On this day in 1919: Nikolai Sokolov launched his investigation into the deaths of the Imperial Family

PHOTO: Nikolai Alekseevich Sokolov (1882-1924)

On this day – 7th February 1919 – Nikolai Alekseevich Sokolov (1882-1924) launched his investigation into the deaths of Emperor Nicholas II and his family in Ekaterinburg.

Sokolov was a lawyer, and investigator for important cases of the Omsk District Court. It was the Supreme Ruler Admiral Alexander Kolchak (1874-1920), who appointed Sokolov with the task of investigating the murder of members of the Russian Imperial Family in Ekaterinburg and Alapaevsk.

Sokolov loved Russia and would not accept the changes brought about by the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. As a staunch Orthodox monarchist, he accepted his appointment with a deep sense of reverence and responsibility.

Between May and July of 1919, working without rest from morning until late at night, Sokolov managed to collect a vast amount of material evidence, conducted dozens of examinations and interviewed hundreds of witnesses, including several members of the Romanov entourage in February 1919, notably the Swiss tutor, Pierre Gilliard (1879-1962), his wife and nanny to Grand Duchess Anastasia, Alexandra Tegleva (1884-1955) and the English tutor to the Tsesarevich Alexei, Charles Sydney Gibbes (1876-1963).

Sokolov discovered a large number of the Imperial Family’s’ belongings and valuables that were overlooked by the chief executioner of the Imperial Family Yakov Yurovsky (1878-1938) and his men in and around the mineshaft where the bodies were initially disposed of in the Four Brothers Mine, at what is today known as Ganina Yama.

The impending return of Bolshevik forces on 15th July 1919, forced Sokolov to abandon his investigation, thus failing to find the concealed second burial site on the Koptyaki Road. He evacuated Ekaterinburg, bringing with him the box containing the relics he recovered. Today, the box is stored in the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Job in Uccle, Brussels.

PHOTO: French edition of Sokolov’s investigation, published in 1924

Sokolov fled from Russia to Harbin, China, where in 1920, with the help of the head of the Commander of the Czechoslovak Legion, the French General Maurice Janin (1862-1946), Sokolov left Harbin for France, taking with him the material evidence and documents, which consisted of eight volumes of photographic and eyewitness accounts. Sokolov continued his work on interviewing witnesses and examining materials in exile, until his death.

The French edition of his investigation Enquête judiciaire sur l’assassinat de la famille impériale russe [Judicial investigation into the assassination of the Russian imperial family], was published by Payot (Paris) in 1924, and reissued in 1926 and 1929. It was published in Russian in 1998. No full English translation of Sokolov’s investigation has yet been published.

Sadly, Nikolai Sokolov did not live to bring his investigation to an end – he was found dead in the garden of his house on 23 November 1924, having suffered a heart attack at the age of 42. He died leaving a widow aged 23 and two young children, a daughter Nathalie (1920-2002) and a son Alexis (1923-1980). He is buried in the cemetery of Salbris, France.

PHOTO: Sokolov’s grave in the cemetery of Salbris, France

To this day, the Russian Orthodox Church still officially adheres to Sokolov’s theory that the bodies of the Imperial Family were completely destroyed at the Four Brothers Mine. A century later, we now know that this was not so.

Sokolov was a man who made an enormous contribution in gathering evidence about the last days of the Imperial Family in Ekaterinburg, and no one should belittle the significance of his works for history.

PHOTO: memorial plaque to Nikolai Sokolov in Mokshan, 2018

On 25th December 2018, a memorial plaque honouring Nikolai Sokolov was unveiled in Mokshan, the town where he was born on 21st May 1882.

The plaque was mounted on the wall of the Mokshan Administration Building. It was here – from 1908 to 1910 – that Sokolov worked as an investigator at the Mokshan District Court.

© Paul Gilbert. 7 February 2021

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