Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Resurrection of the Romanovs: Anastasia, Anna Anderson and the World's Greatest Royal Mystery

The newest book by Greg King and Penny Wilson
"Anna Anderson" comes to America
Water streamed from her hair down her clothes into her shoes, and ran out at the heels. Yet she claimed to be a real Princess....There, that's a true story. ~from "The Princess and the Pea" by Hans Christian Andersen
The above quote is borrowed from Tom Summers and Anthony Mangold, who used it to preface their chapter on Anastasia Manahan, alias "Anna Anderson," in their 1977 bestseller The File on the Tsar. The book dealt with the fate of Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra and their family, as well as the possibility of the survival of the Grand Duchess Anastasia in the person of "Anna Anderson," a mysterious girl pulled from Berlin's Landwehr Canal in 1920 after a suicide attempt. I have been interested in the assassination of the Russian Imperial family since college and graduate school when I took several classes in Russian history, focusing on Soviet ways and methods. As a senior at Hood College I was nominated to present a paper on Soviet Russia at the 1984 Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference in Annapolis, MD. In grad school, I concentrated more on the Romanovs and the mystery of "Anna Anderson" which is when I discovered Peter Kurth's witty and informative book about the most famous of all claimants, Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna Anderson. I have since tried to remain informed about the ongoing developments in the cases of missing and found Romanovs. Now that the gods of science have spoken, declaring "Anna Anderson" to be none other than Franziska Schanzkowska, a Kashubian peasant, one may wonder at the purpose of yet another book on the subject.

 Let me first say that the scientists and scholars who have pinned the identity of "Anna Anderson" upon Franziska  Schanzkowska should apologize to the Kashubian peasants of the world. "Anna," whose legal name became Anastasia Manahan, or "Mrs. Manahan" as she preferred to be called, not only had a borderline personality but she did not even know how to bury a dead cat. Or a dead dog, for that matter. Every house she ever owned was condemned as a public health hazard because of the animal mess, inside and out, not to mention the way she allowed her gardens to become overgrown. Not only was she formally rejected by the Romanov clan but most of the Schanzkowski clan wanted nothing to do with her either. Furthermore, Mrs. Manahan was evicted from the country club in Charlottesville, Virginia, which in some people's minds is a greater shame than not being a Romanov. In the end, she married the one person in the world as thoroughly pixillated herself, Professor John Manahan of Charlottesville, the scion of several old and respected Virginia families. In spite of his connections, John was asked to leave the country club, too.

The Resurrection of the Romanovs (2011) by Greg King and Penny Wilson is a response to those who sincerely came to believe that Anastasia Manahan was in actuality Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia.  The authors postulate that the belief in Mrs. Manahan as the Grand Duchess Anastasia has been mainly due to mere wishful and romantic thinking. I disagree, for there was nothing in the least romantic about the shattered and bizarre life of the claimant. Many believed because Mrs. Manahan was recognized as being the long lost Grand Duchess by several Romanov relatives, retainers and family friends. There was also some forensic evidence in support of her claim, such as having the same congenital foot defect (hallux valgus) as the Grand Duchess, as well as anthropological studies and the testimony of handwriting experts. However, in The Resurrection of the Romanovs, King and Wilson leave no stone unturned in documenting why it has become obvious to them, aside from the DNA analyses, that Mrs. Manahan was indeed the hapless Franciska Schanzkowska.

The Resurrection of the Romanovs made me reread King and Wilson's previous book, The Fate of the Romanovs (2003). The Fate of the Romanovs is a tome overflowing with data about the 1918 murders of the Imperial Family and their four retainers. It tells how the Russian government engineered the "finding" of the mass grave in the forest outside of Ekaterinburg, which was finally excavated in a disorganized fashion in 1991. Only nine out of the eleven victims were found. The chief executioner, Yakov Yurovsky, claimed to have burned two of the corpses, those of the Tsarevich Alexei and one of the women, in Pig's Meadow, but no one could discover any trace of them. Having studied the Katyn Massacre of 1940, in which 20,000 Polish officers were massacred by the Soviets, who then, over the next few decades, overturned heaven and earth to make it look like the Nazis had committed the crime, I am cautious as to what I believe coming out of Russia. Although the Communist system has been overthrown, many of the same leaders are still in place, with similar attitudes about secrecy and social control. Although the Russian scientists insisted that Grand Duchess Anastasia was accounted for among the pile of bones found in the mass grave, the American forensic expert Dr. Maples asserted that the remains of the youngest Grand Duchess were missing. In spite of Maples' protestations, the questionable skeletal remains were entombed in 1998 under the name of Anastasia Nikolaevna with the eight other victims found in the same burial place. To this day, the Russian Orthodox Church does not acknowledge the remains as being those of the Romanovs. The Fate of the Romanovs ended with the authors acknowledging Anastasia's body was still missing, although the area around Pig's Meadow had been meticulously searched.

In Resurrecting the Romanovs, written in 2011, it is described how the remains of Alexei and Anastasia suddenly surfaced in Pig's Meadow in 2007, discovered by a Russian archaeologist. So Grand Duchess Anastasia has gone from having no body to having two bodies, or three if we include the ashes of Mrs. Manahan, whom many considered to be the real Anastasia, before the DNA tests, of course. Not that this should come as a surprise to those who are familiar with the ins and outs of the case, which has been convoluted from the onset. At any rate, King and Wilson make a strong argument for Mrs. Manahan being the peasant-turned-factory worker-turned-mental patient, Franciska Schanzkowska. One of my favorite aspects of the book is that the authors demonstrate that being a  peasant does not mean a total lack of sophistication, in that peasants have the ability to learn foreign languages like everyone else. In fact, Kashubian peasants like Franciska spoke Polish and German as well as Kashubian. Furthermore, Franciska demonstrated a facility for languages, which explains how as "Anna Anderson" she would have been able to pick up English so quickly. There is little known about Franciska's youth; the authors speculate that she might have been molested by her father, had an abortion and then made extra money as a prostitute. I think such broad assumptions about the life of Franciska based upon scanty evidence are odd in contrast to King and Wilson's hair-splitting of every utterance and action of "Anna Anderson."

"Anna Anderson" (center) with German aristocratic friends, including Prince Frederick of Saxe-Altenburg, cousin of the Grand Duchess Anastasia
On the whole, the book left me with more questions than it answered. I know from reading about the "Lost Dauphin" that false claimants are usually easily unmasked, even without the help of advanced scientific methodology. "Anna Anderson's" case went on and on for decades, and The Resurrection of the Romanovs fails to explain to me why. For instance, since Franciska had been incarcerated at the Dalldorf asylum a few years previous to "Anna's" stay there, then why did no one recognize "Anna" as being Franciska? Also, Franciska was described as being promiscuous, a description I have never seen applied to "Anna Anderson." Perhaps this is because "Anna" was extremely ill with tuberculosis, as well as suffering post traumatic stress disorder. But then how could such an ill person, who in the mid-1920's was on morphine for the pain in her infected arm, pull off a studied charade? If "Anna" spent so much time practicing her signature, and if she had  a facility for languages, then why did she not spend time learning Russian, when speaking Russian was the key to acceptance as the daughter of the Tsar? While most agreed that she understood Russian, she obstinately refused to speak it, even when pressed to do so by judges. A clever sociopath should have known better.

As for her handwriting, the authors insist "Anna" learned to forge the real Anastasia's signature. If that is the case, then why did the three handwriting experts say that, judging from the handwriting samples, "Anna Anderson" and Grand Duchess Anastasia were the same person? I thought that detecting forgeries is what handwriting experts do. And the forgery would have only been by an amateur, and a sick amateur at that. It is also interesting that the various doctors who examined "Anna Anderson" over the years did not believe she was insane. In the 1930's at the Ilten Psychiatric Institute, Dr. Hans Willige examined her when she was his patient and made the following assessment:
She 'frequently declined to give us information when it did not suit her,' he said, and at other times 'she knowingly made false statements, quite consciously and willingly.' This, while he reported that she was 'not insane' and 'bore no symptoms of mental disease,' he deemed Anderson 'a peculiar personality' marked by fears of persecution, 'obstinacy,' 'an unhealthy willfulness,' 'unrestrained emotional impulses,' a 'highly egocentric outlook,' and an 'internal haughtiness,' all of which manifested themselves in a complex and confusing composition. (pp. 200-201)
This inclination to make false statements for the fun of it perhaps explains why "Anna" claimed that the Alexander Palace had malachite window sills. Anyone who had studied photos of the Imperial family as much as she did (she had over two thousand photos) would have seen that the window sills in the Alexander Palace were not malachite. She obviously enjoyed making her confusing case more confusing by refusing to answer questions that any good imposter should have known, or by giving what she must have known to be wrong answers. Of course, such perverse and aggravating behavior worked against her ever being legally acknowledged as the Tsar's daughter.

One aspect of the book I found utterly tasteless were the swipes made at author Peter Kurth, Mrs. Manahan's biographer. There is much more about Mrs. Manahan's quirky, charming personality in Kurth's biography whereas this latest work seems determined to highlight only the aberrant aspects. I do not understand, however, why Mr. Kurth was several times singled out for criticism. Those who sincerely researched "Anna Anderson" before the DNA tests and thought she might be Anastasia should not be pilloried. There are still many things about her case which, in spite of the DNA tests, cannot be explained, and which I do not think that King and Wilson are able to convincingly explain. While they are magnificent researchers they sometimes lack discernment when it comes to interpreting the data. For example, when "Anna Anderson" came to be the guest of Duke Georg von Leuchtenburg at Castle Seeon in Bavaria, she was confronted by the detective Martin Knopf and a woman named Doris Wingender, who insisted the claimant was Franciska Schanzkowska. (pp.308-309) "Anna" turned to the Duke, saying: "And did you really believe that you had given shelter to the daughter of your Tsar?" The Duke replied: "Even Franziska Schanzkowska may stay at my house. I have never known for certain whether you were the Tsar's daughter or not. I have only treated you with the sympathy one should have for a sick person." The authors see the Duke's reply as being unbelievably bizarre. They miss the point. Duke Georg was a gentleman of the old school. To him, it was vital that a lady who was a guest in his house, and a sick guest at that, should not be exposed to humiliation. Being a good host and helping his guest to recover her health were more important to him than exposing a potential fraud. It was also his gentle way of maintaining control of the situation. But the Duke was from another time, place and generation. It is almost impossible to expect most modern people to understand his kind of nobility.

For those who enjoy anything and everything about the last Imperial Family, then The Resurrection of the Romanovs is a must-read. Since I enjoy works about Europe in the years between the World Wars, and find the Russian emigré culture especially fascinating, this was a book I could not put down. The authors are at their best when they are presenting the fruits of their vast research which they are able to do in a coherent fashion. I came away from the book with a sense that, where Mrs. Manahan's case is concerned, there were few genuinely malicious people involved but rather people who were working for or against the claimant based upon assumptions which may or may not have been true. Mrs. Manahan herself was caught up in the midst of a storm from which she was unable to escape, as the authors are correct in pointing out. It is an enjoyable read, and perhaps the last time we shall hear of the mystery of Anastasia, since the book appears to wrap everything up quite neatly. But as I said before, there are still questions, some of which might never be answered, although I have found that where the Romanovs are concerned, there is always another chapter.

Grand Duchess Anastasia, Empress Alexandra and Grand Duchess Maria at the palace of Livadia in the Crimea. Click on the picture for a better view of Anastasia's foot with the congenital hallux valgus. The late Anastasia Manahan aka "Anna Anderson" had the same congenital defect.



May said...

Goodness! My head is spinning...this really is a convoluted story but I can clearly see your eagerness and enthusiasm for the topic. :)

julygirl said...

Only a true historian such as you can sift through all the information and make any sense of it. I have read many of the books regarding the Romanovs and find them fascinating, so will also tackle this current one. Thanks for your excellent review as well as your additional information on the subject.

Stephanie A. Mann said...

Thank you for a very thoughtful review! I'm sure you've read "The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg" by Helen Rappaport. I thought her narration of the last Divine Liturgy the family attended, with the family all falling to their knees during the prayer for the dead, was so moving.