Little Blue World vol.6 n°3, fall 2006

Yes, Anastasia ?

Monday 8 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

[Since new elements appeared in 2008 and 2009, I added my own text at the end of this article - Cécile]

Almost immediatly after the assassination of the Romanovs in 1918, whispers began that the destruction of the family was incomplete. When a young woman jumped off a bridge in Berlin in 1920, many people declared that the thwarted-suicide, who had no i.d. and refused to identify herself, was the Grand Duchess Anastasia, an adolescent at the time of her family’s annihilation.

The story of the woman who came to be known as Anna Anderson has given rise to three major movies and at least one song, Tori’s sweeping conclusion to her second solo album, Under the Pink.

In 1994, Tori told B-Side magazine that she had been visited by the ghost of Anastasia. “She comes and goes, ‘you’ve got to write my tune.’” “The feeling I got,” Tori said, was “that Anna Anderson was Anastasia Romanov. She always tried to prove it, and a lot of people believed her, and some people didn’t want to believe her, because of what that would have meant.” (“In the Name of the Mother” April/May 1994)

Anna Anderson’s identification with the Romanovs began as soon as she was sent to a mental asylum in 1920, when some people considered she might be Anastasia’s sister Tatiana. After she announced herself as Anastasia, she was visited by one of the Romanov’s ladies-in-waiting, who angrily declared her an impostor -a declaration that did nothing to quell the growing rumors.

According to Anna, she had been rescued after the massacre by a soldier named Tschaikovski, who had whisked her to Romania, married her, and fathered her son. When her husband died and their child was put in an orphanage, Anna walked to Berlin to seek out Anastasia’s aunt, Princess Irene. Fearing she would not be recognized, she attempted suicide instead.

Irene at first denied Anna’s resemblance to Anastasia, although years later it was reported that she cried and acknowledged, “She is similar.” But her son Sigismund, who had been a childhood friend of Anastasia’s, was convinced. So were a number of Romanov relatives and friends, who helped to support Anna during these years. Others, including Anastasia’s tutor, vacillated before eventually declaring her a fraud. In 1928, twelve members of the Romanov family denounced her. One of these was the Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse.

Anna had made an enemy of him when she claimed that he had visited Czar Nicholas’ family in 1916, when his own country and Russia were at war. Ernst denied it vehemently, and -some say to undermine her claims- hired a detective, who declared that Anna was a Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska, who’d disappeared soon after being injured at work by an exploding grenade. Years later, Ernst’s stepson testified that Ernst had, indeed, visited the Romanovs as Anna said.

In 1938, Anna brought the matter of her identity to a German court. During the trial, physicians, anthropologists and even a handwriting expert testified that they believed Anna. She had an identical foot deformity, had a mole excised from a similar location, and had similar facial features. According to one specialist, if they were not the same person, Anna was Anastasia’s identical twin. Nevertheless, in 1967 the court dismissed her case as unproven.

Anna was living in America when the grave of the Romanovs was found in the 1970s. [1979, but the bodies were only excavated in 1991 because the discoverers wanted to keep the grave hidden from the Communists that still ruled Russia at the time,ndrl] In it were only 9 of the expected 11 bodies. One of the missing was Anastasia. When Anna died in 1984, the debate over her identity was unresolved. In 1993, a computer-assisted comparison found a high probability that Anna and Anastasia were the same. Then in 1994, two of Anna’s defenders took samples of Anna’s tissues to a lab for a DNA testing. To the astonishment of her supporters, the results indicated that Anna was Franziska Schanzkowska. But was she?

Anna’s followers have debated the results, noting that the scientists who conducted the testing themselves referred to the samples as “putatively” Anna’s. Some believe a conspiracy still exists to rob Anna of her rightful identity. Two potential culprits exist: the Russian state, who may have wished to prevent Anna and her heirs from claiming her inheritance, and the Russian Orthodox Church, who have recently declared Nicholas, Alexandra and their children saints. Anna’s supporters note that the preponderance of evidence is in her favor. As historian Peter Kurth says, “[T]he price of accepting Anna Anderson’s identity with Franziska Schanzkowska is the willful disregard of all evidence to the contrary -in itself an irrational act.”

The effort to prove Anna Anderson’s story lives on.

Angela Reid


[new discoveries since 2006 and questions raised]

Anastasia’s survival was definitely scientifically dismissed in March 2009. In January 2008, Russians scientists announced that the remains excavated from a grave in Ekaterinburg in August 2007 were most likely those of Anastasia and her young brother Alexei, whose body was also presumable missing from the grave excavated in 1991. The final results of the DNA testings were published by Dr. Michael Coble of the US Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in March 2009 and confirmed that they belonged to the two missing members of the family. Anna Anderson was therefore officially considered an impostor with the release of these results.

While a part of Anna’s defendors accepted the results, the rumors of manipulation, which were already very persistent since 1994, didn’t die. One of the arguments exposed by Anna’s followers is that the bones belonging to the two Romanov bodies were not complete and the scientists had a hard time processing to the testings with the few they had. Even if the results were indeed conclusive and the remains belonged to members of the Romanov family, it doesn’t fully exclude a theory exposed by historian Peter Kurth in his book in 1993: the Bolshevik secret police could have deliberately dug a second grave and burried some parts of two of the nine bodies (which were very badly salvaged after their death) to cover the fact they may have left two members of the Imperial family (Anastasia and possibly Alexei, though the survival of the young boy seems less credible) escape.

Forging a true opinion is practically impossible since there is evidence in both senses: some of the facts that were pointed by Anna’s followers as evidence of her true identity could be very easily explained in some cases. For instance, the fact that she was able to give some details about the family could be explained by the fact she spent a long time with Tatiana Melnik, the niece of Serge Botkin (head of the Russian Refugee office in Berlin), and the daughter of the imperial family’s personal physician, Dr. Eugene Botkin. Melnik claimed she believed Anna was Anastasia and, as she found out she had memory blanks, she filled her in with a lot of information on the Romanovs to refresh her memory, and some claim that she may have been fully aware Anna wasn’t Anastasia but decided to give her the informations she needed to convince people she truly was. Many people who took care of Anna were then suspected to have manipulated her to get a hold of the Romanov’s fortune if her identity was proven.

Of course, if she truly was who she claimed to be, Russia had all reasons to fear the consequences when people would learn the truth and may have tried to burry the case. The Russian people had to deal with guilt for the family’s massacre when the circontances of their death was uncovered by the notes of the Bolshevik secret police: it was very brutal, disorganized and two of the daughters couldn’t be killed with bullets and had to be finished off with bayonets. The remains were buried by the Church, which later recognized Nicholas II, Alexandra and their children as martyrs. If two or even one of the bodies were indeed missing, Russia’s mourning could never end and what happened to Anastasia, if she had indeed escaped and took the name of Anna, could have amounted to an insurmontable scandal. From this standpoint, everything is possible and both parties definitely had their reasons to manipulate the public and scientific opinion.

If we rely on the fact that the remains of the two bodies found in 2007 belonged to a young boy and a teenager or a young woman, the fact that Anastasia and her brother died seems indeed probable. Maybe this story of survival felt so romantic and allegorical that people preferred this version to a more down-to-earth side of the story. Maybe not. After all, details in favor of Anna Anderson were so abundant that it took more than 80 years to science to deny them whereas the ten other women who claimed to be Anastasia after 1918 were discredited as impostors very fast.

And if Alexei could indeed have been slaughtered (he was the only son of the family, so the fact that one of the two remains were identified as belonging to a young male Romanov makes his death more than certain), the second body could be a part of one of the other grand duchesses. Whatever the truth, the events and succeeding discoveries surrounding the Romanov massacre truly turned into one of the greatest myths of the 20th century (much like the mysteries surrounding Rennes-le-Château in France), and we all know that myths don’t die, so the rumours around Anna Anderson’s true identity won’t completely disappear. Tori, passionnate about feminine archetypes, mythology and history, took the historical facts and the myth and weaved them in one of her masterpieces: the song “Yes, Anastasia,” a truly allegorical and universal song. Myths transcend reality and teach us about the demons hidden in our history, so be it.

Cécile Desbrun

information sources/read more about the subject