The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; The File on the Tsar; New Evidence on the Tsar
ROBERT MacNEIL: Good evening. Tonight, for one night, let`s forget the election, the candidates, the economy and the other intractable issues of the day. Tonight we take a fresh look at one of the abiding mysteries of this century.
JIM LEHRER: It`s a 58 year old story about the last Tsar of Russia and his family. The world has always bought the idea that they were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in the Russian town of Yekaterinburg.
The story begins on the eve of World War I, Russia just having celebrated 300 years of Romanov rule. Heading the anniversary procession were Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Tsarina Alexandria. Both had blood ties to Europe`s much inter-married royalty. The Tsar was George V`s first cousin, and Alexandria, like Kaiser Wilhelm, was a grandchild of Queen Victoria. The festivities in St. Petersburg saluted the absolute rulers of an empire that stretched from the borders of Europe in the west to the Pacific in the east. The heir to the Romanov dynasty was Nicholas`s son, Alexis, a hemophiliac. He made few public appearances, but his older sisters, the Grand Duchesses, were highly visible: Olga, Tantiana, Maria, and Anastasia. It was a fairy tale existence and one which seemed destined to endure for another three centuries.
The Romanovs were immensely wealthy. The owners of eight magnificent palaces staffed by thousands of servants. They carried out their royal responsibilities: receiving royal subjects, traveling around their empire, and attending to affairs of state, surrounded always by pomp and ceremony. They were the most pampered of a very privileged aristocracy. Their world and the tsar`s two decade old reign seemed utterly secure, but they were not. The Romanovs and all they stood for would be shattered and swept away by revolution.
Russia was soon entangled in World War I with the Kaiser`s Germany. At the same time the empire was fighting an enemy from within, the Bolshevik revolutionaries. And the Romanovs were losing on both fronts. In March of 1917 Tsar Nicholas II bowed to the forces of history and abdicated. The Imperial Ensignia was pulled down forever. Nicholas and his family dropped from power to prison. Their captivity eventually brought them to that house in Yekaterinburg. There they vanished. (rifle shoots.)
MacNEIL: In the months that followed, many detailed accounts of the gruesome death scene in that cellar came out of Russia, and the world, for most part, believed them. But now fresh evidence of quite a different story has been uncovered by two British journalists after a five year investigation into the fate of the Romanovs. The evidence appears in a new book called The File on the Tsar which has become a best seller in Britain and was just published here. The authors are Antony Summers and Tom Mangold, both journalists with the British Broadcasting Corporation.
First of all, according to your researches, Tom Mangold, what did happen in that house in Yekaterinburg. There`s no doubt that they were imprisoned there?
TOM MANGOLD: No, there was never any doubt that they were imprisoned there. That is a fact. But what we have found out now is that the Tsar and probably his son, Alexis, were executed. We doubt if they were executed in the house. We think they were executed somewhere near the town of Yekaterinburg and that the Tsarina and the four daughters were taken away by the Bolsheviks to a town called Perm, about 200 miles to the northwest of Yekaterinburg, and there they were held alive by the Bolsheviks for about six to nine months.
MacNEIL: Well, what actually did happen in this house that was used as their prison in Yekaterinburg?
MANGOLD: Difficult to say what happened in the house. We think that some people probably were killed in the cellar and that they were the servants who went with the Romanovs into captivity in Yekaterinburg. So that the blood stains and the bullets that were found in the murder basement would account for the death of the servants, because they were never seen alive again. We know that the rest of the family were seen alive.
MacKEIL: So you say they were taken to Perm, about 200 miles away. And Antony Summers, what happened to them there?
ANTONY SUMMERS: They seem to have been held there in worsening conditions. Their conditions had progressively worsened from the time of abdication the year before. By the time they had been to Yekaterinburg, they were held in that rather grand mansion that we saw, but as the weeks went by, there had been a lot of drunken behavior, they had been badly treated, but still . . .
MacNEIL: You mean by the Red Guard?
SUMMERS: By certain Red Guards, but interestingly, that process stopped shortly before their disappearance. The guard was changed, and a man called Yurovsky put in charge. Now it`s always been suggested that Yurovsky was the fiend who was put in charge to kill them. But in fact what happened was that conditions immediately improved. Yurovsky was a man who seemed to worry about the little boy for instance, and they were better treated in the last days before their disappearance. After they were moved to Perm . . .
MacNEIL: This is after, when the women were moved to Perm?
SUMMERS: After the women were moved to Perm, it seems that their conditions again deteriorated. We know of them being at two specific addresses, one of them being the local excise house. Now while they were held there, we hear of the Tsarina and the girls lying on mattresses on the ground with only overcoats to cover them. The winter was coming on. We weren`t in Siberia, but nevertheless on the borders of it, and it would have been darn cold. One of the reasons I think may not have been any desire to mistreat them, but simply that were in the midst of a chaotic, civil war, condition were very bad. Even officers on both sides were eating very poorly,
MacNEIL: All right, now what happened to them from Perm?
MANGOLD: Well, we don`t know what happened to them from Perm. We have . . .
MacNEIL: How long were you able to trace them? How long after the supposed execution in Yekaterinburg?
MANGOLD: We have evidence right to the moment that Perm was retaken, so that . . .
MacNEIL: Retaken by the White forces in the Civil War.
MANGOLD: Correct. Retaken by the White forces because the Civil War was swinging this way and that way all the time. We have evidence that they were placed on the train and that that train may have gone to Moscow, and that is the moment that our research has to stop, because one would have to then rely on Red archives, and that is impossible.
MacNEIL: So how many months have you traced their survival from Yekaterinburg?
MANGOLD: It`s about six months.
MacNEIL: About six months that you are certain those five women stayed alive. Now, where did you get all this evidence, and what proof do you have? Tony Summers.
SUMMERS: It was really an investigation within an investigation. We realized that instead of starting with extraordinary stories about survivors and so on that what we had to do was to go back to as far as we could, to Yekaterinburg, and that meant finding the original dossiers and affidavits. The equivalent of trying to look for the Warren Commissions`s original papers in the Kennedy case 30 years later if they had been missing for that long. And if we then found them and discovered that Warren had suppressed evidence of two assassins. The way we started was with the knowledge that there had been two or three copies of the dossier. Now one had been stolen at some point by the Communists from the West and taken from the Soviet Union. Well, we weren`t going to get very far looking for that one, so we looked for the one nearest to home which had been brought out of Russia by Robert Wilton, a former British Intelligence agent and a London Times correspondent. We found he had died in Paris, so we went there, found that his house had been knocked down, but we found the old housekeeper who led us to the family of the widow who led us in turn to the news that it had been sold because the widow had run out of money, in the 30`s at an auctioneer`s in London. And now I shall mercifully short-circuit the story and tell you that from there we discovered that it had been sold - all the files had been sold to a collector in the United States `who I suspect had bought big without really knowing what he had, who in turn had sold it to the Chairman of the Cincinnati Telephone Company, who in turn had sold it to, of all places, the Hutton Library at Harvard University, and there it had been lying covered with dust, seven volumes of old, Russian script, for the last ten years or so.
MacNEIL: Now, what were the most significant things in those seven volumes?
MANGOLD: I think probably the most significant things about them were that these volumes contained the evidence that was quite deliberately, and in our opinion, maliciously suppressed by the official White Russian investigator, Sokoloff. Here was evidence that indicated quite clearly that the women had survived and had survived in Perm. Depositions, judicially taken correctly by an investigation that was carried out in Perm, and here was something which we didn`t expect to find. We wanted to trace Sokoloff`s source most because we thought it might be interesting. We had no idea that he had suppressed all this evidence, suppressed evidence of a conspiracy, and it`s the depositions given quite clearly by people in the town . . .
MacNEIL: The testimony.
MANGOLD: The testimony. Given quite clearly by the people in the town of Perm, and given consistently and cross-checking, and that`s really the breakthrough that we had.
MacNEIL: Let`s pursue that a bit farther. Jim?
LEHRER: Gentlemen, it was the Sokoloff version than that all the basis for which everyone has believed through the years that there was, in fact, a massacre is based. Is that correct?
MANGOLD & SUMMERS: Yes.
LEHRER: What evidence did he have? When you were going through the dossiers, what evidence was there that he used to support his theory that the family was, in fact, massacred that day?
SUMMERS: There was massive evidence, Jim, much of it secondhand, and much of it I have to stress which appeared when he put all his stuff together, so it`s difficult given we know there was some form of a cover-up, some form of a fabrication. It`s difficult to know how much evidence was actually found and collected by the Whites or how much was fabricated when it became necessary to invent it. The reason it became necessary to invent anything at all from the White point of view was that after a year on the case, and certainly after the first six months, there were above all, no bodies. They found a finger which was the only recognizable piece of a human being; they found some bones which we`ve had described to us by a modern forensic scientist looking at the photographs of the bones, that they are probably rabbit bones; they also found a telegram which appeared very, very late on when he had been in exile for some time, a coded telegram which, if true, absolutely proved that we would be wasting our time if it was a real telegram. It said, "Tell Svadlov" -- that`s a man in Moscow -- "that the family suffered the same fate as head." But there were a lot of things wrong about that telegram. We found that it was signed by a man called Bella Varodov, who was one of the Communist bosses in Yekaterinburg, and the signature didn`t match another signature belonging to the same man when we traced that. A lot of other things wrong with the way in which the telegram appeared as well.
LEHRER: So you think it was a forgery, in other words.
SUMMERS: Yes; indeed. We also found the . . .
MANGOLD: The signature, the signature, Jim, is certainly a forgery because we were able to compare it with an original Bella Vardov signature which was a signature he gave, curiously enough, when the Imperial family was handed over to him. He was a custodian if you like, at the house in Yekaterinburg, and the two signatures simply don`t match up. Indeed there`s no similarity at all.
LEHRER: What about the body of the dog. There was a body of a dog found there was there not?
SUMMERS: Yes, I was just coming to that. The dog`s -- it`s almost a sort of British discovery. I don`t know; maybe you care about pets just as much over here. But there was one of the dogs called Jenny, a small lap dog, which was allegedly found, and I have to put that in quotation marks, after a year at the bottom of a mine shaft. Now, that struck us as strange because we found evidence in the full dossiers that that mine shaft where the body had been found had been searched several times at the very beginning of the investigation. Then we got hold of the autopsy report on the dog, believe it or not, and that showed that the condition of the dog`s intestines were consistent with it being in the mine shaft or in water for a couple of days, not as Sokoloff suggested, a year.
LEHRER: What`s the significance of the dog? Why that was important to the Sokoloff investigation.
MANGOLD: You see, he had no bodies. His problem was there were no bodies. There were no teeth, there were no skulls, and very late in the day in his investigation, he suddenly came up with the body of the dog, and he said, "There it is. What more evidence do we need. The Bolsheviks clearly killed the family, and the killed the dog, and I produced the dog." And he said that the condition of the dog was very good after a year because it had been frozen in ice. And that fooled us for a little while, and then we managed to get hold of the weather records in Yekaterinburg, and we discovered that there wasn`t ice at that time, and my god, we went through a whole number on that, and the dog without any doubt at all it was planted.
LEHRER: I see. Robin?
MacNEIL: Who had a vested interest in promoting this massacre story? Let`s go through the people who could have. For instance, Lenin and the Bolsheviks. What was their interest in promoting the story that they had all been killed in Yekaterinburg?
SUMMERS: I think, perhaps that puts it back to front, because I think what happened here was a curious coincidence of motives as far as both Russian sides were concerned.
MacNEIL: Being the Whites and the Reds in the-Civil War.
SUMMERS: Right. Lenin and the anti-Bolshevik side. If I may take the anit- Bolshevik side first. I think that what happened is that by Christmas, 1918, that`s six months after the disappearance, the White generals thought that the family probably were dead. After all, they hadn`t popped up, and given that, they thought the family were now most useful as dead martyrs, and they should make as much propaganda as they could about it in terms of the Bolshevik fiends having put to death helpless women and children in a cellar in Yekaterinburg.
MacNEIL: And even stories leaped through the French about the women having been raped by the Red soldiers and other . . .
SUMMERS: Right, but they put out these stories, and then along came people like Carl Ackerman, a very distinguished correspondent of the New York Times, who incidentally had been sent from the East Coast here on the very day the shooting of the Tsar was announced, but unlike today, it had taken him about three or four months to get there. He had now arrived at White headquarters and he said; "That`s a great story, a terrible story, but how do you know?" And they responded by saying, "Go and see the judge." And the judge dealing with the case at that time was not Sokoloff by a very eminent judge, and he said, "I`ve been working on the case, and I don`t think they were killed in the cellar." The judge`s version didn`t jibe with the generals, and the judge was dismissed, and so the Sokoloff investigation then began. And it is clear that Sokoloff was appointed with the definite brief to prosecute the massacre story, so that anything else that then popped up that confused the issue or went against the massacre version was not worth the paper.
MacNEIL: So the Whites, in other words, had the motive of wanting to portray the martyred royal family. What about Lenin and the Reds?
MANGOLD: Well, Lenin and the Reds, and one has to paraphrase history here considerably. Essentially Germany had been taken out of the war against Russia, and there was an imminent danger that Germany might at any stage re-enter the war against Russia, and Lenin who was trying somehow to hold onto the revolution clearly couldn`t live with this. So he had to appease the Germans as best he could, and he signed a treaty, the Treaty of Brest- Litovsk in which he gave away a considerable part of Russia. Now, the Germans were interested in the safety of the Tsarina, the German princess, right? And they were interested in the safety of the children. There is no indication that they were totally interested in the safety of the Tsar, and there is considerable evidence in diplomatic exchanges that Lenin was going to do a deal with the surviving Romanov women and Kaiser Wilhelm, but this was not something that he could really let his own people know about because she was the hated Tsarina, the hated German princess. Therefore, as Tony was saying, there was a historical coincidence. The Reds wanted to keep it quiet, and the Whites wanted the Romanovs as martyrs.
MacNEIL: Yes. After the Raiser, another relative of the Imperial family of course was George V, the King of England. Now what was his motive, if any, in believing the massacre story?
SUMMERS: That`s a curious and shabby tale. At the beginning, when the Tsar abdicated in 1917, not only were the more reasonable, pre Lenin revolutionaries totally prepared to let the family go off into exile, they were not only prepared, they were eager for it, but the British government passed an agreement in Cabinet that they would accept the Russian Royal family in England, and too, I think to the Prime Minister`s astonishment, King George V, the Tsar`s good friend by his own statement, and his first cousin, started firing off letters to the British Foreign Secretary saying, "No way. Can`t have them here." And at first the British government said, "Well, we must because we`ve promised." And the King said, "If you must." But then came up a fortnight or so later and eventually put so much pressure on the British government to rescind the offer. But the offer was actually withdrawn. I think that he probably did this because of the public fervor in England at the time which made the King feel that it wouldn`t be too good to have the symbol of autocracy coming to British shores.
MacNEIL: All right. Now, is there any evidence that these interests, or their successors, are still trying to suppress the truth? Have you run into any of this in your investigation?
MANGOLD: Yes we have. I mean there are people who are not terribly keen to let the whole truth emerge, because we are talking about a conspiracy, and I think the reasons for this are not clear at the moment, but certainly we have found considerable opposition from Lord Mount Batten who was the Tsar`s nephew.
MacNEIL: who was the uncle of the present Duke of Edinburgh.
MANGOLD: Yes, and he has conducted his own investigations.
He believes very strongly in Sokoloff, and certainly when the story was serialized in the London Sundav Times, he was not keen that the serialization continue. But motives for this are not totally clear.
MacNEIL: All right. Thank you. Jim?
LEHRER: Gentlemen, besides possibly setting the records straight and telling a very good story, what do you hope that your book will accomplish.
MANGOLD: well, it will certainly change I think in many ways the claim of Anna Anderson, the woman who lives in Charlotteville, Virginia, to be the Grande Duchess, Anastasia.
LEHRER: All right. And that of course -- Anna Anderson may or may not be Anastasia. Because even while history has accepted the story of the Yekaterinburg killings, belief that some member of the Romanov family escaped death has persisted for nearly 60" years. The decades are dotted with sightings of one or all of the Imperial family, and the most persistent ghost from the Yekaterinburg cellar is Anastasia. Robin?
MacNEIL: Anastasia was the youngest of the Grande Duchesses. Something of an ugly duckling, she had a reputation of the family comedienne. She was just 17 in June of 1918. Of all the alleged Anastasias, none has intrigued the public more than a woman whose story began when she jumped off a bridge in Berlin on February 17th, 1920, a year and a half after the Romanovs Vanished at Yekaterinburg. In the 56 years that followed, this mystery woman who came to be called Anna Anderson inspired a Hollywood movie, excited cranks and average citizens alike and divided European royalty with questions about who she really was. Her identity was the subject of this centuries longest running legal case. Starting in 1938 nearly everything about her was examined in minute detail. Comparisons were made between her ears and pictures of Anastasia`s to see if the shapes were the same. Other experts matched handwriting samples and found over 100 identical characteristics. As of 1970 the ruling was that there is neither enough evidence to prove that Anna Anderson is Anastasia or enough to prove that she isn`t.
Today Anna Anderson lives in Charlotteville, Virginia. She has outlived most of her opponents and supporters. She insists she knows who she is and what occurred at Yekaterinburg. Here is how she put it in a rare interview granted to Merrill Mazuer of ABC-TV`s "Good Morning America."
ANNA ANDERSON: Who I am. I am the daughter of the Tsar of Russia. That`s all. And nothing else. What should I be otherwise?
MERRILL MAZUER: We asked, "Was anyone in your family murdered in Yekaterinburg?"
ANDERSON: No, no, no. That never happened. No, no.
MAZUER: So, we wanted to know what did happen.
ANDERSON: A killing could happen, and this was the place, and they tried to do that. A bomb was thrown. A bomb was; thrown.
MAZUER: She wouldn`t say how she got out of Russia.
ANDERSON: There are still people alive who helped me.
MAZUER: And she gave us another reason why she couldn`t just come out and tell us what happened even now, living in America, after all these years.
ANDERSON: Because I would be killed at once.
MAZUER: Finally we asked if there was anything more she wanted to tell us.
ANDERSON: Yes, there is, but I cannot tell it. No matter what, I cannot.
LEHRER: Peter Kurth has been researching the Anna Anderson case for five years. He has traveled to Europe several times in the course of his investigations and has visited with Anna Anderson. Mr. Kurth is currently writing a book on his findings.
First Mr. Kurth, did you go into your investigation thinking Anna Anderson was or was not Anastasia?
PETER KURTH: Well, I thought she probably was, but when I began all of this I had only read a very limited amount of the material, most of it which was in her favor. I went through two or three years after that not knowing what to believe, and now, after five years and an enormous amount of material, I have come back to the belief that she is Anastasia. But that`s only an opinion, and I think that in the absence of proof one way or the other that`s all anyone is really entitled to now.
LEHRER: All right. Why do you feel that? Why is your belief that she really is Anastasia? What do you base that on?
KURTH: As Tony and Tom have pointed out in their book, her case has not been a frivolous journey through the courts, that she stands alone among the Romanov claimers, and there have been many of those. It`s important to remember that in 56 years since her appearance in Berlin in 1920, no one has been able to prove that she is not Anastasia, and they have tried very hard to do so. They`ve done everything they possibly could to do so, and they have never been able to prove it. I think that`s quite an achievement for an impostor.
LEHRER: But on the other hand, nobody has ever been able to prove beyond a doubt that she in fact is Anastasia, have they?
KURTH: No. No, they haven`t. No.
LEHRER: Are you hoping to be able to do that?
KURTH: I think that in the absence of fingerprints there is probably no concrete, legal proof that could be furnished. I think that if you look at the people who have acknowledged Mrs. Anderson as Anastasia, you will find that invariably they were the people who really got to know her. They lived with her. I like to mention Princess Tsania of Russia who lived with her for six months in 1928, saw her every day, and testified on oath that she could only be Anastasia, she couldn`t be anybody else. Doctors and nurses who looked after her for years in hospitals -- she`s been ill all her life with various things -- every one, without exception has concluded that she is genuine. Now they can`t judge whether she is Anastasia or not, but they can speak about her sincerity.
LEHRER: You talked also to Anna Anderson. What impressions did you come away from your in person interviews with her?
KURTH: Well, (laughs)She is a charming woman. She is a very warm woman, and she is quite a character. I tried to avoid asking her questions about her past because I know that they ordinarily upset her and that she really herself doesn`t care any-more whether people believe it or not. So mfr impressions of her, they are only impressions, and I can say that I`m also convin6ed of her sincerity, but I can`t go really much further than that.
LEHRER: Yes. Robin?
MacNEIL: Yes. We just have a moment. I`d just like to know, pulling together your book and Mr. Kurth`s knowledge and this extraordinary interview we have just seen, is it now much more plausible that she is? Is there news in the conjunction of these things?
SUMMERS: Yes, I`m sure there is if I can take that one. One thing that sent a chill down our spines, Tom and I, and I should stress that Tom and I have not written an Anastasia book, we began with no brief for Anastasia, have ended with no brief for this lady. We have not endorsed her. But we have tried to line up in anon-partisan fashion the evidence for her. One thing that she said this week for the first time on public record was there was no massacure in the cellar. She said it in the past privately. She said` ,"There was no massacre in the cellar, but if I say that, they think I`m mad." Well, of course, everybody thought she was mad or phony all the time. But our evidence with academic backing now suggests there was no massacre, and it makes her look a lot less mad.
MacNEIL: Yes. And very briefly, the bomb that she mentions. That figures in your book. Very, very briefly.
MANGOLD: Yes, very briefly. The fact that a bomb was thrown at the family when they were prisoners in Yekaterinburg has not been on the public record before. We mention it in the book in a totally separate context. She had not read the book when she said that, and we were astonished to hear her say it.
MacNEIL: Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thanks Jim. Jim Lehrer and I will be back on Monday evening. I`m Robert MacNeil. Good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
- The File on the Tsar
- New Evidence on the Tsar
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- NewsHour Productions
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- The main topic of this episode is New Evidence on the Tsar. The guests are Tom Mangold, Antony Summers, Peter Kurth. Byline: Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer
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- Copyright NewsHour Productions, LLC. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode)
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Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
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- Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; The File on the Tsar; New Evidence on the Tsar,” 1977-03-31, National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 31, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-kk94747m3v.
- MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; The File on the Tsar; New Evidence on the Tsar.” 1977-03-31. National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 31, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-kk94747m3v>.
- APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; The File on the Tsar; New Evidence on the Tsar. Boston, MA: National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-kk94747m3v