Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, June 12, 2020

Crime: The Murder of the Tsar and His Family by Bolsheviks

The Royal Family, c. 1910/11

The mounting pressures of World War I, combined with years of injustice, toppled the rule of Tsar Nicholas II in March 1917. Forced to abdicate, he was replaced by a Provisional Government committed to continuing the war.

Increasing losses at the front and the fear of a German advance on Petrograd eroded what little support remained for the war and undermined the Provisional Government's authority. Capitalizing on this situation, the Germans secretly transported the exiled Vladimir Lenin in a sealed train from Switzerland to Russia in the hope he would inflame the turmoil. German expectations were realized on the night of 6–7 November when Trotsky managed the Bolsheviks' successful attempt to grab the reins of power in Petrograd. Anti-Bolshevik forces (the Whites) immediately took up arms to oust the Communist regime and Russia was plunged into a brutal civil war. The following March the Communist regime signed a treaty with the Germans ending Russia's participation in World War I.

Site of the Murders
Damage Due to Investigators Searching for Bullets

Against this backdrop of political chaos, the tsar and his family were initially kept as prisoners at Tsarskoe Selo and then transported beyond the Ural Mountains to Tobolsk for some months, finally ending up in the town of Ekaterinburg in the spring of 1918. The seven members of the imperial family and their small retinue were confined to the house of a successful local merchant, N. N. Ipatiev, which had been commandeered by the Bolsheviks for this purpose.

By mid-July, a Czech contingent of the White Army was approaching Ekaterinburg and the sounds of gunfire could be heard in the distance by the royal prisoners and their Bolshevik captors. The arrival of their potential liberators sealed the fate of the tsar and his family.

During the early morning hours of 17 July the tsar, his wife, children, and servants were herded into the cellar of their prison house and executed.

Sources: "The Execution of Tsar Nicholas II, 1918," Eyewitness to History, (2005); Beinecke Collection Yale University.

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