Anastasia / Anna Anderson

Princess Anastasia before the assassination.

IN FEBRUARY 1920, two years after the execution of the Russian Czar and his family, a young woman attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge in Berlin. She was rescued, but when she arrived at hospital she had no proof of identity on her and would not reveal her name. The hospital sent her to an insane asylum where she was recognised as the Czar’s daughter, Grand Duchess Tatiana. The woman denied that she was Tatiana, but over time revealed that she was actually his other daughter, the Duchess Anastasia. She explained that the bayonets of the Communist death squad soldiers had been blunt and she had survived the assassination attempt. One of the soldiers who came to remove the bodies noticed that she was still alive and spirited her away to Romania. She had come to Berlin to find her aunt, Princess Irene, but fear of not being recognised led to her taking such desperate measures. The woman adopted the name Anna Anderson, and spent much of her life trying to prove she was Anastasia. When news of her appearance first spread, one of Alexandra’s ladies-in-waiting visited the hospital, but Anderson kept her head covered with blankets so the woman declared her a fake. Similarly, Princess Irene met Anderson and refuted her claims, although in private it is said she was not so sure, and her son Sigismund actually declared that he thought Anderson was Anastasia. The community of European monarchies were generally undecided. The Czar’s mistress, Mathilde Kschessinka, believed Anderson was the young princess, and Pierre Guillard, Anastasia’s former tutor, also initially declared his support before changing his mind. The family of another court employee – the monarch’s doctor Eugene Botkin – were utterly convinced of Anderson’s true royal lineage, particularly as she could talk in detail about personal correspondences between the young princesses and Botkin’s children.

In attitude, Anderson certainly behaved like a princess. She was said to be demanding and arrogant, and could be consumed by fits of rage. She spoke excellent English, French and German, and could fully understand Russian although she refused to speak it. She also had scars on her body that matched her execution claims, and facial experts argued that she looked very similar to Anastasia. She had similar physical deformities to the young princess, and calligraphic experts said their handwriting was identical. Anderson was also said to have an amazing knowledge of royal affairs. She revealed that Anastasia’s uncle, Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse, had secretly visited the Russian monarchy in 1916 when the two families had actually been at war. This fact was only categorically proven in 1966, but Ernst always denied the claims. It has been suggested that Ernst started circulating another theory which was that Anderson was actually a Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowski.

People started to claim that Schanzkowski disappeared only a day before Anderson’s appearance in Berlin. It was said that Anderson’s scars had arisen from a time when Schanzkowski had dropped a live grenade whilst working at an armaments factory. However, Anderson was small and frail, whereas Schanzkowski was raised on a farm and supposedly had a very stocky build. Anderson continually tried to prove her heritage, but she never succeeded conclusively in a court of law. In late 1968 she married a wealthy American called John Manahan, and she died of pneumonia in 1984. Her body was cremated, but advances in DNA testing meant her death was not the end of the saga. In 1991, the remains of eight people were found in Siberia. Forensic testing suggests the corpses of Nicholas, Alexandra and three of their children were among the bodies. British scientists compared their DNA with samples of Anderson’s hair, and found no match. However, Anderson did seem to have extremely similar DNA results to blood samples taken from the grand-nephew of Franziska Schanzkowski. So it appears the mystery of Anna Anderson has been put to rest. Except for one thing. When Russian authorities uncovered the royal bodies in 1991, two corpses were missing. One was the Czar’s son Alexei. The other was his youngest daughter, Anastasia.

Subscribe to receive free email updates: