Using her extensive research of diaries, letters and eyewitness accounts, Helen Rappaport draws together the strands of this story to write an utterly compelling account of the last days of the Imperial Family.
Set against the backdrop of war, revolution, and factional fighting amongst the Bolsheviks she explains how, after the Tsar's abdication, the Imperial family finally come to be imprisoned in the Impatiev House in Ekaterinburg, chillingly referred to as The House of Special Purpose. The house which has been turned into a prison, shut off from the outside world by a wooden palisade.
Helen really conveys the feeling of doom as the Tsar, the Tsaritsa and their daughter Maria enter the house on April 30th 1918, the other children following later when Alexy, the Tsarevich, has recovered from an attack of haemophilia. She describes how, for the next few weeks, the family and their servants endure the stifling heat, the oppressive atmosphere and lack of privacy of their apartment, cut off from the outside world, the windows sealed shut and whitewashed over.
She draws such intimate and detailed portraits of Nicholas, Alexandra and the children, that the family come vividly to life as they cope with their confinement. The Tsar resigned, Alexandra in constant pain, comforted by her daughters and her strong orthodox faith. The four Grand Duchesses, as they learn to wash their clothes, scrub floors and bake bread. Serious Olga, practical Tatiana, caring Maria and mischievous Anastasia, and Alexy, their brother, frail and sickly, playing soldiers with the kitchen boy Leonid Sednev.
The arrival of a new commandant Yakov Yurovsky on July 4th heralds a much harsher regime for the prisoners. The sense of foreboding intensifies in the house. Yurovsky's purpose is to arrange and carry out the efficient and secret liquidation of the Romanov family. The tension builds as the night chosen for the murders arrives and Yurovsky's meticulous plans begin to unravel. The subsequent horrific and botched killings in the cellar are gut wrenching and deeply shocking. The bungled efforts of the killers to dispose of the bodies, if not so tragic could be considered almost farcical.
Leaving aside the politics of the Tsar's disastrous reign, Helen has concentrated on this story of the Imperial family who were brutally murdered with the consent of Moscow, an act which was to be repeated all over Russia in the following years resulting in the death of millions of people. A terror outstripping any of the atrocities perpetrated during the Romanov reign.
Helen Rappaport has written a very powerful and moving book, which I recommend unreservedly.