Faithful to the End: Countess Anastasia Vasilyevna Hendrikova (1887-1918)

PHOTO: Countess Anastasia Vasilyevna Hendrikova (1887-1918)

A conference held last week in the Ural capital of Ekaterinburg, was attended by historians, ethnographers, researchers, archivists, tourism specialists, as well as representatives of public and church organizations. The conference was just one of a series of events marking the memory of members of the Russian Imperial House, who were martyred in the Urals in 1918-1919.

Among the participants was the abbess of the Alexander Nevsky Novo-Tikhvin Convent in Ekaterinburg, Abbess Domnika (Korobeinikova), who presented her paper on the life of Countess Anastasia Hendrikova, a loyal subject of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, who followed them into exile and shared their fate on 17th July 1918.

I am honoured to present Mother Domnika’s paper on Countess Anastasia Hendrikova:

I would like to start with a precise description given to Countess Hendrikova by one of her contemporaries: “This gentle, fragile girl with a childish face, who seemed so weak, possessed the soul of a heroine.” Many believe that the only feat of Countess Hendrikova was the fact that she voluntarily followed the Imperial family into exile. But in reality her whole life was a feat. During her short life she tried to bring joy and comfort to those around her, despite the fact that she herself had to endure many sorrows. She wrote about it this way: “A thought shared with me by the [Empress] today touched my soul deeply: “that I may use the experience of suffering that the Lord has sent me for the joy and comfort of others.” Perhaps this is the purpose assigned to me by God?”

Countess Hendrikova began to perform this feat in childhood, when her mother, Sofya Petrovna, after a complex operation, was left bedridden. Anastasia cared for her invalid mother for the next 20 years, selflessly devoting all her free time. Not only did she look after her, but constantly tried to raise her spirits, forgetting about her own needs. Countess Anastasia adhered to the words spoken to her by the Empress: “Be merry with [her] and give her all the warmth of your love. Bright face – despite the suffering of your poor soul.” At a time when many of Anastasia’s peers led the carefree life of aristocratic women in the capital, year after year she followed the narrow path of selfless service to her mother. The grief of many years gradually nurtured her faith, strengthened her prayers, and made her able to live for others. Although Anastasia belonged to high society, she led the simplest way of life, one that was distinguished by modesty. Raised under the strict rules of her mother, she maintained her purity. According to the memoirs of Sergei Smirnov, secretary of the Serbian princess Elena Petrovna, Countess Hendrikova often visited the church in the name of the Twelve Apostles, located not far from her home. Two zealous priests served in this church, first Archpriest Mikhail Gorchakov, then Archpriest Arkady Vinogradov, talented preachers and wise pastors. They spiritually nourished young Anastasia, provided her with good advice, helping her in her faith and patience to bear the ordeal in her home. 

In 1910 she became a maid of honour to the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. All the members of the Imperial family fell in love with her openness of soul, kindness and sincere desire to bring joy to others. She became a beloved member of the family’s inner circel, everyone affectionately called her Nastenka. Captain Nikolai Sablin recalled how on one trip on the Imperial Yacht Standart the Empress was sad due to Alexei’s illness [haemophilia], and Countess Hendrikova did her best to console her. Anastasia Vasilievna herself only just recently had experienced her own grief: her father, Count Vasily Alexandrovich, died of a heart attack. But despite this, Countess Hendrikova, as Nikolai Sablin wrote, brought “a stream of liveliness and vigor into the life” of those around her. The Empress told her: “You are the sun for all your darlings.”

PHOTO: Hendrikova (left) with Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana Nikolaevna

In the tragic days following the February Revolution of 1917, Countess Hendrikova remained true to her vocation – to be a consolation for those around her, particularly the Imperial family. In March 1917, the Emperor and his family were placed under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. While many courtiers were in a hurry to leave the Tsar’s family, Countess Hendrikova, on the contrary, hastened to return from Kislovodsk, where she had gone to visit her sister. Despite the fact that her beloved sister Alexandra was ill at that time, she immediately set off on the return journey, realizing that the Tsar’s family needed her more. Upon her returnt to the Alexander Palace, she too was placed under arrest, that evening, she wrote in her diary: “Thank God, I managed to arrive in time to be with them.”

Some believe that Countess Hendrikova did this only out of duty or from her sense of devotion to the Imperial family. But a close acquaintance of the family, helps us to understand the true reasons for her feat. “Countess Hendrikova was a person of deep, not superficial, faith. From early childhood before her eyes were living examples of piety. Faith was the basis of her life and that of her family. Anastasia followed the Imperial family quite consciously, for the sake of God’s commandments, realizing that suffering and death awaited her.” This is evidenced by the entry in her diary, made before leaving for Tobolsk: “I surrender myself entirely into the hands of God with trust and love and I know that [the Lord] will support me during trials and in the moment of death.”

Anastasia Vasilievna Hendrikova also grew up in an atmosphere of reverent reverence for Father John of Kronstadt. It is known that the Hendrikovs turned to him with a request for prayer. In response, the pastor wrote them a letter, which Anastasia carefully kept until the end of her days.

Raised by examples of living faith, Countess Hendrikova found her support in God throughout her life. Her faith and love for the Lord were manifested in the days of the trials that awaited her. In 1917, before leaving with the Tsar’s family to Tobolsk, she wrote in her diary: “I cannot leave here without thanking God for this wonderful world and the power that He sent me and supported me during these five months of house arrest. The harder and harder my life becomes, I feel a greater spiritual peace. I realize now that this is the best, the greatest happiness, and that everything can be endured, and I bless God. I have experienced for myself that as the sufferings of Christ manifests within us, Christ will strengthen our consolation.” It is truly remarkable that this was written by a woman who was preparing to go into exile, into complete obscurity! There is no fear in her words no despondency, but only peace and gratitude to God. At the same time, the Countess was well aware that she would be facing even greater trials. But she accepted them with trust in God and humility. She wrote: “If [God] sends me more trials and difficulties, then he will give me more strength accordingly. You just need to ask Him for the Holy Spirit and strength for the day ahead.”

Countess Hendrikova’s notes testify to the depth of her spiritual experience. Her diary is filled with reflections like the following: “I see your palace, my Savior, adorned”. I do not yet have clothes to enter into it; much has to be [changed] in myself in order to enlighten the garment of my soul. But may the Lord do this, and I will accept from Him, with gratitude, all the trials that He will send to me, firmly believing that they will enlighten the garment of my soul.” She realized that not by her own strength, but only by the grace of God, a person can perform virtues. And she constantly turned to God with faith and hope for His help. She wrote: “I know that I am nothing without the help of God: despondency, fear, cowardice take possession of me as soon as God’s grace leaves me, but I know that it must be so at times, that this is a necessary test, which you must try to humbly and patiently endure, and then again bright moments appear, and I wait for them and so I believe that they will come. I had so many of them that I know that this is only God’s mercy, not according to my merits.”

PHOTO: Hendrikova (right) under house arrest with the Tsar and his family in 1917

As can be seen from the countess’s diary, in Tobolsk she did not miss a single opportunity to go to church, prayed with the Tsar’s family and faithfully attended all services held in the Governor’s House. During the Great Lent of 1918, she received Communion twice: during the first week, together with the Imperial family, and on Great Thursday, after the departure of the Tsar and Empress to Ekaterinburg.

In May 1918, Countess Hendrikova travelled with the rest of the Tsar’s family Ekaterinburg, but she was not allowed into the Ipatiev House, instead she was imprisoned. In July, after the murder of the Tsar’s family, the Countess was transported to the Perm prison, located on the outskirts of the city. In prison, Anastasia still tried to comfort others: sometimes she even sang to support Princess Elena who was imprisoned in the same cell with her. Elena was the wife of Prince of the Imperial Blood Ioann Konstantinovich, who had been murdered in Alapaevsk along with Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and other members of the Imperial family. Sergei Smirnov, the secretary of the princess, recalled: “Nastenka with her joyful smile supported the good state of mind of Elena Petrovna, a very nervous nature and experienced so many difficult hours. All the time I remember Anastasia’s charming smile, her friendliness.” 

Countess Hendrikova remained courageous until the final minutes of her life. On 4th September 1918, she was taken from prison, ostensibly to be transferred to another place. She realized that she was being led to her death, but remained calm and warmly said goodbye to Elena Petrovna. Like the Holy Royal Martyrs, she was not afraid of death, because the premonition of a future blissful eternity comforted her soul. In her diary she wrote the following prophetic words: “If death awaits me, I am not afraid. I have much more there than here. I will finally be at home, in eternal bliss and peace. [Earlier] the doors [to eternal life] were closed to me, they are terrible, but now I feel them closer, open, just as clearly as you see the Royal Doors in the church open on Holy [Easter] week.”

Countess Hendrikova was murdered outside the city. She died from blows to the head with a rifle butt, which severed her parietal and temporal bones, her body was thrown into a ditch, where it was later discovered by the Whites.

Anastasia Hendrikova was only 30 years of age when her life was cut brutally cut short by the Bolsheviks, but during this short time she managed to bring joy and consolation to many others, and for herself to find a crown in the Kingdom of Heaven, to which she always aspired. As General Dieterichs wrote: “Anastasia Vasilievna was not afraid of death and prepared herself for it. She confidently believed in a bright afterlife and in the Resurrection on the last day, and through this power of faith she drew vitality and peace of mind.”

Today we believe that now she, together with the Holy Royal Family, stands before God and prays for us.

Holy Royal Martyrs, pray to God for us!
Святы Царственные мученики, молите Бога о нас!

PHOTO: Countess Anastasia Vasilyevna Hendrikova (1887-1918)

Click HERE to read my article The fate of the royal servants Anastasia Hendrikova and Ekaterina Schneider, published on 4th September 2020

© Paul Gilbert. 15 October 2020

The fate of the royal servants Anastasia Hendrikova and Ekaterina Schneider

PHOTO: Ekaterina Schneider and Anastasia Hendrikova

Today – 4th September 2020 – marks the 102nd anniversary of the murders of two faithful retainers, who followed the Imperial family into exile. Countess Anastasia Vasilievna Hendrikova (1888-1918), maid of honour to the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and Ekaterina Adolfovna Schneider (1856-1918), were both murdered by the Bolsheviks in Perm on 4th September (O.S. 22nd August) 1918.

PHOTO: Anastasia Hendrikova under house arrest in Tobolsk 1917-18

Countess Anastasia Vasilievna Hendrikova (1888-1918)

Countess Anastasia Vasilievna Hendrikova was born on 6th July (O.S. 23rd June) 1888. Although she was born to the nobility, she was very simple in her way of life from early youth, she dressed very modestly, even old-fashioned and, unlike most noble girls, never participated in balls and entertainments. She was distinguished by her deep piety, nobility, selflessness and in the most difficult circumstances retained her faith in God.

In 1910, Countess Hendrikova became the personal maid of honour to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. Nicknamed “Nastenka,” the Empress, the Grand Duchesses, and the courtiers loved her for her kindness, affability, meekness, simplicity and openness in communication.

In February 1917, Countess Hendrikova, at the insistence of the Empress, went to a seriously ill Sister of Mercy in Kislovodsk, but when she arrived there she learned that the Emperor had abdicated the throne. Anastasia Vasilyevna hurried back to Tsarskoye Selo. It is known that at that time the majority of courtiers and servants, under different pretexts, took leave of the Tsar’s family, basically everyone cared only about their own well-being. Anastasia Vasilyevna could have remained in Kislovodsk where she would have been safe, but she, unlike the other courtiers, overcame all obstacles and returned to the Imperial family. A few hours after she arrived at the Alexander Palace, the former Imperial residence became a prison for all who voluntarily wished to remain in it. That evening, she wrote in her diary: “Thank God, I managed to arrive on time to be with them.” Her presence was a great support for the royal prisoners. Always happy, meek, smiling, she cheered everyone up.

“Poor, Anastasia Vasilievna,” S.N. Smirnov wrote in his memoirs about Hendrikova, “I remember the sweet smile of this young girl, her friendliness, her funny walk …”

PHOTO: Ekaterina Schneider under house arrest in Tobolsk 1917-18

Ekaterina Adolfovna Schneider (1856-1918)

Ekaterina Adolfovna Schneider was born on 20 January 1856, in St Petersburg to a Baltic Germanfamily, she was also the niece of the former imperial physician Dr. Hirsch. From the day of her birth, she lived with her parents in an apartment on Liteiny Prospect in the Imperial capital.

Known as “Trina,” a courtier remembered her as “infinitely sweet tempered and good hearted.” Schneider was also primly Victorian. She once refused to permit the four grand duchesses to put on a play because it contained the word “stockings.”

In 1884, she was hired to teach the Russian language to the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, the wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. Apparently, Ms Schneider managed to find a common language with her student, earning herself a good reputation. After the engagement in 1894 of the heir-Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich to Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, Schneider was summoned to London to teach the Russian language to the bride. Alix’s studies with Schneider continued for several years. In a letter dated 4th February 1895 to her older sister Princess Victoria of Battenberg, Alexandra Feodorovna wrote that “Schneiderlein” (as she called her teacher) lived in the Winter Palace, and that “the other day she turned 38 or 39. She comes every morning, and we study hard. She also reads to me an hour before dinner.”

Schneider did her job well: most of the Empress’s contemporaries who regularly communicated with her often complemented the Empress on her command of the Russian language. In addition, Schneider was able to make friends with her student, and they were connected for life. Even after her services as teacher were no longer required, she became the Empress’s confidante and lived in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.

PHOTO: Graves of Anastasia Hendrikova and Ekaterina Schneider;
later destroyed by the Bolsheviks

Faithful to the End

On 1st August 1917, Anastasia Hendrikova and Ekaterina Schneider followed the Tsar’s family into exile to Tobolsk. Before leaving, Hendrikova wrote in her diary: “I can not leave here without thanking God for that wonderful peace and power that He sent me and supported me for all these almost five months of arrest. I close my eyes, give myself completely, without questions or murmurings into the hands of God with confidence and love. “

In May 1918 Anastasia Hendrikova and Ekaterina Schneider arrived in Ekaterinburg with four of the Tsar’s children, however, they were not admitted to the Ipatiev House, but were instead transferred to a Perm prison. They, prayed fervently and tried to remain cheerful, although both were exhausted by the illnesses and burdens of imprisonment.

On the night of 4th September 1918, Anastasia Hendrikova and Ekaterina Schneider were awakened and taken with a group of prisoners outside the city where they were killed. According to the Whites investigation at the time, they were both shot at point blank range followed by a strong blow to the back of the head. Only a few months later, after the arrival of the White Army, the bodies of the dead were discovered, and they were buried in the cemetery in Perm.

The bodies of Hendrikova and Schneider were recovered by the Whites in May 1919, and were reburied in the Yegoshikha Cemetery. However, their graves were later destroyed when the Bolsheviks regained control of the city.

PHOTO: Memorial cross to Countess Hendrikova and Ekaterina Schneider
in the Yegoshikha Cemetery, Perm

In October 2012, thanks to the efforts of a group of parishioners from churches in the city, and with the blessing of the Metropolitan of Perm and Solikamsky Methodius, a new cross was erected at the site where their remains were believed to have initially been buried.

A memorial service with prayer is performed for Hendrikova and Schneider, every year on 4th September, at the burial site in the Yegoshikha Cemetery, which is situated near the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Perm.

PHOTO: Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Perm

Canonization

In October 1981, both Hendrikova and Schneider were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). Schneider was canonized in spite of the fact she was a Lutheran, however, she has not been canonized by the Moscow Patriarchate due to her faith.

On 16th October 2009, the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation decided to rehabilitate 52 persons of the Imperial family and their retainers who had been subjected to repression, including Hendrikova and Scheider.

© Paul Gilbert. 4 September 2020

The woman who photographed the Imperial Family in Tobolsk

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Maria Ussakovskaya, nee Petukhova with her husband Ivan Konstantinovich Ussakovsky

Few historians know about Maria Ussakovskaya the first woman photographer in Tobolsk. Through the lens of her camera, she photographed life in the provincial capital during one of the most dramatic periods of Russia’s history, leaving for posterity a noticeable mark in the biography of this Siberian city.

Incredible progress

Maria Mikhailovna Ussakovskaya, nee Petukhova, was born on 28th December 1871 (Old Style) in the family of a Tobolak native, state adviser M.M. Petukhov. She graduated from the Tobolsk girl’s school and, in 1893, married the official Ivan Konstantinovich Ussakovsky.

Ivan was also a great lover of photography – a hobby that was fashionable and modern in Russia at the time. On the basis of her husband’s home laboratory, as well as money received in a dowry from her father, Maria opened a photo salon, which quickly gained popularity among the townspeople. It should be noted that in 1897 in Tobolsk, with a population of 20 thousand people, there were no less than nine photo shops! 

Maria kept up with all the new developments in photography. She ordered expensive Bristol cardboard for passe-partout, used interchangeable backs with different scenes, offered costume shots, and even performed photo montages. This was incredible progress for Siberia at that time.

Photographs by Ussakovskaya were distinguished by their artistic taste and original composition. These were real photo portraits, which is especially significant, because photography at that time was essentially a step into eternity to become a memory for years to come.

Unlike other female owned photo salons, Ussakovskaya perfectly mastered the techniques of photography herself. Her photo salon also began to publish postcards, which were in great demand. It is known that the famous Russian chemist and inventor Dmitry Mendeleev (1834-1907), during his stay in Tobolsk in the summer of 1899, bought a collection of art postcards with views of his native city from Ussakovskaya’s salon.

Maria continued to work after the revolution, but the portraits of young ladies in silk dresses were replaced with photographing labor collectives, fur farms, bone carving masters and ordinary workers. At the same time, the house was formally confiscated by the local Soviet, leaving Maria to rent her own photo workshop from a local farm in Tobolsk. In 1929, Ussakovskaya was deprived of suffrage. The photo salon had to be closed. In 1938, the Ussakovskys left Tobolsk for Moscow for fear of reprisals. Maria Mikhailovna died in 1947 and is buried in the Don Cemetery.

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Photograph of Rasputin taken at Maria’s salon in Tobolsk

Witness of events

Maria was a witness to many historical events. Of particular interest in her biography are family traditions associated with the names of prominent people of that era and carefully preserved by subsequent generations of Ussakovsky. One of them is based on the visit by the famous strannik Grigori Rasputin.

The photograph of Grigory Rasputin made by Maria Ussakovskaya is today widely known. Moreover, the famous holy man, who was hunted by Russia’s finest photographers, presented himself at Maria’s salon. Maria’s great-grandson of Vadim Borisovich Khoziev, continues to tell the story of Rasputin’s visit to his great-grandmother’s salon in Tobolsk, as told to him by his grandmother Maria Ivanovna Ussakovskaya.

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One of Maria’s photos of the Governors House, where the Imperial Family lived under house arrest

Photographer of the Romanov family?

It is also of great interest,  that according to the Ussakovsky family, Maria repeatedly photographed the family of Tsar Nicholas II during their house arrest in the former Governor’s Mansion in Tobolsk. Sadly, however, in 1938, her daughter Nina, fearing arrest, destroyed all the photographic plates. One can only speculate, as to what these lost plates depicted? How close did Maria get to the Imperial Family? What were they doing when she photographed them? How many photographs did she take, and later destroyed? Sadly, we will never know.

Only photos of the faithful servants of the Imperial Family have been preserved to this day. The original of this photo is now in the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum in Pushkin, a copy of which can be seen in the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II (opened in June 2018) in Tobolsk. It is interesting to add that members of their suite who enjoyed freedom to go about Tobolsk, made purchases of  postcards with views of Tobolsk, on behalf of the Imperial Family from Maria’s salon.

The fact that the Imperial Family used the services of the Ussakovskaya Salon was documented. In the financial report of Colonel Kobylinsky, security chief of the Romanovs, in addition to a few mentions of invoices for purchasing postcards, information is also provided on the account “for correcting negatives”. So Maria’s photos of the Imperial Family did in fact exist!.

The Imperial Family described their stay in Tobolsk in great detail in both their respective diaries and letters, however, there is no mention of an invitation of Maria Ussakovskaya nor the photographer in general. A visit by a female photographer would hardly go unnoticed. It is also not clear why the Romanovs would need to invite a photographer: they, as well as the tutor to Tsesarevich Alexei Pierre Gilliard, had their own cameras. Many photographs of the Imperial Family have been preserved, taken in Tobolsk by the Romanovs themselves or by members of their retinue.

Pierre Gilliard notes in his diary on 17th September 1917 that the Imperial Family were forced to have “ID cards with numbers, equipped with photographs.” Empress Alexandra Feodorovna made a similar note in her diary on 30th September 1917. Their respective entries may explain the photographer from the Ussakovskaya Salon, who was most likely Maria’s husband Ivan Konstantinovich Ussakovsky, who was invited for this compulsory photography for certificates. An invoice was issued by the salon.

Several passes to the “Freedom House” with photographs have been preserved, for example, the passes with a photograph of Dr. E. S. Botkin and maid A. S. Demidova. Their copies are also on display in the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk.

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Photograph of the Imperial Family’s faithful servants taken at Maria’s salon in Tobolsk

“Faithful servants”

A wonderful photograph depicting *five faithful servants of the Imperial Family has been preserved to this day. The original of this photo is now in the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum in Pushkin, a copy of which can be seen in the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II (opened in June 2018) in Tobolsk.

The faithful servants of the Imperial Family, who had not lodged in the Governor’s House, but in the Kornilov House, located on the opposite side of the street and, obviously, enjoyed greater freedom of movement, could visit the Ussakovskaya Salon, which was located nearby. The famous photograph, called “Faithful Servants”, was clearly taken in the salon. Five members of the imperial retinue pose against a backdrop with a view of Tobolsk, printed or painted on canvas, This background can be seen in other photos from the Ussakovskaya Photo Salon.

*NOTE: the photo above depicts – the gentlemen: Count Ilya Tatishchev, Pierre Gilliard, Prince Vasily Dolgorukov; the ladies, Catherine Schneider, Anastasia Hendrikova. With the exception of Pierre Gilliard, the other four faithful retainers of the Imperial Family were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

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The home and salon of Maria Mikhailovna and Ivan Ussakovsky in Tobolsk

The home and salon of Maria Mikhailovna and Ivan Ussakovsky which was located at No. 19 Ulitsa Mira, was illegally demolished in 2006. Requests to local authorities by a group of local historians to restore the building has fallen on deaf ears in Tobolsk. 

© Paul Gilbert. 24 February 2020