The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport“Yurovksy, having finished reading the decree, pulled out his Colt, stepped forward and shot the Tsar at point-blank range in the chest. Ermakov, Kudrin and Medvedev, not to be outdone and wanting their moment of personal revenge and glory too, immediately took aim and fired at Nicholas as well, followed by most of the others, propelling an arc of blood and tissue over his terrified son behind him.
For a moment the Tsar’s body quivered on the spot, his eyes fixated and wide, his chest cavities, ripped open by bullets, now frothing with oxygenated blood, his heart speeding up, all in a vain attempt to pump blood round his traumatized body. Then he quietly crumpled to the floor.
But at least Nicholas was spared the sight of seeing what happened to his wife and family…”
- Helen Rappaport, The Last Days of the Romanovs
This is a species of horror story where you know the ending in advance of cracking the front cover. Before you read the first word on the first page, you know that it will end in a claustrophobic basement room, choked with smoke and the metallic scent of blood, with bodies – including children – riddled with bullets.
Helen Rappaport’s The Last Days of the Romanovs is a slim volume recounting – in strict narrative fashion – the final anxious hours of the Romanov dynasty, from the time they arrived in Ekaterinburg, to the moment they were walked to the basement of the utterly-Soviet-named House of Special Purpose.
It ends badly for the Romanovs, for Nicholas II and his beloved family. It ends in such a way that you’ll start to wonder – if you haven’t already – why 20th Century Fox ever felt it appropriate to spin a motion picture with talking animals out of this gory massacre.
Each of the sixteen chapters in The Last Days of The Romanovs (there is also a brief introduction and epilogue) covers a day, or span of days, in the fast-fading lives of ex-Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, their hemophiliac son Alexei, and their four young daughters. Intermingled with a claustrophobic and personality-based retelling of those fraught days – balanced upon the edge of the unknown; cut off from the outside world; waiting for a rescue that never seriously materialized – are mini-biographies of the all the Romanovs, as well as some of their captors/tormentors.
As I mentioned above, Rappaport chooses to tell her story purely as a narrative. This is not an academic or scholarly work. The deaths of the Romanovs is a historical incident that is tangled in countless controversies, myths, speculations, lies, and half-truths. Rappaport, however, has made her own study of it, and seamlessly presents her version of events. This makes for easy reading. Rather than stutter, stop, and restart in order to quibble with every different variation, Rappaport can focus on the personalities, the atmosphere, the slow and inexorable tightening of the noose.
Of course, as Rappaport acknowledges in an afterword, this involves a great deal of subjective interpretation. Based on her reputation, she is entitled to this, and to some extent, all historians and writers are subjective in their staging. Still, I disagree with Rappaport’s decision to not provide footnotes or endnotes. She’s not the only popular-historian/author to do this, and their excuse is always the same: they don’t want to clutter the tale. But that’s just laziness. Annotated endnotes can be used without any kind of notation in the body of the text. The general reader can absorb the story without the “distraction” of tiny numbers at the end of sentences; the more interested reader can turn to the back for citations and further discussion.
This isn’t really a criticism, because again, I understand her purpose: to grip the reader and not let go. To that end, this book is extremely effective and well-paced and imbued with Rappaport’s empathy for her subjects.
As tightly as The Last Days of the Romanovs is constructed, it is inevitable that you lose a lot of context. This is not through any fault of Rappaport, of course. She did not set out to tell the whole crazy/sad tale of the Romanovs and the Russian Revolution. With that said, I often find that certain books work better when you go into it with a bit of an overarching framework in you mind. The murder of the Romanovs was not an execution but a shocking act of bestial savagery. But it also took place within a hugely complicated environment.
Rappaport definitely feels a great deal of emotion for the Romanovs, and that is mostly for the good. Still, it elides a bit of the overall truth of the family. The Nicholas of The Last Days of the Romanovs is a quiet, humble, dignified man, who stoically and uncomplainingly accepts the slings and arrows of the Ural Soviet. His wife, Alexandra, is a sickly, pitiable woman, leeching energy and strength from her young daughters.
There is little indication of the weakness and paradoxical nature of the bumbling Nicholas II, which led him to both hate his job and to cling to its autocratic foundations until it was too late. He was a great family man, but also a rabid anti-Semite. He claimed to want nothing more than to be an English farmer, yet he did not believe in ceding anything to democracy, even when the clamor became deafening.
There is also little criticism of Alexandra, who attempted to wield power on Nicholas’s behalf while he was at Stavka, and heeded no advice save what came to her from incompetent sycophants. She was a loyal partner, but loyal to a fault, urging Nicholas II to double down on every mistake.
It is perhaps understandable that Rappaport shies away from sharp critiques of the Romanovs. After all, what came after them was far, far worse. For all Nicholas II’s mistakes, he didn’t indifferently condemn millions to death by starvation like Stalin, and he didn’t fetishize the firing squad like Lenin.
In a way, the destruction of the Romanov family, and especially the children – Alexei, Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia – symbolizes the blind indifference to humanity exhibited by the Bolsheviks as they clawed their way to power. This was not a necessary act. It was an act of violence for the sake of violence. The men who carried it out were drunks, criminals, psychopaths. They did not wade in the blood of the Romanovs for the good of mankind; they did not fondle the body of the dead tsarina in support of the proletariat. They did these things because the opportunity arose for them to act on their darkest impulses.
I strongly recommend reading this in conjunction with Rappaport’s The Romanov Sisters, which breathes individual life into Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia, four young women who are often lumped together by historians. Taking these two books back-to-back provides a full and powerful reading experience that left me bereft for this flawed, doomed family.
Nicholas and Alexander had their chances, made their mistakes, and paid the ultimate price. The children, though, were simply caught up in the maelstrom, like so many others of their countrymen and women. To look at their pictures is to feel the chill of a ghost brushing your arm. Theirs are the faces – young, attractive, frozen unaware in black-and-white portraits – of a calamity that defies human understanding. They somehow stand for the millions who died in the sad agony of Russia’s convulsion, and the millions more who were to die in years to come.
Alexei Nikolaevitch Romanov- His life in pictures
Before The Killings: Rare Photographs Of Russia's Last Royal Family
Image goes on display at new Tobolsk museum dedicated to the exile of Nikolai II and family shortly before they were shot. Last picture of Tsarevich Alexei and sister Olga Nikolayevna was taken either on, or shortly after 20 May , on board of Rus riverboat. Picture: Tobolsk History Museum. This image shows heir Alexei on his river trip to death, aged 13 and nine months old, around eight weeks before he was murdered with the rest of his family by a Bolshevik execution squad. In April, Nikolai, his former empress Alexandra and one of their daughters, Maria, moved to Yekaterinburg.
Rare albums reveal secrets of the doomed royal family. Thanks to the quick thinking of a friend, intimate family pictures were rescued after the family met their tragic end. Many of the images, shot between and , were taken by Tsar Nicholas II himself and coloured in by his third daughter, Maria. Prince Alexei, seen here with his father Tsar Nicholas II, was the only male child and heir to the throne. After years of rule, the Romanov reign ended in following the Bolshevik revolution, when Tsar Nicholas II gave up his crown. The family was exiled to the city of Yekaterinburg and held captive by the Ural Soviets. Fearing a rescue from the family's supporters, Bolshevik executioners killed the tsar, his family, and four of his staff via firing squad on 17 July
Last picture of Tsarevich Alexei and sister Olga Nikolayevna was trail for tourists and royal enthusiasts following the route of the Romanovs in.
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The Russian Imperial Romanov family Emperor Nicholas II , his wife Empress Alexandra and their five children Olga , Tatiana , Maria , Anastasia , and Alexei and all those who chose to accompany them into imprisonment—notably Eugene Botkin , Anna Demidova , Alexei Trupp and Ivan Kharitonov , according to the conclusion of the investigator Sokolov , were shot and bayoneted to death   in Yekaterinburg on the night of 16—17 July Their bodies were then taken to the Koptyaki forest where they were stripped and mutilated. Following the February Revolution , the Romanov family and their loyal servants were imprisoned in the Alexander Palace before being moved to Tobolsk and then Yekaterinburg, where they were killed, allegedly at the express command of Vladimir Lenin. The burial site was discovered in by an amateur sleuth ,  but the existence of the remains was not made public until , during the glasnost period. They were reburied in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg in ,  80 years after they were killed, in a funeral that was not attended by key members of the Russian Orthodox Church , who disputed the authenticity of the remains.
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Russian imperial family photographs, hand-tinted by the tsar's daughter. He passed down his love for photography to Maria, his third daughter, who was responsible for coloring most of the pictures. Within a year of the last pictures, the Russian Revolution took place. The tsar was forced to abdicate and the family was exiled. Virubova was regarded as very much under the influence of Rasputin.