The Second World War and the House of Romanoff
To download a printable PDF of a translation of the translated full original article and interview
This redacted interview edited for RL presentation, was originally published as: Alexander Tolstikovich, “Alexander Zakatov: Victory Day in the House of Romanoff,” in Rossiiskie Vesti [Russian News], February 26 – March 4, 2015. A link to the original Russian article is available through an additional link below the main section of the article.
...To recount in detail the patriotic position and activities of the Imperial Family in exile, and to illuminate some of these more sensitive issues of Russian history, we have asked the Director of the Chancellery of the Imperial House and noted historian, Dr. Alexander N. Zakatov, to speak to us.
Let me begin our conversation by saying that many of our so-called “patriots” accuse some in the first wave of the Russian emigration of wholesale treason and collaboration. Does that correspond with the facts, as you know them?
The emigration was not some uniform, monolithic thing. Some in it did indeed feel that foreign intervention was necessary in order to free Russia from the Bolshevik regime. These people chose to see in Adolf Hitler an ally in the struggle against Communism. Later, they said, we can deal with the Germans. The course of history showed the fallacy of that position, its naiveté—to put it as mildly as one can. But it would be unfair to label all Russian Germanophiles as traitors. They were in their own way being loyal to Russia and, without any question, loved their homeland and were prepared to sacrifice their lives for it, not for the Third Reich.
There were of course also those among the émigrés who certainly were unprincipled traitors, who did not care whom they served and who sold their honour to those who were invading their homeland. However, there were such types also among the citizens of the USSR in the occupied territories, including Communist Party activists and members of the NKVD.
But many leaders and ordinary Russian émigrés not only took a strong anti-German position, they actively took part in the struggle against Nazism. Remember how the Nobel laureate Ivan Bunin, a committed anti-Communist, who sat out the war in occupied France, observed with genuine jubilation the flags of the Soviet forces advancing in their counterattack against the hated Nazis. There were many Russian émigrés among the French Resistance: Boris Vildé and Anatole Lewitsky, Mother Maria (Skobtsova) and Princess Vika Obolenskaya, Igor Krivoshein—and thousands of other émigrés. Many others remain unknown to us today—they preferred to use their French names, maintaining their identities in strictest secrecy.
According to data provided by the French Minister-Delegate for Veterans Affairs, Hamlaoui Mekachéra, the French Resistance included as many as 35,000 Russians and émigrés of other nationalities of the USSR. Seven thousand of them perished on French soil. The hymn of the French Resistance, “Chant des Partisans,” was a call for solidarity and a statement of deep feelings of sympathy and commiseration with Russian partisans. It was composed by Anna Betulinskaya, who wrote under the pseudonym Anna Marly. Her songs circled the globe and she was honoured with the Legion of Honour by General de Gaulle for her wartime songs.
In other countries and even in Germany, Russian émigrés were active in the underground struggle against the Nazis. Many were executed or tortured to death in concentration camps. Many of those who survived returned to the USSR after the end of the war, but were greeted there not with gratitude and respect for their sacrifices, but with suspicion and humiliations, and many were thrown into Stalin’s concentration camps. The fates of these “returnees” was wonderfully portrayed in the film East/West. In 2005, in the Paris cemetery Père Lachaise, a monument was dedicated to the Russians who fought with the French Resistance.
And to what wing of the Russian emigration was the Imperial Family in exile closest: Kirill Wladimirovich, Victoria Feodorovna, and their son Wladimir Kirillovich?
The Heads of the dynasty basically adopted a non-partisan position. They considered all their countrymen, even those with whom they fundamentally disagreed, as their brothers, sisters, and own children. Among the entourage of the Imperial Family were persons of the widest possible views: Germanophiles, advocates of cooperation with Western democracies, and even some who were pro-Soviet (and here I emphasize “pro-Soviet,” not pro-Communist), such as the Mladorossi. There were also agents of influence who attempted to infiltrate monarchist circles, both those in the Soviet’s Joint State Political Directorate, or OGPU, and in the European intelligence services. But to determine the position of the Imperial House on any given question, we need to turn not to the various private opinions of various figures around the dynasty in exile, but to the official statements and actions of Kirill Wladimirovich and Wladimir Kirillovich.
And so how did they view the struggle against the Bolsheviks?
Kirill Wladimirovich before most others understood that the overthrow of the Bolsheviks could only be accomplished from inside Russia. And he firmly believed that their overthrow could not be achieved through a vengeful coup by the “Whites,” but only through mutual forgiveness and national reconciliation. In 1922, in his first public statement as Head of the dynasty in exile, he declared that “there are not two Russian armies! On both sides of the border there is only a united Russian Army, which is utterly devoted to Russia, to its ancient foundations, and to its long-held goals. It is the army that will save our much- suffering homeland.”
That is, Kirill called upon the Reds and the Whites to unite on the basis of love of country. In those days, this sounded rather fanciful and unrealistic, but it turned out that this was the correct historical perspective. So long as the celebration of “Red” ideology continued, so too did the destruction of all of Russia’s historical values, its religious faith, its cultural achievements, and its national shrines.
But there could not be any discussion either of the triumphant return of the “Whites.” Kirill pointed to an idea then that has been realized in our own day. The majority of the citizens of Russia are no longer “Red” or “White.” Each had their own truth. Each, regardless of being “Whites” or “Reds,” struggled and died for their Russia. Recall how this tragic schism of the people was so artfully portrayed in the poetry of Maximilian Voloshin:
“And here and there, amongst both ranks,
Is heard one and the same voice:
‘He who is not with us is against us!
No one can be neutral. The Truth is on our side.’”
And we, whether we like it or not, are all the descendants of one and the other. And we should not reopen old wounds but strive to do all we can so that there will never again be “two Russian armies,” one standing opposed to the other.
This all sounds wonderful. But the Communist regime was nevertheless very hostile to the Imperial House. How did the Romanoffs, who saw the overthrow of the Bolsheviks as the only salvation for Russia, think about cooperation with foreign governments in achieving that goal?
You are right that the Imperial House could never reconcile with the Bolshevik regime. The reason is the openly atheistic character of the regime’s ideology and its practice of terror against its own people. On other political, social, and economic questions, there could be discussion and compromise. In the policies laid out by Kirill Wladimirovich in his statements, many correctly see a rather leftist, almost socialist tendency and a recognition and acceptance of many of the reforms that were enacted after the Revolution. However, he could never reconcile himself under any circumstances to the regime’s attempts to eradicate belief in God and the physical extermination of millions of people.
But despite his consistent anti-Communist position, Kirill Wladimirovich categorically repudiated the leaders of a part of the Russian emigration that had its hopes set on foreign intervention. On this very topic he made a special statement in 1925: “Among our Russian people there again swirl rumours of preparations for armed intervention in Russia by the remnants of volunteer military organizations with the support of several foreign governments. I hereby proclaim that I in no way can accept the opinion of those leaders who think it possible to give in to the temptation to fight against our fellow countrymen, relying on foreign bayonets—no matter how deceived the Russian masses may be at the present time. Under the guise of fighting the Bolsheviks, these leaders will bring to our Fatherland a loss of its distinctive character as a nation, the plundering of its natural resources, and perhaps, the loss of territories and of access to the seas.”
Yes, because now we really have seen how foreigners and some émigré benefactors, to quote the philosopher and dissident Alexander Zinoviev, “took aim at Communism, but injured Russia instead,” and in fact have from the beginning sought more to injure Russia than Communism. We have for almost 25 years lived in this country without Communism, but hostility toward our country has not let up but only grown stronger. But let’s return to the point. All that you have said is of course very interesting. But if it is as you say, who, according to Kirill Wladimirovich, was there inside Russia that could topple the Bolsheviks?
Kirill Wladimirovich pinned his hopes on the Red Army. He believed that their martial spirit and their sense of duty to the Fatherland would inevitably lead to a rise of patriotism and a revival of religious faith, and then the Red Army would either force the regime to renounce its revolutionary internationalism, cosmopolitanism, and militant atheism, or it would overthrow it. Again, that may seem to us a pretty outlandish perspective for that time. Yet it was the position of the Armed Forces of the USSR that largely brought about the removal of the bankrupt Communists from power in 1991. And it is precisely in the military, born and bred in Soviet times, that the House of Romanoff in our day has found the greatest sympathy, respect, and willingness to cooperate in strengthening a sense of patriotism and defending the interests of Russia in the wider world.
In other words, you want to say that Krill Wladimirovich saw a potential ally in the Red Army?
He wasn’t quite so naïve. He talked about what he thought should happen, understanding fully that it would take a long time to get there. Even so, Kirill Wladimirovich preferred to see the Red Army of the 1930s as a strong, reliable defender of the nation’s borders. In 1932, he issued a statement to the soldiers of the RKKA (the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army), stating: “Your might is the key to the integrity and inviolability of the Russian state. Having become now the Armed Forces of Russia, and being the integral part of its people, you have assumed the heritage of the centuries-old Russian Army and Navy, which have always stood guard over the Fatherland and served as the key to world peace. The very nature of your military service can never be affected by momentary or artificial events. You see yourselves as defenders of your native land. There will come a time when this recognition will determine the fate of Russia. Thus you must prepare yourselves now for that future moment. Russia needs a strong army and navy. It needs them for the defense of its borders and for the liberation of Russia from the bitter yoke of Communism. Your sense of duty will strengthen the Army and Navy, lift its esprit de corps, instill a sense of discipline, and propel it to modernize.”
Did this appeal ever reach the Red Army?
Believe it or not, there is evidence that this statement, and others like it from Kirill Wladimirovich did in fact reach the Soviet people. Of course, not everyone was reached, as Kirill Wladimirovich had hoped—the GPU was a very effective organization, after all. But many in the USSR knew his name. The Communist press was compelled to comment upon his statements. Of course, always in a reproachful and mocking tone. But the “silent treatment” was never an option.
One sometimes encounters in literature and publications claims that Kirill Wladimirovich’s wife, Victoria Feodorovna, financially supported Hitler’s party. In one of these books there even appears a photograph in which a young Adolf Hitler is bowing to Victoria... And here now we’ve entered the realm of false myths, where half-truths get mixed together with deliberate lies.
It is indeed true that many traditionalist elements in Europe were drawn to the nationalist-socialist movement at the very beginning, including some in the Russian Imperial House. Many saw in nationalist-socialism an alternative both to atheistic Communism and revolution, and to soulless, selfish, and cynical Capitalism. The charisma of the leaders, the freshness of some of the ideas of the Fascists in Italy, of the nationalist-socialists in Germany, the Falangists in Spain, and of other similar political movements initially appealed to some degree among decent and well-meaning people. Very quickly, however, they became disenchanted with them, especially with the Nazis, whose ideology was the most aggressive and inhumane.
Victoria Feodorovna was introduced to Adolf Hitler by General Eric von Ludendorff, the former commander of the Armed Forces of the German Empire. In the 1920s, many legitimists were close to the Nazi Party, including, for example, Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, who was killed during the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. But there was never any collaboration of any kind between the Nazis and the legitimist movement or the Imperial House, and noone has produced even the slightest bit of evidence that there ever was. After the publication of Hitler‘s book Mein Kampf, which he wrote between 1925 and 1926, it became clear to all that his ideology was anti-Christian, anti- monarchist, and racist—that is, that it was fundamentally opposed to all the basic values that are embodied in and defended by the Imperial House.
The often repeated lie about Victoria Feodorovna “financing” Hitler’s party is blatant rubbish. The Imperial House in exile was hardly able to make ends meet, and the nationalist-socialists were supported by the German industrial and financial oligarchs, and this is well known to everyone. Even if Victoria Feodorovna had sold not only all her jewelry, but also all her family’s property, including the home left to her by her mother, this would be a pittance compared to the amounts given the Nazis for their political activities by their supporters. And of course Victoria Feodorovna would not consider for even a moment squandering so recklessly and foolishly her very limited means, even if Hitler’s doctrines had appealed to her, which they didn’t.
Did the position of the Imperial House change after the death of Kirill Wladimirovich, when Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich became Head of the Dynasty?
Of course, there were changes. That is natural enough: Every person has his own ideas about things. Hereditary monarchy does not mean that the next ruler blindly copies the thoughts and actions of the previous ruler. Kirill Wladimirovich had more optimism that there would be a continuous and natural evolutionary “transformation” of the Communist regime and a rejection of its more odious ideas and policies. Wladimir Kirillovich believed that Communism could be overthrown only by force. He distanced himself from the Mladorossi, who applauded the expansion of the USSR’s borders in 1939 and celebrated the war with Finland in 1939-1940. Wladimir Kirillovich saw these events not as a restoration of the former borders of the Empire, but as an expansion of world revolution, as something alien to the genuine national interests of Russia. However, the patriotic sentiments of the Imperial House did not change at all, and Wladimir Kirillovich from the very beginning rejected the possibility of cooperating with the enemies of his Homeland and becoming a puppet in their hands, along the same lines as the Chinese Emperor, Pu-yi.
In December 1938, the Germans staged a provocation to explore the possibility of using Wladimir Kirillovich in their plans. Just before the Grand Duke made a trip to Germany to visit his relatives, a rumour was spread that a meeting would take place there between the new Head of the Imperial House and Adolf Hitler, and that after the future dismemberment of the USSR, Wladimir Kirillovich would be offered the “throne” of a Ukraine that had been placed under a German protectorate. The leftist French journalist Geneviève Tabouis published an article with the lurid title: “Grand Duke Wladimir expected in Berlin. Mr. Hitler, it appears, wants to make him the Führer of an independent Ukraine.” The Grand Duke immediately denounced this disinformation and issued a public statement that he would never support the dismemberment of his Homeland. A video recording of the Head of the Russian Imperial House was produced and survives to this day, in which he says, speaking in French, exactly this: “I was surprised to see that my name was associated with the question of negotiations with Germany about Ukraine. My recent trip to Germany was nothing more than a private visit. I never met with Chancellor Hitler and had no conversations whatsoever of a political nature with authorities of the Reich.”
As shown by materials in File No 451 “WLADIMIR CYRILLOVITCH DE RUSSIE, GRAND DUC (1937—1940),” located in the archival collection of the Sûreté nationale—the French internal security police, which kept a constant watch on members of the Russian Imperial Family—Wladimir Kirillovich “strives with all his might not to become an instrument in the hand of others.... The Germans offered him the Ukrainian throne under a German protectorate, but the Grand Duke categorically refused this idea, stating that he would be either the Emperor of Russia or a mere mortal. Legitimists by and large support this policy of waiting things out and do not want to link themselves to anyone.”
It is worth noting that no direct offer of the “throne of Ukraine” or of any other “throne” was ever made to Wladimir Kirillovich by the Germans, unlike the very real negotiations that took place with the family of Prince Roman Petrovich over the creation of a puppet “Kingdom of Montenegro.” These ideas merely percolated in the media, to which there was a firm and immediate negative response. But in general, the position of the Imperial house is fairly well represented in the reports of the agents of the French secret police.
However, some write that Wladimir Kirillovich wasn’t able to avoid supporting Germany in June 1941, when Nazi forces invaded the USSR.
The statement of June 26, 1941, issued by Wladimir Kirillovich while he was residing in occupied France, is, perhaps, the only action that might elicit criticism and doubt about his commitment to following the oath made by his father not to support foreign interventions in Russian affairs. But if we read the text impartially and analyze the circumstances in which it was produced, we will understand that the criticisms and doubts are unwarranted.
Here is the full text of the statement. Please be sure to publish the text in full so that no one will have reason to accuse me of distorting the content of the statement. Wladimir Kirillovich proclaimed: “In this grave hour, when Germany and almost all the nations of Europe have declared a crusade against Communism and Bolshevism, which has enslaved and oppressed the people of Russia for twenty-four years, I turn to all the faithful and loyal sons of our Homeland with this appeal: Do what you can, to the best of your ability, to bring down the Bolshevik regime and to liberate our Homeland from the terrible yoke of Communism.”
On the basis of this statement, would it be justified to make an accusation of collaboration—that is, to allege the crime of knowingly, willingly, and deliberately collaborating with the enemy for the sake of one’s own benefit and to the detriment of his country and its allies?
The Grand Duke was putting on the record the fact that the beginning of the war—which broke out, as you can imagine, without his foreknowledge or participation—was a “grave” moment, which is to say terrible, dangerous, and singular. There is no call in this statement to help Germany in its battle against Russia. As for the call to struggle against Bolshevism, this was something Wladimir Kirillovich did many times, including in 1939-1940, when the USSR and the Third Reich were allies, and when Joseph Stalin raised a toast to Adolf Hitler, and when part of the Red Army and Wehrmacht marched together in a parade in the city of Brest.
Some think that this statement is nonetheless regrettable and worthy of condemnation. They say that after Germany’s invasion of the USSR, all anti- Communist slogans should have ceased. Often this approach was advocated by the admirers of Vladimir Lenin, who, as is well known, during the First World War openly called for the defeat of Russia and called for the “transformation of the Imperialist war into a civil war,” and who then returned to Russia in a sealed railway car provided to him by Germany. So we have a clear double standard here. But I always say to these critics: think about it and answer honestly, what choice did he have given his circumstances?
The Grand Duke simply could not remain silent. What should he have said? If he had written something like “The cursed Nazis have invaded our Soviet Homeland. Hurray for our Motherland! Forward! Hurray for Stalin!”— then this would have been disingenuous and would have been the ruin of Wladimir Kirillovich himself and of hundreds, even perhaps thousands of those supporting him. And to join an underground resistance, as many people joined the French Resistance, would also not have been an option for him. He was too well known a figure. And each step of his was monitored and tracked.
Nor, however, could he support the enemy. He was pressed by the German occupying forces and by Russian Germanophiles to express unequivocally his support for Germany. But the Grand Duke was able to evade doing so, and instead found verbal formulas, like that in the statement above, which avoided jeopardizing Russian emigrants living in occupied territories, and which also did not contain anything but his constant and unchanging appeal to his countrymen to attempt to free themselves from Communism.
I should also say that many leading figures in the Russian emigration, including those who later joined the fight against the Nazis and espoused pro- Soviet positions and even returned to the USSR, were at the time of the invasion openly pro-German and, frankly, used far less diplomatic language than ever did the Grand Duke.
Metropolitan Seraphim (Lukianov), who returned to the USSR after the war, stated on June 22, 1941, that “[t]he hour of the liberation from the godless authorities of our much-suffering and dear Homeland has arrived. The leader of the German people, Chancellor Hitler, has declared a crusade against enslaved Russia. Now has begun a terrible, decisive struggle with the Red Devils. A holy war has been unleashed against the evil enemies of the Russian people and of all humanity. Many nations of Europe are following the leader of the German people into this war against the world’s villains. Russia is on the eve of liberation and returning to a better life, to light, to glory, to greatness.”
Archimandrite John (Shakhovskoy), who would later become the archbishop of San Francisco and was the brother of Princess Zinaida Shakhovskaya, who was a member of the French Resistance, once praised Hitler and wrote of the German army: “It [the Red Army] is now tasked with tearing down the red stars from the walls of the Russian Kremlin. It will remove them if the Russian people will not do it themselves. This army, which has been victorious all across Europe, is strong not only by the might of its armaments and principles, but also by its obedience to a higher calling, by the Grace of Providence, which has imparted to it a duty above all political and economic concerns. The sword of the Lord is above all humanity.”
The writer Ivan Shmelev, who was recently reburied in the cemetery of the Donskoy Monastery with the approval of the government of the Russian Federation, expressed his admiration for the exploits of the “White Knight,” as he called the Führer, and experienced “indescribable joy” at the news of the initial defeats suffered by the Red Army.
This reaction was somewhat akin to the delight of a significant part of the elite of the Russian Empire at the coming of the 1917 revolution, the beginnings of which, as we all know, the military enemies of Russia and its false allies instigated. In both cases, the realization of their mistake came quickly. As the saying goes, words are like sparrows [once they are let fly, they don’t come back]. What was said cannot be taken back.
In that context, the statement of Wladimir Kirillovich is rather proof of his wisdom and political maturity. He managed to slip between the Scylla of compromise with Bolshevism and the Charybdis of collaboration.
Not long ago, in a certain newspaper with a rather large readership, an article appeared in which a gentleman who identified himself as a historian claimed that “Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich Romanoff had the rank of Obergruppenführer of the SS. Moreover, he claimed that, in the last days of the Third Reich, he was in the bunker with Hitler and in command of forces loyal to him of the KIAF (the Corps of the Imperial Army and Navy), and that he managed to escape to Liechtenstein only a few days before the Nazi defeat.”
Well, what can I possibly say to that? Dr. Goebbels must be spinning in his grave out of envy. It was he, the Reich Minister of Propaganda of the Third Reich, who always followed the principle that “the more monstrous and absurd the lie, the easier it is for people to believe it.” But such nonsense is I think more than even he would contrive. Articles and remarks like this one will forever separate their authors and propagators from the ranks of decent people, and their publication will only soil their reputations. This is an example of an author descending to the level of the scandalous tabloid press.
Then what did the Grand Duke do during the German occupation?
During the funeral for Wladimir Kirillovich in St. Isaac’s Cathedral on April 29, 1992, Patriarch Alexis II, who was officiating at the service, said in his homily that “[c]haracteristically, during the Second World War, Wladimir Kirillovich, then being in France, established ties with the German officers who were opposed to the Fascist regime, and thanks to those relationships, was able to help materially many Soviet prisoners of war. In 1944, he was arrested and deported to Germany.”
Wladimir Kirillovich was not subject to direct persecution, but he lived under very tight controls in Saint-Briac—essentially under house arrest. Even so, he was able to offer protection and support for his countrymen. Thanks to the respect that some German officers from aristocratic families accorded him as Head of the Russian Imperial House, the Grand Duke was able to do much to help Soviet prisoners of war and other captives in concentration camps in Saint- Malo and on the island of Jersey. Their situation was dreadful, much worse than English or American prisoners. They received no aid from anyone anywhere and lived in utterly inhuman conditions and faced starvation. Wladimir Kirillovich organized the delivery of produce, sweets, and toys for children in the camps, and he visited them often and at other times sent his secretary, Colonel D. Seniavin, to keep tabs on their condition. He registered with the government the Church of St. Seraphim of Sarov, located on his estate “Ker Argonid,” which afforded him the right to invite a priest from Paris to tend to the spiritual needs of the Orthodox prisoners in the nearby camps. The archives contain correspondence about this between Wladimir Kirillovich and Metropolitan Seraphim and Archpriest Ioann Grigor.
I should point out that both Metropolitan Seraphim (Lukianov) and Colonel Seniavin were at that time both Germanophiles. Still, they didn’t hesitate in the slightest to obey the Grand Duke’s instructions and help the Soviet prisoners. And this was hardly without risk, as some irresponsible hack writers today have suggested. It was also Wladimir Kirillovich who asked the Metropolitan Seraphim (Lade) and General V. V. Biskupsky, both Germanophiles, to save the life of Archbishop Alexander (Nemolovsky), who had been apprehended by the Nazis for his courageous denunciations of their atrocities, and who had helped many other ideological opponents of Nazism. Biskupsky later was involved in the July 20, 1944 plot against Hitler, and was interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo and soon after died. I point this out to emphasize the point that sweeping accusations are not always true, even when made against those who did, in fact, collaborate with the Nazis.
Near the end of the war, just before the Allied invasion of Normandy, the German occupation authorities forced Wladimir Kirillovich to move from Saint- Briac to Paris, and then to Germany. This was effectively an arrest and deportation, although the basic norms of decency were largely observed in his treatment.
He had relatives in Germany, didn’t he?
Yes, many, including his closest family—his sisters Maria and Kira. Maria was married to Prince Karl of Leiningen. He was disabled but as an officer he was nonetheless deployed to the Eastern Front. He was captured and died in a prison camp near Saransk. So he did participate in the war, but he was never accused of any war crimes. Grand Duchess Kira Kirillovna’s husband was Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who later became the Head of the German Imperial House. He was confined for his anti-Nazi beliefs; and some of the conspirators involved in the July 20, 1944 plot hoped to make him head of the government, and perhaps even emperor, should they succeed in legally reestablishing the monarchy.
The Grand Duke visited his sister Maria Kirillovna and her children. The situation in Germany was becoming more and more desperate. The Nazis no longer could control the situation. Wladimir Kirillovich, freed from their surveillance, decided to go to Switzerland. He arrived in the Austrian town of Feldkirch, together with some other civilians. And now a kind of detective story begins: Liechtenstein authorities refused to issue Wladimir Kirillovich a visa. Yet that very day they admitted into their borders the pro-German “First Russian National Army” under the command of General Boris Holmston-Smyslovsky—armed and wearing German uniforms. That is, the denial of a visa was obviously not linked to any suspicion that Wladimir Kirillovich was collaborating with the Germans. Then why was it denied? The most plausible reason is that the Soviet security services were searching for the Grand Duke, and an agent (or agents) in Liechtenstein applied pressure so that Wladimir Kirillovich would be stuck in Feldkirch. But the matter still awaits future research.
The French under the command of General Leclerc, who entered Feldkirch around that time, paid no special attention to the Grand Duke.
Wladimir Kirillovich was given documents to return to France. But one French officer warned him that there was a euphoric wave of left-wing politics in France at that time, and so the USSR might succeed in securing from the French his return to Soviet Russia or have it easier apprehending him. Seeing the real danger to his safety, the Grand Duke decided to go for a time to Spain and visit is aunt, the Infante Beatrice of Spain (his mother’s sister). Spain had remained a neutral country during the war; Hitler had failed to draw Generalissimo Francisco Franco into the war. And so Wladimir Kirillovich lived between France and Spain in the following years. He found marital happiness in Spain with Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, and his daughter, Grand Duchess Maria, was born there in 1953. Maria, in turn, was married in Spain in 1976 to Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia (who took the name Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich in Orthodox baptism). In 1981, their son Grand Duke George of Russia was born. Thus Spain by the turn of fate has become the place where the most important events in the life of the Imperial Family have taken place in the post-war years.
You mentioned a “Montenegrin Project.” This was somehow connected to the House of Romanoff?
One of the three members of the House of Romanoff who refused to recognize the legal rights of Kirill Wladimirovich and Wladimir Kirillovich was Prince of the Imperial Blood Roman Petrovich. He was born of the marriage of Grand Duke Peter Nikolaevich and Princess Militsa Nikolaevna of Montenegro. In 1921, Roman Petrovich married morganatically Countess Praskovia Sheremeteva. From that union, two morganatic sons were born: Nicholas and Dmitrii. They all lived in Rome.
So Nicholas Romanovich Romanoff, who died in 2014, many times boasted that members of the Fascist government of Italy during the Second World War offered to him the throne of occupied Montenegro, since he is a descendant in the female line of the Njegoš dynasty of Montenegro. He was proud to say that he refused this offer. It a nice story, but it’s not the full story.
The fact is that neither the Italian Fascists nor the German Nazis were idiots and they did not offer anything to anyone without first sending out some feelers or having made a prior agreement. These same kind of feelers were sent out to Wladimir Kirillovich in 1938 about Ukraine and were resolutely rejected, as I’ve already discussed. But the offers to Nicholas Romanov went somewhat further.
And while it may not be the most important bit of evidence, one very interesting and telling fact remains worth noting: the most influential genealogical reference work of that time, the Almanach de Gotha, which was published in Germany up to 1944, said of the descendants of Prince Roman Petrovich, and of the descendants of other members of the House of Romanoff who had entered into morganatic marriages over the course of many years that they were born “d’un mariage non conforme aux lois de la Maison” – “of marriages which did not conform to the laws of the House.” But in the 1943 edition of the Gotha, the description of the status of Prince Roman Petrovich suddenly and inexplicably omits this line. This line remained, however, in the entries for the other morganatic marriages in the Imperial House. Why did that change occur? Was it somehow discovered that the Sheremetev counts had at some time in some place ruled or otherwise enjoyed sovereign rights? No, there was and is no evidence that they ever had. After the war, in the more serious scholarly genealogical publications, entries on Roman Petrovich’s marriage again began to be described as before: the marriage of Roman Petrovich “did not conform to the laws of the House.” This means that in 1942, the editors of the Almanach de Gotha were pressured to change this entry. For what possible reason? This was something that only the Nazi authorities could authorize. And it is clear that it was done not simply to flatter Roman Petrovich and his sons. It was done because the creation of a marionette, pro-Fascist “Kingdom” in Montenegro was a serious consideration, and not just some idle chatter that would never materialize into anything. At the end of the day, Prince Roman Petrovich and his son Nicholas grew leery and backed away from the idea. Their decision is not very surprising since at that time, Germany, Italy, and their allies were beginning to suffer one defeat after another on the battlefield. But negotiations certainly took place, conditions were discussed, and a series of preliminary measures were taken to make the plan happen. Now that looks a great deal more like collaboration....
After the fall of the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, Nicholas Romanoff worked for the British-American Psychological Warfare Service and for the US Information Agency. However, after the war the entire family of Roman Petrovich was forced to leave Italy, and Europe in general, for a few years, and so they fled to Egypt. That happened in 1946. I. S. Artsishevsky, a friend of Nicholas Romanoff’s and a former government official in St. Petersburg, did him a great disservice in an interview he gave to the newspaper Itogi [Summation], when he said: “After Nicholas Romanovich decisively refused the Führer, he had to go into hiding for a long time. He even had to flee to Egypt....” Nicholas Romanoff and his relatives lived in Egypt from 1946 to 1951, and they were obviously not hiding then from the Führer, who ended his dark life on April 30, 1945.... One lies when one has something to hide.
Once, a few years ago when I wrote up my research on the history of the House of Romanoff during the years of the Great Patriotic War, I chose not to develop this theme. After all, happily for him, Nicholas Romanoff did not become the mock “king of Montenegro.” So why should I want to stir up the past? Especially now, when Nicholas Romanoff has passed away and his brother Dmitrii is quite elderly? Unfortunately, this withering line of morganatic descendants of the House of Romanoff serves as a constant illustration of the Lord’s parable of the man who sees the mote in the eye of his neighbor but fails to notice the beam in his own. They constantly spread lies about the Imperial Family, including lies that fuel the slanderous myth about “collaboration.” In that regard, I think it important that our countrymen know the facts that these gentlemen prefer to conceal. With time, through archival research, more information may become known. And when that happens, some of those who willingly or unwillingly support the desperate political ambitions of these Romanoff relatives may find the situation a little uncomfortable for them.
And what was Wladimir Kirillovich’s relationship during the war with the National Liberation Movement of General Vlasov?
The Grand Duke was highly skeptical of this movement, which was entirely anti-monarchist. There are attempts now to prove that General Vlasov was some kind of “third force,” fighting against both Stalin and Hitler. That is, that he was assuming a position analogous to that expressed in the statement of Wladimir Kirillovich in 1941: trying to exploit the war for the liberation of Russia from Bolshevism, but in doing so not wanting to show support for the Nazis and even prepared to oppose the Nazis. But there clearly are no grounds for that view of General Vlasov.
The Grand Duke sympathized with those who fought with Vlasov, especially after the war. He understood that the majority of them were hostages to the terrible situation they were in and were not conscious traitors. But Wladimir Kirillovich never believed in Vlasov’s ideology and certainly never adopted it himself.
There is a curious piece of evidence that comes from the Soviet era. Lieutenant General M. F. Lukin in his memoirs, which were published in the journal Ogonek in 1964, tells of how he, having been severely wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans, refused an offer [to collaborate] that later was accepted by General Vlasov. There are a few lines in the memoir about the dynasty. True, the Soviet general mixed up Wladimir Kirillovich’s name with his father’s, who had died in 1938, and calls him “Kirill.” But the point he makes still obtains. “Vlasov’s delegation,” General Lukin writes, “with enormous pomp arrived in Paris, where Kirill was living at that time. All the members of the delegation paraded about in their new German uniforms with the insignia ‘ROA’ (for ‘Russkaia osvododitel’naia armiia,’ or Russian Liberation Army) on their sleeves and wearing ribbons the colors of the Russian Imperial flag. In front of the hotel where the ‘Autocrat of all Russia’ was staying, an honor guard lined up in formation. But...the Grand Duke, having learned why the Vlasov delegation had come to him, sent his valet to the leaders of the delegation, who conveyed to them ‘His Highness's own words,’ that ‘he wants nothing to do with traitors to the Motherland.’”
Of course, there is a lot of myth in this account. But the subtext of General Lukin’s memoir is clear enough: that even those aspiring to be tsar refused to have anything to do with traitors. I have never seen any independent evidence to confirm this episode or anything similar to the account in General Lukin’s memoir. But even through all the layers of propaganda, one can clearly discern one fact: even at a time of extremely negative attitudes toward the Imperial House, Soviet writers, publishers, and memoirists did not attempt to accuse falsely Wladimir Kirillovich of collaboration with Russia’s enemies.
How does the Imperial Family mark the events of the Great Patriotic War? Do they celebrate Victory Day?
Of course, they mark it and remember with great solemnity the lives and sacrifices of those who fought to defend their Homeland. Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich in his public statements, even the most anti-Communist ones, always spoke about the veterans of the war with enormous respect, calling their tremendous feat a “heroic defense of Russia from foreign invaders.”
During his first and, sadly, only visit to Russia in November 1991, Wladimir Kirillovich and Leonida Georgievna visited and placed flowers at the memorial to the victims of the Leningrad Blockade in the Piskarevskoye Cemetery. The Grand Duke later said that his visit to this cemetery left one of the strongest impressions on him during his entire visit to Russia.
Grand Duchess Maria of Russia and Grand Duke George of Russia always are left with a special feeling when they visit the graves of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War and other memorials connected with that war. Even if for some reason their itinerary doesn’t include a stop at one of these war memorials, they always ask if it is possible to make an stop at them on their way to their scheduled destinations, asking clergy who may be accompanying them to sing “Memory Eternal,” and laying flowers at graves and memorials. And this they do not for show, but out of a deep and profound desire of the soul. There is usually no press present, no one gives any interviews, nobody attracts the broader public’s attention to these stops. Grand Duchess Maria and Grand Duke George simply want to feel and experience a spiritual connection to those whose relationship with their dynasty had been torn asunder by historical circumstances, yet whom the dynasty has never ceased to love.
They have not always been able to travel to Russia for Victory Day celebrations. Even so, last year, Grand Duke George was in St. Petersburg in the beginning of May. On May 9, he, of course, visited the Piskarevskoye Cemetery and participated in the city’s other Victory Day celebrations. But the most solemn event for him this time was in the village of Kobona—a junction point on the “Road of Life” over Lake Ladoga. There were no grand celebrations taking place in this small village that year: a church service, a requiem at the graves of the fallen and of those who died from wounds and hunger, and the unveiling of a restored lorry that was raised from the bottom of the lake and now serves as a tribute to those who drove and worked the “Road of Life.” They asked the Grand Duke to give a speech. He doesn’t speak Russian publicly as well as his mother. Living so far from home leaves its traces.... But he agreed and he spoke longer than he usually does publicly. And when he spoke, his voice quivered, not from nerves but because he was so deeply affected by the entire solemn atmosphere of the occasion in Kobona.
The Grand Duchess has made a number of heartfelt statements on the anniversaries of Victory Day and of important battles of the war, including the Battle of Stalingrad. She pays special attention to veterans, striving to help them in various ways and to maintain their spirits. It was not for nothing that His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, speaking of the role of the House of Romanoff in modern Russia, made special note of the time when he was consecrating the memorial church for Soviet veterans of the war at Soloviev Crossing in 2002, and Grand Duchess Maria of Russia awarded one of the Imperial Orders and hereditary noble status to First Lieutenant D. Petrova—a nurse during the war who save countless lives.
And among the more respected and beloved friends of the Imperial House in Russia, whose advice the Grand Duchess highly prizes and heeds, is the Academician E. P. Chelyshev, who marched in the Victory Parade in 1945, and who was an officer and pilot who flew sorties during the entire length of the war, from 1941 on.
I had the distinct honor of presenting the device of the Order of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker to the now reposed Archpriest Vladimir Dunaev, who was a veteran of the war. And in 2013, in the year of the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanoff, a symbolically important and wholly fitting event took place: the Order of St. Nicholas was awarded to Lieutenant Colonel N. Furmanov, who was born in 1913, the year of the 300th anniversary of the dynasty.
Originally Published as: Alexander Tolstikovich, “Alexander Zakatov: Victory Day in the House of Romanoff,” in Rossiiskie Vesti [Russian News], February 26 – March 4, 2015.
A Statement from the Head of the Russian Imperial House,
H.I.H. The Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, on the 70th Anniversary of Victory in the Second World War
My Dear Countrymen,
I extend my heartfelt congratulations to you all on the 70th anniversary of victory in the Second World War.
After seven decades, we have indeed reached an important historical milestone. On the one hand, because we still have living among us those who experienced the war and their children, we continue to feel the pain of great loss, as well as the joy of our victory and enormous accomplishment. On the other hand, the inexorable passage of time creates in the younger generation an entirely new perception of these momentous events, a new perception based on today’s mentality, which is in many ways very different from that of the people of the 20th century.
Now we have the opportunity to bring together the living memory of those who fought in the war with current perceptions from the point of view of the 1,153 years of Russia’s historical path as a state. Doing so is extremely important in order to understand correctly our own times, to crystalize our own notion of the Russian nation, and to chart the future course of our country. We must do all we possibly can to prevent either now or in the future any break in the continuity of our country’s history.
The Second World War was the most terrible and bloodiest of all wars in the history of humanity. Our country suffered the brunt of the war, endured enormous suffering, and made the greatest sacrifices in the cause of its own liberation and the complete destruction of the barbaric Fascist military and political system.
For Russia, this war exceeded the tolls brought upon it even by the previous global conflict—the First World War of 1914-1918. Then, the front lines winded their way far removed from the capitals and from the major population centers of the Empire. In 1941, the very existence of our nation hung in the balance. The Second World War stands alongside the Mongol conquest of Rus’ in the 13th century, the occupation by the Polish and Lithuanian invaders during the Time of Troubles at the beginning of the 17th century, and the invasion of the combined armies of Europe led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812. Even so, the Second World War far exceeded all these previous invasions in the number of deaths and in the extent of the destruction.
This history of the Second World War generally and the invasion of Russia in particular will be written by generations of scholars to come, who will offer explanations of its causes, will painstakingly study all its many details, and will sort through the dramatic and painful contradictions of the period. But no one could deny that the most horrific manifestations of the war was the product of the abandonment of God, immorality, hatred, egoism, militant ignorance and secularism. But the feats that were accomplished and the final victory that was won were attained thanks to timeless and immutable ideals—faith, love of country, self-sacrifice, and depth of spirit.
In the 20th century, Russia experienced not only the Russo- Japanese War, the First World War, and the Second World War, but also the torments of the Revolution and Civil War, militant atheism, totalitarianism, and terror. One also cannot deny that, even during peacetime, there were many senseless and meaningless atrocities; and that the modernization of the country, which was certainly necessary, was accompanied by a loss of life on an unprecedented scale, and an utter disregard for human dignity.
However, neither Germany and its allies nor the Western democracies, which had since the 1930s striven to push the Third Reich and the USSR into a conflict with each other, were pursing the goal of freeing Russia from Communism. Quite the opposite: they expected that our country—bled dry and weakened, deprived of its hope in God and of its time-honoured national values—would be easy prey and be forever removed from the arena of world history.
These dreams all came to nothing. Russian compatriots in Russia and abroad understood the falsehood of the slogan “Crusade against Bolshevism,” and saw the true intentions of the invaders. The majority of our people, as in past times, put away their internal differences and grievances and joined together in unison to defend their native land. And it turned out that the atheistic persecution of religion by the Communist regime had not eradicated the people’s religiosity, and that the internationalist propaganda and ideology of the “world revolution” had not destroyed their deeply-held sense of patriotism. These natural qualities in fact proved to be the key to victory.
The Russian people tend toward patience and forgiveness. But at the moments of greatest danger, they always mobilize themselves selflessly for the defense of their homeland. While by no means diminishing the role in the war of military commanders and political leaders of the time, we must understand that it was precisely our great people who have, are now, and always will defeat any foreign enemy, regardless of what the government structure or political regime in our country may be. Firm in this conviction, we will get through any trials that may befall us and give answer to all invaders.
The victory against the Nazi invasion, and in the Second World War generally, transformed the system of international relations and laid the basis for the peaceful coexistence of governments with widely different political structures. Even so, for many years the post-war system perpetuated a state of constant unease, which was a product of the polarity of the majority of the basic ideological foundations of the two superpowers—the USSR and the USA. Judging by the speeches of the leaders of Western countries, the fundamental differences between them lay in the rejection by the “Free World” of the official atheism in the Soviet Union, in the support by the USSR of revolutionary terrorist regimes, human rights abuses, limitations on freedom of speech, thought, and creativity, and the rejection of private property. It would seem from these speeches that, if these odious spiritual, political, and economic policies and methods should ever be abandoned, then relations between Russia and the countries of Europe and America should in every way become much more friendly and equitable.
Unfortunately, noble words sometimes conceal selfish motives that have nothing at all to do with these seemingly noble proclamations.
Russia has already lived for almost 25 years without the state Communist ideology. The rebirth of faith in Russia is truly a miracle of transfiguration, especially against the background of the growth in surrounding nations of materialism, amoralism, and cynicism. The foreign policy of our country is peace-loving. Freedoms and rights of the citizen are guaranteed no less in Russia than in the Western democracies. Private property and free enterprise are secure and expanding. Of course, in practice, there remain still a range of serious problems. But in concept, all the atheistic, inhumane, and utopian elements of the Communist system were abolished long ago.
Despite all this, we see that a strong Russia vexes some prominent countries in the West more even than ever did the power of the USSR. Anti-Russian feelings are being whipped up around the world. And in the context of this kind of propaganda against our country, many unsubstantiated and utterly unproven accusations have been made. One has even seen a consistent trend to falsify history, making Russia out to be a kind of “age-old aggressor.” This is deeply unjust and libelous, for our people have suffered incredibly from war, and we know the value of life and treasure it deeply.
The politicized rewriting of history has sometimes led to minimizing of the role of our country in the Second World War, a role that was accepted without qualification by the USA and European counties even during the height of the “Cold War.” Various anti-Russian myths multiply, grow and expand with new “details,” and create widespread misconceptions, which in turn influence the policies of nations. This is an extremely dangerous game, fraught with potentially disastrous consequences.
Of course, it would be absurd to think that foreign powers would help to strengthen Russia. Geopolitical rivalry is an inevitable and inherent component of the course of history. And there is nothing surprising or bad in leaders of each country advancing the interests of their own nation, and not those of other nations. However, it is not absurd to expect common sense to prevail and to see the recognition by all of the obvious fact that Russia is a great state, which has every right to participate equally on the world stage, that its place on that stage must be taken into account and respected, and that without Russia there cannot be any kind of lasting balance of power in the world. We have the right to expect that international relations will be governed not by violence and falsehood, but by cooperation on global issues, and the resolution of all local problems should not be found on the field of battle but at the negotiation table. And we have the right to insist that the history of our country, of our alliance with the other nations aligned against Hitler, is not distorted.
Remembering how the history of Imperial Russia was once so perversely presented and demeaned, the Russian Imperial House condemns all distortions and concealment of historical facts, including of course facts even about the Soviet period. We should not forget the crimes, the atrocities, and the mistakes that took place during the Communist regime, so we do not repeat them ever again. But it would be an unforgiveable sin to bury into oblivion the triumphs and efforts of our people in the Soviet period—their heroism in the global struggles against Fascism.
The celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Great Victory is itself, then, a victory of sorts. It is a victory over falsehood, indifference, disunity, and neglect of one another and of the legacy of our ancestors.
First of all, we must surround ourselves with love, appreciation, and care for surviving veterans of the war. They are already at an advanced age and especially need our support. For all the significance and need for parades and celebrations, these activities must not distract us from acts of kindness toward veterans, from adorning their old age with honor and care.
It is also very important to find the words, symbols, and images to convey an understanding of the enduring significance of the Victory of 1945 to young people. To them belongs the future of Russia, and how that future will look largely depends on their attitude toward their glorious past.
Never should fall silent the earnest prayers for the repose of the souls of the commanders and soldiers who fell in battle, of those who fell victim to the Blockade, the prisoners in concentration camps, the soldiers, officers, and commanders who died in the period after the war, the doctors and nurses, Russian women who bore on their shoulders all the hardships of war and who inspired soldiers at the front with their love and fidelity, and all those who worked in various ways on the home front.
New recruits into the armed forces should take as their example the images of the heroes of the Second World War, and young defenders of our country today should know the names not only of the great commanders, but also the names of ordinary heroes, and understand in what indescribable agony this Victory was born.
We must ensure the preservation of military memorials and gravesites so that the memory of those who fought in the war is immortalized with dignity, not only in the capital and major cities, but also in each and every village. There must be no repeat of the sad and conscious destruction or shameful neglect of the military cemeteries, monuments, and chapels and churches dedicated to those who had fallen in the First World War and previous wars.
It would be ideal if, along with the grand monuments erected in the style of the Soviet period, there could also be religious symbols, before which the members of all religious confessions could remember their ancestors in accordance with the customs of their own faith. Memorial complexes such as that on Poklonnaya Hill, Mamayev Kurgan, at the Brest Fortress, and in many other cities might well be taken as examples of the harmonious joining of secular and religious architecture and monument design.
With enormous sadness have we witnessed in some foreign countries acts of vandalism against memorials in honour of Soviet armed forces. Each and every instance of this vandalism must be condemned, and the defense and preservation of these sites must be seen as a sacred duty not only to the people of our own country, but to other peoples who were victims of Nazism.
A truthful word has great power. The writing of objective scholarly works on the Second World War, the organizing of conferences, the creation of works of art, films, internet sites—all this must receive the full support of the government and the public. We must translate works about the role of the USSR in the Second World War into foreign languages in order to prevent the current strange distortions, which are born of political agitation, from becoming “generally accepted facts” not only in Russia, but in other countries as well.
I am certain that these ideas will not be limited to this anniversary year but will instead gather momentum and develop into long-term projects.
Happy Victory Day, dear countrymen! My son and heir, Grand Duke George of Russia, also sends you all his congratulations and warmest best wishes.
May the Lord bless you!
[The original is signed by Her Imperial Highness:]
Madrid, May 9, 2015