Thursday, May 16, 2019

State of mental anguish

‘We are all in a state of mental anguish. We feel we are forgotten by everyone, abandoned to our own resources and at the mercy of this man. Is it possible that no one will raise a finger to save the Imperial family? Where are those who have remained loyal to the Czar? Why do they delay?’ This is from the diary of Pierre Gilliard, born 140 years ago today, who was tutor to the children of the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II. Nicholas, his wife, and their children would all be murdered a couple of months later. Gilliard’s diary is considered by some to be the ‘best, first-hand account of the life of the last Imperial family’.

Gilliard was born on 16 May 1879 in Fiez, Switzerland, near the border with France. Little seems to be known of his early life, but he became a teacher and tutor of the French language. In 1904, he travelled to Russia to work for the family of Duke George of Leuchtenberg, who was related to the royal family. By the following year, he had been engaged as tutor for the elder children of Tsar Nicholas II - the Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana Nikolaevna. Having grown fond of the family, he stayed with them after the revolution in 1917 during their exile to Siberia. However, he was prevented from continuing to do so when they were again moved, to Ekaterinburg, in May that year. After the infamous murders, he remained in Siberia until the White Army arrived, and for a further three years, assisting Nikolai Sokolov with his investigations of the murders.

In 1919, Gilliard married Aleksandra Tegleva who had served as nanny to the Tsar’s youngest daughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia. In 1920, he returned to Switzerland where he became a French professor at the University of Lausanne. In the mid-1920s, he and his wife became involved in assessing - and ultimately rejecting - a claim by Anna Anderson that she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia (her burial place having remained unknown during the Communist era). Gilliard was awarded the French Legion of Honor. He suffered a severe car accident in 1958, from which he never fully recovered, and he died in 1962. A little further information is available Wikipedia, Alexander Palace, or History of Royal Women.

Gilliard is remembered today because of his involvement in refuting Anderson’s claim but also because he kept a diary of the hugely eventful time he spent with the Russian royal family. Initially published in French, it was translated into English (F. Appleby Holt) and published in 1921 by Hutchinson & Co as Thirteen Years at the Russian Court - A Personal Record of the Last Years and Death of the Car Nicholas II and his Family. This is freely available online at Internet Archive and at the Alexander Palace website. The Tsar and the Tsarina both also kept diaries, right up until their last days, which have also been published - see Hope remains above all and Death of the Romanovs respectively.

Bob Atchison on the Alexander Palace website says this: ‘The best, first-hand account of the life of the last Imperial family of Russia was written by Pierre Gilliard, French tutor to the Tsar’s children. He wrote “Thirteen Years at the Russian Court” to refute the the misleading and false books he discovered upon his return to Western Europe. He criticized the “absurdities and falsehoods” he found that were accepted as truths and endeavored to put things right by publishing this book. His goal was to “to bring Nicholas II and his family back to life.” Since this book was written the opening of Soviet archives has expanded our understanding of the facts surrounding [the] murder of the Romanovs in Ekaterinburg. For example, Pierre[’s] secret and heroic efforts in smuggling messages, money and jewels in and out on behalf of the family at great risk to his own safety has been revealed.’ Here are several extracts from Gilliard’s diary.

25 January 1918
‘Tatiana Nicolaievna’s birthday. Te Deum in the house. Fine winter’s day; sunshine; 15° RĂ©aumur. Went on building the snow mountain as usual. The soldiers of the guard came to help us.’

2 February 1918
‘23° R. below zero. Prince Dolgorouky and I watered the snow mountain. We carried thirty buckets of water. It was so cold that the water froze on the way from the kitchen tap to the mountain. Our buckets and the snow mountain “steamed.” To-morrow the children can begin tobogganing.’

4 February 1918
‘The thermometer is said to have dropped last night below 30° Reaumur (37° Centigrade). Terrible wind. The Grand-Duchesses’ bedroom is a real ice-house.’

8 February 1918
‘The soldiers’ committee has to-day decided to replace Pankratof by a Bolshevik commissary from Moscow. Things are going from bad to worse. It appears that there is no longer a state of war between Soviet Russia and Germany, Austria, and Bulgaria. The army is to be disbanded, but Lenin and Trotsky have not yet signed the peace.’

13 February 1918
‘The Czar tells me that the demobilisation of the army has begun, several classes having already been disbanded. All the old soldiers (the most friendly) are to leave us. The Czar seems very depressed at this prospect; the change may have disastrous results for us.’

25 February 1918
‘Colonel Kobylinsky has received a telegram informing him that, from March 1st, “Nicholas Romanoff and his family must be put on soldiers’ rations and that each member of the family will receive 600 roubles per month drawn from the interest of their personal estate.” Hitherto their expenses have been paid by the state. As the family consists of seven persons, the whole household will have to be run on 4,200 roubles a month.’

5 March 1918
‘Yesterday the soldiers, with a hang-dog look (for they felt it was a mean task), began to destroy the snow mountain with picks. The children are disconsolate.’

15 March 1918
‘The townspeople, hearing of our situation, find various ways of sending us eggs, sweetmeats, and delicacies.’

17 March 1918
‘To-day is Carnival Sunday. Everyone is merry. The sledges pass to and fro under our windows; sound of bells, mouth-organs, and singing. . . The children wistfully watch the fun. They have begun to grow bored and find their captivity irksome. They walk round the courtyard, fenced in by its high paling through which they can see nothing. Since the destruction of their snow mountain their only distraction is sawing and cutting wood.

The arrogance of the soldiers is inconceivable; those who have left have been replaced by a pack of blackguardly-looking young men.

In spite of the daily increase of their sufferings, Their Majesties still cherish hope that among their loyal friends some may be found to attempt their release. Never was the situation more favourable for escape, for there is as yet no representative of the Bolshevik Government at Tobolsk. With the complicity of Colonel Kobylinsky, already on our side, it would be easy to trick the insolent but careless vigilance of our guards. All that is required is the organised and resolute efforts of a few bold spirits outside. We have repeatedly urged upon the Czar the necessity of being prepared for any turn of events. He insists on two conditions which greatly complicate matters: he will not hear of the family being separated or leaving Russian territory.

One day the Czarina said to me in this connection: “I wouldn’t leave Russia on any consideration, for it seems to me that to go abroad would be to break our last link with the past, which would then be dead for ever.” ’

10 April 1918
A “full sitting” of our guard, at which the Bolshevik commissary reveals the extent of his powers. He has the right to have anyone opposing his orders shot within twenty-four hours and without trial. The soldiers let him enter the house.’

15 April 1918
‘Alexis Nicolaivitch in great pain yesterday and to-day. It is one of his severe attacks of haemophilia.’

24 April 1918
‘We are all in a state of mental anguish. We feel we are forgotten by everyone, abandoned to our own resources and at the mercy of this man. Is it possible that no one will raise a finger to save the Imperial family? Where are those who have remained loyal to the Czar? Why do they delay?’

25 April 1918
‘Shortly before three o’clock, as I was going along the passage, I met two servants sobbing. They told me that Yakovlef has come to tell the Czar that he is taking him away. What can be happening? I dare not go up without being summoned, and went back to my room. Almost immediately Tatiana Nicolaievna knocked at my door. She was in tears, and told me Her Majesty was asking for me. I followed her. The Czarina was alone, greatly upset. She confirmed what I had heard, that Yakovlef has been sent from Moscow to take the Czar away and is to leave to-night.

29 April 1918
‘The children have received a letter from the Czarina from Tioumen The journey has been very trying. Horses up to their chests in water crossing the rivers. Wheels broken several times.’

3 May 1918
‘Colonel Kobylinsky has received a telegram saying that the travellers have been detained at Ekaterinburg. What has happened?’

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