Eye-witnesses' Description of the Horrible Deed. FRANCIS MCCULLAGH
Murder of Czar and His Family
Eye-witnesses' Description of the Horrible Deed. FRANCIS MCCULLAGH
MANY stories have been told and denials made with reference to the murder of the Czar and his family but an account which bears every impress of truth and which has been compiled from the accounts of eye-witnesses appears in the Nineteenth Century from the pen of Capt. McCullagh. who himself had to flee from the revolutionary terror over a thousand miles of frozen steppe and was lucky to escape with his life. The actual murderer was a shopkeeper and civilian tiamed Yurovsky, a Jew of Ekaterinburg, where the murders were committed. The date of the tragedy is given as July 16, 1918, and the writer claims that it is as well authenticated as the death of King Charles I. of England.
The following account, says the writer, of how the Emperor and his family were murdered is put together from the evidence of various eye-witnesses seen at different places in Ekaterinburg and from Russian official reports never before published. These accounts all corroborate one another on the main facts though they differ sometimes on minor details, so that description here given may be taken as, on the whole, authentic.
At about one o’clock on the night of the murder A'urovsky entered the bedroom of the Tzar, awoke him, and told him that the Czechs were expected in the town before daybreak. “Get up,” he said, “and dress. It would be better for you and your family to come down into the cellar as there may be fighting in the streets and stray bullets may come through these windows. I will wake up the others and wait for you all outside.”
Yurovsky, who seemed to have become unusually nervous and polite, then brought to the Grand Duchesses the same message as he had brought to the Tzar.
After leaving the Grand Duchesses’ room Yurovsky took up a position apart from the others, who were grouped in the centre of the chamber. He stood close to the door leading into the Imperial apartments, his head bent, listening in deep silence and with trembling limbs; and when I visited him on March 8, I was horrified to see him standing waiting for me at the end of a dark passage in exactly the same attitude. All the rest of the party were equally silent, and the scene was lighted up by several stable-lanterns, some of them held in the shaky hands oi the soldiers, some of them resting on the dining-room table. Seeing that something unusual was afoot, several Russian soldiers of the outer guard had drifted into the room and stood looking on, open-mouthed.
Finally the party, eleven in number, came out into the dining-room, fully dressed, the Tzar coming first. With him came his wife, son, and four daughters, Dr. Botkin, Demedova, the maid, one male servant, and lastly the cook. The former Autocrat of All the Russias was so thin and haggard as to be hardly recognizable.
I have this description from the priest who said Mass in the house a few days before. He wore a khaki-colored military blouse belted at the waist,loose bluecavalry breeches, soft leather high boots, but no cap. The Bolsheviks had deprived him some time before of his epaulettes and his George’s Cross so that he had no badges of military rank.
All the party then descended into the cellar in silence, one of the Grand Duchesses carrying her little brother in her arms as, owing to his lameness, he could not easily descend the steps, the Grand Duchess Tatiana raising her dress with her left hand as she stretched one foot cautiously downwards in the darkness while holding in her right arm the little dog, which affectionately licked her face.
It was a pathetic procession mainly composed of helpless women and of a crippled invalid child of fourteen years, the most helpless of them all. There were two women among them and four gentle girls who, if they had not been born in the purple, would nevertheless have been celebrated for their great personal beauty even in that land of beautiful women.
There was Tatiana, twenty-one years of age, a talented and kindly young woman already destined by Court gossips to be the future Queen of England; Olga, twenty-three; Maria, nineteen; and Anastasia, seventeen; the last named fragile and lovely as an opening flower, serene with the divine innocence of childhood and radiant with the bright charm of girlhood and health.
The Emperor and his wife went first, arm in arm, dignified but trembling, as if to meet a greater Monarch than themselves. Then came the little Tzarevitch carried by Olga, his eldest sister. Then Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, then the others in due order of their respective rank, with the humble, faithful cook bringing up the
After the cook came the representatives of a different world, headed by Yurovsky, gloomy and preoccupied, his brow dark with thoughts of murder, his right hand in his coat-pocket, grasping a revolver. He was followed by the Russian soldiers whom I have already referred to, and whose numbers had now been increased by the arrival of several others who were on guard át Post No. 4 and had come to the door of the cellar to see what was going on, little expecting, however, to find that their special duty at Ippatievsky had come to an end and they would never again be called upon to mount sentry over their imprisoned Gosudar.
The Tzar and his party clustered together at one end of this underground chamber, Tatiana still holding the little Pekingese in her arms, while the Lett soldiers as \vell as Yurovsky, Mrachkovsky and Metvietev remained in deep silence at the other end, the soldiers looking with strained and expectant eyes, now at Yurovsky, now at the Tzar. Mrachkovsky and Metvietev drew their revolvers and it must have been at once evident to the victims that something terrible was gomg to happen. It is a significant fact that there were only two Russians present amongst the executioners, and that there was not a single Russian soldier.
The cellar is about seventeen feet long by fourteen feet wide, and had one little half-moon window, protected by iron bars, high up in its outer wall. It had previously been frequented by the soldiers, some of whom had drawn on the walls indecent pictures of the Empress and Rasputin with the names written underneath so that there should be no mistake.
Meanwhile Yurovsky, whose face had become white, had drawn forth a paper and begun to read it by the light of a lantern which one of the soldiers held up. He grasped the paper in his left hand and clutched a revolver in his right. The reading did not take more than three seconds, for the document was very brief. It was simply an order of the Soviet Republic to execute “Nicholas Romanov, the Bloody, and all his family.” Yurovsky shouted it out rather than read it, and, while doing so, he hardly glanced at thepaper the contents of which he knew by heart, for he and Goloshokin had written it only an hour before.
Crossing herself again the Empress now fell on her knees and was followed by all the rest of the doomed party who also crossed themselves devoutly. The Emperor alone remained standing, and while Yurovsky was still shouting out the final words, “By Order of the Soviet of Workmen’s, Peasants’, and Soldiers’ Deputies,” he stepped quickly in front of his wife and children as if to shield them with his own body, at the same time saying something which was drowned by the sound of Yurovsky’s voice re-echoing dreadfully in that small chamber, then pointing to his little ories, crouching together, terrorstricken, on their knees, but his words were quite inaudible. Yurovsky, who, as I know from personal experience, is extremely quick in his mental processes, saw at once what that gesture meant and instantly determined to prevent all possibility of Nicholas Romanov making such a moving, human appeal for his young girls and his little crippled boy as might touch even the hard hearts of the executioners and lead to the lives of those innocents being spared. His right hand rose like a flash: he fired;
and at the same instant the Emperor reeled and fell, shot through the brain.
This fatal shot was the signal for the others to begin shooting, which they did, wildly; and in five minutes from the time Yurovsky had begun reading the death warrant, all of the Imperial party save the Grand Duchess Tatiana and the maid Demedova had been killed. Tatiana, who was wounded, had fainted and lay on the floor like one dead, her little dog standing on top of her and barking furiously at the soldiers until one of them killed it.
After having shot the Tzar, the chief assassin began discharging his revolver into the terrified group huddled close together in front of him with faces expressing the extremity of human fear. Only he and God know whether or not he also killed the little crippled Tzarevitch and some of his young sisters; and it was this dreadful secret, I think, which weighed on Yurovsky when I met him. Those who w-atched at the door could not tell exactly what happened in this brief space of time. Their minds were paralyzed by the swiftness and the appalling greatness of the tragedy. The lamps crashed on the ground, where some of them were broken and some of them flared up, filling the cellar with a yellow, smoky glare. The close, murky atmosphere was lit by flashes of firearms and, in the confined space, the noise of the explosions was deafening. From the descriptions given by eye-witnesses, the soldiers were mad with rage and drunk with blood. They not only bayoneted bodies already dead, but beat in the skulls of corpses with the buttends of their rifles. One of the soldiers, who was there as a spectator, says that “the murder was so cruel that it was difficult to watch it, and I felt so faint that I had to go out many times into the open air to recover.”
Until she fell dead herself the maid Demedova used her cushion vigorously
to beat up the muzzles of the rifles which were pointed at the children, so that half-adozen bullets struck the upper part of the wall or ricochetted from one wall to another, making marks which are still visible. One of these stray bullets took off the tips of threefingers of Yurovsky’s left hand, and the Commissar then moved towards the threshold where one of the Russian soldiers standing there bound up the wounds with a dirty handkerchief. Yurovsky seemed on the point of mounting the cellar steps to have his hand better attended to when suddenly there was a shriek from the beautiful Grand Duchess Tatiana who, having suddenly regained consciousness, sat up shouting “Mother! Mother!” Two or three of the soldiers instantly jumped towards her, and, while some of them ran their bayonets through her, others beat in her head with the butts of their rifles. There were seventeen deep dents made in the cellar floor by bayonets. There are sixteen bullet holes in the wall and sixteen bullets were extracted from them by the Whites after they arrived. Some of those bullets must have gone through the bodies of the victims before embedding themselves in the plaster. Several, which had penetrated for a short distance into the floor, must have passed through the corpses as they lay on the ground. Nearly all the bullets struck the wall low down, showing that they had been fired at people who were on their knees.
The article then goes on to describe how Yurovsky endeavored to dispose of the bodies without leaving any trace that they had ever existed. He first buried them, then had them dug up again and burnt them on an immense fire after saturating them with kerosene. Some few remains, however, were found by the Whites who afterwards captured Ekaterinburg and these were given decent burial.
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