jurovsky called himself Commandant: "16 July received a telegram in the agreed upon code, from Perm with the order for Romanov’s annihilation. (To the left in the margin a note by hand: "It had first been the intention (in May) to condemn Nicholas — the advance of the White Army prevented that")

Then at 6 p.m. the 16th Filip Golosjekin (War Commissar in Ural Soviet) determined that the execution should be carried out. At 12 o"clock a truck would come to take away the bodies.

At 6 o’clock the boy was taken away, which greatly disturbed the Romanovs and their people. Dr. Botkin came and asked what was the reason for that? It was explained that the boy’s father’s brother, who had been arrested and escaped and was now back again, wanted to see his brother’s son.

The following day the boy was sent to his home place (probably to the Tulska government). The truck did not come at 12 o’clock and not until 2:30. That delayed carrying out the execution. During that time all the preparations had been made, 12 men had been chosen — among them 7 (corrected in ink to 6) Latvians — with pistols, who would execute the prisoners.

Two of the Letts refused to shoot the women. When the car came they were asleep. Botkin awoke and wakened the others. The following explanation was given: "Because it is unsettled in the city, it is necessary that the Romanov family move from the upper floor to the lower floor." They dressed themselves in a half hour. Lower down a room had been chosen with a plastered interior wall (to avoid ricochetting bullets) and all the furniture had been removed from it. The Commandant was ready in an adjoining room. The Commissar went in alone with them and led them along the stairs to the room downstairs. Nicholas led Alexandra on his arm, the others carried cushions and other small things. When Alexandra Federovna came into the empty room, she said, "What is this; here we find not even a chair. Is it not possible to seat ourselves?" The Commissar ordered two chairs to be brought in. Nicholas sat Alexandra in one of them and Alexandra Federovna sat on the other. The rest were ordered by the Commissar to line up. When they were lined up, the Commandant was called inside.

When he came, the Commissar said to Romanov that because their relatives in Europe continued their attack on Soviet Russia, the Urals executive committee decided they should be shot. Nicholas turned his back to the Commandant so that he had his face turned toward the family, but then when he had regained composure, he faced the Commandant and asked "What, what?" The Commissar repeated quickly what had been said and gave orders to the Commandant to get ready. The Commandant had previously been given instructions on who would shoot.."

Jurovsky continued with a detailed description of the gruesome sight that followed. By later evidence it appears that Nikulin and Medvedjev were the ones who shot the "central figures", the ex-Czar, Alexandra and Alexej. The murdering clearly was not at all so simple and rapid as they presumably had counted on, but after about 20 minutes it was all over — that included time for "supervisory control" (to be sure that the pulses had stopped, etc.; the executioners were skilled in many ways.)

The Alarming Trail


"..thereafter the men began to carry out the bodies to the truck that was covered with canvas so blood wouldn’t leak out. It was discovered that someone had begun to steal from the corpses. Three reliable comrades were ordered to superintend the loading (the corpses were carried out one at a time). With a threat of execution, they recovered everything that was stolen (gold, cigarette-case with diamonds, etc.)"

On the way out from the city in the early morning to the spot in the woods that was chosen as the place for destruction of the bodies, they met a group of farmers who were on their way to the market-place. Their evidence later became important to the investigation. Several mishaps occurred…

"Because the car got caught between two trees, we left it and went further with a cart with the corpses covered by cloth. We carried them 17 _ versts (verst = about 3500 feet) from Jekaterinburg and stopped 1 _ versts from Koptjaki village. It was 6-7 o-clock in the morning. In the woods we found an abandoned test pit (people had at one time found gold there), that was 3 _ arsjin (?) deep. In the pit there was an arsjin of water. The Commissar decided the corpses should be completely burned. Round about the place sat the horse riders guarding the roadway from anyone who came near.."

Macabre Scene

At the macabre scene that now followed, the miserable sacrifice revealed that the women had expensive ornaments inside their clothing. All were searched thoroughly and the items were placed in a bag.

The clothing was burned and the corpses were lowered into the pit. Some ornaments and Dr. Botkin’s dental plate dropped during the handling. (These objects were later found by the White Army.) The men attempted to get the pit to collapse with the help of hand grenades, but this was unsuccessful. Jurovsky gave a report to his chief in the Ural Soviet and was ordered to move the corpses to another place where there was a deeper pit filled with water. The men could sink the corpses there with the help of stones. In case this plan ran into difficulty, it was decided that the corpses should be burned or buried in clay since the men had first made them unrecognizable with the help of sulphuric acid. For this purpose the men procured that same evening (the 17th) what they needed: gasoline and concentrated sulphuric acid. First after midnight the men went to the place where the dead were left in the ground pit. The village residents in Koptjaki were threatened the previous day that they would be shot if they went into the woods. It was explained to them that the men were after Czechs from the White Army who had been hiding there.

"..during the time beginning at dawn (it was the 3rd day, the 18th) we decided to bury them here, near the pit. The men set out to dig, but when the pit was almost ready, a well-known farmer went to Jermakov and wanted to have the pit marked.

Then we had to give up the undertaking and decided to move the corpses to the deep pit. The carts were so rickety they began to fall to pieces; the Commissar went to get an automobile, a truck and two private autos, the other for the Czechs. We came out first at 9 o’clock in the evening and…moved the corpses on to the truck. We went along with difficulty, put out a roller bridge on the bad places and still got caught several times. About 5:30 in the morning we were stuck fast. Then we came to the pit and could not decide if we should bury or burn. A comrade whose name I forgot, promised to take on this responsibility, but went away without doing what he promised. We decided to burn Alexandra and Alexandra Federovna but by mistake burned the lady’s maid instead of Alexandra Federovna.

Then we buried what remained at the place where we had the fire and made a new fire that completely covered the traces of the grave. During that time, we dug a common grave for the others. At 7 o’clock in the morning we had a pit ready that was 2 _ arsjin deep and 3 _ arsjin square. The corpses were placed in the pit and faces and entire bodies covered with sulphuric acid, partly because of the need to make them unrecognizable and partly to prevent the stench of putrefication (the pit was not very deep). Later we covered the grave with earth and twigs and then drove over it several times — no marks of any hole could be discovered. The secret was completely kept — the White Army did not discover the place where we buried them."

Radzinsky related in his article that at the end of the document is found a hand-written section with an exact description of the place where what remained of the Romanov family and of those who followed them in death are buried. According to the news that went around the world press some years ago, someone has also been to the place and found the final proof.

After all the rumors and myths that arose about this ghastly event in our recent history, it can be finished for good. But there is more to tell…

Interview in Moscow

From his collection of material for the last chapter in the history of Nicholas II, Radzinsky gave several gruesome and shocking experiences. He found that during the years that followed, the murderers from Jekaterinburg sometimes gathered to talk and share thoughts about the horrible deed, and the coming generation who were with them heard how it went when "the execution was carried out."

The Chief of guards in Ipatjev’s house, Medvedjev, had a son who became historian-archivist and who sat in on such occasions. It was he who wrote the letter mentioned at the beginning of this article. He related that in 1927 Jurovsky was requested by the Central Committee in Moscow to write about the tenth anniversary of the execution of the Romanovs with documents and recollections of those who were there! Stalin gave his answer verbally: "Nothing shall be published. And on the whole everyone shall remain silent about the matter." Jurovsky passed away in 1928. Also Medvedjev was removed. In 1964 the historian son successfully persuaded two still living witnesses: Commandant Assistant Nikulin who was in the command, and one of the members of the Urals Czech to stand up for a radio interview. He had received permission from the highest place — Khruschev. Medvedjev was also there with one of the interviewers. About the question whether Anastasia could have survived (he knew of Anna Anderson ) Nikulin answered quie shortly: "Everyone died." Several questioned the validity of the "execution" and Nikulin confirmed that it was he who shot Alexej. It also appeared to be Medvedjev who shot the Czar and that the murder weapon — a heavy Browning — it still kept in the Revolution Museum! The interview was never sent. But Radzinsky has checked and the tape was found in the archives at the Institute for Marxism-Leninism.

Still there remains one last question: Who or whom had the ultimate responsibility for the massacre? Here is what Trotsky wrote in his "Diary" (cited from Radzinsky’s article in Ogonjok): "I came to Moscow from the front after Jekaterinburg had fallen. In conversation with Sverdlov I asked: "Where is the Czar now?" — "It is over for him" — "But where is the family?" — "The family went the same way." — "All of them?" I asked surprised. "All" answered Sverdlov. "Who made the decision?" — "It was decided by us here." — "Lenin asked that we not leave them any living symbol, particularly not in our serious state of affairs."

Ironically enough the three foremost executioners from Ipatjev’s house were allowed to live their lives as respected Soviet citizens, while (according to Radzinsky in Ogonjok) nearly every one of the leading bolsheviks in Ural Soviet and the Czech who gave the order for execution were executed or vanished during Stalin’s purge during the 1930s. The footprints are frightening.

By Rainer Mattsson in Hufvudstadsbladet, 18 Mar 1990, Helsingfors, Finland

Translated by June Pelo

Czar Nicholas and family

Czar Nicholas II family


In 1993 there was another article about the latest discovery:

Discovery of Czar’s Bones Confirmed by DNA Tests

London: A snip of hair, a drop of royal blood from the Duke of Edinburg, and one of the great mysteries of the century is solved for good. Today, the world knows "virtually beyond doubt" what happened to the last Russian czar.

British scientists said Friday they had determinded that bones found in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg two years ago are those of Czar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra, and three of their five children.

The discovery was facilitated by a new form of DNA fingerprinting. "The evidence is that they are the remains of the Romanovs," said Peter Gill of the Forensic Science Service of the Home Office, which did the work and set the probability that they are Romanov bones at "almost 99 percent."

The findings confirm what had long been believed: that the Russian royals were killed by the bolsheviks on July 16, 1918, during the civil war that raged in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Russian anthropologists had reached the same conclusion shortly after the bones were dug up in 1991. To be certain, the Russian government asked the British forensic scientists to make the tests and shipped the remains here in September. Gill led the forensic team and was assisted by Russian biologist Pavel Ivanov.

Among those who supplied blood samples to the inquiry was the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Philip’s maternal grandmother, Princess Victoria of Hesse, was the sister of Czarina Alexandra.

Using a technique that traces maternally inherited DNA, the Home Office scientists said they achieved a "complete match" between the duke and the czarina and her children. Living members of the Romanov family had also contributed blood and hair samples to help in the tests.

In addition to the remains of the five Romanovs, the bodies of four other people found in the same grave were examined and thought to be those of servants and possibly the Imperial family physician. The grave had been discovered in 1979, and kept a secret, by Soviet writer Geli Ryabov. He located it by interviewing one of the bolsheviks who claimed to have been present at the killing.

The bodies of Czar Nicholas’ heir, Alexi, and that of another child, Anastasia, the youngest of the girls, were not found. A woman named Anna Anderson, emerged in 1920 in Berlin and asserted that she was Anastasia, and then spent the rest of her life trying to prove it to a skeptical world. A film was made of her life and numerous books and articles have been written. She died in 1984 in Virginia, having never been able to establish her claims legally. According to Janet Thompson, director of the science service, the agency has a sample of her hair.

The findings of the British scientists stimulated speculation here that a formal burial of the Russian royals might be likely, with the Queen attending. A surviving member of the Romanovs, who works as a banker in London, said he felt "a great deal of relief" at the determination by the scientists. He said he would like to see the remains buried in Ekaterinburg rather than in the Romanov capital, St. Petersburg, a more likely venue.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 10, 1993

Ipatjev's house at Jekaterinburg

Ipatjev's house at Jekaterinburg