The 1997 animated film Anastasia tells a beautifully touching tale of the Grand Duchess trying to find her family…but how much of the story we see on screen is true? This week we’ll dive into the mystery surrounding the story of Anatasia’s alleged disappearance.
KEEP LEARNING WITH MORE RESOURCES
- Anastasia (1997) – Full Cast & Crew – IMDb
- Anastasia (1997) – Plot Summary – IMDb
- Anastasia (1997 film) – Wikipedia
- The Real Tragedy Behind ‘Anastasia’
- Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia – Wikipedia
- The TRUE Story Behind Anastasia Is One That Will Chill You to Your Bones! | moviepilot.com
- Anna Anderson Anastasia The Romanovs True Story
- Anastasia Romanov – Biography.com
- Anastasia Romanov Imposters – Anastasia Romanov True Story
- Anastasia arrives in the United States – Feb 06, 1928 – HISTORY.com
- Amazon.com: Biography – Anastasia: Her True Story: Anastasia: Movies & TV
- History and Women: Anastasia Romanov
- The Real Story Behind Anastasia Is So Much Sadder Than the Movie
- The Romanovs – Russiapedia The Romanov dynasty Prominent Russians
- The Escape of Alexei. Son of Tsar Nicholas II
- The executioner Yurovsky’s account – Blog & Alexander Palace Time Machine
- Amazon.com: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia (Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children (Awards)) eBook: Candace Fleming: Kindle Store
- Amazon.com: The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra eBook: Helen Rappaport: Kindle Store
- The Romanovs: 1613-1918 – Kindle edition by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Politics & Social Sciences Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
- Amazon.com: The Romanovs: The Final Chapter eBook: Robert K. Massie: Kindle Store
- Amazon.com: The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg eBook: Helen Rappaport: Kindle Store
- Anastasia (1956 film) – Wikipedia
- BBC NEWS | Europe | Romanovs laid to rest
- Yurovsky Note 1922 English – Blog & Alexander Palace Time Machine
In the world of animation, there are few names that hold such a place of honor as Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. Even if you don’t know their names, you know their work.
Don was a character animator on Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood, and also the director of The Land Before Time, An American Tail, the writer and director of All Dogs Go To Heaven…and so many more.
Meanwhile, Gary’s resume is just as impressive with animation work on The Rescuers, Pete’s Dragon, The Fox and the Hound alongside directing animated films like Titan: A.E., Thumbelina and All Dogs Go To Heaven.
That last one was co-directed and co-written by both Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. Actually, a lot of those credits are ones both Don and Gary share.
When Don and Gary met up at Walt Disney Studios in 1972, the two formed a friendship that still exists today. Even since leaving Disney, the duo have worked on a lot of great projects like The Secret of NIMH and Dragon’s Lair.
Today, we’re going to be learning about another project that both Don and Gary worked on when they co-directed 1997’s Anastasia.
Learn the true story of Anastasia
Our movie today begins with quite a bit of context set up by the legendary actress Angela Lansbury and her character, the Dowager Empress Marie.
Her voiceover explains that there was a time, not long ago, when we lived in an enchanted world of elegant palaces and grand parties. That time, was year 1916 and the “we” she’s referring to was the family of Nicholas, the Czar of Imperial Russia. Through brilliant visuals, we see a grand ballroom filled with guests all dancing to a beautiful orchestral score.
Or, as the movie says it, nineteen hundred and sixteen.
She continues, explaining that the party was a celebration of the 300th anniversary of the family rule. Then we find out that she’s heading back to Paris, despite her youngest granddaughter’s begging her to stay. That granddaughter is, of course, Anastasia.
As a little side note, the name of the movie is one that gets pronounced differently depending on a lot of factors. That’s certainly not new—pronunciations are often quite different depending on the region of the world or period in history.
In the movie, it’s Anastasia. But it’s very possible you pronounce it differently. Anastasia or Anastasia. I found all of those and more in my research.
But I know pronunciations can be a hot button issue for some people, so I thought I’d point this out up front. Since the movie pronounces it Anastasia, that’s how I’ll pronounce it throughout this episode. As is always the case with pronunciations on this show, if you prefer a different pronunciation then I hope the one I’m using doesn’t affect your ability to enjoy the story.
OK, so back to the movie’s timeline, we’re still learning about the context of the story from Angela Lansbury’s voiceover as we see the obviously evil character of Rasputin come onto the screen. He’s one of those stereotypical animated film bad guys…no question the first time you see him that he’s the villain of the story.
As the movie explains, Rasputin was a holy man who was a fraud. Power-hungry and dangerous, Rasputin sold his soul to get the power to destroy Nicholas—his hated enemy.
All of this is apparently happening on the same night of the 300th anniversary, because we see the party go from happy and gleeful to menacing when Rasputin shows up to Rasputin’s green goblin or bat-like creatures sparking a riot among the people. Then we see Anastasia running away with her grandmother, trying to escape soldiers who have broken into the palace.
As they flee the area, Angela Lansbury’s voiceover explains that so many lives were destroyed that night. And then as we see Anastasia not make the train that her grandmother is on, we hear the voiceover—my beloved grandchild, Anastasia. I never saw her again.
All of that up until now is before we even see the movie’s title.
Obviously not all of that is true—the whole green, magical creatures flying around aren’t very realistic—but there’s quite a bit of that long opening sequence before the film’s title that is rooted in truth.
Let’s start with Nicholas, who really was the Czar of Imperial Russia. Although the movie doesn’t mention it here, who they’re referring to was actually Nikolai Aleksandrovich Romanov, or more commonly known Nicholas II. He became the Russian Czar with his coronation on May 26th, 1896.
So it is true that he was the Czar of Imperial Russia in 1916, but it’s not quite true that the Romanov family would’ve been celebrating their 300th anniversary like we see in the beginning of the movie.
The Romanov Dynasty began in 1613. Technically, it was July 22nd, 1613 when Mikhail Romanov was crowned—although he didn’t become all-Russian sovereign until 1625. So by the time 1916 rolled around it would’ve technically been the 303rd year of their family rule. But hey, that’s pretty close. At least it’s closer to realism than the green, magical creatures.
A little less realistic, though, was the movie’s mention about life in Russia in 1916 being all elegant palaces and grand parties. Well, maybe that’s what it was for the rich, but that’s not how it was for everyone. The unrest in Russia began long before 1916. It wasn’t some sudden thing like the movie implies.
You see, many consider Czar Nicholas II’s reign to be one that took Russia from a superpower of the world to being a country in utter collapse.
His reign could be an entire podcast in and of itself, but even the beginning of his reign started off negatively. That was in 1896, just after his coronation when about 100,000 citizens attended a grand celebration that saw some 1,300 of them crushed to death as a result of the field’s uneven terrain. People tripped, and were trampled.
As you can probably imagine, that didn’t help Nicholas II’s view in the eyes of the people and almost immediately, he had a hard time gaining the trust of the people.
Just a few years later, relations with Japan grew to the point of war. Just before a formal declaration of war was made, Japan attacked a Russian fleet in early 1904. Confident they’d win with their superior military, Nicholas II entered into war with Japan.
Except, even though the Great Siberian Railway had been completed in 1902 to help facilitate trade with the east, much of Russia’s might was still in the west—near Europe. So war with Japan was a long-distance war that was exasperated by the United Kingdom’s treaty with Japan, which blocked Russia from using the Suez Canal for its fleets.
The Russo-Japanese war in 1904 didn’t last long, with Russia being forced to sue for peace that same year. Not the outcome Nicholas II expected at the beginning of the fight.
The movie never mentions this at all, but then there’s the story of how Nicholas II earned his nickname—Bloody Nicholas.
With riots forming around religious freedoms, publicly, Nicholas II denounced the anti-Semitic materials published by newspapers that fueled the riots. Privately, though, it was the Minister of the Interior who was funding them. Nicholas II was supporting the anti-Semitic riots as a tool for uniting the people behind his own government.
United behind a common enemy, or something like that.
Then came Bloody Sunday.
Not the one in Derry, Ireland that saw 14 people killed and was the subject of U2’s famous song Sunday Bloody Sunday.
This Bloody Sunday occurred in on January 22nd, 1905. With unrest already bubbling up before then, a strike took place because of a few workers—some say just four in number—who were fired the previous month. Although there’s no way to prove this, and the bosses at the company they were fired from, Putilov Ironworks, have said otherwise, most believe these four workers were fired merely because of their participation in what amounted to a union. More formally, the Assembly of the Russian Factory and Mill Workers of the City of St. Petersburg.
That Assembly, in turn, had been founded by a Russian Orthodox priest named Father Gapon who wanted to do something about the horrible working conditions for the poor, working class.
So the Assembly was founded in 1903 and at the end of 1904, a few workers were fired. In protest, the rest of the workers at Putilov Ironworks went on strike. When word of the strike at the ironworks spread across the city, other workers began to strike as well.
Strikes exploded across Russia with some estimates going up to almost half a million workers ceasing work in protest. This had a massive economic impact—cities went dark without power.
In January, some of the striking workers marched to the Winter Palace, Czar Nicholas II’s residence.
We don’t really know how many people there were. Some suggest there were only a couple thousand while others place the number at more like 50,000 or 60,000 people.
Nicholas wasn’t at his residence at the time, but that didn’t matter. He was informed of the situation and the military was deployed to disperse the crowd.
Again, we don’t really know the numbers. Some suggest maybe about 10,000 troops were sent.
So here we have potentially tens of thousands of striking workers on one side and tens of thousands of military troops on the other. It was a recipe for disaster.
Looking back at the situation, Nicholas II’s sister, Olga, blamed the situation not on Nicholas but on bad advice. Apparently he’d known about the gathering workers many days before thanks to a police report, and then followed the advice of others who said he should stay safe and stay out of sight. Olga thought the situation could’ve been peacefully resolved if Nicholas had showed himself to calm the crowd.
And maybe that’s true. After all, the striking workers were holding signs of protest—many of which had images of Czar Nicholas II on them as they sang patriotic songs like God Save the Czar.
But Nicholas wasn’t there. The situation didn’t resolve peacefully. While we don’t know for sure how many people were killed the official records indicate 96 killed with over 300 injured. Other sources sometimes point those numbers at more than 4,000 murdered.
In the bloody aftermath, the leader of the worker’s Assembly, Father Gapon, wrote a letter that he published saying, “Nicholas Romanov, formerly Tsar and at present soul-murderer of the Russian empire. The innocent blood of workers, their wives and children lies forever between you and the Russian people. May all the blood which must be spilled fall upon you, you Hangman. I call upon all the socialist parties of Russia to come to an immediate agreement among themselves and bring an armed uprising against Tsarism.”
Bloody Sunday is considered by many historians to be the start of what’s referred to as the Russian Revolution of 1905. It spurred ongoing unrest across the country that was eventually put down, but not put out.
So all of that is just one example of how things began to spiral out of control for Czar Nicholas II. Was it all elegant parties and grand palaces like the movie says? Not quite. At least, not for the people of Russia.
Going back to the movie, another character we haven’t talked much about yet is Rasputin. He shows up in that opening sequence before the movie’s title as a supernatural type character.
He was a real person, and while he’s certainly exaggerated in the animated movie, the real Grigori Rasputin was indeed considered a dark figure by some.
The movie calls him a holy man who was a fraud, but in reality he was considered many things—a mystic, a prophet, a monk, a pilgrim…despite what the animated movie might make us think, honestly, we don’t know a lot about Rasputin’s role in all of this. This is especially true since so much has been lost to history—whether covered up or simply not documented. In Rasputin’s case, it was the latter for much of his life since he came from a peasant background. There’s just not much documentation, which means a lot of the stories surrounding him come from spoken legends or rumors.
He came into the picture for the royal family through the illness that Nicholas II’s son, Alexei, had. Alexei had hemophilia, which is a genetic disorder that makes it hard for the body to form blood clots. Basically, a single cut could kill you because the blood won’t clot so you’d keep bleeding on and on. It can be deadly.
Although Nicholas II had four daughters, Alexei held a special place as the only son—Nicholas’s only heir. Or, in Russian terms, Alexei was the Czarevich.
As the story goes, Rasputin met Nicholas at some point probably in November of 1905 and made quite an impression on the Czar. In 1906, he was called on to help with Alexei’s hemophilia as a healer.
According to the movie, when Rasputin sells his soul to curse the Romanov family, he sets spark to the Russian Revolution.
Well, that’s probably not true. I say “probably” because, as I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of details about Rasputin that we just don’t know.
Like the early life of Rasputin, there’s not much known about his death. But most historians agree he was indeed murdered with three gunshots on December 30th, 1916.
That would mean he died before the Russian Revolution, which is a blanket term used for two different revolutions that occurred in 1917—one being in March of 1917, the other in November.
Well, that’s according to our modern-day calendar. Using the Old Russian Calendar, the first revolution was in February. That’s why it’s referred to as the February Revolution, while the second one was referred to as the October Revolution, even though with our current calendar it would’ve been in early November.
We learned more about the latter of these revolutions in our episode about The Hunt for Red October, but these were essentially a continuation of the revolution in 1905.
This time, though, the revolution was not put down.
So, all of this that we’ve learned so far is just setting up the basic story behind what the movie mentions at the very beginning. At the very end of the opening sequence, just before we see the movie’s title for the first time, we see the young, animated Anastasia hit her head on the train platform while trying to catch up with her grandmother, Marie.
After that, the text on screen in the movie says it’s ten years later, so 1926, and we soon find out that Anastasia apparently suffered from amnesia from the fall, making it hard for her to remember who she really was.
And really, everything after the movie’s title sequence is going to be made up because, well, none of that is real.
So by skipping from 1916 to 1926, the movie skips over one of the darkest periods in the Romanov dynasty’s history—it’s end.
The February Revolution ended on March 15th, 1917 when Nicholas II decided to abdicate. He stepped down.
Initially, he was going to step down and hand over control of Russia to his son, Alexei. But with his son’s health not being so great, he decided not to do that. His son’s doctors had suggested that Alexei probably wouldn’t be able to live very long without his parents. And since Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra, would certainly be forced into exile after abdicating, he decided against handing the throne to Alexei.
Instead, he issued this statement:
In the days of the great struggle against the foreign enemies, who for nearly three years have tried to enslave our fatherland, the Lord God has been pleased to send down on Russia a new heavy trial. Internal popular disturbances threaten to have a disastrous effect on the future conduct of this persistent war. The destiny of Russia, the honor of our heroic army, the welfare of the people and the whole future of our dear fatherland demand that the war should be brought to a victorious conclusion whatever the cost. The cruel enemy is making his last efforts, and already the hour approaches when our glorious army together with our gallant allies will crush him. In these decisive days in the life of Russia, We thought it Our duty of conscience to facilitate for Our people the closest union possible and a consolidation of all national forces for the speedy attainment of victory. In agreement with the Imperial Duma We have thought it well to renounce the Throne of the Russian Empire and to lay down the supreme power. As We do not wish to part from Our beloved son, We transmit the succession to Our brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, and give Him Our blessing to mount the Throne of the Russian Empire. We direct Our brother to conduct the affairs of state in full and inviolable union with the representatives of the people in the legislative bodies on those principles which will be established by them, and on which He will take an inviolable oath. In the name of Our dearly beloved homeland, We call on Our faithful sons of the fatherland to fulfill their sacred duty to the fatherland, to obey the Czar in the heavy moment of national trials, and to help Him, together with the representatives of the people, to guide the Russian Empire on the road to victory, welfare, and glory. May the Lord God help Russia!
With that, Czar Nicholas II was no longer the Czar of Russia and instead, power was transferred to his brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich. Except Michael didn’t take the throne.
Instead, he wanted the people of Russia to vote—monarchy or republic? Basically, he didn’t want to take over the throne his brother was forced out of only to be forced out himself. If the people voted to continue the monarchy, he’d take the throne with the people’s blessing.
That would never happen.
With the second revolution of 1917, the Bolshevik movement took power, thereby ending three centuries of the Romanov dynasty and starting the control of Soviet Russia under their leader, Vladimir Lenin.
Back in the movie, there’s a part where Bartok, Rasputin’s cute little bat friend overhears the two fictional characters, Dimitri and Vladimir, talking with Anastasia. Hearing that name, Bartok mentions that there’s one problem with her being Anastasia—all the Romanovs are dead, including Anastasia.
The movie doesn’t show how they died, but all we saw was that Marie and Anastasia were the only two to make it out of the palace at the beginning so we can assume the rest were captured and, somehow, died—if Bartok is to be believed.
That leads to Rasputin coming back from the dead and trying to kill Anastasia once and for all while she tries to make her way to Paris to find her grandmother, Marie, and the rest of her family.
All of that coming back from the dead for Rasputin, of course, isn’t true, but again there’s just a shred of truth. For one, there’s some who don’t believe Rasputin was murdered in 1916. As a mystic, some believed he couldn’t be killed by bullets.
But perhaps the bigger story is that for a long time people weren’t sure what happened to the Romanov family.
After Nicholas II abdicated the throne in 1917, his plan was to go into exile. He requested asylum in the United Kingdom, who agreed at first. Then, King George V decided to rescind the invitation after being advised it might cause more riots like they’d had during the Easter Rebellion in Ireland the year before.
Although the reasons were different for the uprisings in Russia and the United Kingdom, King George V didn’t want any reason to have a repeat of what was going on in Russia.
We haven’t really talked about it yet, but between the two revolutions in 1917 there was a provisional government in place. That government sent the Romanov family to the Urals, a region located around the Ural Mountains that separates the Eastern European area of Russia and the Western Siberian plains.
After Lenin took power in Russia toward the end of 1917, on April 30th, 1918 Nicholas and his family were sent to Ekaterinburg where they were imprisoned in a two-story Ipatiev House, the home of a military engineer named Nikolay Ipatiev.
In the early morning hours of July 17th, Nicholas and his family were awoken with a warning. There’s anti-Bolshevik forces nearing the home. Quick! You must head underground to the cellar so if the home is fired upon you won’t be harmed.
And it was true—there was an army of anti-Bolshevik forces bearing down on the town of Ekaterinburg. Everyone had heard the sounds of gunfire growing closer with each passing day.
This is an account given by the man in charge, a Bolshevik officer named Yakov Yurovsky:
Having gone down to the room (At the entrance to the room, on the right there was a very wide window), I ordered them to stand along the wall. Obviously, at that moment they did not imagine what awaited them. Alexandra said “There are not even chairs here.” Nicholas was carrying Alexei. He stood in the room with him in his arms.
Then I ordered a couple of chairs. On one of them, to the right of the entrance, almost in the corner, Alexandra sat down. The daughters and Demidova stood next to her, to the left of the entrance. Beside them Alexei was seated in the armchair. Behind him Dr. Botkin, the cook and the others stood. Nicholas stood opposite Alexei.
At the same time I ordered the men to go down and to be ready in their places when the command was given. Nicholas had put Alexei on the chair and stood in such a way, that he shielded him. Alexei sat in the left corner from the entrance, and so far as I can remember, I said to Nicholas approximately this: His royal and close relatives inside the country and abroad were trying to save him, but the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies resolved to shoot them.
He asked “What?” and turned toward Alexei. At that moment I shot him and killed him outright. He did not get time to face us to get an answer. At that moment disorganized, not orderly firing began. The room was small, but everybody could come in and carry out the shooting according to the set order. But many shot through the doorway. Bullets began to ricochet because the wall was brick. Moreover, the firing intensified when the victims shouts arose. I managed to stop the firing but with great difficulty.
Some believe that Yurovsky convinced the Romanov family to line up by telling them he was going to take their photograph to prove they were still safe and sound. Instead of a photographer coming into the room, though, armed soldiers entered the room—each one pre-ordered with a specific member of the Romanov party to target.
If you’re a Producer of the show, I’ll include some more of Yurovsky’s first-hand accounts of that fateful night as a bonus episode.
You’ll notice a few extra names in there, like Demidova or Dr. Botkin. There were eleven people condemned to die in the cellar.
The former Czar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. Then there was their son, Czarevich Alexei, along with his four sisters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.
Along with the seven members of the Romanov family was their physician, Eugene Botkin, and chef, Ivan Kharitonov. Then there was Alexandra’s maid, Anna Demidova and a family servant, Alexei Trupp.
All of them were murdered that night.
Or were they?
It’s unlikely anyone could survive the bloody massacre of being shot at point blank range. But some of the children were wearing diamonds sewn into their clothing that helped act as a sort of bulletproof vest, deflecting bullets.
The whole thing was covered up by Lenin’s government for a while and confused even further when the government officially acknowledged the execution of Nicholas, but issued an official statement that:
Nicholas Romanov’s wife and son have been sent to a secure place.
That story lasted for a while, leading to many believing that the royal family was indeed safe—minus the former Czar Nicholas, of course. Looking back through the lens of history, many historians believe Lenin’s reason for this was simple: his government was still new. He didn’t want the people to revolt against his new government while it was still solidifying its power. So instead of making it seem like they were butchers who had murdered innocent women and children, the story they went with was that they had executed Nicholas the Bloody and his family was safe.
But then, as Lenin’s power grew and any chance of going back to a monarchy dimmed, that story changed. Soon, it became apparent that there were no survivors that night.
Or was there?
You see, after the Romanovs were massacred, the bodies were mutilated, doused in 400 pounds, or about 180 kilograms, of sulphuric acid and 150 gallons, or about 570 litres, of gasoline. These were the tools they used to disfigure the bodies before burning them in a mass grave that was then covered up. They weren’t only executing the royal family, they wanted to hide all evidence of it.
So it’d be really hard to prove one way or another.
The movie seems to imply that Anastasia might’ve survived since we see her ten years later in 1926.
And that’s not an idea the movie came up with.
With the confusion of exactly what happened that day, a horde of conspiracies and hypotheses arose. There was a massacre, but maybe someone got out. Maybe, like the movie suggests, Anastasia wasn’t there to begin with. Maybe, the diamonds saved Anastasia from the hail of bullets and a helpful soldier hid her away.
Then, in 1979, the remains of the Romanovs were discovered by a man named Alexander Avdonin. It took almost a decade, but finally in 1998, the remains were excavated and after a series of DNA tests were confirmed to be that of Nicholas II, Alexandra, the four non-family members and three of their daughters.
That in and of itself was a massive undertaking. I’d really recommend reading the great book The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert Massie to learn more about the struggle to identify the remains.
That’d mean one daughter and Alexei were missing.
Again, conspiracies flew out of this and continued to convince people one way or another. It was clear from the bones that the two older daughters, Olga and Tatiana, were there. The missing daughter was one of the younger ones. Was it Anastasia, the youngest, at age 17? Or was it 19-year-old Maria that was missing?
Being close in age, it was hard to tell for sure.
So why, then, does the movie claim it was Anastasia, or Anna, as the movie also calls her?
Well, the story we see in the 1997 animated film is one that was inspired by the 1956 film of the same name. That version of the film was based on a 1952 play written by the French playwright Marcelle Maurette.
The film, which stars Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brenner, tells the story of a suicidal amnesiac ends up turning out to be Anastasia.
The story that inspired the 1952 play, and by extension the 1956 film that then trickled down into the 1997 animated film was all based on a woman named Anna Anderson.
She was just one of the many women who came forward claiming to be Anastasia after the rest of the family was executed. Remember that was in 1918. The family’s remains weren’t found until 1979. And even then it wasn’t everyone’s remains that were found. So for decades, no one knew for sure what happened. At first, the government claimed that only Nicholas was executed. The rest of the family was safe. Then it was the entire family who was executed.
But there were plenty of stories passed on orally of how not everyone was killed. These fed the thoughts that someone might’ve survived.
Anna Anderson was perhaps best known of the women who claimed to be Anastasia. At least, that’s one of the names she’s known by. For the sake of simplicity, that’s what I’ll call her. While her story is closer to what we see in the 1956 film and there’s bits and pieces in the 1997 film, there’s quite a few differences.
Anna Anderson came into the picture on February 27th, 1920 after she tried to commit suicide by jumping off of a bridge in Berlin, Germany. She was rescued by a police officer who took her to a hospital. Refusing to identify herself, she became an unknown woman for a while until, later, claiming to be Anastasia.
A great number of people called her an imposter, including many of the Romanov family’s relatives—people who knew the real Anastasia. Yet others, again including relatives and people who knew the real Anastasia, were convinced that Anna was indeed the Grand Duchess Anastasia.
If she had survived watching her entire family slaughtered in front of her eyes, one can only imagine what sort of effect that would have on her. For most of her life, Anna Anderson lived off the charity of those who believed her claims. After all, the Grand Duchess was a well-loved child and if this was her, it’d be horrible if she were to be left to die homeless.
Her erratic and often abrasive behavior was overlooked by many on the account of the atrocities she had to have survived that night in 1918. Assuming, of course, that she was the real Anastasia.
For decades, she bounced around from one place to another. Much of the 1920s was spent in Germany, where she had been rescued from her suicide attempt. In 1928, Anna Anderson arrived in the United States where she lived with a cousin of the real Anastasia named Xenia Leeds. She’d married a wealthy American and was convinced that Anna was her long-lost cousin by a man named Gleb Botkin.
If that last name rings a bell, it’s because Gleb’s father was the Dr. Botkin who was murdered alongside the Romanov family in 1918.
So Xenia invited Anna to move to where she lived on Long Island in New York. She lived in the U.S. for a few years, and it was here that she first used the name Anna Anderson. Before that she went by Anna Tschaikovsky.
By 1930, Anna had moved to Park Avenue where she lived with another wealthy socialite named Annie Jennings. It was here that she started throwing massive tantrums and running around naked on the roof of her building. When a judge ruled she should be sent to a mental hospital, she was forced to stay at the Four Winds Sanatorium in New York for about a year.
Then, apparently wearing out her welcome in the U.S., Annie Jennings paid for Anna’s return to Germany, where she’d stay for the next three decades. In 1938, soon after returning to Germany, Anna brought legal action against the distribution of Empress Alexandra’s estate being given her known German relatives. If Anna really was Anastasia as she claimed, surely she’d have a right to her mother, Alexandra’s, estate.
Without proof of being Anastasia, though, it was a case that dragged on and on. Although it’s worth pointing out that during this trial, Anna won some victories that helped her case. There wasn’t DNA evidence yet, but a handwriting analysis by experts concluded that her handwriting and that of Grand Duchess Anastasia were exactly the same.
Similarly, at the time German courts used a forensic system that amounted to mapping the human skull into a sort of unique print. Sort of like a finger print, except instead of being the finger it was the human head. This was helpful because there are photographs of Anastasia, so those photographs could be mapped against Anna Anderson’s skull using this mapping system to determine her identity.
A match of at least twelve points on the mapping system were required for a positive identification and Anna’s matched on seventeen of those points with Grand Duchess Anastasia.
Still, the court battles raged on.
It was while Anna lived in Germany that Marcelle Maurette wrote the play simply called Anastasia. That play started getting popular in Europe and, as many plays do, eventually made its way to Broadway in the U.S. That’s when 20th Century Fox picked up rights to the story for about $400,000 which they turned into the 1956 film.
Only after they sold the rights to the movie to Fox did Marcelle and the other playwrights behind the play Anastasia realize that Anna was still alive and living in Germany. Without any legal requirement to do so—remember Anna was still only allegedly Anastasia at this point—they sent Anna about $30,000 of that $400,000 they were paid by 20th Century Fox.
Anna used this money to build a small house, where she lived for many years. Over the course of decades, the house fell into a state of decay. Seemingly for no reason, all of a sudden Anna decided she didn’t care to prove her identity anymore. She knew who she was. The court’s decision wouldn’t make any difference.
So Anna locked herself in her home along with her 60 some cats and numerous dogs. There’s some conflicting reports of what happened next…some suggest that while Anna was out of her home, someone came and started cleaning up the home and killed many of her cats in the process. Other reports suggest that some of her animals died of natural causes and Anna herself buried them on her property. Except, she didn’t dig very deep graves, so the stench of dead animals started to bother her neighbors, who complained to the city.
Regardless, in 1968, Gleb Botkin came back into the picture when he invited Anna to move back to the United States. She accepted.
Her return to the U.S. was funded by one of Gleb’s friends, a well-off history professor named Jack Manahan. He secured a six-month visa for Anna, but became so enthralled with Anna’s story that, on December 23rd, 1968, he married Anna. He was 20 years younger than Anna and married her just before her visa expired, so most believe it wasn’t really a marriage of true love but rather one to keep her in the U.S.
Nonetheless, Anna moved in with Jack—they had separate bedrooms—at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jack seemed to get a kick out of being the “Grand Duke-in-Waiting”, as he described himself, but Anna had apparently grown tired of the charade. By that, I don’t mean she stopped claiming she was Anastasia, but she simply stopped trying to prove it to everyone.
Their final days were quite sad.
In 1979, the same year amateur archaeologist Alexander Avdonin discovered the remains of the Romanov bodies on the other side of the world, Anna became deathly ill. She was rushed to the hospital where she had surgery to remove an ovarian tumor, along with a portion of her intestine.
Meanwhile, back at home, the formerly elegant home Jack Manahan now shared with Anna started looking quite like the home that Anna had left in Germany. The floor of their home soon was covered in papers to cover the mess left by the countless cats Anna owned again. This time, when a cat passed away she didn’t bury it outside but instead put it on the fireplace to cremate it. Like in Germany, the stench became unbearable for the neighbors who complained.
By the time 1983 rolled around, both Jack and Anna were in failing health. There’s never been any tie to their health and the state of their home, but I’m sure it didn’t help. She’d end up being institutionalized in November of 1983, but then Jack broke her out of the hospital and the two enjoyed a three-day joy ride around Virginia before police caught up with them and Anna was sent back to the hospital.
On February 12th, 1984, Anna—now legally Anastasia Manahan—passed away from pneumonia. Her body was cremated that same day. Jack passed away on March 22nd, 1990.
Until the end, no one could ever prove conclusively if Anna Anderson really was the Grand Duchess Anastasia or not.
In 1998, as we touched on earlier, about a decade after being discovered for the first time since being buried, the remains of the Romanov family were excavated. And as we touched on earlier, coming out of the subsequent DNA tests of those results it was proven that the entire Romanov family was accounted for with the exception of Alexei and one of the daughters.
But which daughter? As we talked about before, there was some confusion around whether it was Anastasia or Maria—with just a couple years difference at the time of the execution.
The answer finally came about a decade later, in 2007, when more remains were discovered. This time they were the bones of a boy and a girl. Further DNA tests revealed that these were, indeed, the bones of Alexei and one of his sisters.
That sister wasn’t Anastasia, though, but Maria.
Finally, it’d seem the entirety of the Romanov family was accounted for. Anastasia had indeed perished that night alongside the rest of her family. Both Alexei and Maria had as well, although their bodies were separated after the fact from the rest. The governmental coverup by feeding false information that the royal family was safe helped spawn the flames of hope that someone might’ve survived the execution.
So what, then, of Anna Anderson? Wasn’t she Anastasia?
Well, being cremated there was no way to exhume her body for a DNA test. However, remember when she had surgery in 1979 to remove a tumor? When the doctor did that, they removed a portion of her intestine and saved it. That wasn’t anything special in her case, but rather was a common medical practice in case the same condition came back—having that tissue can be helpful for diagnosing.
As it turns out, it’s also helpful for DNA tests.
Compared against the remains of the Romanovs and living relatives of the family, Anna Anderson was not related. As most historians and experts now agree, she wasn’t Grand Duchess Annastasia, but instead was a completely unrelated woman named Franziska Schanzkowska.
So what really happened on July 17th, 1918?
According to Yakov Yurovsky’s report on what happened, which was published in 1993, he was afraid that the anti-Bolshevik forces, which turned out to be Czechoslovakian, would capture the city and free the former Czar, undoing the work of the revolution. So before they could do that, Yakov killed the entire family along with their cook, servant, maid and doctor. Then, they covered the entire thing up.
There were no survivors.
Exactly eighty years to the day, on July 17th, 1998, the family finally got the funeral of an emperor when a total of nine coffins bearing the remains of Nicholas II, Alexandra, the three daughters verified at the time, along with the four staff members murdered with the family were finally laid to rest alongside other Russian emperors of the past at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.