Sir C. Eliot to Mr. Balfour.―( Received January 2, 1919.)
Ekaterinburg, October 5, 1918.
I HAVE the honour to submit the following report of what is known respecting the fate of the Russian Imperial family, as well as a short narrative written at my request by Mr. Sidney Gibbes, formerly tutor to His Imperial Highness the Czarevitch. Mr. Gibbes accompanied the Imperial children from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg on 23rd May, but was not allowed to live in the house where they were confined with their parents in the latter town.
The Bolsheviks of Ekaterinburg stated in speeches and proclamations that the Czar was shot on the night of 16th July, but many of the best-informed Russians believe that he is still alive and in German custody. I dare not, however, indulge the hope that this is true, unless some more adequate explanation than those current can be given of the supposed action of the Bolsheviks.
The official in charge of the enquiry at the time of my visit showed me over the house where the Imperial family resided. He dismissed as pure inventions the stories commonly believed in Siberia, such as that the corpse had been discovered, or that a member of the firing party had made a confession. On the other hand, he said that all the narratives of persons who thought they had seen the Emperor after 16th July had proved to be entirely without foundation. In his own opinion, the chances were four to three that the murder had been perpetrated. The house stands on the side of a hill, and the entrance leads into the first floor, where the Imperial family lived ; the ground floor, in which the guard was quartered, consisting of offices and kitchens. The latter, however, were not used for cooking, the only food allowed being military rations brought in from outside, and some special dishes for the Tsarevitch which were supplied by the nuns of a neighbouring convent. A high wooden palisade hid the windows of the upper storey,which were also whitewashed inside and kept closed even in the heat of summer.
The Imperial family had to endure considerable hardships and insolence while they lived in this house. They were allowed only one walk of fifteen minutes in the garden every day, but the Czar found distraction in doing carpentering work in an open shed. At meals the soldiers sometimes came in and took part of the meat off the table, saying that there was too much, and the Imperial Family were not allowed decent privacy.
The rooms when I saw them presented a melancholy and dirty appearance, because the Bolsheviks had burnt a great quantity of objects in the stoves, and the ashes were subsequently taken out by the police and spread on the tables and floor with the object of discovering if they contained anything interesting.
There appears to be no evidence whatever to corroborate the popular story that on the night of the 16th July the Czar was taken out of the house and shot by a firing party in the manner usual at Bolshevik executions, but there is some evidence that sounds of uproar and shooting were heard in the house that night, and that no traffic was allowed in the streets near it. The murder is believed to have taken place in a room on the ground floor, which was sealed up, but kindly opened for my inspection. It was quite empty ; the floor was of plain wood, and the walls of wood coated with plaster. Doggerel verses and indecent figures were scrawled on them. On the wall opposite the door, and on the floor, were the marks of seventeen bullets, or, to be more accurate, marks showing where pieces of the wall and floor had been cut out in order to remove the bullet holes, the officials charged with the investigation having thought fit to take them away for examination elsewhere. They stated that Browning revolver bullets were found in all the holes, and that some of them were stained with blood. Otherwise no traces of blood were visible, but there were some signs that the wall had been scraped and washed. The position of the bullets indicated that the victims had been shot when kneeling, and that other shots had been fired into them when they had fallen on the floor. Mr. Gibbes thought that for religious reasons the Czar and Dr. Botkine would be sure to kneel when facing death. There is no real evidence as to who or how many the victims were, but it is supposed that they were five, namely, the Czar, Dr. Botkine, the Empress’s maid, and two lackeys. No corpses were discovered, nor any trace of their having been disposed of by burning or otherwise, but it was stated that a finger bearing a ring, believed to have belonged to Dr. Botkine, was found in a well.
On the 17th July a train with the blinds down left Ekaterinburg for an unknown destination, and it is believed that the surviving members of the Imperial family were in it.
It will be seen from the above account that the statement of the Bolsheviks is the only evidence for the death of the Czar, and it is an easy task for ingenious and sanguine minds to invent narratives giving a plausible account of His Imperial Majesty's escape. It must indeed be admitted that since the Empress and her children, who are believed to be still alive, have totally disappeared, there is nothing unreasonable in supposing the Czar to be in the same case. The marks in the room at Ekaterinburg prove at most that some persons unknown were shot there, and might even be explained as the result of a drunken brawl.
But I fear that another train of thought is nearer to the truth. It seems to me eminently probable that the Bolsheviks of Moscow, or a section of them, wished to hand over the Czar to the Germans. With this object a commissioner went to Tobolsk and removed Their Imperial Majesties in a summary, but not unkindly, manner, probably intending to take them to Moscow. He evidently knew that the temper of the Siberian Bolsheviks was doubtful, for he stopped the train outside Omsk and, finding that the local authorities intended to arrest the Czar, he ordered the train to leave for Ekaterin-burg, that is, to take the only other route to Moscow. But when the train reached Ekaterinburg it was stopped by the local authorities and all the occupants removed. Subsequently the Imperial children were brought to Ekaterinburg from Tobolsk and placed in custody with their parents. The treatment of the Imperial family at Ekaterinburg shows an animus which was entirely wanting at Tobolsk, and the Bolsheviks became more hostile and more suspicious, as they felt that their own reign was coming to an end, and that they must leave the city. There is some evidence that they were much alarmed by an aeroplane flying over the garden of the house, and I fear it is comprehensible that in a fit of rage and panic they made away with His Imperial Majesty.
It is the general opinion in Ekaterinburg that the Empress, her son, and four daughters were not murdered, but were despatched on the 17th July to the north or west. The story that they were burnt in a house seems to be an exaggeration of the fact that in a wood outside the town was found a heap of ashes, apparently the result of burning a considerable quantity of clothing. At the bottom of the ashes was a diamond, and, as one of the Grand Duchesses is said to have sewn a diamond into the lining of her cloak, it is supposed that the clothes of the Imperial family were burnt here. Also hair, identified as belonging to one of the Grand Duchesses, was found in the house. It therefore seems probable that the Imperial family were disguised before their removal. At Ekaterinburg I did not hear even a rumour as to their fate, but subsequent stories about the murder of various Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses cannot but inspire apprehension.
I have, &c.
Enclosure in No.8.
Memorandum Written by Mr. Sydney Gibbes, formerly Tutor of the Tsarevitch, and given to me (High Commissioner) on October 5, at Ekaterinburg.
THE Emperor had no great cause to complain of his treatment while living in Tobolsk, and physically he greatly improved in health. He seemed to feel that he had absolved himself of a wearisome business and thrown the responsibility on other shoulders. The enforced leisure gave him more time to devote to what was undoubtedly dearest to him in the world ― his wife and family. The Empress suffered more, but bore bravely up under all hardship.
The Grand Duchesses were always happy and contented, and seemed satisfied with the simple life to which they were reduced, although they pined for more exercise in the open air, the yard being a poor substitute for the parks. This indeed seemed generally to be their greatest hardship.
The Grand Duke enjoyed fairly good health most of the time, and suffered most from lack of youthful society, although the doctor's son was sometimes allowed to enter and play with him.
This simple family life went on till the beginning of April (o.s.), when the first important Bolshevik Commissar, Yakovlef, arrived from Moscow. He was received by the Emperor, who showed him the rooms in which they lived, including the Grand Duke's room, where he was then lying ill in bed. At the end of the visit he asked to be taken a second time to see the Grand Duke.
After lunch on the 12th of April, Yakovlef announced to the Emperor and Empress that he was instructed to remove the Emperor, and hoped that he would consent and not oblige him to use force. The Empress was greatly distressed, and at her desire was allowed to accompany the Emperor and take with her her third daughter, the Grand Duchess Marie. Hasty preparations were made for their departure. The Imperial family dined alone, but at eleven o’ clock invited all who were accustomed to dine with them to tea in the drawing-room. Tea was served at a large round table carried into the room, and was a very sad meal. The departure was fixed for 3 A.M., and shortly before that time carts and carriages entered the yard. The Emperor drove with Yakovlef, and the Empress and Grand Duchess Marie in a half-covered tarantass. They were accompanied by Prince Dolgorouki,Dr. Botkine,the Empress's maid(Demidova),the Emperor's man (Chemidorof), and one lackey (Saidnef). The carriages were strewn with hay, on which they sat, or rather reclined. The roads were in a fearful condition, the thaws having already begun, and at one point they were obliged to cross the river on foot, the ice being already unsafe. On the second night, they spent a few hours in a hut, and arrived on the following day at Tumen, where a train was in waiting which took them in the direction of Omsk. Some versts outside that town Yakovlef left the train and went by motor car to the telegraph station to communicate with Moscow, and, finding that preparations were being made in Omsk to arrest the Imperial family, he returned to the train, which then left in the opposite direction, and returned the way it came. However, on arrival at Ekaterinburg, the train was stopped and everybody removed : Prince Dolgorouki to prison and the others to a private house in the centre of the town that had hastily been prepared for their reception. A high wooden fence of rough boards was hastily put up outside the house, and the windows whitened within. Here the Emperor, Empress, and Grand Duchess Marie lived till the 16th July (o.s.), the rest of the children being brought from Tobolsk to join their parents on the 23rd of May. For this journey elaborate arrangements were made for its safe conduct, and the whole personal effects of the Imperial family, as well as the furniture from the Governor's house, were removed at the same time. The train arrived in the middle of the night, but was kept moving in and out of the station all night, and at 7 A.M. the children were removed, being placed in cabs and taken to the house. The night was cold and heavy snow fell as they left. At tea the Countess Hendrichof, the Empress's Lady–in-Waiting, Mlle. Schneider, the Empress's reader in Russian, and General Tatischef were taken away to the prison and have since been shot. At 11, three lackeys, the cook, and his boy were ordered to prepare to go into the house, and two certainly, most probably four, were afterwards shot. The remainder of the establishment, consisting of the Baroness Buxhoevden, Lady–in-Waiting to the Empress, the English and French tutors, and about sixteen personal attendants and servants were set at liberty and happily escaped.
Since the departure of the Bolsheviks, the house in which the Imperial family lived has been thoroughly examined, and undoubted traces of murder exist, but the number of shots are not sufficient to warrant the supposition that all the persons there confined were murdered. Part were murdered and part were taken away, and as the Grand Duchesses' hair had been found, it is supposed that the Imperial children were taken away disguised. Garments having been burnt in a forest outside the town also strengthens this supposition. The Bolsheviks announced after this date at a public meeting held in the theatre and by bills posted on the walls that the Emperor had been shot and the Imperial family removed to a safe place, and to the present there is no evidence to prove the statement false, while the evidence of the hair would prove that at least the part of the statement concerning the children was true. But since that date nearly three months have passed.
Other members of the Imperial family confined at Alapaevsk, a small town 100 versts from Ekaterinburg, included the Grand Duke Serge Michaelovitch, Prince John Constantinovitch, Prince Igor Constantinovitch, and Count Vladimir Pavlovitch Pale′, all of whom there is reason to fear have been killed. The Grand Duchess Serge, who was also there is reported to have been wounded and taken away. Princess Helen Petrovna, of Serbia, who came to Ekaterinburg to be near her husband, was arrested, as well as the two Serbian officers who came to induce her to leave, and has been removed with the other hostages taken from the town.