17 July 2018

100 Years Ago Today: Execution of Tsar Nicholas II

Intro Copy

Anniversaries surrounding World War I are rarely uplifting events, but this particular commemoration is especially somber. July 17 marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Czar Nicholas II of Russia and the murder of his entire family. The First World War was not going well for Russia. Soldiers were dying by the hundreds of thousands, and the war effort was causing massive food shortages and starvation at home. Nicholas departed Saint Petersburg for the Eastern Front to help direct the war. He left behind his wife Alexandra to run the Empire in his absence. With assistance from the “Mad Monk” Rasputin, the situation back home in Russia went from bad to worse. Rasputin was murdered. Workers began to go on strike, and soon thereafter, soldiers began to strike as well. The Tsar's own generals recommended that he resign, which he did on March 15. Nicholas and his family were placed under house arrest at the Alexander Palace by the provisional government. The Bolsheviks (Communists), led by Vladimir Lenin, realized that it would be too dangerous for their revolutionary movement to allow the Tsar to live. The family was moved first to Tobolsk, then to a house in Ekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains. At Ekaterinburg, the Romanov family was kept in the Ipatiev House. The Tsar and Alexandra felt a sense of foreboding when they learned that the guards were referring to the residence as the “House of Special Purpose.” After midnight and into the early hours of July 17, the Romanovs were awakened by guards and told that they were to be moved again. They were ordered to get dressed and move to the basement to await transportation. In the basement, they were lined up against a wall for a photograph, with Nicholas and Alexandra sitting in two chairs. Suddenly, more guards entered the room, and Yakov Yurovsky, the commandant of the House, read an order: “in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee had decided to execute you.”1 Nicholas said, “What? What?,” then the guards raised their weapons and began firing. Confusion reigned as some of the family members fell dead while bullets seemed to bounce off the girls. The family had sewn jewels into the bodices of the girls’ dresses and the bullets were ricocheting back at the guards. Eventually, the entire family, along with four other members of their household, were shot, bayoneted and clubbed to death. A truck took the bodies to a bog in a nearby forest where soldiers stripped them, poured acid on them, burned them, then buried them in a shallow grave. The fate of the Romanovs remained a mystery until 1979 when the burial site was discovered by an amateur grave hunter, but the existence of the grave was kept secret until the Glasnost period in 1989. Two of the children’s bodies were missing from the original grave site, leading many to believe that they survived the murders. But, in 2007, a second, smaller grave was found. DNA tests showed that the two bodies from the second grave were indeed those of the missing children. All but the last two bodies are entombed in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg. The Russian Orthodox Church, rejecting the results of the DNA tests, has prevented burial of the last two children while it conducts its own investigation. The Soviet Union long denied that Vladimir Lenin had anything to do with the murders of the Romanovs, but the diary of Leon Trotsky reveals that Lenin, in fact, ordered the execution himself. In August 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized the Romanov family. The Church of All Saints now sits on the site of the former “House of Special Purpose.”

Don’t have eLibrary? Request a free trial.

 
  1. Execution in the Night The Gazette (Newspaper)
Extras: In addition to Tsar Nicholas II (50) and Tsarina Alexandra (46), the children murdered were Olga (22), Tatiana (21), Maria (19), Anastasia (17) and Alexei (13). If history teachers and librarians wish to guide students into further study on this topic, eLibrary has many articles, photographs and videos of the Romanov family. I would also like to recommend a couple of Alexander Street Videos: The Assassination of Tsar Nicholas II (part of the Infamous Assassinations series) and Mystery of the Last Tsar If you want to dig even deeper, I highly recommend the book Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie, along with the 1996 film Rasputin, starring Alan Rickman.