Nicholas Romanov, the deposed czar of Russia, and his family were awakened in the middle of the night on July 16-17, 1918, and told to get dressed. They were being moved to a safe location, their Bolshevik captors said, away from the White army that was closing in on Yekaterinburg, in the southern Ural Mountains.
The soldiers shepherded the family and four servants—a cook, valet, doctor and maid—into the basement of the house where they were being held. Nicholas carried his ailing son, Alexei, in his arms. Once all were assembled, a death sentence was read aloud, twice, and the eight executioners raised their guns.
Precisely what happened next took Soviet and Russian investigators nearly a century to piece together.
Now the results of those investigations, the last of which was closed last year, are the subject of an ambitious exhibition at the Russian State Archives in Moscow. “The Death of Tsar Nicholas II’s Family: A One-Hundred Year Investigation,” through July 29, aims to clear away seven decades of misinformation and silence under the Soviet regime.
“The Soviet government hid all of this true story from the people for so long,” said Diana, a 22-year-old student, who said she was struck by the savagery of the execution, which ended in a bayonet charge.
The truth presented here is an ugly one. “None of the Romanovs were saved on that terrible night, and all the remains of the family and those who were with them have now been accounted for,” said Sergei Mironenko, director of the Russian State Archives and co-organizer of the exhibition.
There were, in other words, no romantic escapes, no jaunting through Europe, no hidden riches—not even for Anastasia, at 17 years old the youngest duchess, whose purported survival has inspired numerous films and theater productions.
The executions closed the door on the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty and foreshadowed years of violence to come under Bolshevik rule.
But silence from the Soviet government—a single line in Pravda, “Nicholas Romanov has been executed. His family has been evacuated to a safe location,” is all that the Soviet government had to say on the matter until 1991—led to rumors that the family had survived and gave rise to scores of imposters. “Not even Nicholas’s mother and sisters believed he was dead,” Mr. Mironenko said.
State investigators went to extraordinary lengths to determine what happened in the basement of the Ipatiev House and how the executioners disposed of the bodies.
“DNA tests, mitochondrial DNA tests, dental exams, anthropological studies, situational studies and trace-material studies. You name it, they did it,” Mr. Mironenko said. Many of the results of these studies are on display, including a map of the murder scene that shows where the participants stood, how they moved around the room, and where each bullet fell.
The exhibition also includes rare artifacts from the first investigation, conducted in 1919 after the Whites captured Yekaterinburg, such as part of the jaw of the Romanovs’ family doctor, Yevgeny Botkin; the investigator’s notebooks; and bullets found in a shallow mineshaft where the bodies were initially dumped. “This is essentially the first time that Russians have a chance to view these items, which recount a tragic page in Russia’s history,” wrote Friar Vladimir von Tsurikov, dean of Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, N.Y., in an emailed message. The seminary contributed a copy of the 1919 report and other artifacts.