Virtual Reality journey in the Imperial Train

PHOTO: poster the VR project Journey in the Imperial Train in the Alexander Palace

Visitors to Tsarskoye Selo now have an opportunity to experience a journey in the Imperial Train.

In October 2021, the VR project Journey in the Imperial Train opened in one of the halls on the ground floor of the Alexander Palace. Wearing special goggles, visitors can know look inside the luxurious rail carriages that served the Russian emperors: Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II. With the help of modern technologies in virtual reality, the historical interiors of the carriages of one of the first trains of Imperial Russia have been recreated in great detail.

This joint project of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Reserve and the Museum of Russian Railways was implemented with the technical support of the Infomedia Bureau of Creative Initiatives company.

The exhibit offers two options for visitors:

Ticket No. 1: Virtual Journey in the Imperial Train introduces guests to the history of the Imperial Train. Duration: 15 minutes – 250 rubles.

Ticket No. 2: Virtual Quest in the Imperial Train offers a thematic quest in the setting of the Imperiaal carriages, interacting with various objects and internal elements. Duration: 60 minutes – 500 rubles.

The history of Russian railways is closely connected with Tsarskoye Selo and the Alexander Palace. During the reign of Emperor Nicholas I in 1837, the first public railway in the country connected St. Petersburg with Tsarskoye Selo and quickly became a favourite way for members of the Imperial family to travel from the capital to their suburban summer residence.

During the reign of Emperor Nicholas II, several branches of the railway line were built not far from the Alexander Palace, which made it possible to get from Tsarskoye Selo to the most remote regions of the Russian Empire without changing trains.

After the outbreak of the First World War, Nicholas II regularly travelled from the nearby Imperial Railway Pavilionincludes 20 photos – to headquarters in Mogilev, while visiting foreign dignitaries were personally greeted by the Emperor, who awaited their arrival on the pavilion’s platform.

On 1st August 1917, it was also by train that the Imperial family were sent into exile from the Alexandrovsky Station to exile in Tobolsk.

By 1902, the imperial fleet consisted of eight trains. Following the 1917 Revolution, the fate of the wagons were utilized in different ways: some were used by representatives of the new Provisional government, others were rebuilt and adapted for passenger traffic, and the two wagons from Nicholas II’s Imperial Trainincludes 8 photos – were installed in the Alexandria Park in Peterhof – were destroyed during the Great Patriotic War.

© Paul Gilbert. 26 April 2022

Nazi atrocities in the Alexander Park, 1941-42

PHOTO: Nazi soldiers lead a group of Jews through the streets of Pushkin (1941).
Artist: V. V. Kahn

In July 2018, a horrible discovery was made by workers in the Alexander Park in the city of Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo], a place where Jews had been shot by the Nazis, between 17th September 1941 to 1st January 1942. According to archival documents, the execution and burial of Pushkin’s Jews were carried out near the Alexander Palace.

During the repair of drainage channels in the park, workers discovered the remains of two people. On one of the skulls, the temple had been pierced, believed to be from a blow with a rifle butt, while evidence of a bullet was found in the back of the head. Local historian Vitaly Novitsky claimed that these were the remains of Jews shot during the Nazi occupation of Pushkin in 1941.

Novitsky’s discovery marks yet another place associated with the “Leningrad Holocaust” – the extermination of the Jews of the Leningrad region during the war years. Jews were shot in Pushkin, Pavlovsk [in 1941, shot a total of 41 Jews in Pavlovsk Park], Gatchina, among other towns in the occupied territory.

The history of the Holocaust in Pushkin has not been sufficiently studied. Firstly, there were not many witnesses of the extermination of Jews. In addition, during Soviet times, the tragedy of the Holocaust was hushed up and the systematic study of the crimes of the German Nazis in Pushkin was not carried out until many years later.

It was only in 1986 that the collection of evidence about the acts of genocide carried out the Nazis in Pushkin began, and subsequently published in 1991.

Konstantin Plotkin, a historian and researcher of the Holocaust in the Leningrad region, claims that before the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), the Jewish population of the occupied part of the Leningrad region was 7,500 people. Approximately half of them were drafted into the Soviet army or evacuated. According to the reports of the Einsatz groups, the rest (3600 people) were shot by the Nazis.

It is believed that approximately 250-300 Jews were shot in Pushkin, however, some historians believe there may have been many more killed, up to 800 people. One historian claims that the bodies of about 500 Jews were buried near the White Tower – just steps from the Alexander Palace.

Plotkin also noted that during the battle for Pushkin, residents hid in the basements of Gostiny Dvor, the Lyceum and other places. And so the Germans immediately began to inspect these cellars in search of Jews. Following their arrests, many Jews were shot in the Babolovsky, Alexander and Catherine parks. On 20th September 1941, 38 people, including 15 children, were shot on the square in front of the Catherine Palace. In addition, Jews were shot in front of the Large Caprice [situated on the western boundary between the Catherine and Alexander Parks] and in the Lyceum Garden [near the Catherine Palace]. After the executions, personal items were collected from the murdered victims, and laid out on the second floor of the Lyceum, where local residents were free to help themselves.

PHOTO: The Formula of Sorrow (1972) monument by Russian artist Vadim Abramovich Sidur

On 13th October 1991, the Formula of Sorrow, a monument to Jewish victims of Nazism, killed in 1941 in Pushkin during the Great Patriotic War was unveiled in the city. In attendance were delegations from Israel, the USA, Germany, Finland and numerous compatriots.

The sculpture which was made by Soviet artist and sculptor Vadim Abramovich Sidur (1924-1986), while the architectural design of the memorial was made by Boris Bader.

The Formula of Sorrow resembles a mournful figure leaning over a lake of blood-red flowers. It is placed on a low equilateral triangular granite pedestal, which cuts like a wedge into the face of a larger triangular flower bed, the edging of the opposite faces of which is also made of granite. On the opposite corner of the flower bed from the sculpture, there are three inclined triangular plates, which, overlapping each other, form the Star of David . On the middle slab, in cast letters in Hebrew and Russian, the verse Tegilim 79:3 is displayed (Psalm 79:3): “.שפכו דמם כמים… ואין קובר // … they shed their blood like water, / and there was no one to bury them.” This text for the monument was chosen by the chairman of the Leningrad Jewish Association and Hebrew teacher Felix Fainberg. Below is a dedicatory inscription: “To the Jews of Pushkin, / fallen victims of / the fascist / genocide / 1941.”

The memorial is located in the park at the intersection of Dvortsovaya and Moskovskaya streets, not far from the Alexander Palace, near which mass execution of Jews took place.

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PHOTO: the damaged Alexander Palace and SS cemetery, 1944

During the Nazi German occupation of Tsarskoye Selo (1941-44), during the Great Patriotic War, the Alexander Palace was used as headquarters for the German military command.

The basement of the Alexander Palace was used a prison, while the area in front of the palace was turned into a cemetery for SS soldiers. The bodies were later reinterred to Germany.

As the Nazi German forces were leaving the Soviet Union, many of the former imperial palaces were set ablaze – Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, the Grand Palace in Peterhof, and Pavlovsk Palace.

The Alexander Palace was spared, however, many of the interiors were destroyed, their contents left prior to evacuation were stolen or destroyed.

© Paul Gilbert. 20 April 2022

Tsarskoye Selo director rejects idea to hold weddings in the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: Director of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Reserve Olga Taratynova, standing in front of the Alexander Palace

On 15th February, the Russian media reported that Mikhail Baryshnikov, a deputy of the City Legislative Assembly, plans to submit a new bill which would permit the use of historic palace-museums as venues for weddings—including both the Catherine and Alexander Palaces at Tsarskoye Selo.

This is the second attempt by St. Petersburg deputies to allow marriages to be registered outside the city registry offices. In 2017, they sent an initiative to change federal legislation to the Ministry of Justice for approval. But the department, outlined a wide range of problems and obstacles, and rejected the implementation of the idea.

In Pushkin, the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Reserve Olga Taratynova, recalled that there are two palaces under their administration and both are functioning museums: “The Alexander Palace is fundamentally not suitable for such purposes, it is in many ways a memorial museum, where a very special atmosphere reigns. And the nearby Catherine Palace is overwhelmed with visitors to accomodate such events. This is a place where people come perhaps once in a lifetime. In order to conduct a wedding in one of the halls of either palace, we would be forced to close part of the visitor route, which would deprive ordinary visitors of the opportunity to see everything possible. In this regard, we believe that some of pavilions located in the Alexander and Catherine Parks would be more suitable for weddings. These are beautiful historical buildings, located in secluded and picturesque corners of parks – including the Evening Hall, the Cameron Gallery, Chapelle and others,” Olga Taratynova noted.

© Paul Gilbert. 12 March 2022

Lilacs return to the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: after more than a century, fresh lilacs once again decorate the recently restored interior of the Empress’s Mauve Boudoir in the Alexander Palace. © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

For the first time in more than a hundred years, the fragrant scent of lilacs once again fill the interiors of the Alexander Palace during the cold winter months. The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum have revived the tradition, by placing lilacs in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir and the Maple Drawing Room of the Alexander Palace.

It was during the Imperial Family’s residence in the palace [between 1905-1917] that Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, filled her rooms fresh flowers year round. During the winter months, fragrant lilacs were grown in the greenhouses at Tsarskoye Selo. Even during the first few months of their house arrest in 1917, flowers remained in the interiors. Since “prisoners” were not entitled to any luxuries, the flowers were soon removed from the rooms by their captors.

PHOTO: fresh lilacs have also been placed in the recently restored interior of the Maple Drawing Room in the Alexander Palace. © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

In order to provide fresh lilacs for the palace, the greenhouses at Tsarskoye Selo, as in the beginning of the last century, use a forcing technique, by which plants come out of dormancy, allowing them to bloom throughout the year. In the early 20th century, bushes were planted in greenhouse boxes, and lilacs began to be prepared for awakening in December, with the help of additional light. The interiors of the Alexander Palace were decorated with historical varieties, among them the famous white “Madame Lemoine” lilac, which was on the order lists of Tsarskoye Selo gardeners. It was from this variety that the cult of lilac began.

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna loved flowers – the rooms in her private quarter of the palace were decorated with fresh flowers all year round. Floral themes were also present in the wall upholstery, furniture, stucco reliefs on the walls and ceilings. The Empress was especially fond of lilacs. It is no coincidence that in her Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, that the furniture and walls were decorated with lilac-colored silk, which reflected the Empress’s preferred lilac tones in clothes, and lilac-scented perfumes.

PHOTO: Empress Alexandra Feodorovna admiring a tub of lilacs in the Mauve Boudoir of the Alexander Palace, Tsarskoye Selo. 1909

Lilacs were placed everywhere in the palace: cut branches in a vase on a table by the window and bushes in a jardinière [a decorative flower box or planter] by the sofa in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir; magnificent lilac compositions decorated the Pallisander (Rosewood) and Maple Drawing Rooms.

In present day, between late spring – early summer, the Catherine and Alexander Parks are filled with lilacs, especially along Lilac Alley in the Catherine Park.

Lilacs first appeared at Tsarskoye Selo in the 18th century. Under Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, trees and shrubs were regularly planted in the parks of Tsarskoye Selo, including lilacs. Under Catherine II, parks and greenhouses were replenished with new species of plants, flowers and shrubs, including lilacs. Under Alexander I in 1817, at the direction of the architect Adam Menelas, the gardener Fyodor Lyamin planted lilacs in front of the palace and the colonnade, where they continued to bloom for over a hundred years. In the middle of the 19th century, the Lilac Alley was created, stretching from the Pink Guardhouse to the Krestovy Canal. In the 19th century, gardeners planted many new varieties of lilacs with various colors: white, mauve, purple and pink.

In the 19th century, many new varieties of lilac appeared with a variety of colors: white, mauve, purple and pink. A rich collection was formed at the end of the century in a small family company Lemoynov from the French city of Nancy. It was founded by Victor Lemoine, a master of ornamental plant breeding. He was not a supplier of the Russian Imperial Court, however, his varieties were purchased for Tsarskoye Selo, among them – “Madame Antoine Buchner” (terry lilac with dark pink buds, large, fragrant flowers from mauve-pink to pale whitish -pink), “Madame Lemoine” (lilac with white, large, double fragrant flowers).

PHOTO: each year, lilacs decorate the interiors of the Alexander Palace on 6th June, in honour of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s birthday. The photo above, shows the Marble (Mountain) Hall

In the years prior to the closing of the Alexander Palace for restoration between 2015-2021 – bouquets of fresh lilacs were placed in the former apartments of the Empress on her birthday: 6th June [O.S. 25th May]. Now that the restoration of the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace has been completed, let us hope that this annual tradition is also revived.

© Paul Gilbert. 12 January 2022

Christmas returns to the Alexander Palace

Christmas/New Year’s Tree in the Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum decided this year to restore the tradition of decorating a Christmas/New Year’s tree in the Alexander Palace. Today, a live spruce tree was installed in the Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room and decorated with more than forty authentic toys from the early 20th century from the museum’s collection.

From 1905 to 1917, the Alexander Palace was the centre of Russian statehood, and the permanent residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. It was here that they celebrated the New Year holidays, which included Christmas – the Imperial Family and their close associates all took part in decorating the tree and gifts for it.

Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna celebrated Christmas in the Alexander Palace for the first time in 1895. It became a favourite family holiday and was celebrated on a grand scale. According to eyewitnesses, at least eight trees were installed in the palace, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna herself took part in the decoration of each of them. She also chose gifts for the entire palace staff, including lackeys, cooks and stokers, a separate Christmas tree was decorated for them and the children’s nanny.

It was not until 1915, that the Alexander Palace became the permanent residence of the Imperial Family, however, they celebrated their first Christmas at Tsarskoye Selo on 24th December 1904.

PHOTO: OTMA seated in front of a Christmas tree in the Alexander Palace

Each year, on the 24th, the children would dress up in their finery and decorate a Christmas tree on the second floor, where there private rooms were situated. The first floor was set aside for the main family holiday. That evening, the Emperor and his wife visited the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in the Gatchina Palace. There they also attended the Christmas Vigil service. The imperial couple returned to Tsarskoye Selo at 11 o’clock in the evening and arranged their Christmas tree in the Empress’s new room (apparently referring to the Maple Drawing Room of Alexandra Feodorovna).

In subsequent years, the celebration of Christmas in the Alexander Palace took place according to that of previous years: a Christmas tree for the children on the second floor, the main family holiday on the first: several separate trees for servants and guards in the ceremonial halls, and in Alexandra Feodorovna’s rooms – a tree for the Emperor and Empress. The last tree decorated in the Alexander Palace was in December 1916.

The celebration of the New Year was significantly inferior in scale to that of Christmas. Throughout the entire reign of Nicholas II, December 31st was a festive day for the Emperor. The last day of the year stood out with a small festive tea party with the participation of family members, as well as a New Year’s prayer service, at which the Emperor was always present.

© Paul Gilbert. 22 December 2021

Alexander Palace Curator answers questions about the Imperial residence

Maria Filiptseva. Photo © Ruslan Shamukov

The curator of the Alexander Palace exposition, Maria Filiptseva, answers questions about the Imperial Residence at Tsarskoye Selo.

Tatiana Grinchuk: Will the children’s rooms be restored?

Maria Filiptseva: Unfortunately, the reconstruction of the interiors of the Children’s wing[1] is not planned, this is due to the lack of historical sources to carry out such works.

Katya Meshalkina: What is it that you like most about your work? Are there any items in the exposition that you are your personal favourite?

Maria Filiptseva: I really like the opportunity to work creatively, especially in the Alexander Palace, where we talk about the everyday life of Nicholas II and his family. I really love to conduct historical research, because an exhibit should not just simply stand on a shelf, you need to study its origin, the history of existence. Among my favourite items, are the works of the Danish Royal Porcelain Factory. Be sure to pay attention to the porcelain figurines of animals and birds that are exhibited in many of the palace’s interiors.

Irina Zrazhevskaya: Why is the hidden safe in the bedroom of Nicholas and Alexandra not available for viewing? Has it survived?

Maria Filiptseva: The safe was lost either during the war, or during the restoration work carried out in the 1950s.

Irina Zrazhevskaya: What happened to Kuchumov’s album, into which fabric samples were pasted, etc. the Imperial chambers?

Maria Filiptseva: The albums created by Anatoly Mikhailovich Kuchumov[2] are in the collection of the Pavlovsk Museum.

Irina Zrazhevskaya: Why are there no descriptions of the exhibits in the apartments?

Maria Filiptseva: We have tried to recreate the interiors as close as possible to their historic original as they looked more than a hundred years ago, and present them as a home. An audio guide will be available soon in the museum, making it possible to obtain descriptions and information on the most significant items of each interior.

Irina Zrazhevskaya: What is the progress of the restoration of the other interiors?

Maria Filiptseva: The Mountain [Mountain] Hall with a recreated slide and the State Halls are still in the process of being recreated. There are also plans to recreate the Raspberry Drawing Room.

Irina Zrazhevskaya: Please tell us about the keys to the Alexander Palace, which are now displayed in the main corridor which separate the Imperial apartment. Were they previously kept in the Museum of the History of Modern Russia?

Maria Filiptseva: The keys were provided for temporary storage by the State Central Museum of Contemporary History of Russia (GCMSIR), they have now been returned to the palace. The keys to the apartments were preserved by the family of the assistant to the commandant of the Alexander Palace V.M.Dommazyants, who was appointed to this position in June 1917. After his death, his relatives handed over the keys for storage to the Museum of the Revolution (now the State Center for Contemporary Art).

NOTES:

PHOTO: the second floor of the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace, where the former rooms of the August children were located. The original interiors have been lost.

[1] The children’s rooms were located on the second floor of the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace. The original interiors have been lost. In 2011, they were refitted for temporary exhibitions, and open to visitors for the first time in more than 80 years. The first exhibition “Alexander Palace. Visiting the Children’s Rooms” ran from 2nd June to 11th September 2011. Framed portraits of OTMAA decorated the walls leading to their rooms. A small catalogue [in Russian] was published.

[2] Anatoly Mikhailovich Kuchumov (1912-1993), was a museum worker, art historian, honoured culture worker of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (1975), honorary citizen of the town of Pavlovsk (1992).

In 1932, he worked as a cataloguer of the Pavlovsk Palace Museum; from 1937, he headed the Alexander Palace Museum in Pushkin. In 1941, Kochumov took charge of Pushkin museum collections evacuation to Gorky, then to Novosibirsk. In 1944, he returned to Leningrad, and took part in setting up the Central Depository of Museum Collections, becoming its first director.

Kuchumov was a member of the Investigation Commission for Valuables Looted by the Nazis (with Kuchumov’s assistance, over 12,000 exhibits were found and returned to museums).

In 1956, he was appointed chief curator of Pavlovsk Palace Museum, and became one of the authors of the project of restoration of its interiors. A specialist in the 18th -19th centuries Russian material culture history, Kuchumov provided consulting support to the Hermitage, the State Museum of History, Tretyakov Gallery and other museums.

© Paul Gilbert. 21 December 2021

Marble (Mountain) Hall opens in the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: view of the newly restored Marble (Mountain) Hall in the Alexander Palace

“The restoration of the Alexander Palace continues despite the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Olga Taratynova during a press conference held on 22nd November.

Olga Taratynova noted that the first stage of the restoration, located in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace has been completed. The second phase, the restoration of the western wing of the palace [seen in the photo] is now underway, and scheduled to open no earlier than 2024.

Since the Alexander Palace reopened on 13th August of this year, more than 19 thousand people have visited the palace-museum.

Earlier this month, restoration work on the Marble [nicknamed the Mountain Hall by Emperor Nicholas I, 1796-1855] was completed, which included the restoration of the artificial marble walls and fireplaces. In addition, the wooden slide [aka the roller coaster] has been recreated. However, visitors will not be allowed to use the slide. The Marble (Mountain) Hall which connects the Large Library with the Portraits Hall, is now included in the palace tour.

PHOTO: the Western Wing is currently surrounded by a fence during the second stage of the restoration of the Alexander Palace

The mountain slide was order in 1833 by Empress Alexandra Feodorovna [wife of Emperor Nicholas I] for the New Palace [Alexander Palace] at Tsarskoye Selo.

Following the completion of the parquet and other finishing works of the Marble Hall’s interior in 1843, the question of replacing the “mountain slide”, which had fallen into disrepair was discussed. In the report dated 18th March 1843, the architect I.Ye. Efimov notes that the existing foundation of the old hill, “was all split, the surface chipped in several places, out of which nails were dangerously exposed and thus beyond repair.”

Efimov announced that the cost to replace the wooden slide would be 500 rubles [a significant fee in the mid-19th century].

PHOTO: the Marble (Mountain) Hall as it looked before the Second World War

The Mountain Hall and its slide were enjoyed by the future Emperors Nicholas I, Alexander II and Alexander III, all of whom played on the hill as children. The Emperors, even after they became adults, periodically slid down the mountain they had enjoyed as children. For example, the educator of the future Alexander III S.A. Yuryevich wrote to his parents in 1847, after moving at the end of August from Peterhof to Tsarskoye Selo, anticipating “noisy games in the Mountain Hall”.

A member of the aristocracy noted in her memoirs how Emperor Alexander II invited her to the Alexander Palace as a child and invited her to play on the wooden mountain. She noted that Alexander II who was then 50 years old at the time “himself, slid down with his grandson in his arms.” It is worth noting that this particular grandson was the future Emperor Nicholas II.

The four daughters of Nicholas II and their brother Tsesarevich Alexei were the last of the August children who, played in the Mountain Hall. As in previous years, adults also entertained themselves on the slide with equal pleasure. In 1908, Lili Dehn, recalls riding with the Grand Duchesses “on the mountain slide, installed in one of the premises of the palace. We had fun for hours, getting great pleasure from the ride. I completely forgot that I was a married woman who was going to become a mother in a few months. ”

PHOTO: In the 1930s. the ceremonial dresses of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Emperor Nicholas I, were exhibited in the Marble (Mountain) Hall

During the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), the Marble (Mountain) Hall was damaged during the Nazi occupation of Tsarskoye Selo.

Following the war, the Director of the Alexander Palace Anatoly Mikhailovich Kuchumov (1912-1993), describes the destruction of the Hall: “We go to the Hall with a slide … the amazing color of the marble is still pleasing , which is especially evident now that all the curtains have been removed. There is not even a trace of the hill, the mirrors have been ripped out, the marble fireplace is broken – the caryatids have all been stolen. The massive gilded frame from the picture hanging above the hill seems to have miraculously survived. The vault of the hall in one second has been damaged by dampness, since the roof over this hall was torn apart by a shell ”

© Paul Gilbert. 26 November 2021

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Dear Reader: If you enjoy my articles and updated on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order

Your donation helps support my work in a number of ways, including research, the cost of translations from Russian media and archival sources, the maintenance of my news blog: Nicholas II. Emperor. Tsar. Saint., the organization of conferences and other events. Thank you for your consideration – PG

The Alexander Palace fed starving children in 1922

PHOTO: view of the Western Wing of the Alexander Palace (1922), which had been converted into an ARA kitchen, feeding more than 2000 local children a day

During the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), a terrible famine began in Bolshevik Russia. In an effort to stop it spreading throughout the former Russian Empire, the new Soviet government, led by Vladimir Lenin, invited the American Relief Administration (ARA), the brainchild of Herbert Hoover, to save communist Russia from ruin.

In 1921, to ease famine in Russia, the director of the American Relief Administration (ARA) in Europe, Walter Lyman Brown, began negotiating with the Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Maxim Litvinov, in Riga, Latvia. An agreement was reached on 21st August 1921, and an additional implementation agreement was signed by Brown and People’s Commisar for Foreign Trade Leonid Krasin on 30th December 1921. The U.S. Congress appropriated $20,000,000 for relief under the Russian Famine Relief Act of late 1921.

It was the largest humanitarian operation in history, preventing countless deaths, riots and, quite possibly, the collapse of the communist state. Indeed, while the ARA’s efforts were admirable, it is one of those historical ironies that the United States not only helped fund the new Bolshevik order, but also helped save it from collapsing.

The Western Wing of the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, the former residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, was turned into an ARA kitchen, which fed more than two thousand local children a day. The kitchen was run by one of the former tsarist chefs, who cooked boiled rice, beans and cocoa, assisted by several servants of the last Tsar.

American Relief Administration operations in Russia in 1922

At its peak, the ARA employed 300 Americans, more than 120,000 Russians and fed 10.5 million people daily. Its Russian operations were headed by Col. William N. Haskell. The Medical Division of the ARA functioned from November 1921 to June 1923 and helped overcome the typhus epidemic then ravaging Russia. The ARA’s famine relief operations ran in parallel with much smaller Mennonite, Jewish and Quaker famine relief operations in Russia. The ARA’s operations in Russia were shut down on 15th June 1923, after it was discovered that Russia renewed the export of grain

A hundred years later, few people remember these events. The Soviet government quickly erased the memory of American aid.

© Paul Gilbert. 1 November 2021

Prince Michael of Kent visits the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: Prince Michael of Kent and Olga Taratynova in the Mauve Boudoir
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

On 14th October, His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, together with a delegation from Great Britain, visited Tsarskoye Selo, where they toured the interiors of the Alexander Palace.

The director of the museum Olga Taratynova guided the delegation through the personal apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna, situated in the eastern wing of the palace, which included: the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, the Valet’s Room, plus the Maple Drawing Room, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, the Small and Large Libraries.

In addition, the delegation visited the Marble/Mountain Hall with a slide, where the craftsmen are currently working. Prince Michael was greatly impressed by the results of the restoration and reconstruction work by Russian specialists.

PHOTO: Prince Michael of Kent and Olga Taratynova in the Maple Drawing Room
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

Prince Michael of Kent is the son of Princess Marina, a daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark and Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia.

Tsar Nicholas II was a first cousin of three of his grandparents: King George V, Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark, and Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia.

Prince Michael speaks fluent Russian and has a strong interest in Russia, where he is a well-known figure.

When the bodies of the Tsar and some of his family were recovered in 1991, the remains were later identified by DNA using, among others, a sample from Prince Michael for recognition. He attended the 1998 burial of the Tsar and his family in St Petersburg.

He is an Honorary Member of the Romanov Family Association. He is also the second cousin of Princess Maria Vladimirovna. They share the same great-grandfather, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich.

© Paul Gilbert. 14 October 2021

Miniatures of Nicholas II returned to Russia

PHOTO: Miniatures of Emperor Nicholas II 
Artist: Alexander Wegner

NOTE: this article was originally published on 19th August 2019, it has been updated with additional detail and photos – PG

In August 2019, the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve acquired a collection of five miniatures that once adorned the brooches and pendants of the Empress Maria Feodorovna, wife of Emperor Alexander III, and mother of Emperor Nicholas II.

These unique items, had been kept in a private London collection shortly after the 1917 Revolution. The acquisition of these items was made possible thanks to financial support from the TransSoyuz Charitable Foundation.

In addition to miniatures depicting Emperor Alexander III [Nicholas II’s father] and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna [Nicholas II’s wife], are three miniatures of Emperor Nicholas II (in childhood, adolescence and adulthood), seen below:

PHOTO: Miniature of Tsesarevich Alexandrovich in childhood
Artist: Alexander Wegner

PHOTO: Miniature of Tsesarevich Alexandrovich in adolescence
Artist: Alexander Wegner

PHOTO: Miniature of Emperor Nicholas II in adulthood
Artist: Alexander Wegner

After the revolution, in 1919, Maria Feodorovna managed to take some of her jewellery, including these miniatures, with her when she left Russia and went into exile.

Following the death of the Dowager Empress in 1928, her daughter, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, inherited her mother’s jewellery. She sold part of them to the English company RG Hennel & Sons, as evidenced by an inventory dated 29th May 1929.

The miniatures were made by the Academician of the Imperial Academy of Arts Alexander Wegner. The smallest of them has a size of only 8 × 6 mm.

The miniatures are part of the Romanov family archive, most of which (over 200 items) the Museum purchased with sponsored funds in 2017. The miniatures are currently on display in the Alexander Palace, and are now part of the Collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum.

© Paul Gilbert. 9 October 2021