The ghost of Anna Anderson continues to haunt us
PHOTO: Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna (center) and Anna Anderson (left and right)
Russian historian and author Robert K. Massie coined it best when he wrote: “The mysterious disappearance of the Russian Imperial Family in July 1918 created fertile soil for the sprouting of delusion, fabrication, sham, romance, burlesque, travesty and humbug,” when he referred to the “long, occasionally colourful, frequently pathetic line of claimants and imposters” that has glided and stumbled across the last century.
It was a US lab who confirmed the true identify of one of history’s greatest impostors: Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. Thanks to DNA technology, however, science was able to prove that she was not the youngest daughter of Emperor Nicholas II, but that of a Polish peasant girl Franziska Schanzkowska.
A sample of Anderson’s tissue, part of her intestine removed during her operation in 1979, had been stored at Martha Jefferson Hospital, Charlottesville, Virginia. Anderson’s mitochondrial DNA was extracted from the sample and compared with that of the Romanovs and their relatives. It did not match that of the Duke of Edinburgh or that of the bones [Ekaterinburg Remains], confirming that Anderson was not related to the Romanovs.
The sample, however, matched DNA provided by Karl Maucher, a grandson of Franziska Schanzkowska’s sister, Gertrude (Schanzkowska) Ellerik, indicating that Karl Maucher and Anna Anderson were maternally related and that Anderson was Schanzkowska. Five years after the original testing was done, Dr. Terry Melton of the Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, stated that the DNA sequence tying Anderson to the Schanzkowski family was “still unique”, though the database of DNA patterns at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory had grown much larger, leading to “increased confidence that Anderson was indeed Franziska Schanzkowska”.
Similarly, several strands of Anderson’s hair, found inside an envelope in a book that had belonged to Anderson’s husband, Jack Manahan, were also tested. Mitochondrial DNA from the hair matched Anderson’s hospital sample and that of Schanzkowska’s relative Karl Maucher, but not the Romanov remains or living relatives of the Romanovs.
Many of us were relieved that this case had finally been put to rest. It was hoped that science would appease Anna Anderson’s supporters and thus bringing closure to this popular conspiracy theory. It was not to be . . .
PHOTO: this comparison on the side profiles of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna and Anna Anderson, created by Pierre Gilliard, provide evidence that they were two different women
Over the past 30+ years, I have been contacted by Anna Anderson’s supporters who insist that she was the real Anastasia. They argue the same “facts” from books on the subject written by Peter Kurth, Greg King and Penny Wilson, Michel Wartelle among others. In addition there have been numerous imposters claiming to be the children or grandchildren of either Nicholas II or one of his five children. In the 1990s I received a parcel from a man in Vancouver, who claimed that he was the son of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich. The box was filled with photocopied documents, letters and photographs, the cover letter read: “Mr. Gilbert, I dare you to prove me wrong!”
And if that wasn’t enough: during a lecture which I hosted in Chicago in 1997, an American man showed up insisting that he was the “reincarnation” of Emperor Nicholas II. He even grew a beard and trimmed it to the likeness of that of the Tsar. Still to this day, I receive emails from people who demand a DNA test to prove their “Romanov ancestry”.
Anna Anderson became the subject of films, documentaries and countless books – even in post-Soviet Russia. In 2014, Candidate of Historical Sciences Georgy Nikolaevich Shumkin released his book Кто Вы, госпожа Чайковская? К вопросу о судьбе царской дочери Анастасии Романовой:архивные документы 1920-х годов [Who are you, Mrs. Tchaikovskaya? On the fate of the tsar’s daughter Anastasia Romanova], in which the Ural scientists tries to unravel the mystery of the false daughter of Nicholas II. The book proved so popular, it was reprinted in 2022.
Testimonials by those who personally knew the real Anastasia . . .
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna – aunt of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna cherished her connection to her brother Tsar Nicholas II’s four daughters. She especially took a liking to the youngest of Nicholas’s daughters, her god-daughter Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. “My favourite god-daughter she was indeed! . . . Anastasia or Shvipsik (“little one”), as I used to call her. . . . She was such a generous child,” recalled Olga.
In 1925, Grand Duchess Olga travelled to Berlin to meet Anna Anderson in person. She was met by Pierre Gilliard and his wife who accompanied her to the Mommesen Nursing Home where Anna was being treated for tuberculosis. Olga also said she was dismayed that Anderson spoke only German and showed no sign of knowing either English or Russian, while Anastasia spoke both those languages fluently and was ignorant of German, a language which was never spoken in the Imperial Family.
“My beloved Anastasia was fifteen when I saw her for the last time in the summer of 1916. She would have been twenty-four in 1925. I thought Mrs. Anderson looked much older than that. Of course, one had to make allowances for a very long illness and the general poor condition of her health. All the same, my niece’s features could not possibly have altered out of all recognition. The nose, the mouth, the eyes were all different.”
The Grand Duchess remarked that the interviews were made all the more difficult by Mrs. Anderson’s attitude. She would not answer some of the questions put to her, and looked angry when when those questions were repeated. Some Romanov photos were shown to her, and there was not a flicker of recognition in her eyes. It was obvious that she greatly disliked M. Gilliard and little Anastasia had been devoted to him. The Grand Duchess had brought a small icon of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the Imperial Family. Mrs. Anderson looked at so indifferently that it was obvious the icon said nothing to her.
“That child was as dear to me as if she were my daughter. The spiritual bond between my dear Anastasia and myself was so strong that neither time nor that ghastly experience could have interfered with it.
But although the Grand Duchess put no credence in Mrs. Anderson’s story, she was deeply sorry for the woman.
“Somehow or other she did not strike me as an out-and-out impostor. Her brusqueness warred against it. A cunning impostor would have done all she could to ingratiate herself with myself. But Mrs. Anderson’s manner would have put anyone off. My own conviction is that it all started with some unscrupulous people who hoped they might lay their hands on at least a share of the fabulous and utterly non-existent Romanov fortune. . . . I had a feeling she was ‘briefed,’ as it were, but far from perfectly. The mistakes she made could not all be attributed to lapses of memory. For instance, she had a scar on one of her fingers and she kept telling everybody that it had been crushed because of a footman shutting the door of a landau too quickly. And at once I remembered the real incident. It was Maria, her elder sister, who got her hand hurt rather badly, and it did not happen in a carriage but on board the Imperial Train. Obviously someone, having heard something of the incident, had passed a garbled version of it to Mrs. Anderson.”
The Grand Duchess spent nearly four days by Anna Anderson’s bed. Hour by hour, Olga went on searching for the least clue to establish the woman’s identity. “I had left Denmark with something of a hope in my heart. As soon as I sat down by that bed in the Mommsen Nursing Home, I knew I was looking at a stranger. I left Berlin with all hope extinguished,” she told her biographer Ian Vorres.
Source: The Last Grand Duchess. Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna. by Ian Vorres. Charles Scribner & Sons (1964)
Charles Sydney Gibbes – tutor to the Imperial Children, including Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna
It was in April 1928, when Charles Sydney Gibbes heard from a friendly journalist about a woman taken very seriously in America as Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the youngest daughter of the late Tsar, and even by some members of the Imperial Family. In December 1928, Gibbes wrote from Oxford to Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich in Paris, about his impressions of the claimant:
“In my opinion, there is, unfortunately, no room for doubt that the Grand Duchess Anastasia perished at Ekaterinburg at the same time as the Emperor, the Empress, the Tsarevich, and her three sisters, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, and Marie, with Mlle Demidova, and the rest. This fact, of itself, disposes of the claim now made by Mme Tchaikovsky [Anna Anderson]. Additional facts of refutation are now wanting, but the essential point is found in the sad fact of the Grand Duchess’s death . . .
“As soon as the way was open, after the retreat of the Bolshevik Government, I hastened to Ekaterinburg. Nothing beyond vague rumour, however, could be learned. It was not until the following summer, 1919, when a full investigation was made by Mr Sokolov, that the extent and horror of the tragedy was learnt. I visited the clearing in the forest outside Ekaterinburg and saw what had been recovered. Months of toil were involved in pumping out and washing the contents of the deep mine shaft into which the remains from the bonfire had been thrown . . . All who actually took part in the investigation and inspected the remains were obliged to abandon hope that anyone had survived.
“Only a few, of course, were able to form an opinion under these conditions which presented all the facts of the case. There were, however, plenty of interested persons who had nothing but rumour and garbled accounts to build upon. Among these the most extraordinary tales were circulated. Various Pretenders actually appeared while I was still in Siberia. Not being obsessed by any great faith in themselves, these people’s courage quickly failed and they were easily confuted and exposed.
“The first legends concerning the Imperial children were in circulation as early as 1917 while we were still all living together in Tobolsk. At the end of that year the Daily Graphic printed a fantastic paragraph stating that the Grand Duchess Tatiana, one of the Tsar’s daughters, had gone to America, etc., etc.; she was then actually sitting with me in a drawing-room in Tobolsk reading the news of herself. If such things happened in creditable newspapers in 1917, while they were still alive, what could not happen with credulous people after they were dead?
“I have not had the advantage of seeing Mme Tchaikovsky in person but her photographs failed to invoke in me the slightest belief in her story, however much I wish that it were true. The evidence supplied by Mons. Bischoff is one of irrefutable force to anyone who has intimately known the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna. There is one point, however, in which I can speak with paramount knowledge and authority. Mme Tchaikovsky has affirmed that I limp. Had I been dead, it might have been difficult to prove, but being yet alive and happily in full possession of both my legs, I am able to demonstrate that I limp only in the imagination of Mme Tchaikovsky.”
Source: The House of Special Purpose: An Intimate Portrait of the Last Days of the Russian Imperial Family. Compiled from the Papers of their English Tutor Charles Sydney Gibbes by J. C. Trewin (1975)
For the record . . .
Emperor Nicholas II, his wife Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, their four daughters Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia Nikolaevna, and their only son and heir to the Russian throne Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Alexei Nikolaevich were ALL brutally murdered by the Bolsheviks in the basement of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg on 17th July 1918.
There were NO survivors! There were NEVER any sons and daughters born to any member of the Imperial Family, let alone any grandchildren. Surely, it is time to let these Holy Martyrs rest in peace.
© Paul Gilbert. 11 March 2023
You must be logged in to post a comment.