We’re standing at the beginning of a very long blog series (long because I only post once a month…) and this is the start! I have a fascination and love for the story of Anastasia. I’ve loved the cartoon growing up (hello Dmitri – childhood crush right there), and I’ve followed the real story when I was older (and hey it came up in the news not too many years back over more DNA testing done!). So when I found out it was coming to Broadway — I had to go see it! It was amazing (You can read Bro’s thoughts on it here)!
The story had changed from the cartoon and I am in love with the changes, but it got me thinking about where they got the ideas from. I read somewhere that they blended ideas from the cartoon and the movie together. Which meant I had to go watch the movie from 1956. Of course, as I was watching the movie it said based on the Broadway stage play (what!?), after a little digging, I discovered that it was indeed a play before it was movie (but not Broadway, that came after – yes there are two Broadway versions). What did I do then? I decided to get the script and now if you’re willing I’m going to take you on a journey through from to stage to stage. Each blog post will feature one of the Anastasia’s and compare it to its predecessor. And where better to start, then the real history of Anastasia, let’s begin!
Who was Anastasia?
Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanov was the youngest daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicolas II. Born June 18th, 1901 Anastasia met her end with her family on July 17th, 1918 at 17 years old.
As a young child she was said to be “vivacious and energetic”,1 with the “greatest personal charm of any child […] ever seen”.1 It was often said that she would always give people trouble, and that she loved to play pranks. Gleb Botkin, the son of the family’s physician, said that she was “witty, vivacious, hopelessly stubborn, delightfully impertinent and in general a perfect enfant trouble […] she undoubtedly held the record for punishable deeds in her family, for in naughtiness she was a true genius”.2 While one cousin described her mischief as terror, saying that she was “nasty to the point of being evil”.2
Anastasia is described with red, blonde hair and had “the most extraordinary blue eyes of the Romanovs, of great luminescence.”2
Who was Anna Anderson?
Anna Anderson (born December 16, 1896 and died February 12, 1984) was the best known of the women who claimed to be Anastasia following her death. She was institutionalized in a hospital in Berlin after attempted suicide in 1920 but her fame didn’t start to come until 1922 when it become publicly known that she was claiming to be Anastasia.3
Those who once knew the Grand Duchess were on the fence, some called her an impostor, others were convinced she could be Anastasia. In 1927, private investigation claimed she was Franziska Schanzkowska, a factory worker from Poland who had a history of mental illness.3
Anderson was said to have similarities to Anastasia, including the same foot deformity. She also had scars she claimed to be from the gunshots and bayonets. It was said she could understand Russian, and speak English, French and German, with a Russian accent. Gleb Botkin claimed “Anderson knew things only the real grand duchess would know” he said, “she asked him about his funny animals”, which he had drawn for her years earlier.4 It was childhood friends and a cousin who believed her but more prominent family, like her aunt, said that Anderson “was a good actress”4.
Until her death in 1984, Anderson maintained her claim.
The real story (a timeline):
February 1917 – Tsar Nicolas II of Russia abdicated the throne and his family was placed under house arrest first in Tsarskoye Selo then in Tobolsk, Siberia. They were later moved to Yekaterinburg.1
In Tobolsk, it is said that the girls sewed jewels into their clothing, and later harassed by guards looking for the gems.
July 17, 1918 – The family is executed by firing squad.
It is said that during her last months, Anastasia was still friendly, full of fun and trouble. One guard remarked that she was “a very charming devil”.1
February 27, 1920 – Anna Anderson attempts to suicide by jumping off a bridge in Berlin. She is hospitalized in Dalldorf Asylum and was admitted as Fräulein Unbekannt (translated to Madame Unknown) as she had no papers and refused to identify herself. She had scars on her head and body, and spoke “German with an accent described as “Russian” by medical staff”.3
It wasn’t until 1922 when another patient was released and told a Russian Captain that she saw Tatiana at the asylum. Captain Nicolas von Schawbe went to visit her and claimed it to be true. Others visited her and agreed. However, when the Baroness Sophie Buxhoevedn came to visit she said the woman was to short for Tatiana and Anna said she never claimed to be Tatiana. It’s suggested that in 1921 she claimed to be Anastasia.3
May 1922 – Anna leaves the hospital and is taken in by a Russian émigré (a Russian immigrant who is loyal to the Tsar) who had once been the chief of police under the Tsar’s rule. Many came to visit her, including Anastasia’s tutor, her aunt, and others who had known the girl. All denied she was Anastasia.3
March 1926 – Prince Valdemar of Denmark offers her assistance to support her while her claims are investigated
June 1926 – Tatiana Melnik (the daughter of Serge Botkin, who died with the Imperial family) had last seen Anastasia in February of 1917. She visited Anna and noted that Anna “looked like Anastasia, even though “the mouth has changed and coarsened noticeably, and because the face is so lean, her nose looks bigger than it was.”3
Melnik also noted how childlike Anna was, and that she couldn’t tell the simplest stories and had forgotten languages. She decided tat this was due to what she had suffered and coached Anna in the details of the life of the imperial family.
1927 – Prince Vlademar no longer offers his support but another distance relative gives her a place to stay. The Tsarina’s brother hired a private detective and it is reported that Anna is a polish factory worker. That her fiance was killed in front of her and a grenade injured her. She became depressed and declared insane in September of 1916, going missing in 1920. Her brother was found, and claimed that she bore strong resemblance to his sister, but she did not recognize him. Later he stated he didn’t claim her, though he knew it was her, because she was more comfortable in the life she had now.3
1928 – Gleb Botkin (son of Serge Botkin) believed Anna to be Anastasia and published her story in America. With the help of a former Russian Princess (Xenia Leeds), they brought Anna to America. Here begins the quarrels to claim her inheritance. Several trips back to Europe, the threat of imprisonment, and eventually settling in America, she didn’t get any inheritance.3
1968 – She married an American man (as her visa was set to expire) and stayed America until her death in 1984.3
1991 – The bodies of the Tsar, his wife and three daughters were exhumed for DNA testing. A sample tissue that had been saved from Anna was used to conduct a DNA test and determine she was Franziska Schanzkowska.3
2007 – The bodies of Tsarvich Alexei and the remaining daughter are found.3
Why the speculation? Could it have happened?
The man who came to execute the family, Yurosky, noted in his report that “executioners’ bullets had ricocheted off the corsets of two or three of the Grand Duchesses”1, this was a result of the gems sewn into them, acting like armor. It was also noted that Anastasia and Maria “crouched up against a wall covering their heads in terror until they were shot down by bullets”1 but another guard noted to his wife that “Anastasia had been finished off with bayonets.”1 It is also said that several of the girls cried out when the bodies were carried out, and they were clubbed on the back of the head.
Anderson told the story of her survival with similar details, mentioning the jewels in the corsets, bullets that didn’t kill her, and the “attempt to end her life by bayonet, but the blades were blunt”.4 Pretending to be dead Anna says she revealed herself to a solider who was taking away the bodies and he helped her escape. From there she went to Berlin to seek out relatives. She claims she was worried she would be unrecognizable and thus attempted to end her life.4
These accounts give room for the possibility of escape, and those who were hopeful that not all were lost in the execution could allow themselves to believe it possible, and to attach to a story like Anna Anderson’s.
Why did I tell you the historical account of Anastasia and Anna? Because its Anna whose fame as an impostor remains, despite there being several other young women with the same claim. Anna Anderson inspired the stage play, and the movie (which also inspired a Broadway). These rolled into the cartoon, and back to a new Broadway. Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the stage play, the movie, the cartoon, and the new Broadway. Comparing their story to the historical facts, and comparing them to each other, seeing how the story has evolved and what’s been added or taken away. I personally love the story of Anastasia, that “what if she survived” idea. I loved the cartoon growing up, and the Broadway is one of my favorites. I love the differences in the stories that each medium presents and I’m excited to explore them and share with you all!
1. “Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia.” Ohio River – New World Encyclopedia, 10 July 2017, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Grand_Duchess_Anastasia_Nikolaevna_of_Russia.
2. King, Greg, and Penny Wilson. The Fate of the Romanovs. John Wiley & Sons, 2005.
3. “Anna Anderson.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Oct. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Anderson.
4. Staff, Legacy. “Anna Anderson: The Great Imposter.” Legacy.com, Legacy.com, 30 Jan. 2018, http://www.legacy.com/news/explore-history/article/anna-anderson-the-great-imposter.
5. “Anastasia Romanov.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 25 Sept. 2017, http://www.biography.com/people/anastasia-9184008.
Image credits: The movie/broadway/book cover are copyright of their publishers, the historical photos from the archives.