Not even blood rel­a­tives came to their aid

THE MUR­DER OF THE ROMANOVS By An­drew Cook Am­ber­ley/IPG, $13.95, 256 pages, il­lus­trated

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By Martin Ru­bin Martin Ru­bin is a writer and critic in Pasadena, Calif,

It is nearly a cen­tury since Ni­cholas II, Czar of All the Rus­sias un­til his ab­di­ca­tion in March 1917, was mur­dered along with his wife, four daugh­ters, he­mo­phil­iac son, his doc­tor and as­sorted ser­vants in the cel­lar of a house in Eka­ter­in­burg, a city east of the Ural moun­tains.

But if ever there was a story that will not die, this is it. And for very good rea­sons. It is not only in its quid­dity a hor­ren­dous crime, but has ten­ta­cles con­nect­ing its past and its fu­ture with the tur­bu­lent times in which it was only one of con­cur­rent mon­strosi­ties per­pe­trated by the brutish Bol­she­viks, who had just clawed their way to power.

Bri­tish au­thor and tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary pro­ducer An­drew Cook is em­i­nently qual­i­fied to ex­plore the many facets of this ter­ri­ble tale, chill­ing in so many ways, that it can still send shiv­ers down one’s spine.

His knowl­edge of de­tail is matched by his equally wide-rang­ing at­tune­ment to his­tor­i­cal and geopo­lit­i­cal cross­cur­rents, al­low­ing him to spin a tale of hypocrisy, hard-heart­ed­ness, cru­elty and mer­ci­less­ness made all the more heartrend­ing by the might-have-beens, the near es­capes, the pa­thetic at­tempts at pro­tec­tion that back­fired.

No won­der that Cza­rina Alexan­dra, more in­tro­spec­tive, in­tel­li­gent, and ed­u­cated than her hap­less hus­band, was haunted by the fate of Louis XVI and Marie An­toinette dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion a cen­tury and a quar­ter ear­lier.

There are so many con­gru­ences be­tween the fates of the doomed royal cou­ples, from the un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts at flight to be­ing used as pawns by their own coun­tries’ gov­ern­ments and for­eign pow­ers ruled by close rel­a­tives, that to bor­row a phrase iron­i­cally from the orig­i­na­tor of Ni­cholas and Alexan­dra’s un­do­ing, Karl Marx, a specter was haunt­ing them.

If the hap­less Rus­sian roy­als emerge not merely as vic­tims and mar­tyrs but as true pa­tri­ots, the same can­not be said for some of their near­est and dear­est. And no one comes out worse in this sorry tale than Bri­tish King Ge­orge V, first cousin to both Ni­cholas and Alexan­dra.

The Bri­tish and French gov­ern­ments wished to bring their re­cently de­posed ally and his fam­ily to safe ex­ile and Alexan­der Keren­sky, who had re­placed the czar, worked tire­lessly to bring this about.

But iron­i­cally, the big­gest stum­bling block came from Buck­ing­ham Palace, which kept thwart­ing the ef­forts of Prime Min­is­ter Lloyd Ge­orge and his ad­min­is­tra­tion from res­cu­ing the Rus­sian royal kin­folk. Their rea­sons range from the sor­did — who would pay for their up­keep — to the pusil­lan­i­mous, the lat­ter be­ing all too graph­i­cally il­lus­trated by what Mr. Cook writes and then goes on to quote:

“The King’s tem­per had now risen to a crescendo of anx­i­ety; the prob­lem had as­sumed enor­mous, threat­en­ing pro­por­tions in his mind . . . . His queru­lous voice could be heard over [his Pri­vate Sec­re­tary] Stam­ford­ham’s shoul­der:

“‘The King wishes me to write again on the sub­ject of my let­ter of this morn­ing. He must beg you to rep­re­sent to the Prime Min­is­ter that from all he reads and hears in the press, the res­i­dence in this coun­try of an Ex-Em­peror and Em­press would be strongly re­sented by the pub­lic and would un­doubt­edly com­pro­mise the po­si­tion of the King and Queen, from whom it is gen­er­ally sup­posed the in­vi­ta­tion has em­anated….. the op­po­si­tion to the Em­peror and Em­press com­ing here is so strong that we must be al­lowed to with­draw from the con­sent pre­vi­ously given to the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal.’”

Can there be a more strik­ing ex­am­ple of bru­tal Realpoli­tik can­celling out any ves­tige of fam­ily feel­ing, let alone com­mon de­cency and mercy? It makes the croc­o­dile tears shed by King Ge­orge nau­se­at­ing to read about, es­pe­cially in light of his get­ting the gov­ern­ment to take the blame for what was his — and most def­i­nitely not theirs — aban­don­ment of his rel­a­tives to their ghastly fate.

Iron­i­cally, it was an­other cousin of the Im­pe­rial cou­ple, their ad­ver­sary Kaiser Wil­helm, who wanted to res­cue them and, writes Mr. Cook, “the Bol­she­viks were aware that they had a bar­gain­ing tool….[but the czar] “fumed about Kaiser Wil­helm hav­ing — by deign­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with the Bol­she­viks — be­trayed the monar­chi­cal prin­ci­ple… [and] ‘I would rather die in Rus­sia than be saved by the Ger­mans,’ Alexan­dra wrote.”

What a topsy-turvy world where your al­lies and close rel­a­tives con­sign you to a dread­ful fate and your en­e­mies are will­ing to save you, al­beit for their own rea­sons.

Mr. Cook puts all this in fine his­tor­i­cal con­text, from the lie per­pe­trated within the Soviet Union for decades that only the czar had been ex­e­cuted, his fam­ily be­ing al­lowed to live hap­pily in ex­ile, to the fi­nal foren­sic proof only a decade ago of the whole fam­ily’s bod­ies be­ing buried since 1918. A sorry tale all round, but one vividly told in all its twists and turns in these pages.

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