Author Topic: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC  (Read 163019 times)

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Offline Sarushka

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #270 on: February 19, 2010, 07:51:09 AM »
Unfortunately the account by King and Wilson simply takes all the varying testimony, throws it in a blender, and spits out what I consider a wildly embellished fable. 

To illustrate what I mean, King and Wilson infer that after hearing the order Nicholas II said "Lord, oh my God!  Oh, my God, what is this?  Oh, my God, no!"  Then turned back to Yurovsky and said, "I can't understand you.  Read it again, please."  Yurovsky somehow finds the time to read it again, to which Nicholas responds, "What? What?"  and Yurovsky says, "This!" and starts shooting. 

That seems utterly absurd to me - a very drawn out dramatization of what was surely less orchestrated. 

That's exactly what I thought initially. The part about Yurvosky saying "This" as he opened fire struck me as especially melodramatic and far-fetched. However, Yurovsky's testimony in Ispoved' Tsreubiits supports this scenario -- so we can't put the blame for the dramatic embroidery solely at King & Wilson's feet.

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Offline victoriakin

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #271 on: February 19, 2010, 03:30:18 PM »
I've been reading many of the accounts and it's very frustrating that many of them differ so. In any case, one almost has to pick and choose what and who to believe.

Even Yurovsky contradicts himself between his two accounts! Is there any one account by any witness that is thought to be the most reliable? If so, can someone post it in it's entirety? Or, can anyone summarize the event in detail for me here, in a way that combines many accounts to become the most accurate/accepted one?

The most thorough account is provided in King and Wilson's Fate of the Romanovs.  What you must do (if you want to gain as comprehensive an understanding of the event as one can from the testimony) is read the source material of each reference, then draw your own conclusions.  The advantage of the source material is that it is relatively thin - there really isn't much of it - and it is also relatively (in terms of history) recent.

Unfortunately the account by King and Wilson simply takes all the varying testimony, throws it in a blender, and spits out what I consider a wildly embellished fable. 

To illustrate what I mean, King and Wilson infer that after hearing the order Nicholas II said "Lord, oh my God!  Oh, my God, what is this?  Oh, my God, no!"  Then turned back to Yurovsky and said, "I can't understand you.  Read it again, please."  Yurovsky somehow finds the time to read it again, to which Nicholas responds, "What? What?"  and Yurovsky says, "This!" and starts shooting. 

That seems utterly absurd to me - a very drawn out dramatization of what was surely less orchestrated.  And of course when we look at the original material, each quote comes from a different source; therefore we can conclude that these are different accounts of what was likely the same pithy utterance.   Nicholas probably had a moment to say "What?  What?" (if that) and the shooting started.  It does not seem plausible to me that Yurovsky read the order twice, nor that Nicholas launched into soliloquy.  In any case, King and Wilson take each account and add it like sliding a bead of an abacus until they have a rather hefty sum suitable for both drama and their [dubious] theories.

In fairness, however, I do recommend the King and Wilson account because they very meticulously list each source and allow the curious independent sleuth to discover the history on their own.  It is also, as I mentioned, the most thorough and comprehensive (if you can ignore the embellishment to the point of travesty) account.

In some respects it really doesn't matter.  They were brutally murdered.  Period. 

But for those of us who are fascinated with this family and those that remained loyal to them to the very end, precisely how the events unfolded really does matter.  My suggestion is to read the source material and use common sense; Occam's razor most certainly applies here.  Do not allow yourself to become enthralled by bizarre scenarios, but remain rigorous in your analysis of the details which, more often than not, hold the most salient clues.

Good luck!

In general, and in contemporary terms, I find Occam's Razor to be troublesome, and I do not believe its place is properly defined for those who may choose to utilize it. Occam's Razor is too brief in its summation, apparently having fallen on its own blade. So let me be precise in my meaning, without worrying about not being simple enough.

It is my belief that there is an appropriate usage of the principle of simplicity that is fostered in the banner of Occam's Razor, but where it fails is where the simplicity is at the expense of pertinent facts. In the full text of the original Occam's Razor principle, this is included. The "Razor" is not to eliminate those complexities which may be attributed to an alternative interpretation. Therefore, Occam's Razor is not quintessionally anti-complexity, but it is anti-redundancy of complexities. If there's a loose piece of the puzzle that has not been reconciled, this is not meant to be omitted from the interpretation, but included, because it is unresolved. That which is unresolved has the great potential for altering the interpretation. However, for those things which are not pertinent, or can be resolved, there is no need for stating something that has no bearing.

Whether who sat in what chair, I mean honestly. The only ones present were the executioners. Pfff.

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Offline JStorey

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #272 on: February 19, 2010, 05:48:34 PM »
No offense, but this sort of tangential meandering is precisely why I rarely post.  Omit the expression Occam's Razor if it so troubles you

Offline Janet Ashton

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #273 on: February 20, 2010, 11:10:10 AM »
I've been reading many of the accounts and it's very frustrating that many of them differ so. In any case, one almost has to pick and choose what and who to believe.

Even Yurovsky contradicts himself between his two accounts! Is there any one account by any witness that is thought to be the most reliable? If so, can someone post it in it's entirety? Or, can anyone summarize the event in detail for me here, in a way that combines many accounts to become the most accurate/accepted one?

The most thorough account is provided in King and Wilson's Fate of the Romanovs.  What you must do (if you want to gain as comprehensive an understanding of the event as one can from the testimony) is read the source material of each reference, then draw your own conclusions.  The advantage of the source material is that it is relatively thin - there really isn't much of it - and it is also relatively (in terms of history) recent.

Unfortunately the account by King and Wilson simply takes all the varying testimony, throws it in a blender, and spits out what I consider a wildly embellished fable. 

To illustrate what I mean, King and Wilson infer that after hearing the order Nicholas II said "Lord, oh my God!  Oh, my God, what is this?  Oh, my God, no!"  Then turned back to Yurovsky and said, "I can't understand you.  Read it again, please."  Yurovsky somehow finds the time to read it again, to which Nicholas responds, "What? What?"  and Yurovsky says, "This!" and starts shooting. 

That seems utterly absurd to me - a very drawn out dramatization of what was surely less orchestrated.  And of course when we look at the original material, each quote comes from a different source; therefore we can conclude that these are different accounts of what was likely the same pithy utterance.   Nicholas probably had a moment to say "What?  What?" (if that) and the shooting started.  It does not seem plausible to me that Yurovsky read the order twice, nor that Nicholas launched into soliloquy.  In any case, King and Wilson take each account and add it like sliding a bead of an abacus until they have a rather hefty sum suitable for both drama and their [dubious] theories.

In fairness, however, I do recommend the King and Wilson account because they very meticulously list each source and allow the curious independent sleuth to discover the history on their own.  It is also, as I mentioned, the most thorough and comprehensive (if you can ignore the embellishment to the point of travesty) account.



As I have (probably!) pointed out here before, the murder chapter of FOTR was one of the chapters most extensively reworked after submission - at publisher request - for the sake of providing a dramatic narrative structure deemed for a mainstream audience. The manuscript original was quite different in its treatment of the varied evidence. I don't know what "dubious theories" you suppose are being promoted in this narrative, but I can tell you that Greg was somewhat concerned that the flow of it would detract from its plausibility. Every point in it, though, is supported by the evidence, whether or not one considers these embellished and boastful accounts of the murderers themselves to be plausible.

But, again, thank you for your balance in recommending the book.
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Offline JStorey

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #274 on: February 21, 2010, 01:03:50 AM »
As I have (probably!) pointed out here before, the murder chapter of FOTR was one of the chapters most extensively reworked after submission - at publisher request - for the sake of providing a dramatic narrative structure deemed for a mainstream audience. The manuscript original was quite different in its treatment of the varied evidence. I don't know what "dubious theories" you suppose are being promoted in this narrative, but I can tell you that Greg was somewhat concerned that the flow of it would detract from its plausibility. Every point in it, though, is supported by the evidence, whether or not one considers these embellished and boastful accounts of the murderers themselves to be plausible.

But, again, thank you for your balance in recommending the book.

Hi Janet - Yes, well his concern was prescient.  As we've discussed before I make no mystery of my ambivalence for their book, but do so knowing that whenever I bring it up here it hopefully helps sell a few copies for them.  And indeed they very much deserve balance because FOTR is a well-researched and meticulously referenced work.  Invaluable.

I might describe the approach of "providing a dramatic narrative structure deemed for a mainstream audience" - one that "shatters the mythology surrounding the murder" etc. - as the book's (sensational) fatal flaw, but I won't get into that in this thread.

Regarding dubious theories, I'll stick for the purposes of this conversation to those specific to the execution (but I could list quite a few).  Aside from the potpourri of assembled testimony, I specifically dislike the manner in which Ermakov is portrayed - as a sort of drunken, bloodthirsty beast doing all the dirty work - in contrast to Yurovsky who does noble things like check pulses and intervenes when Ermakov goes mad.  Yurovsky takes the higher road while Ermakov is the guilty man, all while the "loyal soldiers" outside vomit in abhorrence (along with the reader).

Now why does this bother me (aside from the fact that it simply isn't accurate)?

It is not to say Ermakov that wasn't a drunken beast; his name did not emerge from the ether.  But the effect of such a dramatized and distorted portrayal is ultimately to dehumanize an act that was filled with very culpable human characters, not animals.  When we create a demonic caricature of evil, we ultimately pardon ourselves from the crime and thus can learn nothing from it.  Solzhenitsyn's famous quote comes to mind: 

"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

In short, "shattering a mythology" by creating a new (and dramatic!) mythology most certainly warrants criticism.

Offline Janet Ashton

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #275 on: February 21, 2010, 07:37:32 AM »


Hi Janet - Yes, well his concern was prescient.  As we've discussed before I make no mystery of my ambivalence for their book, but do so knowing that whenever I bring it up here it hopefully helps sell a few copies for them.  And indeed they very much deserve balance because FOTR is a well-researched and meticulously referenced work.  Invaluable.

Yes, I think it would be naive not to recognise that this forum has a beneficial effect on book sales generally!


Regarding dubious theories, I'll stick for the purposes of this conversation to those specific to the execution (but I could list quite a few).  Aside from the potpourri of assembled testimony, I specifically dislike the manner in which Ermakov is portrayed - as a sort of drunken, bloodthirsty beast doing all the dirty work - in contrast to Yurovsky who does noble things like check pulses and intervenes when Ermakov goes mad.  Yurovsky takes the higher road while Ermakov is the guilty man, all while the "loyal soldiers" outside vomit in abhorrence (along with the reader).

Now why does this bother me (aside from the fact that it simply isn't accurate)?

It is not to say Ermakov that wasn't a drunken beast; his name did not emerge from the ether.  But the effect of such a dramatized and distorted portrayal is ultimately to dehumanize an act that was filled with very culpable human characters, not animals.  When we create a demonic caricature of evil, we ultimately pardon ourselves from the crime and thus can learn nothing from it.  Solzhenitsyn's famous quote comes to mind: 

"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"


I can't remember if we've discussed this point before, but I certainly don't think that there was any intention to create the idea that ERmakov was exclusively responsible and that with him gone the deed would not have taken place. Rather the reverse, in fact - the introductory section of the book, which harps a lot on Nicholas's misdeeds as Tsar, was intended specifically to attack the idea of a saintly Tsar destroyed by an aberrant evil and instead depict him as he would have seemed to contemporaries who were his subjects - as well as of course to others who saw him through the medium of the foreign press. Evil begets evil, and in that situation some very ordinary individuals found themselves able to commit a murder which otherwise revolted them, because they believed they were serving a bigger good. Ermakov emerges as the one person who took a pleasure in it, as there will always be people who enjoy bloodshed for its own sake, but he certainly did not act alone.

As to learning lessons from history - I don't know what lesson the murder of nicholas II can teach, beyond the very fact that it was part of an endless cycle of violence and not - as historians such as Pipes have argued - the beginning of it. Do people ever really learn anything from history, I wonder?
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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #276 on: February 21, 2010, 11:21:25 AM »
As to learning lessons from history - I don't know what lesson the murder of nicholas II can teach, beyond the very fact that it was part of an endless cycle of violence and not - as historians such as Pipes have argued - the beginning of it. Do people ever really learn anything from history, I wonder?
Janet , well said. It often seems  there is a set curiculum here on earth.

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Offline JStorey

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #277 on: February 21, 2010, 03:23:34 PM »
I can't remember if we've discussed this point before, but I certainly don't think that there was any intention to create the idea that ERmakov was exclusively responsible and that with him gone the deed would not have taken place. Rather the reverse, in fact - the introductory section of the book, which harps a lot on Nicholas's misdeeds as Tsar, was intended specifically to attack the idea of a saintly Tsar destroyed by an aberrant evil and instead depict him as he would have seemed to contemporaries who were his subjects - as well as of course to others who saw him through the medium of the foreign press. Evil begets evil, and in that situation some very ordinary individuals found themselves able to commit a murder which otherwise revolted them, because they believed they were serving a bigger good. Ermakov emerges as the one person who took a pleasure in it, as there will always be people who enjoy bloodshed for its own sake, but he certainly did not act alone.

As to learning lessons from history - I don't know what lesson the murder of nicholas II can teach, beyond the very fact that it was part of an endless cycle of violence and not - as historians such as Pipes have argued - the beginning of it. Do people ever really learn anything from history, I wonder?

All good points.  Besides I think I've criticized FOTR enough anyhow...  It was certainly important to dispel what I call the "Massie monarchist" mythology, and this book was one of the first to portray a more well-rounded view of the Imperial Family, which personally I find makes them all the more human. 

Janet your posts are always quite balanced and judicial - well-reasoned and thoughtful too; thank you!

Offline Janet Ashton

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #278 on: February 23, 2010, 07:02:36 AM »

All good points.  Besides I think I've criticized FOTR enough anyhow...  It was certainly important to dispel what I call the "Massie monarchist" mythology, and this book was one of the first to portray a more well-rounded view of the Imperial Family, which personally I find makes them all the more human.  



It's been very influential on that score too - both Helen Rappaport's book and Wendy Slater's study of "The many deaths of Nicholas II" are clearly influenced by the FOTR portrayal of the family. Wendy Slater's chapter about the "secular saints" and their modern historigraphy is particularly indebted to it, I think, down to using similar quotes.
In the end, my favourite parts of the completed book were the chapter on the funeral and the afterword, which talks about the creation of the myth.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2010, 07:06:54 AM by Janet Ashton »
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Offline JStorey

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #279 on: February 24, 2010, 12:00:53 PM »
Helen Rappaport's book was excellent; one I'd highly recommend, particularly to balance out the perspectives surrounding the final days of the Romanovs.  And her writing approach is less "over-the-top" as they say. 

(Slater's I was far less impressed by - her conclusion an anachronistic projection related more to the present than the past).

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #280 on: February 24, 2010, 11:38:53 PM »
One of the things I liked particularly  about Helen Rappaport's fine  book was she tells us about Ekaterinburg at length. I had no idea it was a city of 10,000 or that the British consul was across the street etc.....really put it into context for me

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Offline Janet Ashton

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #281 on: February 27, 2010, 04:58:38 AM »
Helen Rappaport's book was excellent; one I'd highly recommend, particularly to balance out the perspectives surrounding the final days of the Romanovs.  And her writing approach is less "over-the-top" as they say. 

(Slater's I was far less impressed by - her conclusion an anachronistic projection related more to the present than the past).

Do you mean her last chapter? - I look upon Slater's book as quite a different beast to most works on Nicholas II's death, because it is more an academic examination of the narratives and portrayals than an attempt to get to the bottom of what happened - though obviously she has a view. The one things hat irked me was that she referred to Atlantis magazine as though it was one of those Romanov-adoring websites, which seemed a peculiar error to make when she had asked me for a copy of my article from it on Nicholas II in fiction, and cited that in the bibliography. Even in looking at the website she should have seen that it was a page advertising a print magazine and nothing more. But that's a minor personal quibble....It would have been easier to stomach though if her own book had been less indebted to FOTR, because she was well aware that Atlantis was run by the authors of that book.

I bought Helen Rappaport's book because people spoke so highly of the way she evoked the atmosphere in the Ipatiev House, and was just porrfing my own novel on Alexandra and wanted to compare. I'd certainly had no intention of buying any more Romanov murder books - but it was truly excellent; it flows very well and I read it one sitting.

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Offline JStorey

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #282 on: March 01, 2010, 06:11:21 PM »
I look upon Slater's book as quite a different beast to most works on Nicholas II's death, because it is more an academic examination of the narratives and portrayals than an attempt to get to the bottom of what happened - though obviously she has a view.

She makes a straightforward summary of how the secrecy and criminal nature of the Tsar's execution gave rise to Romanov pretenders, martyrdom, romanticism, myth, etc.,  But then she takes this summary and projects it backwards, as if the actors then had some notion of what might happen now (Were that so then no one would have bothered with a revolution to begin with).  For instance she claims that Lenin would never have ordered the execution because he would have known this modern outcome, and further he would have cared!  It is, in my humble opine, a preposterous idea.

I bought Helen Rappaport's book because people spoke so highly of the way she evoked the atmosphere in the Ipatiev House, and was just porrfing my own novel on Alexandra and wanted to compare. I'd certainly had no intention of buying any more Romanov murder books - but it was truly excellent; it flows very well and I read it one sitting.

I was equally skeptical, particularly by the title which seemed rather cheeky.  I really liked it. 

With that in mind I'm going to stay on topic by recommending three titles for new readers interested in the details of the execution and final days in Ekaterinburg:

1.  Last Days of the Romanovs - Wilson 1920. 
The circumstances of an execution on the eve of losing a city to the whites makes Wilson's book a fascinating - albeit heavily and sometimes alarmingly biased - account.  The reason I recommend it is because the testimony within (particularly that by my favorite fellow Iakimov) is so frequently manipulated (err, I mean cited) by contemporary writers.  So it helps to read it on your own, and then dive into the other accounts.  It gives you a leg up, so to speak, without having to investigate every primary source (though that helps too!).

2.  Fate of the Romanovs - King & Wilson
Yes, controversial.  I am not a fan; I make no attempt to disguise that.  Nevertheless it is thorough and meticulously referenced.  Cull through the more sensational conclusions (hint - where King falls into persuasion, read very critically) and draw your own.

3.  Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg - Helen Rappaport
Provides balance to #2, a mildly different perspective, and generally well written account.  No citations, but sources are essentially the same. 

From these three sources alone you will receive a well-rounded enough picture, or enough at least - for most of us on this board - to whet the appetite!

Offline Janet Ashton

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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #283 on: March 03, 2010, 03:02:50 PM »

She makes a straightforward summary of how the secrecy and criminal nature of the Tsar's execution gave rise to Romanov pretenders, martyrdom, romanticism, myth, etc.,  But then she takes this summary and projects it backwards, as if the actors then had some notion of what might happen now (Were that so then no one would have bothered with a revolution to begin with).  For instance she claims that Lenin would never have ordered the execution because he would have known this modern outcome, and further he would have cared!  It is, in my humble opine, a preposterous idea.

Maybe, but in MY humble opinion it's rather incidental to the book. Whether they expected it to or not (and I personally feel they must have had some inkling, based on the history of royal murders), the secret murder did produce all sorts of tales etc, and they themslves are the focus of Slater's work.


2.  Fate of the Romanovs - King & Wilson
Yes, controversial.  I am not a fan; I make no attempt to disguise that.  Nevertheless it is thorough and meticulously referenced.  Cull through the more sensational conclusions (hint - where King falls into persuasion, read very critically) and draw your own.


King and Wilson please! :-) With two authors, both should share blame or credit.....and I think the general idea is that people draw their own conclusions; perhaps that's what so many of the critics on here (and I don't mean you) couldn't stomach.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2010, 03:07:08 PM by Janet Ashton »
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Re: Execution details: who died how, in what order, etc. GRAPHIC
« Reply #284 on: March 03, 2010, 07:26:26 PM »
King and Wilson please! :-) With two authors, both should share blame or credit.....and I think the general idea is that people draw their own conclusions; perhaps that's what so many of the critics on here (and I don't mean you) couldn't stomach.

But Janet, I am giving Wilson credit by attributing the more sensational elements of the book to King!  I'd much rather throw him under the bus.  In any case, if the general idea of FOTR is that people draw their own conclusions, then criticism, analysis, etc. of its contents should be welcome.