Author Topic: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski  (Read 12150 times)

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Offline Elisabeth

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OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« on: March 19, 2007, 12:10:11 PM »
Valéntin Spéranski was a Russian émigré to Paris who published a book about the last days of the imperial family, “La Maison à destination spéciale: La tragédie d’Ekaterinenbourg,” ("The House of Special Purpose: The Tragedy of Ekaterinburg") in 1929. This is an exceptionally rare book, probably only now obtainable through the Library of Congress or the rare book collections of a handful of university libraries. The copy I located in my own local university library was a first edition (no doubt the only edition), printed on very cheap paper, yellowed and crumbling, the spine completely broken. It had been autographed by the author himself on May 14, 1936, in Paris. After I brought it back from photocopying, the librarians immediately confiscated it for their rare book collection.

But it’s necessary to give you some background as to why Spéranski’s book is potentially so important in any study of the last days of the imperial family. Valéntin Spéranski was originally a professor of psycho-neurology at the University of St. Petersburg. After the October Revolution, he was dismissed from the faculty, and also later stripped of his position as dean of the Institute of Psycho-Neurology. This was because he was anti-Soviet; he describes himself as a “counter-revolutionary” and an “internal émigré” while he lived under Bolshevik rule. It’s not clear to me when he emigrated to France, but it was obviously after 1924, when he visited Ekaterinburg to give a series of lectures and seized upon the opportunity of being there to conduct his own private inquiries about the last days and murder of the imperial family (remember, this was only six years after the murders, so memories might be said to have been still fresh).

According to Spéranski, while in Ekaterinburg he personally interviewed people of various political parties, including Bolsheviks, who had either witnessed the imperial family arrive in Ekaterinburg or had been in some way involved in their imprisonment and eventual murder. Some of these men unburdened themselves to him because of “pangs of conscience,” others out of loyalty to the Soviet regime spoke in neutral terms about the murders, and still others sought to justify the crime. In his book, Spéranski evinces obvious sympathy for the imperial family, which he does not attempt to hide or dissemble, but equally he is at great pains to stress his attempt to be as objective as possible in dealing with the witnesses. No doubt his scientific training aided him in these efforts.

Here is the excerpt from his book which I believe AP members will find most interesting. It concerns the personalities of the grand duchesses, and their treatment at the hands of the Ipatiev House guards.

Valéntin Spéranski, “La Maison à destination spéciale: La tragédie d’Ekaterinenbourg,” J. Ferenczi & Fils, 1929, pp. 55-58.

[This is my own, very literal translation into English from the original French. The author is asking a former guard questions about the imperial family. The following is the section about OTMA:]

“What impression did the girls make on you?”

“Nothing in particular, I knew them all by name and I could recognize them from far away. Only Tatiana, like her mother, was not without arrogance, she was not disposed to talk to men of the people. However she smiled agreeably when she encountered decent and correct guards. The eldest, Olga Nicolaevna, was, like her brother, pale and sickly, but that did not prevent her from being boisterous. Her eyes, most of the time, appeared sad and tired. During the walk she stood apart from her sisters and looked sadly into the distance. She played the piano more often than her sisters, and when she would play a piece, she would choose something sad and plaintive.”

“Is it true that Marie Nicolaevna more than her sisters pleased the commissars and the guards and that she more than the other members of the family knew how to converse with them?”

“Yes, it’s true, Marie Nicolaevna seemed the most pleasant to me. If she had been well fed and if they had let her stay outside, she would have been a true Russian beauty, even though the blood in her veins was more German, Danish and English than Russian. When Marie Nicolaevna smiled, her eyes shone with such brilliance that it was a pleasure to see. Her face was more often rosy than those of her sisters. Her laughter was so gay and infectious that one derived pleasure from playing and joking with her. One could see that an invincible strength pushed her character to use force: I remember how one day, in the garden, she seized with strength a big tree branch, which she started to swing on until Yurovsky shouted at her in anger, ‘Citizeness Romanov, stop damaging the trees.’”

“And did Anastasia, the youngest of the grand duchesses, please you?”

“That one was a charming little devil. She had such mischief in her that I think you couldn’t get annoyed with her. Lively and boisterous, she continually made comical appearances with her favorite dog, as if putting on a circus. It’s precisely because she was like quicksilver that one of our louts failed to kill her at the window.”

(post continued below)
« Last Edit: March 19, 2007, 12:13:01 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2007, 12:10:43 PM »
“How did the guards conduct themselves towards the girls?”

“It’s a shame to admit, but all of us, up to the last, were more or less guilty towards the poor unfortunates. It was difficult for the poor peasants, raised to this role as guards, to defend themselves, let alone in their imagination, from the temptation of satisfying their bestial instincts. They mocked the defenseless girls. Our comrades from the factory later became more humane, but the stallions from the Zlokazov [factory], as vicious as before, continued to insult ceaselessly the girls and spied on their least movements. I often had pity for them. If, for example, they played dances on the piano, they smiled, but tears flowed from their eyes on to the keyboard.”

Then my interlocutor, with a confusion that was not dissimulated, admitted that his companions and himself had permitted themselves the most base and unhealthy curiosity, when they stood guard at the door of the grand duchesses’ bedroom or near the boudoir. One day the grand duchess Tatiana Nicolaevna, pale as death, threw them a look so wrathful that they were ashamed, turned on their heels and never again repeated their attempts at insolent debaucheries. Marie Nicolaevna silenced two of the most coarse persecutors when, boldly, she said, throwing a furious look at them, “How can you not be disgusted with yourselves when you use those shameful words? Do you think that it is with words like these that one moves a well-bred woman and disposes her to favor you? Be delicate and proper men; then we can talk to you.”

[Then there’s a few sentences about how in Tobolsk Pankratov used to receive the family’s mail, amongst which there was always an abundance of pornographic letters sent anonymously to the grand duchesses.]

In Ekaterinburg not a single person I talked to could say anything about the indecent anonymous letters that were sent to the imperial family by post. On the contrary, the most scandalous erotica addressed to the young female prisoners, as my interlocutors confirmed to me, was found in the Ipatiev House by means of the indecent inscriptions on the walls of the corridors, on the garden fence, [and] on the posts of the balcony. This phenomenal sexual depravity which consists of an irresistible urge to say and write certain obscene words, which in forensic psychiatry is known under the shameful name of “coprolalia,” made an appearance in large measure among the guards and future assassins. The psychological law of imitation acted infallibly in the present case and caused the young female prisoners many painful moments.
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Offline mr_harrison75

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2007, 03:41:50 PM »
Those statements are extremely interesting! It's strange though, I've always thought that it was Olga who was snobbing the guards...

I don't know if King/Wilson used excerpt of this book in their book Fate of the Romanov...

I'd be interested to see more of Speranski's book...

Thank you very much!!!

Offline Belochka

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2007, 05:29:13 PM »
What a remarkable extract you have revealed here for everyone to read Elizabeth.

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Offline Sarushka

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #4 on: March 19, 2007, 07:21:08 PM »
Thanks so very much, Elisabeth!

Does Speranski go into any detail about the nature of the guards' comments? Or what held them back from committing more than verbal abuses?
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Offline Penny_Wilson

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #5 on: March 19, 2007, 09:01:38 PM »
Greg and I did consult Speransky's book for parts of FOTR; however, we had to use the book and its information judiciously and carefully as Speransky protected his informants by changing their names for the purpose of publication.  Sometimes it is obvious and clear whom he interviews, and sometimes -- not so much.  There were events in Speransky's book that we would dearly have liked to include in FOTR, but absent any other corroborating testimony, we did not believe we should rely solely on the accounts of pseudonymous individuals.

I have quite a decent copy of the book, signed and dated by the author, who included his address in a personal message to the book's owner.  This address has proved somewhat helpful in an attempt to track down any literary heirs who might just possibly -- I live in hope  -- have notes or records from Speransky's Ekaterinburg interviews which would allow us to identify the interviewees.  It's proving to be a slow and plodding piece of research, but as we plan on posting our translation of the book on the kingandwilson website sometime in the future, we'd like to be able to include as much background and foreground information as possible.

As for why Speransky left Russia -- well, he was invited to leave by the Soviet in 1924.  He chose to depart via the East because he thought it would be safer; he wanted to visit former colleagues in San Francisco; and he thought the work he could do in Ekaterinburg would make an interesting and potentially valuable psychological study.

For me, the most poignant part of the book was his visit to the cellar in which the Imperial Family were murdered.  As he peered into the cracks of the wall and floor -- and those of the steps outside -- he thought he could see traces of blood clinging to the inside of the wood, still untouched after years of the surface being cleaned and washed.  Fanciful thinking?  Maybe -- the maid who let him in certainly created an atmosphere by intimating that the house -- if not actually haunted --  had had some bad juju since the time of the murders.

Perhaps I should get around to posting the book sooner rather than later!
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Offline RichC

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #6 on: March 19, 2007, 11:08:35 PM »
Thanks for this interesting contribution, Elisabeth.  I wonder if any of the surviving Romanov's read this book at the time it was published.

Offline Holly

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2007, 10:50:27 AM »
How terribly sad.  :'( Reading this, you can see how much each of them grew up in those last few years. I have a lot more respect for them after reading these kinds of things. Oh, poor girls...  :'( :'( :'(
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Offline imperial angel

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2007, 11:01:11 AM »
Agreed. I especially enjoyed the part about Marie. I hadn't read that before, I don't think, but it is really on target.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #9 on: March 20, 2007, 05:54:05 PM »
Thanks so very much, Elisabeth!

Does Speranski go into any detail about the nature of the guards' comments? Or what held them back from committing more than verbal abuses?

Hi, Sarushka. As far as I can make out, this is virtually the only place in his book in which Spéranski discusses the sexual harassment of the grand duchesses by members of the Ipatiev House guards. I say this with the very strong proviso, that I only translated certain sections of the book very carefully, the rest I skimmed, and I should probably add here, that my French for reading is merely functional (still, let's face it, it's a pretty darned easy language, compared to something like Russian! ;).)

What I did find interesting about Spéranski (or Speransky, a very famous name in Russian history as it happens, and I do wonder, was this Speransky a relative of the famous Mikhail Speransky of the reign of Alexander I and Tolstoy's War and Peace?) as a writer was his extreme intellectualism, idealism, and one might even say, (very Russian) romanticism. I have to admit that I take most of his testimony with a rather large grain of salt, if only because of this romanticism, and the way he has of quoting his interviewees at enormous length, with no indication given of how precisely he was recording their words (did he know shorthand? was he taking extensive notes? they didn't have dictaphones in those days, did they?). I do not think that his account of the grand duchesses in the passage I have quoted here suffers too much from that kind of sentimental embellishment - particularly in his very detailed descriptions of the different personalities of OTMA, there's evidence that his interlocutors knew whereof they spoke, and that he recorded what they told him pretty much word for word. Elsewhere, though, I'm not so sure. His account of the grand duchessses when they helped the cleaning women clean the upper floor of the Ipatiev House is in complete, total agreement with the account that these same cleaning women gave Sokolov in his famous investigation into the murder of the imperial family. On the other hand, Spéranski's informant for the murders of the imperial family seems to have been a fantasist on the level of Ermakov - totally unreliable, and full of imaginary lines (or should I just say imaginative lines? - such as Anastasia asking the executioner if there was going to be a photograph, and that was why the Bolsheviks had asked the family and servants to line up against the wall - but then again, maybe that was but an early variation of Radzinsky's story that Yurovsky had the victims line up against the wall for a photograph? Really, it's sometimes hard to say in these cases).

However, I do want to clear up one story about Anastasia, that she was a so-called "terrorist" and always said the wrong thing, which supposedly caused problems between the imperial family and their captors - The actual quote in Spéranski is from a witness who saw her arrive with her sisters and brother at the Ekaterinburg railway station and said that she appeared "terrorized [terrorisé]"... But I'll give you the full quote in the original French, for those of you out there who read French: "Anastasie avait l'air d'un enfant, offensé et terrorisé, qui peut, dans d'autres circomstances, devenir naif, enjoué et caressant" (Spéranski, p. 161). It's very touching, actually. "Anastasia had the air of a child, insulted and terrorized..."
« Last Edit: March 20, 2007, 06:00:49 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline mr_harrison75

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #10 on: March 20, 2007, 09:11:07 PM »
That's what really was bugging me about the final days  of the Imperial family; we cannot be sure of what really happened, of what they said to whom, of what was said to them, of what really happened on July 16, 1918...

Ah well; the truth is probably between what the white investigators and Romanovs' sympathizers were saying and what the bolshevik captors were writing...

By the way; félicitations pour la qualité de ta connaissance du français!

Offline Helen_Azar

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #11 on: March 27, 2007, 03:15:09 PM »
I do want to clear up one story about Anastasia, that she was a so-called "terrorist" and always said the wrong thing, which supposedly caused problems between the imperial family and their captors - The actual quote in Spéranski is from a witness who saw her arrive with her sisters and brother at the Ekaterinburg railway station and said that she appeared "terrorized [terrorisé]"... But I'll give you the full quote in the original French, for those of you out there who read French: "Anastasie avait l'air d'un enfant, offensé et terrorisé, qui peut, dans d'autres circomstances, devenir naif, enjoué et caressant" (Spéranski, p. 161). It's very touching, actually. "Anastasia had the air of a child, insulted and terrorized..."

This is a good example of how faulty translation can change the meaning of something completely.... Unfortunately this is not as uncommon as one may think... Which is why we have to try to double check the sources whenever possible before we automatically accept any new information as factual...

Thank you, Elisabeth, for your translations.


Offline Tania+

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #12 on: March 27, 2007, 09:27:19 PM »
Elizabeth,

It is always nice to see those as yourself, with extra talents, as in translation of the Russian or French, is offered with so much care for our AP readers. When one can read what has been stated in its original wording, it makes it all that much more of consistency. In this case it offers the readers understanding that the pure words of an innocent child was not misconstrued. They went through enough in their short lives, only to have history later misconstrue their real words, thoughts, etc.

I really thank you and others on these forums, who take the positive journey to research and find answers to things that many would not wish to take quality or the time to make sure of the authenticity of such issues. You of course are one of our real AP Angels !  :)  God Bless !

This is one of the reasons I always look forward to posts as yours. Thank you most sincerely.

Tatiana+
« Last Edit: March 27, 2007, 09:29:18 PM by Tania »
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Offline bernard_timbal

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2007, 05:08:24 PM »
I have found some years ago the book "La maison   destination spéciale" on a "Bouquiniste" in Paris because I thought first, after the book title, it was the most famous "house of special purpose" from Gibbs.

I had already write on a topics some time ago about it :

http://forum.alexanderpalace.org/index.php/topic,2052.msg55795.html#msg55795

Very surprising and dissapointing book in my opinion... On the first page, Speranski announce a great inquiry with a lot of difficulties, new elements, we feel we will read very interesting elements.

I have to admit the first part of the book is interesting with, As Penny emphasis, the visit of the Ipatiev House and the Cellar Room which is quite interesting (But he has no camera, was a pity). But after, the book become less and less interesting.

We Feel, Speranski has not succeeded to collect enough information to keep his book interesting all long. Then, some pages are interesting, other are completely diluted in out of subjects topics like a two pages about a "vegetarian" topic for example on page 60.

The questions he asks, also, are quite obvious like "do you think that doctor Botkine was devoted to the family ?" (p110) or "have you heard that some IF shooters were jew ?" or again "do you thing grandes duchesses were happy or sade" etc... Nothing new... In french, we would say "enfoncer les portes ouvertes".

Some quotes are also pick-up from others sources like the "coprolalia" sentence already read in another book (but maybe this another book was sentencing Speranski)

In his book, Speranski suggests that when the family was standing in the cellar room waiting, one daughter said she thought they would be bere to be taken in photo. First time I read it. what do you think about this

Then, as a conclusion, a rare book, I think hard to find, but which doesn't bring us very new elements... A "pétard mouillé" as we could said in french...




« Last Edit: March 30, 2007, 05:12:34 PM by bernard_timbal »

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: OTMA in Ekaterinburg - Speranski
« Reply #14 on: March 31, 2007, 01:00:21 PM »
I would certainly agree with you, Bernard, that for the most part, Speranski's book was a huge disappointment. The only section I found truly interesting and enlightening was that which I quoted at length in the above posts. Regarding those posts, IMHO Speranski does provide independent confirmation that the grand duchesses were in fact sexually harassed (verbally at least) by the Ipatiev House guards; also, that on one occasion, Anastasia, looking out of a window from that house, was shot at.

Beyond these issues, I'm not really willing to go. Speranski spends too much of his narrative spinning off on various philosophical and literary tangents. When he does occasionally get down to brass tacks, he all too frequently makes mistakes. The most obvious example: his account of the murder itself is so riddled with errors that one has to wonder where he was getting his information (I'm tempted to say: Ermakov!). He does recount Anastasia asking, once the family and servants had all lined up in the cellar room, if they were going to have their photograph taken? This might (or might not?) have been the original source of the story Radzinsky tells in his biography of Nicholas II, that throughout the early period of the Soviet regime, the Soviet secret police were taught to use this same technique - telling their victims that they needed to take a photograph of them - as a ruse for taking them by surprise and shooting them. But on the whole I think Speranski's description of the murders has to be discounted.

On the other hand, his account of the grand duchesses on the eve of the murders, when they helped the local cleaning women tidy up the family's rooms, is in complete accordance with the accounts of those very same cleaning women interviewed by Sokolov for his investigation. So we know that sometimes at least, Speranski had reliable informants and got his information right.   
« Last Edit: March 31, 2007, 01:03:24 PM by Elisabeth »
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