Book Club: The Ro­manovs

DE­SPITE A CEN­TURY OF CON­SPIR­ACY THE­O­RIES TO THE CON­TRARY, NO ONE SUR­VIVED THE 1918 KILLING OF NI­CHOLAS AND HIS FAM­ILY. IN THE RACE TO SAVE THE RO­MANOVS, HE­LEN RAPPAPORT WON­DERS: COULD ANY­ONE HAVE RES­CUED THEM FROM THEIR FATE?

Smithsonian Magazine - - Contents - By Anna Di­a­mond

Why do the Ro­manovs still fas­ci­nate us?

This was one of the most ex­ten­sively pho­tographed fam­i­lies in the world. You only have to look at the pic­tures of those four lovely sis­ters in their white dresses to un­der­stand why the mur­der of these in­no­cent chil­dren sticks in peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tions. The 100th an­niver­sary of the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion in 1917 passed al­most un­no­ticed in Rus­sia— many now con­sider the rev­o­lu­tion a crime—but I think there will be a mass ven­er­a­tion of the Ro­manovs on the an­niver­sary of their deaths in July.

Could any­one have saved them?

The Ger­mans had the best shot when they ne­go­ti­ated the Treaty of Brest-Li­tovsk with the Bol­she­viks in March 1918. But I don’t think they would have ac­cepted the Ger­mans’ help. The Ro­manovs thought their place was with the Rus­sian peo­ple. It would have been hard for them to leave.

How did the other monar­chs in Europe re­act to the Ro­manovs’ plight?

A lot of their royal rel­a­tives were not sym­pa­thetic un­til the chil­dren got caught up in this. They felt that the fam­ily could have pre­vented or dif­fused the sit­u­a­tion. The Ro­manovs were a po­lit­i­cal hot potato, so for all the monar­chs it was “Let’s try and keep out of it. Let’s pass the buck to some­one else.”

How would his­tory be dif­fer­ent if the fam­ily had fled?

If they had left Rus­sia, they would have lived in ex­ile and ob­scu­rity. The big­ger ques­tion is, what if there hadn’t been a rev­o­lu­tion? If Ni­cholas had taken the ad­vice he was given he might have been able to ini­ti­ate re­forms be­fore war broke out. Maybe Rus­sia could have be­come a con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy. It would have been a rad­i­cal move away from the old au­to­cratic sys­tem but just imag­ine a truly demo­cratic Rus­sia with a be­nign monarch like Queen El­iz­a­beth II!

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