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The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at…

The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg

by Helen Rappaport

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One of the unexpected pleasures of being a tourist who loves museums is the occasional exhibition sourced from some other museum not on the itinerary. So it was in Edinburgh in 2005 when we went to Edinburgh’s splendid new Museum and chanced upon a touring exhibition from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, about the Romanovs, the Russian Royal family who were executed in 1918 during the Russian Revolution. This exhibition of mainly photos humanised the history that I knew (which wasn’t much) and as a reminder I bought a pretty little cloisonné peacock which was a replica of a much grander Fabergé one that used to grace the Tsarina’s dressing table.

I knew about the Romanovs because my grandmother’s name was Anastasia. No doubt this means nothing to today’s teenagers but in my adolescence every elderly lady of that name and born about 1901 could have been the Grand Duchess herself, rumoured to have escaped from the slaughter and to be living in obscurity rather than run the risk of elimination by the still-wicked-Communists. With the wisdom of hindsight I can now see that no woman who could cook cabbage in such a distinctively British way as my grandmother could possibly have been the incognito Grand Duchess of Russia, but as a romantic adolescent I was intermittently convinced of my royal forebears and was keen to find out more about them.

So naturally, when I came across Ekaterinburg, The Last Days of the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport I was intrigued enough to order it, but was disappointed.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2010/12/29/ekaterinburg-by-helen-rappaport/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Aug 15, 2016 |
I read this book following the author's later book "The Romanov Sisters," so I found much of the early chapters to be repetition. The book covers the last 2 weeks of the Romanov family's lives, although there's not a lot to talk about in terms of what was actually going on during their captivity (basically a lot of praying, reading, and preparing for potential exile), so it really presents brief biographies of mother, father, daughters, and son, along with chapters laying out the politics going on in Moscow and St Petersburg that eventually decided the family's fate. There's almost too much, and yet not enough, in this book. If you don't already know a lot about the goings on of the revolution, you'd be hard pressed to pick up much here, and there's not enough time given to any family member to really get a feel for them. The execution and burial itself is presented in brutal detail, and there's a brief chapter on the present day cult of the Romanovs. It's obviously well researched, but given the amount of lying and obfuscation that went on after the executions, I'm not sure anyone could ever have a definitive narrative of the night. Not a terrible book, but also not my favorite. ( )
  duchessjlh | Apr 19, 2016 |
Being an exhaustive account of the Romanov family's imprisonment and execution. Despite the book's compact physical format, It is difficult to imagine a more definitive treatment of the matter; I have rarely read any book which rivals this avalanche of minutiae. To cite a few of the many available examples, the reader shares an inventory of the family luggage, various opinions on which medicines were most effective at treating the Czar's hemorrhoids, the names of the scrubwomen who cleaned the family's floor as well as two schoolboys who got in trouble for throwing rocks at the house in which the Romanovs were imprisoned, and how many eggs the guards' commandant ordered in on the morning of the execution.

The book's organization is idiosyncratic but appropriate; each chapter bears a date, but that usually serves only to prompt the author's riffings on some event, usually quotidian, which occurred that day, and off she goes on backstory such as mini-biographies of each member of the family, what the Soviet leadership in Moscow was thinking, or the fitful interest among the Allied powers' governments in attempting the family's rescue. There are a lot of balls to keep in the air, but the author, a splendid writer, pulls it off nicely. This book is a treasure for the Romanov obsessive; others might be content with something a little less daunting. ( )
  Big_Bang_Gorilla | Feb 22, 2016 |
Decent historical account of the last fourteen days of the Romanov family. The author doesn't hold back with the grisly details, which was fine with me.

However, the book dragged in places for me when describing some of the long term politics leading up to the death of the Romanovs and the war history (both the Bolshevik revolution and WWI). I found myself skimming those parts to get back to what interested me more.

Overall worth the read. ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
Everyone knows the rough story of the Romanov's and most people have at least a passing familiarity with the story of Anastasia. This book didn't deal with the myth, only briefly mentioning it near the end of the book after the facts were covered. The book deals with the Romanov family's imprisonment in the city of Ekaterinburg, a Bolshevik stronghold and their stay in the 'House of Special Purpose' which would eventually be the site of their slaughter. Each chapter covers a day - explaining the events that were happening around them, including foreign reports and the diplomatic efforts at getting their freedom (and the botched efforts and occasional lack of action by certain governments.) or at least reporting what was going on. There are brief mentions of Rasputin and his influence over Alexandra, and the history of the family and their personalities. For example, it was fascinating that Maria was the only one of the women who didn't have as many jewels in her outfit because they didn't trust her after she had had a relationship with one of her previous captors.

The book is concise, and doubly tragic because of it. The harshness of their environment and living conditions wasn't over blown, and the worsening in conditions and the cool way the executioners decided their fate, and planned it, carried it out and disposed the body was terrifying tbh. The actual execution though was awful - the cool way they lined them up and made them wait, came back and read the order, came back and read the order, then pulled the gun and shot Nicholas once, before the rest of the executioners all reacted and shot him as well, then turning to Alexandra and the rest of the family and shooting indiscriminately. Then, because they were mostly untrained, and many of them drunk, they hadn't killed them cleanly and attempted to bayonet them as well only to be prevented because of the jewels sewn into the clothes. The execution of 11 people took more than 20 minutes, and even then they still didn't kill one of the girls cleanly and she woke up screaming when they tried to move her body and had to be killed again. The most tragic aspect though was the description of how the young boy died.

The execution was supposed to be 'clean', but it was anything but and the attempts at destroying the corpses using acid, grenades and burning them were only partially successful such was the squad's incompetence. The real tragedy is that the Czechs were less than 20 miles away when the executioners acted.

It's just a tragic story and made doubly so because when you take away the politics, you really were just left with a regular family who would have been content with exile. This is definitely worth a read if you're interested in that period. Other books would maybe give a more vivid background on the extreme complexities that condemned them but this gives enough background to get an appreciation about it and concentrates more about the human issues. ( )
  sunnycouger | Sep 20, 2013 |
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Don't you forget what's divine in the Russian soul -- and that's resignation. -Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes, 1911.
For my daughters, Dani and Lucy
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On the evening of 29 April 1918, a special train stood in a siding at the remote railway halt of Lyubinskaya on the Trans-Siberian railway line, not far from the city of Omsk.
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A brilliant account of the political forces swirling through the remote Urals town of Ekaterinburg at the bitter end of the First World War. Challenges the view that the deaths of the Romanovs were a unilateral act by a maverick group of Bolsheviks, and identifies a chain of command that stretches to Moscow-- and to Lenin himself.

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