Mrs. Tchaikovsky is either Grand Duchess Anastasia or a miracle.
—Ambassador Sergei Botkin, president of the Russian Refugee Office in Berlin, 1926
One Romanov claim stood apart from the others. From her appearance in 1920 to her death in 1984, the identity of the woman known variously as Fräulein Unbekannt (Miss Unknown), Mrs. Alexander Tschaikovsky, Anna Anderson, Anastasia Manahan, and Franziska Schanzkowska was one of the celebrated mysteries of the twentieth century. She insisted that she was Grand Duchess Anastasia, Nicholas II’s youngest daughter. The survivors of the revolution, some of whom had known Anastasia well, disagreed passionately among themselves about the legitimacy of this claim. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grand dukes, grand duchesses, former ladies-in-waiting, former nursemaids, tutors, army officers, officers of the Imperial yacht, even Nicholas II’s former mistress, were called upon or presented themselves to give opinions. They made declarations, signed affidavits, gave interviews, and wrote books. Her cause called up devotion and personal sacrifice from an international legion of supporters. At the same time, it brought down, upon her, her supporters, and her opponents, denunciation, lawsuits, and, in some cases, financial ruin. When she died, the solution appeared no closer than it had been sixty-four years earlier, when she first appeared.
At nine o’clock on the night of February 17, 1920—nineteen months after the murders in Ekaterinburg—a young woman jumped twenty feet from a bridge into the Landwehr Canal in Berlin. A policeman saw her, rescued her, and took her to a hospital. She had no purse, no papers, no identification of any kind. Questioned when she recovered, she refused to say who she was, where she lived, or how she supported herself. When the police persisted, she pulled a blanket over her face and turned to the wall. After six weeks, she was sent to Dalldorf Mental Asylum as Fräulein Unbekannt and placed in a ward with fourteen other women. On arrival, her height was five feet, two inches, her weight, 110 pounds. Medical examination showed that her body was covered with scars and, so the doctors believed, that she was not a virgin. Her teeth were in poor condition, and seven or eight were extracted by asylum dentists.
She remained in Dalldorf for over two years. After months of silence, she began to talk to some of the nurses. Later, one—a Russian-speaking German—said that she spoke Russian “like a native.” In the autumn of 1921, turning through an illustrated magazine containing pictures of the Russian Imperial family, the patient asked another nurse whether she noticed any resemblance between herself and the tsar’s youngest daughter. When the nurse agreed that there was a resemblance, the patient declared that she was Grand Duchess Anastasia. Word filtered out of the hospital that Grand Duchess Tatiana was present, and Baroness Buxhoevden, a former lady-in-waiting to Empress Alexandra, came to see her. When the patient refused to speak and hid beneath her blanket, the baroness roughly pulled back the cover and then stormed away, declaring, “She’s too short to be Tatiana.” Subsequently, the patient told her nurses again that she was Anastasia. At the end of May 1922, Fräulein Unbekannt left Dalldorf and went to live in a small Berlin apartment with a Russian Baltic baron and his wife. Soon the baron’s parlor was filled with other Russian emigres eager to see her for themselves and listen to her story.
According to her, when the bodies of her family were being carried from the cellar, one of the soldiers noticed that, although unconscious, she was still alive. This man, a Pole who assumed the name of Alexander Tschaikovsky, carried her, assisted by his brother Sergei, to his house in Ekaterinburg. Soon after, Alexander, Sergei, their mother, sister, and the semiconscious young woman fled Ekaterinburg in a peasant cart. Four and a half months and two thousand miles later, they crossed the border into Rumania and settled in Bucharest. There, to her distress, the young woman discovered that she was pregnant. Tschaikovsky confessed to rape. When the child, a son, was born out of wedlock, the mother wanted only to be rid of it. At the age of three months, the baby was handed over to Tschaikovsky’s mother and sister. “My only desire was that it would be taken away,” the baby’s mother said. The infant was placed in an orphanage and, thereafter, vanished from history and legend. At some point, according to one version of this tale, the mother and Alexander Tschaikovsky were married in a ceremony supposedly performed in a Roman Catholic church. Not long after, she said, Tschaikovsky was killed in a street fight in Bucharest.
The young woman said that she decided to go to Berlin to ask for help from Empress Alexandra’s sister Princess Irene of Prussia, who was Grand Duchess Anastasia’s godmother as well as her aunt. Because she had no passport and no money, a male companion, possibly Sergei Tschaikovsky, helped her to walk across Europe, crossing borders at night to avoid detection. Reaching Berlin, she went to Princess Irene’s Netherlands Palace. Standing alone before the gates, she decided that her aunt probably was not at home and that no one inside would recognize her. In a moment of despair, she threw herself into the canal.
That was her story of her escape. A subsequent check of the names of the guards at the Ipatiev House revealed no Alexander Tschaikovsky, nor, indeed, was there a family named Tschaikovsky living in or near Ekaterinburg in 1918. During the 1920s, researchers in Bucharest discovered no trace of any Tschaikovsky living in that city, nor any record of a marriage and birth recorded under that name, nor any record of a murder or death in the streets or anywhere else of a man by the name. For Grand Duchess Anastasia to have spent months in Bucharest and not have appealed to Queen Marie of Rumania, who was a first cousin of both her father and her mother, whom she had seen in June 1914, when there was talk of a marriage between the Russian and Rumanian families, was, according to Marie’s daughter, “unexplainable.”
The claimant later said that she did not go to the queen in Bucharest because she was pregnant and ashamed. Anastasia’s aunt Grand Duchess Olga rejected that excuse, saying, “In 1918 or 1919,
Queen Marie would have recognized Anastasia on the spot.… Marie would never have been shocked at anything, and a niece of mine would have known it.… My niece would have known that her condition would indeed have shocked [Princess] Irene.” Thus, Olga found it unthinkable that a daughter of the tsar would turn her back on Queen Marie and walk across Europe to seek out Princess Irene.
All in all, “the escape” was perhaps the least verifiable of the chapters of the Anastasia legend; it had to be accepted on faith—as it was by her supporters—or rejected as wildly improbable—as it was by her opponents. In the end, it was no longer an issue. Those on either side of the argument were not interested in how she got away from the cellar. They wanted to know who she was.
Anastasia Nicholaevna, the fourth and youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra, was born on June 18, 1901. Her older sisters Olga and Tatiana occupied the positions of authority among the Imperial children; her third sister, Marie, was gentle, merry, and flirtatious; this left Anastasia, a short, dumpy, blue-eyed child, to make her family reputation as a rebel and a wag. When the saluting cannon on the Imperial yacht fired at sunset, Anastasia retreated into a corner, stuck her fingers in her ears, widened her eyes, and lolled her tongue in mock terror. Quick-witted and comical, she was also stubborn, mischievous, and impertinent. The same gift of ear and tongue that made her quickest among her sisters to pick up good pronunciation in foreign languages equipped her admirably as a mimic. She aped, sometimes cruelly, the speech and mannerisms of those about her. She climbed trees, refusing to come down until specifically commanded to do so by her father. She rarely cried. Her aunt Grand Duchess Olga remembered a time when Anastasia was teasing so ruthlessly that she slapped the child. The little girl’s face went crimson, but instead of crying she ran soundlessly out of the room. Sometimes, Anastasia’s practical jokes went too far. Once she rolled a rock into a snowball and threw it at Tatiana. The missile hit her sister in the face and knocked her, stunned, to the ground. Frightened, at last Anastasia cried.
As daughters of a Russian tsar, without a range of friends, the four grand duchesses were closer than most sisters. Olga, the eldest, was only six years older than Anastasia, the youngest. In adolescence, the four proclaimed their unity by choosing for themselves a single autograph, OTMA, derived from the first letter of each of their names. As OTMA, they jointly signed letters and gave gifts. They were brought up simply. They slept in hard camp beds without pillows and began each day with a cold bath. They worked alongside maids making their beds. They made requests rather than gave commands: “If it isn’t too difficult for you, my mother asks you to come.” Within the household, they were addressed not as Your Imperial Highness but in simple Russian fashion as Olga Nicholaevna or Anastasia Nicholaevna. Among themselves, to their father, and to the servants, they spoke Russian. To their mother, who was brought up in England by her grandmother Queen Victoria, they spoke English.
To those who knew them, the appearance and characteristics of the four grand duchesses were clearly distinct. Baroness Buxhoevden remembered Anastasia’s “fair hair, fine eyes, and dark eyebrows that nearly met.… She was rather short even at seventeen and … decidedly fat.… the originator of all mischief.” Tatiana Botkin, the daughter of the family doctor killed in the cellar, recalled Anastasia’s “luminous blue eyes” and that she was “lively, rough, mischievous.… When Anastasia Nicholaevna laughed, she would never turn her head to look at you. She would glance at you from the corner of her eye with a roguish look.” Gleb Botkin, Tatiana’s younger brother, remembered Anastasia’s hair, “blond with a slightly reddish luster, long, wavy, and soft. Her features were irregular. Her nose was rather long and her mouth quite wide. She had a small, straight chin.” He also remembered her as autocratic and not in the least interested in what others thought of her. Anastasia’s cousin Princess Xenia, two years younger, recollected the youngest grand duchess as a playmate who was “frightfully temperamental, wild and rough,” who “cheated at games, kicked, scratched, and pulled hair.”
For eight years after being plucked from the canal, the claimant lived mostly in Germany. Beginning in 1922, members of the former German Imperial family, the Hohenzollerns, came to discover whether this was, in fact, their Russian relative. The first was Anastasia’s aunt Princess Irene of Prussia, married to the brother of the former kaiser. Aunt Irene had not seen her niece since 1913, before the outbreak of war between Germany and Russia, when Anastasia was twelve. Nine years had passed, enough to create difficulties in any remembrance, particularly of a sick person who had been through physical and emotional trauma. But Mrs. Tschaikovsky, as she now called herself, did not give her purported aunt a fair chance. Introduced under a false name, the princess stared hard across a table at the patient. Frightened, Mrs. Tschaikovsky jumped up and ran from the room. Princess Irene followed, but the patient turned away, put her face in her hands, and refused to speak. “She did not even answer when I asked her to say a word or give me a sign that she recognized me,” Princess Irene said. Offended by this behavior, the princess departed.
“I saw immediately that she could not be one of my nieces,” Irene wrote. “Even though I had not seen them for nine years, the fundamental facial characteristics could not have altered to that degree, in particular the position of the eyes, the ears, and so forth.” Later Princess Irene appeared less certain. “I could not have made a mistake,” she insisted when challenged by a nephew who believed in the claimant. “She is similar. She is similar. But what does that mean if it is not she?” Confused and distraught, the princess wept. But she never returned to visit Mrs. Tschaikovsky.
Gradually, other members of the former German Imperial family followed. In 1925, Crown Princess Cecilie, the former kaiser’s daughter-in-law, called on the claimant. Cecilie was “struck at first by the young person’s resemblance to the tsar’s mother and to the tsar himself, but I could see nothing of the tsarina in her.” Again, Mrs. Tschaikovsky provided no help. “It was virtually impossible to communicate with the young person,” Cecilie observed. “She remained completely silent, either from obstinacy or because she was totally bewildered.” Subsequently, Crown Princess Cecilie’s opinion wavered, as had Princess Irene’s. “I almost believe it must be she,” Cecilie declared. But, as Anastasia’s Aunt Irene and her Uncle Ernest of Hesse opposed the claim, Cecilie decided that “it was not my business to follow up the question of her identity.” By 1952, after three subsequent visits to the claimant, the crown princess had changed her mind. “Today, I am convinced she is the tsar’s youngest daughter,” she said. “I detect her mother’s features in her.” Responding to a birthday gift, Cecilie wrote to the claimant, “God bless you with a tender kiss from your loving Aunt Cecilie.” Princess Cecilie told her daughter-in-law, Princess Kyra of Russia, married to her son Prince Louis Ferdinand, by then the Hohenzollern pretender, “This [the claimant] is your cousin.” Louis Ferdinand and Kyra did not agree. Across the bottom of Cecilie’s affidavit testifying to the claimant’s legitimacy, Louis Ferdinand scrawled in large pen strokes: “Kyra and I find no resemblance.”
Meanwhile, another Hohenzollern, Princess Irene’s son Prince Sigismund of Prussia, dispatched from his home in Costa Rica a list of eighteen questions for the claimant to answer. They were secret things from their childhood, he said, which only his first cousin Anastasia could know. The claimant answered sufficiently well for Sigismund, sight unseen, to announce, “This has convinced me. She is undoubtedly Anastasia of Russia.”* Even the old ex-Kaiser Wilhelm II, living in exile in Holland, sent his second wife, Empress Hermine, to visit the claimant in a German sanatorium. No statement was issued, but from this august quarter, silence was assumed to mean assent.
The character of the young woman her purported relatives saw during these years was often unappealing. If she could be moody and rudely uncommunicative to a visiting Russian baroness or to German princesses, her behavior was far worse toward people who took her in and tried to help. In their presence, she was irritable, demanding, and despotic. Her temper was ferocious. “She gets so angry sometimes that she becomes simply frightening,” said one of her hostesses. “Her eyes acquire a fierce expression and she just trembles.” At such moments, she would threaten to “pave the streets with the skulls of her enemies” and to “hang all her relatives from lampposts for their treason.” She had no home or money, but usually it was she who would terminate a visit, storming out the door, hurling imprecations. Always, there was somewhere else to go. She moved endlessly from family to family, house to house, and, eventually, castle to castle. During the sixty-four years the claimant lived after being pulled from the canal, she was always dependent on benevolence and charity.
Poor health provided a partial excuse for her behavior. Particularly in the early years, she was always ill, shuttling in and out of hospitals, asylums, and sanatoria. In 1925, suffering from tuberculosis of the bone, she nearly died. Her mental health, also, was unstable. Her nerves were shattered and her memory impaired; this was the reason, her supporters said, that she had forgotten both Russian and English and spoke exclusively in German. Tatiana Botkin gave this explanation: “Her attitude is childlike, and altogether she cannot be reckoned with as an adult, responsible person, but must be led and directed as a child. She has not only forgotten languages, but she has in general lost the power of accurate narration, although not of thought. Even the simplest stories … she tells incoherently and incorrectly; they are really only words strung together in impossibly ungrammatical German.… Her defect is obviously in the region of the memory and in eye trouble. She says that, after her illness, she forgot how to tell time and had laboriously to learn it again.”
The claimant’s inability—or refusal—to speak Russian constituted a major stumbling block in her effort to be recognized as Anastasia. There were those, like the nurse at Dalldorf, who said that they had heard her speak “Russian like a native … she used whole, complete, connected sentences without any impediments.” A doctor’s report during the same period declared: “In her sleep, she speaks Russian with good pronunciation; mostly unessential things.” More often, she gave the impression that she understood Russian, although she did not speak it. The Russian surgeon who operated on her tubercular arm in 1925 said, “Before the operation, I spoke Russian with her, and she answered all my questions, although in German.”
Her supporters were divided: some, like Tatiana Botkin, blamed her inability to speak Russian on damage to her brain and consequent memory loss; others said that her refusal to speak her native language was the result of psychological inhibition caused by the trauma of imprisonment and the night in the cellar. The claimant herself explained that in Ekaterinburg the family was compelled to speak Russian so that the omnipresent guards could listen to their conversation; the language of the guards was rough, vile, and frequently obscene; the last words she heard in the cellar were Russian. Russian, to her, was the language of humiliation, terror, and death. Among her opponents, naturally, it was said that she did not speak Russian because she could not. The issue was never resolved. In 1965, a frustrated German judge tried singing Russian songs to her to determine whether she understood. She listened to him, impervious.
The most important potential witnesses were, of course, the principal members of the family she claimed to be her own, the Romanovs. Anastasia’s grandmother the Dowager Empress Marie had survived the revolution and returned to live in her native Denmark. The old woman, the senior surviving member of the dynasty, having refused to listen to reports of the death of her son and his family, had no interest in stories that one of her granddaughters, having borne a child out of wedlock, had appeared in Berlin. Empress Marie’s older daughter, Grand Duchess Xenia, living in London as a permanent guest of King George V, was not interested either. But the younger of Marie’s two daughters, Grand Duchess Olga, refused to turn her back, unseeing, on a young woman who might be her cherished Malenkaya (Little One).
In their youthful Aunt Olga Alexandrovna, the four young grand duchesses had had a special friend and benefactress. Every Saturday, she came from St. Petersburg to spend the day with her nieces at Tsarskoe Selo. Convinced that the young women needed to get away from the palace, she persuaded Empress Alexandra to let her take them to the city. Accordingly, every Sunday morning, the aunt and her four excited nieces boarded a train for the capital. The first stop was a formal luncheon with their grandmother the dowager empress. From there, they went on to tea, games, and dancing with other young people at Olga Alexandrovna’s house. “The girls enjoyed every minute of it,” the grand duchess wrote over fifty years later. “Especially my dear goddaughter [Anastasia]. I can still hear her laughter rippling all over the room. Dancing, music, games—she threw herself wholeheartedly into them all.”
Olga Alexandrovna herself had not had a happy early life. Wed at nineteen to Prince Peter of Oldenburg, a man not interested in women, she obtained, after fifteen years of unconsummated marriage, her brother’s permission for annulment. In 1916, she married the man she loved, a commoner, Colonel Nicholas Kulikovsky. After the revolution, Olga, her husband, and their two sons, Tikhon and Guri, settled in Denmark with her mother, the dowager empress. When news came of the claimant’s appearance, Grand Duchess Olga wrote to Pierre Gilliard, the former tutor of French to the Imperial children: “Please go at once to Berlin to see the poor lady. Suppose she really were the little one.… It would be such a disgrace if she were living all alone in her misery.… If it really is she, please send me a wire and I will come to Berlin to meet you.”
Gilliard was superbly qualified to carry out this mission. He knew the children of the Russian Imperial family better than any of those who had yet seen the claimant. For thirteen years, he had lived in the inner circle of the Imperial household, tutoring the young grand duchesses and the tsarevich several times a week. Gilliard’s dedication to the family was absolute. He followed them to Siberia and spent the winter with them in Tobolsk, continuing to give lessons, arranging French plays for his pupils to act in, and sawing wood in the courtyard with Nicholas and the tsarevich. He traveled with the family to Ekaterinburg, where only forcible separation by the Ural Soviet prevented him from joining them in the Ipatiev House. After the carnage in the cellar and the fall of the town to the Whites, Gilliard assisted Nicholas Sokolov in his investigation. Sifting through the grim remnants of the Four Brothers mine shaft, he cried out, “But the children? The children?” Gilliard left Russia in the company of the young grand duchesses’ maid, Alexandra Tegleva, called Shura. Returning to his native Switzerland in 1919, he married Shura and took up a professorship at the University of Lausanne.
When Pierre Gilliard received Grand Duchess Olga’s letter, he and his wife departed immediately for Berlin. The person they found in St. Mary’s Hospital was feverish, delirious, and hallucinating. A tubercular infection in her left arm, aggravated by a staphylococcus infection, had created an excruciating open wound. The arm itself had swollen “to a shapeless mass,” while the patient had shrunk to skeletal thinness. While the Gilliards sat by the bed, Shura asked to look at the patient’s feet. Grand Duchess Anastasia had suffered from a condition known as hallux valgus, a malformation of the joints at the root of both big toes which gave the impression that the enlarged knuckle was bent to one side. “The feet look like the Grand Duchess’s,” said Shura, when the blanket was removed. “With her [Anastasia] it was the same as here; the right foot was worse than the left.” Because the claimant was so ill, Gilliard insisted that she be moved to a better hospital. “The most important thing at the moment,” he said, “is to keep her alive. We will both come back as soon as her condition improves.” In a private clinic, a Russian surgeon removed the muscles and part of the bone of the left elbow, inserting a silver joint, which left bone permanently exposed. For weeks, the patient battled pain with repeated injections of morphine. Her weight dropped to under seventy-five pounds.
Three months later, Gilliard and his wife returned. First, Gilliard alone sat by the patient’s bed and said, “Please chat with me a little. Tell me everything you know about your past.” The claimant was shocked and angry. “I do not know how to chat,” she retorted. “Do you think that if someone had tried to kill you, as they did me, you would know much from before?” Gilliard left. That afternoon, a woman in a violet cloak entered the room, came up to the bed, smiled, and offered her hand. It was Grand Duchess Olga. She came again the next morning, and the two continued to talk, Olga in Russian, the patient in German. In the afternoon, Shura appeared. When the patient covered her hand with eau de cologne, Shura remembered that Grand Duchess Anastasia, “who was mad about perfume,” often had done the same thing. Standing on the balcony watching this scene, Olga said to one of the claimant’s friends, “Our Little One and Shura seem very happy to have found one another again. I am so happy that I came, and I did it even though Mamma did not want me to. She was so angry with me.… And then my sister [Grand Duchess Xenia] wired me from England saying that under no circumstances should I come to see the Little One.” When Gilliard returned, he too seemed swept along by the belief that a family had been reunited. “I want to do everything I can to help the grand duchess,” he said. Turning to the surgeon who had operated on her, he asked, “What is Her Imperial Highness’s condition?” The doctor replied that her life was still in danger.
The next day, the third of this visit, Gilliard attempted again to question the patient about the past, especially Siberia. He had little success, and the visitors decided to leave. As Grand Duchess Olga departed, the patient burst into tears. Olga kissed her on both cheeks, saying, “Don’t cry. I will write. You must get well. That is the main thing.” As she left, the grand duchess told the Danish ambassador, who had escorted her, “My reason cannot grasp it, but my heart tells me that the Little One is Anastasia.” Shura departed weeping. “I loved her so much!” she sobbed. “I loved her so much! Why do I love this patient just as much? Can you tell me that?” Gilliard kept his feelings and opinions under tighter control, declaring as he left, “We are going away without being able to say that she is not Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna.”
The affection displayed during the visit continued to cheer the patient for several months. From Copenhagen, Grand Duchess Olga wrote five notes filled with endearments and concern. The first set the tone: “I am sending you all my love, am thinking of you all the time. It is so sad to go away, knowing that you are ill and suffering and lonely. Don’t be afraid. You are not alone now and we shall not abandon you.… Eat a lot and drink cream.” Olga’s third note was accompanied by a gift: “I am sending to my little patient my own silk shawl, which is very warm. I hope that you will wrap this shawl around your shoulders and arms and that it will keep you warm during the cold of winter. I bought this shawl in Yalta before the war.” The shawl was pure silk, rose colored, six feet long and four feet wide. But after the fifth letter, no more ever came.
The truth was that Olga, kindhearted, generous, and subject to powerful influence, was not sure. The night she returned to Copenhagen, even as she was writing the first of her notes to the patient in Berlin, Olga also wrote to Mrs. Tschaikovsky’s supporter, Ambassador Zahle: “I have had very long conversations with my mother and Uncle Waldemar all about our poor little friend. I can’t tell you how fond I got of her—whoever she is. My feeling is that she is not the one she believes—but one can’t say she is not as a fact—as there are many strange and inexplicable facts not cleared up.”
Thirty years later, looking back, Grand Duchess Olga was more decisively negative: “My beloved Anastasia was fifteen when I saw her for the last time in 1916. She would have been twenty-four in 1925. I thought Mrs. Anderson looked much older than that. Of course, one had to make allowances for a very long illness.… All the same, my niece’s features could not possibly have altered out of all recognition. The nose, the mouth, the eyes were all different.” Long before Grand Duchess Olga made this statement, however, the claimant had spoken the last word on their relationship. “It is now I who will not receive her,” said Mrs. Tschaikovsky.
Rejection, even tentative, by Grand Duchess Olga, the Romanov survivor who had known Anastasia best and the only one until then who had troubled to come to see her, was a blow to the claimant’s cause. The aunt’s opinion was taken as decisively negative by most of the family and by virtually all Russian emigres. Pierre Gilliard added ammunition to the opposition cause. He gave lectures and wrote articles and eventually a book, The False Anastasia. He declared that he had known at first glance that the claimant was not his former pupil: “The patient had a long nose, strongly turned up at the end, a very large mouth, thick and fleshy lips; the grand duchess, on the other hand, had a short, sharp nose, a much smaller mouth and fine lips.… Apart from the color of the eyes, we could find nothing to make us believe that this was the grand duchess.” Everything the claimant knew about the intimate life of the Imperial family, Gilliard said, she had read in published memoirs or seen in photographs. He denounced Mrs. Tschaikovsky as “a vulgar adventuress” and “a first rate actress.”
In the years following Grand Duchess Olga’s rejection, only two Romanovs declared in the claimant’s favor. One was Grand Duke Andrew, Nicholas II’s first cousin, who had seen the young Anastasia occasionally at family lunches. Troubled by Mrs. Tschaikovsky’s claim, he received Empress Marie’s permission to take charge of the investigation. In January 1928, he spent two days with the claimant. After the first meeting, he cried happily, “I have seen Nicky’s daughter! I have seen Nicky’s daughter!” Later, he wrote to Grand Duchess Olga, “I have observed her carefully at close quarters, and to the best of my conscience I must acknowledge that Anastasia Tschaikovsky is none other than my niece the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna. I recognized her at once, and further observation only confirmed my first impression. For me there is definitely no doubt: it is Anastasia.” On this same occasion, Grand Duke Andrew’s wife, the former prima ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska, also met the claimant. In 1967, after Andrew’s death, his ninety-five-year-old widow, who three quarters of a century before had been the youthful Nicholas II’s mistress, was asked about the claimant. “I am still certain it was she,” Madame Kschessinska replied. “When she looked at me, you understand, with those eyes, that was it. It was the emperor … it was the emperor’s look. Anyone who saw the emperor’s eyes will never forget them.”
The other Romanov who endorsed the claimant was Anastasia’s cousin Princess Xenia of Russia, who at eighteen had married an American tin mining heir, William B. Leeds, and moved to his Long Island estate in Oyster Bay. Xenia was two years younger than Anastasia and had last seen her in the Crimea in 1913, when she was ten and Anastasia twelve. Fourteen years had passed, but Xenia, having invited Mrs. Tschaikovsky to stay with her and having closely observed the claimant over a period of six months, declared, “I am firmly convinced.” Princess Xenia’s older sister, Princess Nina, also met the claimant and was more cautious. “Whoever she is,” said Princess Nina, “she is a lady of good society.”
The ultimate arbiter in the Romanov family was the Dowager Empress Marie, and, despite the old woman’s oft-reiterated hostility, Mrs. Tschaikovsky continued to hope that Marie would change her mind. “My grandmamma, she will know me,” the claimant believed. It fell to Tatiana Botkin to break the news that the empress would never receive her, that her grandmother wanted nothing to do with her, and that Mrs. Tschaikovsky should give up waiting for an invitation to Copenhagen. “Why do they reject me? What have I done?” the claimant cried out. She was told it was, in part, because of her illegitimate child. “I have not seen my child since he was three months old,” Mrs. Tschaikovsky protested. “Do you think I would allow any little bastard to proclaim himself the grandson of the tsar and the emperor of Russia?” But the dowager did not relent, and, to the claimant’s distress, Empress Marie died in October 1928, still forbidding and silent.
Worse immediately followed. Within twenty-four hours of the funeral, a document that came to be called the Romanov Declaration was published. Signed by twelve members of the Russian Imperial family, along with Empress Alexandra’s brother and two of her sisters, it announced their “unanimous conviction that the woman now living in the U.S.A. [Mrs. Tschaikovsky was with Princess Xenia on Long Island] is not the daughter of the tsar.” The document, which cited the opinions of Grand Duchess Olga, Pierre Gilliard, and Baroness Buxhoevden, largely convinced the public that the entire family had considered the evidence and rejected the claimant. But this was not what had happened. Of forty-four living Romanovs, only twelve had signed. The two Romanovs who had accepted Mrs. Tschaikovsky’s claim, Grand Duke Andrew and Princess Xenia, were not invited to sign. Of the fifteen signatories (Empress Alexandra’s two sisters Princess Victoria of Battenberg and Princess Irene of Prussia and her brother, Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse, had also signed the document), only two, Grand Duchess Olga and Princess Irene, had ever seen the claimant.
The Romanov Declaration was first published not in Copenhagen, where the dowager empress had died, but in Hesse-Darmstadt, the home of Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse. Of all the claimant’s purported relatives, Ernest was the most implacably hostile. Her supporters believed that this hostility was founded on Ernest’s determination to preserve his own reputation, a determination so strong, as they saw it, that he was willing to override and suppress the identity and appeals of his sister’s only surviving child.
What happened was this: In 1925, the claimant told a friend that she hoped for a visit from her “Uncle Ernie,” whom she had not seen since his trip to Russia in 1916. In fact, in 1916, war was raging between Germany and Russia, and Ernest, a German general, was commanding troops on the western front. A trip to Russia, made without the knowledge of the German government or general staff, to visit his sister and his brother-in-law, the tsar, could have been construed as treason. Although the mission supposedly had been undertaken with the kaiser’s blessing to attempt to arrange a separate peace, the story was deeply embarrassing to the grand duke. Having been deposed from his small throne after the war, he still hoped to get it back, and an allegation of consorting with the enemy in wartime made that unlikely possibility still less likely.
The truth about this secret mission will never be known. History has revealed no record of it. Grand Duke Ernest’s diaries for this period deal with the western front, and his letters to his wife were posted from the same area. Undeniably, there was talk during this period, in both Russia and Germany, of holding discussions to terminate the carnage. According to an adviser to Grand Duke Ernest, there was a plan to go; the grand duke submitted his plan to the kaiser and was overruled. The witness did not know whether Ernest had gone ahead on his own initiative. Another witness, the British ambassador Sir George Buchanan, wrote after the war that Grand Duke Ernest had sent an emissary in the person of a Russian woman to tell the tsar that the kaiser was prepared to grant Russia generous peace terms. Nicholas locked her up. In 1966, the kaiser’s stepson testified in court under oath that while in exile the kaiser had told him that Grand Duke Ernest had indeed been in Russia in 1916 to discuss the possibility of a separate peace. Also under oath, Crown Princess Cecilie declared of the Hessian visit to Russia, “I can assert from personal knowledge—the source is my father-in-law [i.e., the kaiser]—that our circles knew about it even at the time.”
The truth was unprovable, but, true or false, Mrs. Tschaikovsky’s statement was provocative. Had her description of “Uncle Ernie’s” trip proved accurate, her claim to be Grand Duchess Anastasia would have been powerfully reinforced: who but a daughter of the tsar could have known this secret? And even if her statement was false, one may wonder how a bedridden young woman in Berlin came up with such an intricate dynastic and diplomatic tale.
Grand Duke Ernest vehemently denied Mrs. Tschaikovsky’s story, denounced its author, and set out to attack her credibility with all the considerable resources at his command. She was an “impostor,” “a lunatic,” “a shameless creature.” Libel suits were threatened. Grand Duke Andrew was warned that continuation of his investigation into her identity could be “dangerous.” Ernest made an ally of Pierre Gilliard, who soon was spending as much time in Darmstadt as he was in Lausanne. And he joined in—some said he was behind and financed—an effort to prove not only that Mrs. Tschaikovsky was not Grand Duchess Anastasia but that she was somebody else.
In March 1927, a Berlin newspaper announced that Frau Tschaikovsky, the Anastasia claimant, actually was Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish factory worker of peasant origin. The source for this scoop was a woman named Doris Wingender, who said that Franziska had been a lodger in her mother’s home until her disappearance in March 1920. Over two years later, during the summer of 1922, Doris reported, Franziska had suddenly returned and said that she had been living with a number of Russian monarchist families “who apparently mistook her for someone else.” Franziska had stayed for three days, Doris continued, and while she was there, the two women had exchanged clothing: Franziska took from Doris a dark blue suit trimmed with black lace and red braid with buffalo-horn buttons and a small cornflower-blue hat sewn with six yellow flowers; she handed over a mauve dress, some monogrammed underwear, and a camel’s-hair coat. Then, once again, Franziska vanished.
To verify the story, the newspaper hired a detective, Martin Knopf, who took the clothing Franziska had left behind at the Wingenders’ to one of the Russian emigre households where Fräulein Unbekannt had stayed in 1922. Baron and Baroness von Kleist recognized it. “I bought the camel’s hair myself,” said the baron. “That’s the underwear. I monogrammed it myself,” cried the baroness. For the benefit of newspaper readers, “The Riddle of Anastasia” was solved. Doris Wingender helped out by supplying eyewitness descriptions of Franziska Schanzkowska: “stocky,” “big-boned,” “filthy and grubby,” with “work-worn hands” and “black stumps” of teeth. Grand Duke Ernest of Hesse was pleased; he told the author of the newspaper series that “the outcome of this case has rolled a great stone off my heart.”
But the tale was not complete. It turned out that Wingender had initiated the affair by telephoning the newspaper and asking how much her story might be worth. She was promised fifteen hundred marks for telling her tale and for confronting and making a personal identification of the claimant. The Grand Duke of Hesse’s role in the episode became more visible. Information collected by Detective Knopf was making its way to Darmstadt before it reached the newspaper. “It is now known that the detective was hired by Darmstadt and not by the Nachtausgabe,” said Grand Duke Andrew. The Duke of Leuchtenberg, where Mrs. Tschaikovsky was staying at that time, heard from the writer of the newspaper series that the Grand Duke of Hesse had paid the paper twenty-five thousand marks for its “research” into the Anastasia affair. This allegation, printed in a different Berlin paper, led to libel suits. Meanwhile, Doris Wingender’s confrontation with her mother’s “lodger” took place. Mrs. Tschaikovsky, faced with charges of assuming a false identity, had no choice. According to the writer for the Berlin Nachtausgabe, who was present with Martin Knopf, this was what happened:
The witness, Fräulein Doris Wingender, enters the room. Franziska Schanzkowska lies on the divan, her face half-covered with a blanket. The witness has barely said “Good Day” before Franziska Schanzkowska jerks up and cries in a heavily accented voice, “That [thing] must get out!” The sudden agitation, the wild rage in her voice, the horror in her eyes, leave no doubt: she has recognized the witness Wingender.
Fräulein Wingender stands as if turned to stone. She has immediately recognized the lady on the divan as Franziska Schanzkowska. That is the same face she saw day after day for years. That is the same voice, that is the same nervous trick with the handkerchief, that is the same Franziska Schanzkowska!
To add corroboration, Franziska Schanzkowska’s brother Felix came a few weeks later to identify the claimant. They met in a Bavarian beer garden. As soon as he saw her, Felix declared, “That is my sister Franziska.” Mrs. Tschaikovsky walked over and began to talk to him. That night, Felix was handed an affidavit identifying the claimant “beyond any doubt” as his sister. He refused to sign. “No, I won’t do it,” he said. “She isn’t my sister.” Eleven years later, in 1938, the claimant had a final confrontation with the Schanzkowski family. A decree from the Nazi regime in Berlin summoned her to a room where four Schanzkowskis, two brothers and two sisters, were waiting. She walked back and forth while the Schanzkowskis stared at her and spoke in low voices. Finally, one brother announced, “No, this lady looks too different.” The meeting seemed at an end when suddenly Gertrude Schanzkowska hammered her fists on the table and shouted, “You are my sister! You are my sister! I know it! You must recognize me!” The policemen present stared at Mrs. Tschaikovsky, and, calmly, she stared back. “What am I supposed to say?” she asked. The two brothers and the other sister were embarrassed and tried to quiet Gertrude, who shouted louder, “Admit it! Admit it!” A few minutes later, everyone went home.
As the 1920s came to a close, the personal confrontations were mostly over. Both sides were exhausted. Prince Waldemar of Denmark, the brother of the Dowager Empress Marie, who, despite his sister’s disapproval, had been paying Mrs. Tschaikovsky’s hospital and sanatorium bills, was obliged by family pressure to stop. The Danish ambassador to Germany, Herlauf Zahle, the claimant’s staunchest official supporter in Berlin, was commanded by his government to terminate his activity on her behalf. “I have done my utmost so that my [Danish] royal family may be blameless in the eyes of history,” Zahle said bitterly. “If the Russian Imperial family wishes one of its members to die in the gutter, there is nothing I can do.”
With Zahle’s support withdrawn, the claimant was offered refuge by Duke George of Leuchtenberg, a distant member of the Romanov family and the owner of Castle Seeon in Upper Bavaria. The duke adopted a middle ground: “I can’t tell if she is a daughter of the tsar or not. But so long as I have the feeling that a person who belongs to my tight circle of society needs my help, I have a duty to give it.” The duke’s wife, Duchess Olga, had no such sentiments. For eleven months, she quarreled with their guest over the food, the servants, the linen, the tea service, and the flower arrangements. “Who does she think she is?” the duchess demanded. “I am the daughter of your emperor” came the imperious reply. The Leuchtenberg family divided: the eldest daughter, Natalie, passionately championed the claimant’s authenticity; the son Dimitri and his wife, Catherine, were adamantly hostile. Floating up and down the halls, an English governess, Faith Lavington, saw “the Sick Lady” every day and admired her “purest and best English accent.” Miss Lavington had an opinion: “I feel certain it is she.”
When Princess Xenia offered Mrs. Tschaikovsky rest and quiet at her Long Island estate, she accepted. Six months later, this new hostess and her guest were quarreling and the pianist Sergei Rachmaninov arranged for the claimant to live in a comfortable hotel suite in Garden City, Long Island. Here, to avoid the press, she registered as Mrs. Anderson; later, she added the first name Anna, and no more was heard of Mrs. Tschaikovsky. Early in 1929, she moved in with Annie B. Jennings, a wealthy Park Avenue spinster eager to have a daughter of the tsar under her roof. For eighteen months, the onetime Fräulein Unbekannt was the toast of New York society, a fixture at dinner parties, luncheons, tea dances, and the opera. Then the pattern of destructive behavior reasserted itself. She complained about her room and the food. She developed tantrums. She attacked the servants with sticks and ran back and forth naked on the roof. She threw things out the window. She stood in the aisle of a department store and told a crowd how badly Miss Jennings was treating her. Finally, Judge Peter Schmuck of the New York Supreme Court signed an order, and two men broke down her locked door and carried her off to a mental hospital. She remained in the Four Winds Sanatorium in Katonah, New York, for over a year.
While Anna Anderson was in America, the possibility arose of a hidden tsarist fortune in the Bank of England.
The claimant’s trip to America had been, primarily, the idea of Gleb Botkin, a younger son of the doctor murdered with the Imperial family. Working on Long Island as a writer and illustrator, Gleb had been asked to write articles for newspapers about the tsar’s youngest daughter, whom he had known as a child. Princess Xenia read these articles and invited the woman who might be her cousin to stay with her at Oyster Bay. While the claimant was with Xenia, Gleb became her primary adviser and visited frequently. By then, Gleb and his older sister Tatiana, who had met the claimant in Europe, were convinced that she was the grand duchess. Already a skillful artist as a boy, Gleb had drawn caricatures of animals, mostly pigs, wearing elaborately detailed Russian court dress that had delighted the young grand duchesses, especially Anastasia. When he first visited the claimant at Castle Seeon, her question before receiving him was “Ask him if he has brought his funny animals.” He had, and when she looked at them, apparently remembering, she laughed nostalgically. Thereafter, believing absolutely in her identity, Gleb had urged the claimant to turn her back on the hostile family in Europe and cross the Atlantic.
In America, Gleb hurled himself into her cause. When the Romanov Declaration was published, he volleyed back with a stinging letter to Grand Duchess Xenia, the older of Anastasia’s two Romanov aunts:
Your Imperial Highness!
Twenty-four hours did not pass after the death of your mother … when you hastened to take another step in the conspiracy to defraud your niece.…
Before the wrong which Your Imperial Highness [is] committing, even the gruesome murder of the Emperor, his family and my father by the Bolsheviks pales. It is easier to understand a crime committed by a gang of crazed and drunken savages than the calm, systematic, endless persecution of one of your own family … the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna, whose only fault is that, being the only rightful heir to the late Emperor, she stands in the way of her greedy and unscrupulous relatives.
Gleb’s letter was the final stroke in the permanent alienation of the Romanovs. Grand Duke Andrew was dismayed. “All is lost,” he wrote to Gleb’s sister Tatiana. “Does he realize what he has done? He has completely ruined everything.” “Grand Duke Andrew also remarked that the case was beginning to take on the aspect of an intrigue for the tsar’s fortune,” Tatiana Botkin wrote. “This profoundly disgusted the grand duke and he did not further wish to involve his name in it.”
In truth, Gleb Botkin had become concerned about money—the claimant’s money, he believed—and had hired a lawyer to help her obtain it. Rumors existed of a Romanov inheritance, of millions of rubles of tsarist gold deposited in the Bank of England. In July 1928, while the claimant was a guest at Oyster Bay, Botkin asked an American lawyer, Edward Fallows, to investigate the matter. Fallows agreed, obtained the claimant’s power of attorney, and commenced a search which consumed the remaining twelve years of his life. He began by having his client sign a statement declaring that, in Ekaterinburg shortly before the murders, Tsar Nicholas II had told his four daughters that before the war he had deposited 5 million rubles in the Bank of England for each of them. Next, in order to pay his own fees and provide other sums required in the case, Fallows formed a Delaware corporation under the acronym Grandanor, for “Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna of Russia.” Miss Jennings’s wealthy friends were invited to invest. Thus equipped, Fallows went off to London to tackle the Bank of England.*
The bank responded that it could not reveal information having to do with private deposits, including whether or not such deposits existed. First, said the bank, Mr. Fallows should go to the Court of Chancery and obtain an order that his client was indeed Grand Duchess Anastasia. Fallows went back and forth to and from Europe, spending the sums supplied by Miss Jennings and brought in by Grandanor, then working without fees, cashing in his insurance; selling his stocks, his bonds, and his house; moving his family to rented rooms. In the end, said his daughter, his efforts “killed him.”
Controversy over the Romanov fortune in English banks continued after Fallows’s death in 1940. In 1955, Mme. Lili Dehn, who had been one of Empress Alexandra’s closest friends, declared under oath that, after the Imperial family had been arrested at Tsarskoe Selo and was expecting to be sent to England, the empress said to her, “At least we shan’t have to beg, for we have a fortune in the Bank of England.” This fortune has never been located. There is evidence that, during the First World War, Nicholas II brought home whatever private money he and his wife had in British banks and used it to help pay for hospitals and hospital trains. A number of aristocratic and wealthy Russian families, following the tsar’s example, did the same.
After the revolution, Nicholas II’s mother and two sisters lived on what they could earn from the sale of their jewelry and on the charity of their Danish and English relatives. Anna Anderson’s supporters argued that the money Nicholas II set aside for his four daughters—to be used, perhaps, as dowries—would not have been brought back to Russia or distributed to aunts or a grandmother. This hope that money for the daughters still might be in safekeeping was diminished in 1960, when Sir Edward Peacock, a director of the Bank of England between 1920 and 1946, declared, “I am pretty sure there never was any money of the Imperial family of Russia in the Bank of England, nor in any other bank in England. Of course, it is difficult to say ‘never,’ but I am positive at least there never was any money after World War I and during my long years as director of the bank.”
Even today, British bankers are accustomed to being disbelieved on this subject. John Orbell, archivist of Baring Brothers, a private London bank which held deposits of the Imperial Russian government after the revolution, is wearily polite when questioned about Romanov family money.* “People keep asking,” he says. “They will not take no for an answer. It’s frustrating. Listen, if there had been family money here, the fact would have come out long ago. There would have been a piece of paper, a bank statement, something. Some little clerk would have found it and stepped out and made his fortune by telling the newspapers. But nothing has ever turned up.”
In August 1932, Anna Anderson returned to Germany accompanied by a private nurse in a locked cabin on the liner Deutschland. Her Park Avenue benefactress, Annie B. Jennings, paid for this voyage, as she had paid twenty-five thousand dollars for the one-year stay at the Four Winds Sanatorium, and as she would pay for an additional six months’ cure at Ilten psychiatric home near Hanover. When this cure was finished, Mrs. Anderson embarked on another seven years of wandering. She lived for several years in Hanover, spent a year in Berlin, then moved on to Bavaria, Pomerania, Westphalia, Saxony, Thuringia, even Hesse. World War II found her living in Hanover, where she endured the heavy Allied bombing. When that city was mostly destroyed, she fled to a ducal castle in the east. At the end of the war, this territory was occupied by Soviet troops, and, with the aid of a German prince and the Swedish Red Cross, she escaped to what was to become West Germany.
In 1949, from his own meager funds, Prince Frederick of Saxe-Altenburg settled her in a small former army barracks in the village of Unterlengenhardt on the edge of the Black Forest. In this modest place, surrounded by overgrown shrubbery, vines, brambles, and high weeds, guarded by four huge dogs, half St. Bernard and half wolfhound, Anna Anderson lived for the next nineteen years. A group of educated, middle-aged German women took turns obeying her instructions and catering to her needs. She spoke to them in English, which, from that point to the end of her life, was the language she preferred to speak. Ironically, her use of English, like her nonuse of Russian, became a weapon against her. “It was not the English of someone who has spoken English since childhood—as Anastasia did,” said the English writer Michael Thornton, who first went to Unterlengenhardt in 1960. “The accent was Germanic, the sentence structure German, the grammar hopeless. I knew Grand Duchess Xenia, Anastasia’s aunt, who lived in London. Her English was simple, pure and refined, the English spoken by the Romanovs.”
During the years at Unterlengenhardt, two final eyewitnesses stepped forward: Lili Dehn, the empress’s friend; and Sidney Gibbes, the English tutor of the Imperial children. Their testimony was contradictory: “I have recognized her, physically and intuitively, through signs which do not deceive,” said Madame Dehn. Gibbes disagreed. “If she is the Grand Duchess Anastasia, I am a Chinaman,” he told a friend. He put his view more formally in an affidavit: “She in no way resembles the true Grand Duchess Anastasia that I had known.… I am quite satisfied that she is an impostor.”*
During these years, the play and the film Anastasia appeared, bringing Anna Anderson a new, worldwide burst of publicity. When the playwrights, who had not realized that she was still alive, felt sorry for her and voluntarily paid her $30,000 of the $400,000 they were paid by Twentieth Century-Fox, she used the money to build a small, modern chalet on the site of the crumbling army barracks. Thereafter, the public, seeing pictures of Anna Anderson, complained that she did not look like Ingrid Bergman.
Her actual appearance during those years was graphically described by Mme. Dominique Auclères, a correspondent for Le Figaro of Paris, who first visited the claimant in Unterlengenhardt in August 1960 and subsequently became a devoted supporter:
Suddenly, a door opened and I saw the strangest looking woman I have ever seen in my life. It was a tiny Madame Butterfly disguised as a Tyrolean. She wore a Japanese kimono; over this was an Austrian loden cloak; and over this was a black mackintosh. On top of the pointed hood of the cloak, she had perched a green felt Tyrolean hat. Her hair was light brown with streaks of grey, cut short to the level of her ears. She wore black leather gloves and had a kind of floating walk which conferred something unreal on this apparition. I noticed a slightly tipped and tilted nose (I saw her only in profile) and an eye more grey than blue. In front of her mouth, one of her black-gloved hands held a little paper fan which never moved throughout my visit.
Before she left, however, Madame Auclères caught her unawares and was able to see the mouth, “deformed by the top jaw slightly deformed to the right.” The interview was in English, although, at one point when the reporter forgetfully slipped into French, her hostess responded immediately in French. Her accent, said Mme. Auclères, was “perfect.”
The Anna Anderson case was the longest legal action in the German courts during the twentieth century. Beginning in 1938, when she sued to contest distribution of a small estate to Empress Alexandra’s German relatives, suspended during World War II, renewed in Hamburg during the 1950s and ’60s, the case finally concluded in 1970 with a rejection of her appeal by the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe. The opposition to Anna Anderson’s claim in these trials was provided by the House of Hesse, still adamant that she must be discredited. Grand Duke Ernest was dead, but his son Prince Louis took up his father’s cause, along with Prince Louis’s niece, Barbara Duchess of Mecklenburg. Financial backing for the Hessian case came from Lord Louis Mountbatten, the British war hero, former Viceroy of India, Chief of the Defense Staff, and uncle of the queen’s husband, Prince Philip. Earl Mountbatten was Hessian; his mother, Princess Victoria of Battenberg, was Empress Alexandra’s sister; the Prussian Princess Irene was his aunt; Grand Duke Ernest of Hesse was his uncle. Had Anna Anderson been legally proven to be Grand Duchess Anastasia, Mountbatten would have had to recognize her as his first cousin. He was determined not to do this and to prevent it poured thousands of pounds, inherited from his wealthy, deceased wife, into lawyers’ fees.
One body of evidence, largely ignored in the early years of the Anna Anderson case, came to the fore in the German court trials of the 1950s and ’60s. It was the testimony of medicine and science, and, to a surprising degree, it supported Anna Anderson’s claim. In the early years after the claimant’s appearance, doctors—most of them psychologists—had tended to believe her story. In 1925, Dr. Lothar Nobel, director of the Mommsen Clinic in Berlin, gave his opinion that “no mental illness of any kind exists.… It seems impossible that her knowledge of many small details is due to anything but her own personal experience. Furthermore, it is psychologically scarcely conceivable that anyone who … is playing the part of another person should behave as the patient does now.”
This view that the patient was incapable of playing a role was reiterated in 1927. After the claimant had spent eight months in his sanatorium in the Bavarian Alps, the director, Dr. Saathof, declared, “It is, in my opinion, quite unthinkable that Frau Tschaikovsky is an imposter. Even at crucial moments, she has almost always behaved in the exact opposite way from what you might expect of an imposter.” A similar, albeit nonprofessional, opinion was offered by Princess Xenia after observing the claimant on her Long Island estate: “One of the most convincing elements of her personality was a completely unconscious acceptance of her identity [as Grand Duchess Anastasia]. She never gave the slightest impression of acting a part.”
During the Hamburg trials, the court decided to obtain physical evidence, based on science. It appointed two distinguished expert witnesses: Dr. Otto Reche, an internationally famous anthropologist and criminologist who had founded the Society of German Anthropologists, and Dr. Minna Becker, a graphologist who had assisted in the authentification of Anne Frank’s diary. These doctors and scientific experts were seeking neither money nor fame; they were professionally examining a litigant. Reche collected more than a hundred photographs of Grand Duchess Anastasia and then photographed Anna Anderson at the same angles and under the same lighting conditions. He compared the two faces, millimeter by millimeter, and concluded that “such coincidence between two human faces is not possible unless they are the same person or identical twins. Mrs. Anderson is no one else than Grand Duchess Anastasia,” Becker compared more than a hundred samples of Grand Duchess Anastasia’s handwriting with samples of Anna Anderson’s handwriting. “I have never before seen two sets of handwriting bearing all these concordant signs which belonged to two different people,” she concluded. “There can be no mistake. After thirty-four years as a sworn expert for the German courts, I am ready to state on my oath and on my honor that Mrs. Anderson and Grand Duchess Anastasia are identical.” Despite the testimony of Dr. Reche and Dr. Becker, the court declared the case non liquet, neither established nor rejected.
During her lifetime, Anna Anderson enjoyed another scientific victory, gained in 1977 by Dr. Moritz Furtmayr, a prominent German forensic expert. Furtmayr had devised a system of mapping the human skull with grids and graphs to produce what he called a “head-print,” no two of which were alike in human beings. Using this “P.I.K. Method,” which had been accepted in criminal cases by German courts, Furtmayr proved that the anatomical points and tissue formations of Anna Anderson’s right ear corresponded with Grand Duchess Anastasia’s right ear in seventeen points, five more than the twelve required by German courts to establish identity.
Furtmayr’s report provided a nasty shock for Lord Mountbatten. Despite his large investment of money, Mountbatten never met the claimant. In 1977, however, Michael Thornton, bringing with him a copy of Furtmayr’s findings, visited Earl Mountbatten at Broadlands, his country estate. “He sat opposite me and he read through it twice, in German and in the English translation,” Thornton remembered. “His face was an absolute study while he was reading it. What I could see in his face was recognition of the terrible possibility that this raving woman, who was so eccentric, so unlikely, who was dismissed out of hand by 90 percent of the people she met, might actually be his cousin Grand Duchess Anastasia.”
The final judicial verdicts were inconclusive. The courts did not say that Anna Anderson was not Grand Duchess Anastasia; they ruled only that she had failed to prove that she was. Eight thousand pages of testimony were bound into forty-nine volumes, placed on back shelves, and forgotten. At Unterlengenhardt, Anna Anderson announced that she no longer cared. “I know perfectly well who I am,” she said. “I don’t need to prove it in any court of law.” Meanwhile, her circumstances were deteriorating. She had retreated from the world, barred the door even to her friends, and lived alone inside with sixty cats. When the third of her great dogs died, she buried it herself in a shallow grave—too shallow, apparently, for the odor spread over the village and brought remonstrance from the district board of health. Insulted, she suddenly decided to accept an invitation arranged by her friend of forty years, Gleb Botkin.
Gleb, now living in Charlottesville, Virginia, had befriended a wealthy genealogist, Dr. John Manahan. At Gleb’s suggestion, Manahan, a bachelor, had offered the claimant his hospitality in Virginia for as long as she liked. On July 13, 1968, without a word to anyone in Europe, she suddenly flew to Dulles Airport at Manahan’s expense. He and Gleb met her and drove her to Charlottesville. In December 1968, her friends in Europe were shocked again when she married chubby, crew-cut Manahan, who was at least eighteen years her junior. It was a marriage of convenience, they told themselves; her American visa was about to expire. Manahan himself was amused as well as pleased. “Well, what would Tsar Nicholas think if he could see his new son-in-law?” he asked his best man. “I think he would be grateful,” Gleb Botkin replied.
Anastasia and John Manahan lived together for more than fifteen years. They had separate bedrooms in his classically elegant house on a quiet street in Charlottesville, only a few blocks from the university and Thomas Jefferson’s famous library and quadrangle. She called him—inexplicably—Hans; he called her Anastasia. They drove almost daily to his large farm in the nearby countryside and frequently dined at the Farmington Country Club. There, Anastasia, a tiny figure with dyed auburn hair, often dressed in a blouse and bright red pants several sizes too large for her, carefully collected scraps from the plates of everyone at the table and placed them in foil to take home to her new and growing population of cats. It did not take long for the house and garden to begin to resemble her chalet at Unterlengenhardt. Overgrown bushes, vines, and weeds filled the front yard and blocked the front door. Inside, the floor of the living room was piled high with books and covered with newspapers, spread to cover messes made by the cats. When one of the cats died, she cremated it in the fireplace. Manahan seemed not to mind. “That’s the way Anastasia likes to live,” he explained. The neighbors minded, however, and in 1978, the Manahans were taken to court over the smell—“I think it could be described as a stench,” one friend admitted—rising from the property.
Manahan enjoyed being Anastasia’s husband; he sometimes described himself as a “Grand Duke-in-Waiting.” His wife seemed uninterested. “That is so far back and so dead,” she said, “all so past. Russia doesn’t exist.” Gradually, the couple descended from eccentricity into derangement. On one occasion, Manahan told a gathering that his wife was a descendant of Genghis Khan; subsequently, he added Ferdinand and Isabella to her ancestral tree. In 1974, he sent out a nine-thousand-word Christmas card entitled “Anastasia’s Money and the Tsar’s Wealth,” in which he accused Franklin D. Roosevelt of aiding the Marxist conspiracy to communize the world and described an episode at the end of World War II in Europe as the arrival of “American negroes with leveled guns.” He and his wife, he said, were under surveillance by the CIA, the KGB, and the British Secret Service. She told a visitor that, in the Ipatiev House, the entire Imperial family except the tsarevich had been repeatedly raped, all of them being forced to watch as each was violated. In November 1983, she was institutionalized. A few days later, her husband kidnapped her, and for three days they drove down Virginia back roads, stopping to eat at convenience stores. A thirteen-state police alarm finally produced an arrest and her return to a psychiatric ward.
Three months later, on February 12, 1984, Anastasia Manahan died of pneumonia. Her body was cremated that afternoon, and in the spring her ashes were buried in the churchyard at Castle Seeon. Manahan died six years later.
At her death, the controversy over Anna Anderson’s identity was unresolved. Unknowingly, however, she left behind a piece of evidence that would tell the world who she was.
* The few people who subsequently saw the questions and answers always refused to describe them.
* Fallows looked elsewhere in Europe for money and for evidence that the tsar’s youngest daughter had escaped. On October 7, 1935, he wrote to Adolf Hitler, the German chancellor, saying that “by a miracle she escaped from Yurovsky and the other Jews who murdered her family” and that Hitler’s Interior Ministry might have in its files “a confession of the Jew, Yurovsky, who was the leader of the Jewish assassins.” Hitler, whom Fallows addressed as “Honored Sir” and “Esteemed Sir,” never replied.
* Baring Brothers did not deny that for seventy years it held millions of pounds of Russian money. On November 7, 1917, the day the Bolsheviks seized power, the British government froze 4 million pounds deposited at Baring Brothers by the Imperial government. Over the years, interest ballooned this sum to 62 million pounds. In July 1986, in the era of glasnost and perestroika, the governments of Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher decided to wipe the slate clean and use this sum to pay off British holders of Russian Imperial bonds and British and Commonwealth claimants who had lost property or other assets in Russia because of the revolution. The list of claimants was very long: 37,000. The list of items of lost property was even longer: 60,000. It ran in importance from oil wells, banks, factories, insurance companies, ships, gold, and copper and coal mines to personal jewelry, furniture, automobiles, and bank balances. One claimant demanded reimbursement for five dozen pair of stockings left behind, another for season tickets for ten performances of the opera which he was unable to attend because of the revolution. A Briton owning an orchard in Russia declared that he had awakened one morning to find his orchard filled with soldiers; his assets, the file recorded, “were consumed.” Another Briton asked to be reimbursed because he had lost his parrot.
Between 1987 and 1990, these claims were investigated, values established, and exchange rates calculated. Eventually, bondholders and property owners were compensated at a rate of 54.78 percent of their original value.
The existence of this large sum of “tsarist government money” may or may not have been the source of the rumors about “Romanov family money.” Even today, there are those who argue that, because the tsar was titled Autocrat of all the Russias, he personally owned Russia: land, property, bank accounts—everything. The deposits at Baring Brothers, these people say, therefore belonged to him or his heirs. Russian constitutional law does not support this opinion.
* One witness who had known Grand Duchess Anastasia better than Lili Dehn, Baroness Buxhoevden, Pierre Gilliard, or Sidney Gibbes, and perhaps as well as Grand Duchess Olga or Shura Tegleva, was never asked to testify, by either the claimant’s supporters or her opponents. This was Alexandra’s closest friend, Anna Vyrubova, whose role with respect to the empress was something between that of a younger sister and an oldest child. Anna had lived in a small house across the street from the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo and spent her days with the empress and her evenings with the family. She accompanied them on vacations in the Crimea and aboard the Imperial yacht in the Baltic. She would have accompanied the family to Siberia had she not first been arrested by Alexander Kerensky and imprisoned for five months in the Peter and Paul Fortress.
Vyrubova was released, departed Russia, and lived in Finland until her death in 1964 at the age of eighty. Her testimony was never sought in the Anna Anderson debate because she had been a friend and disciple of Gregory Rasputin, whose behavior had scandalized Russia before the revolution. “It was our belief,” said Tatiana Botkin, “that Madame Vyrubova’s involvement … could only hurt Anastasia’s cause in the eyes of the Russian emigration, which, for the most part, had profoundly despised Rasputin.”