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Death of the Last Czar

Emperor Nicolas II was the last Tsar to rule, but signed an act of abdication (which probably illegally purported to exclude the Tsarevich) in favor of his brother Michael 3/15 March 1917. Grand Duke Michael was murdered 18 June 1918. He had delegated governance to the Duma which was then dissolved by the Petrograd Soviet 25/4 November 1917.

After the March revolution the Tsar and his family were at first confined to residence in Tsarskoe Selo; in July 1917 they were transferred to Tobolsk in western Siberia where they were lodged in a former governor's house. The situation changed, however, soon after the Soviet upheaval, and in April 1918 the family, along with its servants, was removed to Ekaterinburg (now Sverdlovsk) in the Urals, where they were placed in a house in the center of the city. The family received rough treatment from its Red guards.

In Moscow the plan of a public trial of the Tsar was being discussed; such a trial would certainly have ended in the execution of the former monarch. The unforceen course of the civil war, however, led to a simpler, more expeditious and more ruthless decision: to exterminate the entire family. No court could well have passed capital sentences on young children; but they could easily be disposed of in a secret and more or less unofficial killing.

Early in July Ekaterinburg was threatened from two sides by the advancing Czechs and the Russian anti-Bolshevik forces who were fighting on their side. The military authorities reported that Ekaterinburg could not hold out more than three days. The decision to kill all the members of the family, together with the Tsar's personal physician, Botkin, and three servants, was taken at a meeting of the Ural Territorial Soviet on July 12. Officially, the central government was not asked for orders by the Ekaterinburg Soviet ; allegedly, it was the local Soviet which reached the decision. There can be no doubt, however, that at least Lenin and Trotsky, informed well in advance, had given their consent or their orders.

The Emperor was assassinated with his family at Ekaterinburg 16/17 July 1918. About midnight on the night of July 16, a member of the local Soviet, Yakov Yurovski, ordered the members of the Tsar's family to go to the cellar. After an hour the family and all servants were assembled in the cellar.

The Tsar stood in the middle of the room, at his side the Tsarevitch sat in a chair; on his right stood Doctor Botkin. The Tsarina and her daughters stood behind them near the wall; the three servants stood in corners of the room. Yurovsky told the Tsar (there is no clear record of the precise words which he used) that he was to be put to death. The Tsar did not understand and began to say "What?" whereupon Yurovsky shot him down with his revolver. This was the signal for the general massacre.

The other executioners, seven Letts and two agents from the Cheka, emptied their revolvers into the bodies of the victims. The Tsar fell first, followed by his son. The room was filled with shrieks and groans; blood poured in streams on the floor. The chambermaid, Demidova, tried to protect herself with a pillow, and delayed her death for a short time. The slaughter was soon ended; Yurovsky fired two additional bullets into the body of the Tsarevitch, who was still groaning and the Letts thrust bayonets into any of the victims who still showed signs of life.

The night following the death of the former Czar seven other members of the Romanov family were executed in a town in the Urals. Earlier, Grand Duke Mikhail had been shot in Perm.

On July 19, the Moscow press carried a short official report of the execution. However, it falsely stated that "the wife and son of Nicholas Romanov were sent to a safe place." Apparently the extermination of the former Czarina, the Czarevich, and his four sisters, was too unsavory for the public. Moreover, no code of laws, even summary revolutionary justice, could admit the "execution" of the former Czar's physician, cook, chambermaid, and waiter.

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Page last modified: 30-01-2016 19:10:07 ZULU