Source: The Catastrophe
Transcriber: Jonas Holmgren
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.
IN the foregoing chapter I made reference to some of the measures taken by the Provisional Government which really made it possible for it to govern, i.e., to command.
I will not undertake to enumerate here the many symptoms of convalescence in the administrative apparatus which were in evidence everywhere at the end of the summer of 1917. I will only say that government orders were now being executed as they were before the Revolution. The principle of departmental confidence, of political trust, without which no administrative machine can function properly, was restored.
The secret preparations for the equally secret transfer of the former Emperor and his family from Tsarskoye Selo to Tobolsk, Siberia, may serve as a striking illustration of the smooth operation of the administrative machine by the summer of 1917.
At the beginning, before the Revolution had evolved its burning problems, the masses were especially concerned about the fate of the Czar and his family. The press also began to discuss extensively, and with much relish, all Court matters which it had been forbidden to mention under the old regime. Although there was great excitement about the members of the imperial family after the Revolution had been well under way, they soon were almost forgotten. It seems incredible now that, after signing his abdication at Pskoff, the Czar was able to proceed quite freely to General Headquarters at Mohileff "to take leave of his staff." The Provisional Government was in no way concerned about the Czar's movements and Prince Lvoff readily gave his consent to the Czar's journey. We remained so calm and unapprehensive because we were certain that he would find no sympathy or support anywhere in the army, and that he would make no effort to rally a following.
But, of course, this state of affairs could not last long. The former Emperor's prolonged sojourn at General Headquarters gave rise to rumors that his suite was negotiating with Germany for the dispatch of several German army corps into Russia, to save the autocracy. Absurd as they were, these rumors gained widespread circulation, and about a week after the crash an outburst of fury and hatred broke loose against the imperial family, particularly against the former Empress, Alexandra Feodorovna. On my visit to Moscow on March twentieth or twenty-first, the local Soviet angrily demanded a detailed account of the measures taken by the Government against the former Emperor and his family. The Soviet was so insistent that I finally said:
"As general public prosecutor I have the power to decide the fate of Nicholas II. But, comrades, the Russian Revolution is unstained by bloodshed and I will not permit it to be disgraced. I refuse to be the Marat of the Russian Revolution."
At the moment when I was saying this in Moscow, the Provisional Government in Petrograd was deciding to arrest Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna. Following is the government's resolution ordering the arrest:
1. That the ex-Emperor Nicholas II and his wife be deprived of their liberty and that the former be taken to Tsarskoye Selo.
2. That the deputies Bublikoff, Vershinin, Gribunin and Kalenin be delegated to go to Mohileff and request General Alexeyeff to place at their disposal a guard to act as escort for the former Emperor.
3. That the Duma members delegated to accompany the former Emperor from Mohileff to Tsarskoye Selo present a written report of the mission entrusted to them and
4. That this decision be made public.
Once under arrest, the former autocrat was to come under my immediate custody and jurisdiction. As far as I remember he was arrested on March twenty-second. Alexandra Feodorovna had been under arrest in the Alexandrovsky Palace at Tsarskoye Selo since March fourteenth. I may mention incidentally that the former Emperor's parting visit to General Headquarters had made a very bad impression on the rank and file of the army, inspiring the soldiers with distrust of the General Staff and especially of General Alexeyeff, and stimulating their suspicions of the counter-revolutionary sympathies of the high command. The leavetaking between Nicholas II and the staff was said to have been very touching. Many were even moved to tears. However, it did not occur either to the former Czar, or to those who saw him off, to resist his arrest or to protest against it. It was indeed remarkable how quickly the "faithful subjects" and most of the immediate attendants of the Czar and his family deserted them. Even the Czar's children, who were ill at that time, were left without any one to nurse them and the Provisional Government had to provide the necessary help.
Deserted by most of those upon whom they had showered favors, the Czar's family was left helpless and miserable, at our mercy. I had hated the Czar when he was all-powerful and had done all I could to bring about his downfall. But I could not revenge myself upon a fallen enemy. On the contrary, I wanted this man to know that the Revolution was magnanimous and humane to its enemies, not only in word but in deed. I wished that for once in his life he should feel ashamed of the horrors that had been perpetrated in his name. This was the only revenge worthy of the Great Revolution, a noble revenge, worthy of the sovereign people. Of course, if the judicial inquiry instituted by the government had found proof that Nicholas II had betrayed his country either before or during the War, he would have immediately been tried by jury, but he was proved beyond doubt innocent of this crime. The Provisional Government had not yet finally decided the fate of the Czar and his family. We took it for granted that if the judicial inquiry into the conduct of the Rasputin clique should establish the innocence of the former Emperor and Empress, the whole family would be sent abroad, probably to England. I mentioned this suggestion in Moscow and it aroused great indignation in the Soviets and in the Bolshevist press. The demagogues represented the suggestion as an actual decision and even as an accomplished fact.
The Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet had received "reliable" information that the Czar's departure had been fixed for the night of March twentieth and there was general confusion. The Committee sent out orders along all the railways to have the Czar's train stopped and that night the Alexandrovsky Palace at Tsarskoye Selo was surrounded by troops in armored motor cars and searched. I heard that the leader of the searching party had intended to remove the Czar, but changed his mind at the last moment. All these plans had been kept secret from the government in order to catch us in the act! Of course, the Soviet expedition failed to reveal any preparations for the Czar's departure but, nevertheless, on the following day the Soviet issued a long report describing its triumph over the "underhand dealings" of the government.
The Soviet demagogues kept up a recurrent agitation about the condition of the imperial family. They even demanded persistently that the whole family, or at least, the Czar and the Czarina be transferred to the Fortress of SS. Peter and Paul. Other demands called for the treatment of the imperial family as ordinary prisoners, or for their transfer to Kronstadt, there to be under the guard of the Kronstadt crews. The guards at Tsarskoye Selo were criticized for their alleged carelessness and leniency, whereupon the guards themselves, who had considered it a particular honor to watch over the former Czar, lost their heads and, in turn, demanded more severity towards the prisoners.
I remember clearly my first interview with the former Emperor, which took place at the end of March, at the Alexandrovsky Palace. On my arrival at Tsarskoye Selo I inspected the entire palace thoroughly and inquired into the regulations of the guard and the general regime under which the imperial family was being kept. On the whole I approved of the situation, making only a few suggestions for improvement to the commandant of the palace. Then I asked Count Benkendorff, former marshal of the Court, to inform the Czar that I wished to see him and the Empress. The miniature Court, composed of the few retainers who had not deserted the former monarch, still kept up the ceremonial. The old count, sporting a monocle, listened to me and answered: "I will let His Majesty know." He treated me as if I were some one come, as in the old days, to be presented to the Czar, or a minister reporting for an audience. In a few moments he returned and announced solemnly: "His Majesty has consented to receive you." This seemed a trifle ridiculous and out of place, but I did not want to destroy the count's last illusions, so I did not explain to him that his manner was somewhat behind the times. He still considered himself First Marshal to His Majesty the Emperor. It was all they had left. I did not disturb it.
To tell the truth, I had been looking forward to the interview with the former Czar with some anxiety, and feared I might lose my temper when I came face to face for the first time with the man I had always hated. Only the day before, leaving for Tsarskoye Selo, I had said to a member of the Provisional Government, apropos of the abolition of capital punishment: "I think, the only death warrant I could bear to sign would be that of Nicholas II." But I was anxious that the ex-Emperor should meet with nothing but the most scrupulously correct treatment from me.
I was trying to pull myself together as we passed through an interminable succession of apartments, preceded by a flunkey. At last we came to the children's rooms. Leaving me before the closed door leading into the inner apartments, the count went in to announce me. Returning almost immediately, he said:
"His Majesty invites you." He threw open the door, himself remaining on the threshold.
My first glimpse of the scene, as I was approaching the Czar, changed my mood altogether. The whole family was standing huddled in confusion around a small table near a window in the adjoining room. A small man in uniform detached himself from the group and moved forward to meet me, hesitating and smiling weakly. It was the Emperor. On the threshold of the room in which I awaited him he stopped, as if uncertain what to do next. He did not know what my attitude would be. Was he to receive me as a host or should he wait until I spoke to him? Should he hold out his hand, or should he wait for my salutation? I sensed his embarrassment at once as well as the confusion of the whole family left alone with a terrible revolutionary. I quickly went up to Nicholas II, held out my hand with a smile, and said abruptly "Kerensky," as I usually introduce myself. He shook my hand firmly, smiled, seemingly encouraged, and led me at once to his family. His son and daughters were obviously consumed with curiosity and gazed fixedly at me. Alexandra Feodorovna, stiff, proud and haughty, extended her hand reluctantly, as if under compulsion. Nor was I particularly eager to shake hands with her, our palms barely touching. This was typical of the difference in character and temperament between the husband and wife. I felt at once that Alexandra Feodorovna, though broken and angry, was a clever woman with a strong will. In those few seconds I understood the psychology of the whole tragedy that had been going on for many years behind the palace walls. My subsequent interviews with the Emperor, which were very few, only confirmed my first impression.
I inquired about the health of the members of the family, informed them that their foreign relatives were solicitous about their welfare and promised to transmit, without delay, any communications they might wish to send to those relatives. I asked if they had any complaints to make, how the guards were behaving and whether they needed anything. I begged them not to be anxious or distressed but to rely on me. They thanked me and I began to take my leave. Nicholas II inquired about the military situation and wished me success in my new and difficult office. Throughout the spring and summer he followed the War, reading the newspapers carefully and interrogating his visitors.
This was my first meeting with "Nicholas the Bloody." After the horrors of the Bolshevist reaction, this appellation sounds ironical. We have seen other tyrants bathing in blood, tyrants more revolting because they come from the people, or even from the intelligentsia, and who have raised their hands against their own brethren. I do not mean to say that Bolshevism justifies Czarism. No, the autocracy was the original cause of the Communist tyranny. It is the consequences of the autocracy which have brought such suffering upon the people.
Nevertheless, I think that the Red Terror has already made some people, and will make many others, reconsider their judgment about the personal responsibility of Nicholas II for all the horrors of his reign. I for one do not think he was the outcast, the inhuman monster, the deliberate murderer I used to imagine. I began to realize that there was a human side to him. It became clear to me that he had acquiesced in the whole ruthless system without being moved by any personal ill will and without even realizing that it was bad. His mentality and his circumstances kept him wholly out of touch with the people. He heard of the blood and tears of thousands upon thousands only through official documents, in which they were represented as "measures" taken by the authorities "in the interest of the peace and safety of the State." Such reports did not convey to him the pain and suffering of the victims, but only the "heroism" of the soldiers "faithful in the fulfillment of their duty to the Czar and the Fatherland." From his youth he had been trained to believe that his welfare and the welfare of Russia were one and the same thing, so that the "disloyal" workmen, peasants and students who were shot down, executed or exiled seemed to him mere monsters and outcasts of humanity who must be destroyed for the sake of the country and the "faithful subjects" themselves.
Such explanations of the conduct of Nicholas II had not seemed convincing. But now, when one sees that neither close ties with the people, nor education, nor lofty socialist ideals, nor fine records of political and social work can prevent men from demonstrating their instincts of domination and unbridled ambition at the expense of the blood and tears of men, women and children, one can easily believe that Nicholas II in comparison with these blood-stained "revolutionists," was a man not altogether devoid of human feeling, whose nature was perverted by his surroundings and traditions.
When I left him after my first interview I was very much worked up. What I had seen of the former Empress made her character quite clear to me and corresponded with what every one who knew her had said about her. But Nicholas, with his beautiful blue eyes and his whole manner and appearance, was a puzzle to me. Was he deliberately using his art of charming, inherited from his ancestors? Was he an experienced actor, an artful hypocrite? Or was he a harmless innocent and entirely under the thumb of his wife? It seemed incredible that that slow-moving, diffident simpleton, who looked as if he were dressed in some one else's clothes, had been Emperor of All Russia, Czar of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, etc., etc., and had ruled over an immense empire for twenty-five years! I do not know what impression Nicholas II would have made upon me had I seen him when he was still the monarch on the throne, but, when I first met him after the Revolution, I was struck chiefly by the fact that nothing about him suggested that only a month before so much had depended on his word. I left him with the firm determination of solving the riddle of this strange, terrible and ingratiating personality.
After my first visit I determined to send a new commandant to the Alexandrovsky Palace, a man of my own who would set my mind at rest about the imperial family. I could not leave them alone with the few faithful attendants who still clung to the old ceremonial[1*] and the soldiers of the Guard who kept close watch over them. Later, there were rumors of a "counter-revolutionary" plot in the palace simply because the "court" used to send a bottle of wine to the officer on guard, for his dinner. It was necessary to have a faithful, intelligent and tactful intermediary in the palace. I chose Colonel Korovichenko, a military jurist and a veteran of the Japanese and European Wars, whom I knew to be a courageous and upright man. I was justified in putting my trust in him, for he kept his prisoners strictly isolated and managed to inspire them with respect for the new authorities.
In the course of my occasional short interviews with Nicholas II at Tsarskoye Selo, I tried to fathom his character and, I think, on the whole I succeeded. He was an extremely reserved man, who distrusted and utterly despised mankind. He was not well educated, but he had some knowledge of human nature. He did not care for anything or any one except his son, and perhaps his daughters. This terrible indifference to all external things made him seem like some unnatural automaton. As I studied his face, I seemed to see behind his smile and his charming eyes a stiff, frozen mask of utter loneliness and desolation. I think he may have been a mystic, seeking communion with Heaven patiently and passionately, and weary of all earthly things. Perhaps everything on earth had become insignificant and distasteful to him because all his desires had been so easily gratified. When I began to know this living mask I understood why it had been so easy to overthrow his power. He did not wish to fight for it and it simply fell from his hands. Authority, like everything else, he held too cheap. He was altogether weary of it. He threw off authority as formerly he might have thrown off a dress uniform and put on a simpler one. It was a new experience for him to find himself a plain citizen without the duties or robes of state. To retire into private life was not a tragedy for him. Old Madame Naryshkina, the lady-in-waiting, told me that he had said to her: "How glad I am that I need no longer attend to these tiresome interviews and sign those everlasting documents! I shall read, walk and spend my time with the children." And, she added, this was no pose on his part. Indeed, all those who watched him in his captivity were unanimous in saying that Nicholas II seemed generally to be very good-tempered and appeared to enjoy his new manner of life. He chopped wood and piled up the logs in stacks in the park. He did a little gardening and rowed and played with the children. It seemed as if a heavy burden had fallen from his shoulders and that he was greatly relieved.
His wife, however, was a proud and strong woman with altogether earthly ambitions, who felt keenly the loss of her authority and could not resign herself to the new state of affairs. She suffered from hysteria and was at times partly paralyzed. She depressed every one around her by her languor, her misery and her irreconcilable animosity. People like the former Empress never forget or forgive. While the judicial inquiry into the conduct of her immediate circle (Vyroubova, Voyeikova, Rasputin, etc.) was going on, I had to take certain measures to prevent her from acting in collusion with the Czar, in case they had to give testimony. It would be more true to say I had to prevent her from bringing undue influence to bear on her husband. So, while the investigation was in progress, I separated the couple, allowing them to meet only at meal times, when they were forbidden to allude to the past. I gave the Czar my reasons for this act of severity and asked him to help in carrying it out, so that no one should have anything to do with the matter beyond those who knew of it already—Korovichenko, Naryshkina and, I think, Count Benkendorff. They did all I asked and carried out my injunction strictly as long as it was necessary. Every one concerned told me what a remarkably good effect the separation had upon the Czar and how it made him livelier and altogether more cheerful!
When I told him that there was to be an investigation and that Alexandra Feodorovna might have to be tried, he did not turn a hair and merely remarked: "Well, I don't think Alice had anything to do with it. Have you any proof?" To which I replied: "I do not know yet."
In all our conversations we avoided using names or titles and simply addressed each other as "you." "Well, so now Albert Thomas is with you: last year he dined with me. An interesting man. Remember me to him, please." (I delivered this message.)
The way he compared "last year" with "now" showed that Nicholas II may have at times brooded over the past, but we never really discussed the change in his position. We only touched upon such things casually and superficially. He seemed to find it difficult to mention these things and especially to speak of the men who had deserted and betrayed him so quickly. With all his contempt for mankind, he had not expected quite so much faithlessness. I gathered from the hints that slipped out in his conversation that he still hated Gutchkoff, that he considered Rodzianko shallow-minded, that he could not imagine what Miliukoff was like, that he respected Alexeyeff greatly and also Prince Lvoff to a certain extent.
Only during one incident did I see Nicholas II get excited like any other human being.
Either the Soviet of Soldiers and Workmen or the garrison Soviet (I forget which) had decided to follow the Petrograd example and organize an official funeral for the victims of the Revolution. It was to be held on Good Friday, in one of the main avenues of the park at Tsarskoye Selo, at some distance from the palace, but exactly opposite the windows of the rooms occupied by the imperial family. The Czar was to witness the ceremony from the windows of his gilded prison, to see his guard with red banners paying the last honors to the fallen fighters for freedom. It was an extraordinarily poignant and dramatic episode. The garrison was still well in hand at that time and we were not afraid of any rioting. We even felt convinced that the troops wished to show their self-control and sense of responsibility, as indeed they did. But as the day of the ceremony approached, Nicholas II became more and more perturbed and begged me to have the funeral demonstration held somewhere else or, at least, to have it postponed for another day. For some reason or other he was especially anxious not to have it held on Good Friday, when he was fasting. Was he afraid of the crowd or was he thinking of other Good Fridays in the past?
However, when later on I told him that he must prepare for a long journey, he remained perfectly calm. It was at the beginning of August. Since early in the summer the question of the imperial family had been attracting too much attention, giving us a great deal of anxiety. People began to recall forgotten episodes of the Czar's reign, as the reactionaries appeared to grow hopeful and their opponents became filled with hatred and a thirst for revenge. The discipline of the Tsarskoye Selo garrison was weakening and I feared that, if there were new disturbances in Petrograd, the Alexandrovsky Palace would not be safe. In addition, agents-provocateurs had begun to circulate rumors about counter-revolutionary conspiracies and attempts to kidnap the Czar, which spread rapidly within the garrison. One night a motor car had broken through the fence of the palace park and it was said that the car had tried to reach the palace grounds. Of course, it was a case of nothing but hooliganism. But still we were obliged to place an extra guard where the fence had been broken. The disturbing rumors continued to spread, however, and finally I decided to transfer the Czar and his family temporarily to some remote place, some quiet corner, where they would attract less attention. Although the government's inquiry into the doings of the Rasputin clique had cleared the Empress, the royal family could not be sent abroad because Great Britain had refused to give hospitality, during the War, to relatives of its royal house. They could not with safety be sent to the Crimea, so I chose Tobolsk, a really remote place, without railway communications, and which was almost isolated from the world in winter. The governor's house at Tobolsk was fairly comfortable and tolerable accommodations could be arranged for the family.
We made the preparations for their departure with the utmost secrecy, for publicity might have led to all kinds of obstacles and complications. Not even all the members of the Provisional Government were informed of the imperial family's destination. In fact, only five or six persons in all Petrograd knew it. The ease and success with which we arranged the departure showed how much the authority of the Provisional Government had been strengthened by August. In March or April it would not have been possible to move the Czar without endless consultations with the Soviets, etc. But, on August fourteenth, the Czar and his family left for Tobolsk at my personal orders and with the consent of the Provisional Government. Neither the Soviet nor any one else knew of it until afterwards.
When the date for the departure had been settled, I explained the situation to the Czar and told him to prepare for a journey. I did not say where he was going, but only advised him to take as much warm clothing as possible. The Czar listened attentively, and, when I told him not to be anxious, that the arrangement was being made for the benefit of his family, and generally tried to reassure him, he looked me straight in the face and said:
"I am not worrying. We believe you. If you say this is necessary I am sure it is."
And he repeated: "We believe you."
As he said this I thought of another scene, one that had taken place in days gone by—the trial of that remarkable man, Carl Trauberg, head of the Northern Terrorist Organization, before the Petrograd military district court. This organization had already had many successes, and was preparing for still more serious attacks, among them on the Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevitch, Scheglovitoff and others. Trauberg was about to be condemned to death. General Nikiforoff presided. He was a brutal and cynical man, who held nothing sacred. All through the trial Trauberg had distinguished himself by his manly behavior, like a true revolutionist. Calmly, courageously and without hesitation, he was giving evidence against himself, to shield his friends. When the public prosecutor tried to trip him up and catch him contradicting himself, the judge, cynic that he was, turned upon the prosecutor and said sternly: "The court believes Trauberg; the court knows that he speaks the truth." I remember how the face of the accused flushed with joyful pride, and how there was a general movement in court—a tribute to the moral victory of the revolutionary spirit. Two days later Carl Trauberg was hanged "by order of His Majesty."
All this came back to me in a flash as I looked at the Czar. I think he read triumph in my eyes, for when he said "We believe you," I felt that all those who had perished for the victory of the Great Revolution were avenged at last. He believed me! He, the autocrat who had not really trusted any one, confided himself and his children to the Revolution. It was not I but the Revolution itself, which had conquered the arch-reactionary. A mob drunk with blood cannot understand such a revenge, such a triumph. The assassins now in power in Russia and all the so-called "practical politicians" will smile at such naiveté, but I am convinced that this is the only kind of revenge worthy of a great revolution, which should always represent the triumph of human kindness and mercy.
The departure of the Czar and his family for Tobolsk took place on the night of August fourteenth. All the arrangements were completed to my satisfaction and, at about eleven o'clock in the evening, after a meeting of the Provisional Government, I went to Tsarskoye Selo to supervise the departure. I first made the round of the barracks and inspected the guards, chosen by the regiments themselves, to accompany the train and guard the Czar on his arrival at his destination. They were all ready and seemed cheerful and contented. There had been vague rumors in the town concerning the departure, and from early evening curious onlookers had begun to collect around the palace park. In the palace the final preparations were under way. Luggage was being brought out and stored in motor cars, etc. We were all rather on edge. Before their separation I permitted the Czar to see his brother, Michael Alexandrovitch. Naturally, I had to be present at this interview, much as I disliked the intrusion. The brothers met in the Emperor's study at about midnight. Both seemed much agitated. All their experiences of the last months came back to them. For a long time they were silent, and then they began the casual, fragmentary conversation characteristic of such hurried interviews: "How is Alice?" "And how is mother?" asked the Grand Duke, etc. They stood facing each other, fidgeting all the while, and sometimes one would take hold of the other's hand or the buttons of his uniform.
"May I see the children?" Michael Alexandrovitch asked me.
"No," I answered. "I cannot prolong the interview."
"Very well," the Grand Duke said to his brother. "Kiss them for me."
They began to take leave, of each other. Who could have thought that this was the last time they would ever meet!
This unusual and exciting night seemed to fill the Czar's young son with mischief. As I sat in the room nqar the Emperor's study, giving the final orders and awaiting news of the arrival of the train, I could hear the youngster running about noisily, trying to get across the corridor to where I was, to see what was going on there.
The time was passing and still the train from the Nikolayevsky Railway did not arrive. The employees had hesitated about making up the train and delayed carrying out orders until confirmed by some reliable authority. It was daylight by the time the train arrived. We motored over to where it was waiting, just outside the Alexandrovsky station. We had previously arranged the order of seating in the cars, but everything was muddled at the last moment.
For the first time I saw the former Empress simply as a mother, anxious and weeping. The son and daughters did not seem to mind the departure so much, though they too were excited and nervous at the last moment. Finally, after the last farewells had been said, the motor cars moved, with Cossacks in front and behind. The sun was already shining brightly when the convoy left the park, but fortunately the town was still asleep. When we reached the train we checked the list of those who were going. Another farewell and the train was off. They were leaving forever, but no one foresaw the terrible end that was awaiting them.
I must go back to an interview I had with Alexandra Feodorovna. Old Madame Naryshkina (who, by the way, considered the former Empress the cause of all the calamities of Russia and "Niki") was waiting in an adjoining room. We carried on the conversation in Russian, which Alexandra Feodorovna spoke hesitatingly and with a strong accent. Suddenly her face flushed and she flared up:
"I don't understand why people speak ill of me. I have always liked Russia from the time I first came here. I have always sympathized with Russia. Why do people think I am siding with Germany and our enemies? There is nothing German about me. I am English by education and English is my language."
She became so excited that it was impossible to continue the conversation. She may have thought at the time that she liked Russia, but to tell the truth she did not give me the impression of being sincere. I knew perfectly well that she had never liked Russia. I believe that, in spite of my careful approach to the subject, she realized that I was trying to learn from her what I could about the part her circle had taken in the scheming for a separate peace.
As I have said, I never really succeeded in understanding Alexandra Feodorovna or in discovering what her real aims had been, but of the members of her circle whom I met (Voyeikova, Vyroubova, Protopopoff) she was undoubtedly the cleverest and the strongest, and no one could have made a fool of her. As I never saw Rasputin, I am unable to judge what influence or, rather, what hypnotic force he possessed. But, clever as he was, this scoundrel was, after all, an illiterate mouzhik and although his cunning may have made him an excellent interpreter of the plans and intrigues of others, he could not have had a political program of his own. However, I know definitely that from the beginning he was instinctively and violently opposed to the War. On the very eve of the declaration of war the Emperor sent a wire to Rasputin asking him what he should do. Rasputin had a short time before been stabbed by one of the women he had seduced and was lying ill in Pokrovskoye, his village on the Irtish River, near Tobolsk. A copy of his reply to the Czar fell into the hands of my friend, Sukhanoff, member of the Duma from Tobolsk. I do not remember the exact words of the reply, but the substance of it was: "Do not declare war. The people will again begin to cry, 'Down with this!' and 'Down with that!' You and your heir will get no good out of it."
It is well known that the Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevitch had to get the mobilization order from Nicholas II almost by force. I have no doubt that Rasputin's telegram accounted, to a considerable extent, for the Czar's reluctance. I concluded, therefore, that Rasputin, opposed to the War because he instinctively felt its inevitable fatal consequences for the Romanoffs, was the cunning tool of those who were interested in promoting the policy of a separate peace. It is clear that some one cleverer and better versed in politics than all those Vyroubovas and Protopopoffs was using them to further his or her own policy. I do not know who that person was. At any rate, it is certain that Alexandra Feodorovna was directing the affairs of state during the last months of the autocracy, that she was the real ruler of the country. One had only to examine the visitors' book at the Alexandrovsky Palace, and see who were the people who called on the Empress, to understand the part she played in public affairs. It is also certain that she saw clearly that the condition of the country made it impossible to continue the War and retain the old methods of government at home. Whether she herself decided to make peace with Germany and chose the government of Protopopoff, Beliayeff, Scheglovitoff, Stuermer, and others, for this purpose, or whether some one behind her inspired her course of action is more or less immaterial. The outstanding fact is that she was the de facto head of the government that was leading the country straight into a separate peace. Whether any member of the Rasputin-Vyroubova circle was actually a German agent is not certain, but undoubtedly a whole German organization was sheltered behind them and they were, at any rate, quite ready to receive money and gifts of all kinds.
[1*] Count Benkendorff; Naryshkina, lady-in-waiting; Prince Dolgoruky, Dr. Botkin, Count Buchevden, Schneider, etc.
Last updated on: 2.17.2008