Wednesday, August 4, 2010


In 1918, the Russian revolution was raging. The Bolsheviks had captured the Russian royal family. They were being held prisoner at a house in the town of Yekaterinburg. Then, on July 16, the Bolsheviks shot them all: Nicholas II, Alexandra, and their children. Yet the bodies weren’t found until 60 years later! For more than ten years, the two men who discovered the bodies were afraid to talk. Without evidence, no one could prove that the entire family was dead. Rumors flew. Most of the rumors were centered on the youngest child—a 17-year-old girl named Anastasia. In 1921, a young woman in a German mental hospital refused to say her name. Then one day, the nameless patient saw an article titled, “Did Anastasia Survive the Massacre?” Along with the article was a picture of the princess. A nurse, Anna Chemnitz, remembered the patient asking, “Can’t you see the similarity between us two?” Soon several Russian exiles came to the mental hospital to meet her. These people had fled their homes and their country when the Bolsheviks took over. Now they arrived, one after another, hoping to see their lost princess, Anastasia. For these Russian exiles, Anastasia was a link to the past, to the lives they once led. To the rest of the world, Anastasia was a romantic figure. She was the royal princess who had somehow escaped death and then reappeared! It seemed like a miracle. The young woman’s story was this: She had not been killed, but wounded. Along with her mother and sisters, she had hidden jewels in her corset. When the Bolsheviks fired at them, she said, the bullets bounced off their clothes. According to the young woman, a palace guard found that she was still alive. He smuggled her into Romania, where she later married him. After he was killed in a street fight with Bolsheviks, she traveled to Berlin. Her goal was to find her grandmother, the Empress. But the Empress refused to see her. The girl was so downhearted, she tried to kill herself. That’s how she ended up in a mental hospital—and eventually forgot who she was. Russian exiles spent hours with the young woman, who now called herself Anna Anderson. They reminisced about Russia’s royal court in the “old days.” Through Anna Anderson, the exiles remembered their world, which was gone forever. After finding her a home, they helped Anna Anderson try to prove that she was truly Anastasia. Anna’s fame grew as her portrait appeared on chocolate boxes and cigarette packs. There were three movies about her, a play, and many books. One day a Baroness Buxhoeveden came to see her. The Baroness had been a lady-in-waiting to a powerful family of the old royal court. She claimed that Anderson was a fraud. In turn, Anna said she was afraid of the baroness, because she’d betrayed the royal family. Then, in 1927, a story appeared in a German newspaper. A young Berlin woman had recognized Anna Anderson as her former roommate. She said that Anna Anderson was really Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish factory worker. But Anna Anderson stood firm. She insisted she was really Anastasia. And who could prove her wrong? The bodies of the royal family had not been found. And the Russian government was silent on the subject. For years, to keep people aware of her story, Anderson tried to prove she was Anastasia. By 1968, perhaps she was tired of her efforts. She went to live in the United States. There she met and married a rich historian, Jack Manahan. Her husband believed her story. They lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, until her death in 1984. In 1991, the bones of the royal family were found at last. By this time, scientists were able to use DNA samples. There was no doubt that this was the royal family. While living in the United States, Anna had surgery. A bit of tissue from that operation had been saved at the hospital. Scientists compared Anderson’s DNA to that of the royal family. There was no match. Instead, the DNA actually proved that Anna Anderson was Franziska Schanzkowska. The tests persuaded almost everyone. But Anderson had convinced hundreds of people that she was, indeed, the princess Anastasia. Many relatives of the royal family and the family’s household staff believed her. These were people who would have known Anastasia as a child. It even seems likely that Franziska Schanzkowska herself believed that she was Anastasia.


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