The Mystery - The Rest of the Story - Variations - Bibliography
In 1922, a suicidal woman that was fished from a canal in Berlin, Germany, made an extraordinary claim.
Rescued from the canal in February, 1920, after leaping from a bridge, the woman was dressed like a factory worker and had no identification on her; nor was she able (or, perhaps, willing) to identify herself to her rescuers. Dubbed "Fraulien Umberkant" -- "Miss Unknown" -- by authorities, she was eventually taken to a mental home for observation, where she stayed for two years.
One day at the hospital, it was noticed by a fellow inmate that she displayed an unusual resemblance to Grand Duchess Tatiana Romanov, missing since 1918 and presumed assassinated [See also: Mysteries Article: The Missing Romanovs]. Upon this inmate's release, she expressed this belief to various people who knew the missing royal family and who would be able to verify if the woman was Tatiana or not; and was told that, no, the woman could not be Tatiana... Tatiana was much taller. Then the same inmate decided that if "Miss Unknown" couldn't be Tatiana, then maybe she could be Grand Duchess Anastasia instead, Tatiana's younger -- and shorter -- royal sister. This identification brought more agreement as a possibility; and it was shortly thereafter that "Miss Unknown" admitted the reason for the resemblances... for she claimed she was Anastasia Romanov.
When the Romanovs, last royal family of Russia, were lined up and shot by a small squad of men led by Jakob Yurovski on July 16, 1918, "Anastasia" claimed, she had been hit but not mortally wounded. A soldier named Alexander Tchaikovski -- a member of the firing squad that shot the royal family -- discovered she was still alive and smuggled her away to Bucharest in Romania. She lived with him there until he was killed, possibly as a victim of assassination. After this turn of events, she suffered a mental breakdown and lost the child she had born to Alexander to an orphanage. She made her way to Berlin, where, shaken and exhausted, she had attempted suicide.
Controversy immediately broke out as the politically influential took sides; some believed her claim to be true, while others flatly denied the possibility. Believed at stake was the claim to the fabulous Romanov fortune, rumoured to be secretly deposited in Western banks. The mystery woman was likely aware of this rumor, as she claimed that Tzar Nicholas had left about 20million rubles for his daughters either with the Bank of England or with a private bank in England. If the woman really was the missing Anastasia and the money really existed, then she was also the legal heiress to the fortune which, theoretically, had been controlled by relatives of the royal family since their disappearance... relatives who had no intention of releasing that control, and therefore had good reason to deny the claim of "Anastasia," now going by the name of Anna Tchaikovski. Perhaps more importantly, if a member of the Russian Royal Family did still live, they were a potential rallying point for the re-establishment of the pre-Bolshivik government, an idea that appealed to many of the Russian aristocrats now living in exile; many of the supporters of Tchaikovski's claim were among the ranks of these same Russian aristocrats. So right from the start of the whole affair, almost all the people most qualified to know whether or not Tchaikovski was indeed Anastasia had ulterior motives for siding with or against her that had very little to do with what may have been the truth.
Unfortunately for outside investigators, there was good evidence both for and against the Tchaikovski's claim. Right from the start it was noted that there was a very strong physical similarity between her and pictures of Anastasia, something that even detractors had to admit; this very resemblance won over many of her supporters in lieu of any other evidence. In further arguement for her claim, supporters noted that she seemed to know intimate details of palace life and policy; particularly, they pointed to her knowledge that Anastasia's uncle, the Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig von Hesse-Darmstadt, had made a secret trip to Russia in 1916 -- the middle of the first World War -- to request that Tzar Nicholas make a separate peace treaty with Germany, something that no one else knew until Tchaikovski mentioned it. The Grand Duke flatly denied this claim; even if true, admitting so would damage the Grand Duke's reputation in Germany among his more nationalistic countrymen, who would quickly see such a trip as an attempt to sell out the fatherland. But in 1949 a former commander of a Russian Guards' regiment -- Colonel Larski -- swore on oath that the Grand Duke had indeed made the trip at the time stated; and in 1953, the Crown Princess Cecile declared on oath that her father-in-law affirmed that "our circles knew about it even at the time" [quote from Great Mysteries of History]. True or not, while Tchaikovski gained the support of Colonel Larski and Princess Cecile, she had made an enemy of the Grand Duke.
Against Tchaikovski's claim to be Anastasia was the fact that, while she spoke fluent German, she only knew a few words in English, French, and Russian... the last being an unusual flaw for a Russian princess. Supporters argued that she had suffered shock, trauma, and possible brain damage in her ordeal; that she had forgotten most of her Russian, then learned German. This counter-argument didn't impress the doubters; in fact, the possibility of brain damage just brought all her other claimed memories into doubt. The doubters found it odd that the only information about her past that Anderson offered seemed to be either vague, unconfirmable details waiting for convenient witnesses to come forward, or already well-known facts about the Tzar's family. Also, investigators were unable to confirm details of her rescue story, her husband's existence, or find the orphanage and alleged missing child.
The Grand Duke Kirill, cousin of Tzar Nicholas Romanov (Anatasia's father) and surviving head of the Romanov family, refused to grant Tchaikovski an audience or to discuss the matter further. But she did meet with Princess Irene of Prussia in August 1922. Princess Irene was Anastasia's maternal aunt and godmother, and she had traveled all the way from Rumania for the express purpose of meeting Tchaikovski. The Princess also had to admit there was a resemblance between the Anastasia she remembered and the young woman she met; however, it had been ten years since the Princess had seen her neice and Tchaikovski acted very coldly towards her, so the Princess couldn't conclusively identify the two as the same. The Crown Princess Cecile of Germany was also impressed with the physical resemblance; but Tchaikovski wouldn't speak with her so she, too, was unable to say if Tchaikovski was truely Anastasia or not. Tchaikovski's continuing relutance to speak with people who could confirm her identity further raised the suspicion of her doubters... Tchaikovski, after all, was not the first person to claim to be one of the missing Romanov royal family members.
Tchaikovski -- by this time using a new name, "Anna Anderson," in an attempt to avoid the press -- was accepted as the missing royal, however, by the Grand Duke Andrew, cousin of the Czar, and by Gleb Botkin, son of the Czar's doctor, who stated that her and Anastasia's blue eyes matched; but others who knew Anatasia spoke of her having grey eyes, not blue. In addition, Botkin said that she appeared to remember his habit of drawing caricatures of people in the Czar's palace.
Tchaikovski/Anderson's claim was dismissed by Czar Nicholas' mother, Marie Peterovina, and his sister, the Grand Duchess Olga, but she was strongly supported by the Danish Ambassador Herluf Zahle, who had been dispatched to examine her claim by Olga before these two met. But Zahle had never met Anastasia; Olga had. Zahle had been considered appropriate for the job because he was a noted scholar. He was convinced of the veracity of Anderson's claim not only because of her strong physical resemblance to photographs of the missing Duchess, but also because he determined that she bore many small scars and marks that Anastasia was believed to also have, namely: that one finger of her left hand bore a scar where a carriage door had been closed on Anastasia's, there was a scar on the right shoulder about where Anastasia had had a mole cauterized, she had bunions on her feet, with it worse on her right foot, just like Anastasia, and Anderson suffered from "bone tuberculosis", a condition said to have been common among the Romanovs in general. Better still, Anderson recalled that Grand Duchess Olga used to call Anastasia "Shvipsik", a pet name only a few family members and staff ever knew to begin with.
If Anderson wasn't the missing Anastasia Romanov, then just who was she? As early as 1927, the doubters believed "Anna Tchaikovski/Anna Anderson" was really a Polish housewife named Franzisca Schanzkowska [or Schanzkovsky] that had been reported missing in Berlin on the same day that Anderson was fished out of the canal. This theory had been forwarded by private detective Martin Knopf, and had some interesting points to it; according to medical records, Schanzkowska also had bone tuberculosis, a history of foot disorders, and had had a birthmark removed from her right shoulder... all of which matched the physical evidence that had earlier been taken as proof by Zahle of Anderson being Anastasia. It was also noted that Schanzkowska's native language, Polish, is closely related to Russian; so she would likely be able to understand a great deal of Russian she heard, but not be able to speak Russian back. In addition, Knopf found a witness that could positively identify Anderson as the missing Schanzkowska; Doris Wingender, daughter of Schanzkowska's landlady in Berlin. But Schanzkowska's brother, Felix, and her two sisters, refused to identify Anderson as their missing sibling, even though Felix had to admit their was a strong resemblance between Anderson and his missing sister... so the controversy continued to rage.
Over a sixty-two year period, Anderson suffered through many illnesses, spent time in two mental institutes, and was involved in three extensive court cases in which she attempted to prove her identity as Anastasia. In 1928, 12 members of the Russian royal family issued a declaration that Anderson was an imposter. In 1956 a movie titled "Anatasia" starring Ingrid Bergman was released; based loosely on Anna Anderson's story, it brought re-newed public attention and led to her third attempt to claim the identity of Anastasia in court. This final court case lasted until February 1970, but did not end in Anderson's favor. Supported mainly by the charity of believers, she eventually married one of her supporters, named John E. Manahan (nicknamed "Jack"), a geneologist, in December 1968 and moved to the United States with him to settle in Charlottesville, Virginia. She died in February, 1984, from pneumonia, at which time no definitive proof for or against her claim of being the missing Anastasia Romanov had ever been found.
Unknown to Anderson, in 1979, before her death, the bodies of the missing Romanov family had actually been finally found; but due to political unstability in Russia, the bodies had been reburied until 1989 when Glasnost made the subject of the missing Romanovs less touchy. The remains were "officially" recovered in 1991. In all, the skeletons of nine people were found in the mass grave... but eleven people had been shot by the Communist Party in 1918; so two bodies were missing from the grave. Forensic examiners soon determined that the missing bodies were those of the two youngest Romanov children, Alexis and Anastasia. So at this late date, there was established a possibility that Anastasia had actually escaped the execution. But did she? And was Anna Anderson her?
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