On an early dawn in Ipatiev House in Ekaterinberg, Russia, a family of seven is awakened and led to the basement. Here in a small room they are told to line up along with their servants. Armed men enter the room, take aim, and unleash a hail of bullets on them. Thus end the lives of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra and their children on 17 July 1918.
That is the standard account of the execution of the Romanovs that the world has known. In The Secret Plot to Save the Tsar, Shay McNeal disputes this story. She asserts with some compelling arguments and evidence that this official account of the end of the Tsar’s family might be a fabrication that the Bolsheviks wanted the world to accept, and that the Romanovs were not killed but removed from Ekaterinberg to some unknown location. McNeal introduces readers to several key players in this plot to save the Tsar: King George V and Prime Minister Lloyd George of Britain; American Charles Crane, advisor of President Woodrow Wilson, and also a friend of the leaders of the Russian provisional government after Tsar’s abdication; and several European, American and Japanese politicians, diplomats and intelligence agents. The author has numerous references and sources - which after the first few chapters become difficult to keep track of - to substantiate her claim. Among these are several Bolshevik documents that point to a banking scheme that was devised by the Allies that included a secret agreement with Lenin to ensure the safety of the imprisoned royal family.
However, McNeal has no information on what might have happened to the family after they were removed from Ekaterinberg. One story has it that the Tsar was executed but the rest of the family was allowed to escape. But where did they escape to? As the Bolshevik revolution was in its infancy and the Central Committee in Moscow did not have much control over the rest of the country yet, it might be possible that the Tsar’s supporters among the Bolsheviks had arranged for safe passage of the Romanovs out of Russia. This seems unlikely in the light of the savage brutality that was unleashed by the Bolsheviks upon the bourgeoisie during and after the Communist Revolution. Leaving a single Romanov alive, would also keep open the possibility of a return to monarchy and jeopardize the chances of the fledging Communist Party holding on to power.
McNeal dismisses the single most important piece of evidence that is now accepted as proof of the execution: the “Romanov bones”. DNA analysis of bones discovered in a pit near Ipatiev house in Ekaterinberg have shown a match with Prince Philip of England (the closest living relative of the Romanovs). After meeting experts on forensic and DNA analysis, the author concludes that such a match cannot be taken as a conclusive proof that the bones were that of the Tsar’s family. The bones could well have belonged to other members of the extended royal family who were also executed. The DNA profile matches only a portion of the DNA sequence and cannot be considered unique. The author also feels that the manner in which the bones were discovered makes it seems like a charade carried out by the authorities of the erstwhile Soviet Union in order bring a close to the “execution story”.
The Secret Plot to Save the Tsar is another the book that continues the “Romanov execution” controversy. And after putting down this volume, the reader is left wondering about what really might have happened on that early dawn of 17 July 1918.
© 2002 by Shampa Chatterjee for Curled Up With a Good Book