The reasons for the summary and unexpected transference of the ex-Tsar and his family to Siberia, entailing, as it did, fatal consequences that are now part of history, were explained by Mr.Kerensky to the ex-Emperor with careful precision, and have been similarly repeated to this day by apologists of the régime responsible for it. It was due, the Premier insisted, to the concern felt by the Provisional Government for the physical safety of the prisoners. The Cabinet had decided to suppress with a firm hand the increasing disorder in the country and come to grips with the growing challenge of Bolshevism. Such a step would very probably lead to popular rioting, which, in turn, would have to be met with armed force; should serious strife ensue, the royal family would be among the first victims demanded by the mob. He had experienced one such manifestation already. At Moscow, as early as March 20, extremists had interrupted Kerensky during his first speech in that city and demanded the execution of the Tsar. Kerensky had shouted in reply: 'I will not be the Marat of the Russian Revolution!'
One abortive attempt, moreover, had actually been made to kidnap the Tsar and imprison him in the Russian Bastille, the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul. A certain Maslovsky, a Social Revolutionary of the Left, had presented himself one day, in the uniform of a colonel, to Khobylinsky, the responsible officer in charge of the Summer Palace, and presented an order requiring the Commandant to deliver up Nicholas Romanov. The document purported to be issued by the Executive Committee of Workmen and Soldiers, bore an authentic seal, and was signed by Tcheidze, a member in good standing of the Duma. Maslovsky declared that he was empowered to conduct the Emperor immediately to St. Peter and St. Paul. Khobylinsky refused to acknowledge such authority; Maslovsky lost his head, stormed about, poured abuse on Khobylinsky, and threatened vaguely that blood would flow. But Khobylinsky held his ground and Maslovsky made off in a rage.
Those who have ever seen two Russians of the revolutionary period, each armed with class-consciousness and a 'mandate' arguing their respective rights and jurisdiction, will readily visualize this scene at the gate of the Summer Palace.
With a view to averting similar dangers in the uncertain future, Mr. Kerensky had dispatched two confidential agents, Verchinin and Makaroy, to Siberia for the purpose of selecting a spot sufficiently remote from Moscow where the prisoners would not be exposed to the threat of mob violence. They chose Tobolsk, a town of twelve thousand inhabitants, on the right bank of the River Irtysh, near the mouth of the Tobol, some two thousand miles from Petrograd. It was a tranquil spot, undisturbed by the revolution; then, too, it boasted a comfortable Governor's Palace which had been prepared for the ex-Tsar and his family.
But why, asks Nicholas Sokolov, the judge who conducted the judicial inquiry into the circumstances of the murder, did not Mr Kerensky send the family to South Russia—to the Crimea, for example, where so many royalists had found safe refuge? If Mr. Kerensky was sincere in his protestations of concern for the safety of his charges, why did he not send them to the one region from which escape to a foreign land was still possible? All the relatives of the imperial family who reached the Crimea were eventually saved.
Mr. Kerensky replies that a voyage through the heart of Russia, then in the hands of revolting peasants and Bolshevist workmen, was impossible. But was not a journey by rail and water from Petrograd to Tobolsk equally perilous, counters Judge Sokolov. No, answers Mr. Kerensky: the regions to the east were not aflame with revolution and peasant uprisings as was South Russia. Judge Sokolov is not satisfied, and his final report indicates that there was but 'one reason for the choice of Siberia—the dethroned Autocrat of All the Russias must be made to taste the bitterness and dreariness of exile in Siberia, must be made to experience the icy blasts of that House of Dead Souls to which he and his ancestors had banished so many Russians!
On August 14, at 6.10 in the. morning, the journey was begun, but not until the ex-Tsar had spent a dismal night—sitting in a large salon on the ground floor, waiting patiently for the train which had been promised for the previous evening. The Tsarevitch celebrated his thirteenth birthday on the eve of the departure. Forty-six court attendants voluntarily accompanied the family, making, in all, a party of fifty-three persons, exclusive of the military escort. It took two trains to accommodate the travelers, their baggage, the government representatives, the jailers and soldiers. By rail to Tiumen, thence by river steamer to Tobolsk, the trip consumed five days and ended at four o'clock in the afternoon of August 19. Pierre Gilliard, who accompanied the exiles, relates an incident that must have awakened memories that stabbed. On the eighteenth the boat passed Pokrovskoie, the birthplace of Rasputin. The house of the staretz was plainly visible among the izbas. Did the Tsarina, standing an exile on the deck, recall the prophecy of Rasputin: "My death will be your death'?
Life at Tobolsk during the first few months was another idyll of domestic calm and undisturbed tranquillity. The ex-Tsar breakfasted, studied, walked, lunched, exercised, dined, taught history to Alexis, and held family reunions in the evening to an extent never possible before. Special religious services were held for the royal family in. the town church and they were permitted to leave the house for that purpose. The children prepared and enacted dramatic pieces in French and English. The townspeople showed themselves courteous and sympathetic, frequently sending gifts, particularly fresh food, and saluting the members of the family respectfully or blessing them with the sign of the cross when they appeared at the windows of the Palace. It was only, the unending monotony, the drab Siberian monotony, that oppressed, together with the almost complete absence of news.
The first rift appeared in September 1917. Two new Commissars, Pankratov and Nikoisky, arrived, with authority from the Provisional Government to supersede the humane Khobylinsky, who remained, however, in a subordinate capacity. Had his régime been too mild? In any case, the new Commandants, who were Social Revolutionaries, one of1a genial but fanatical and the other of a vulgar mentality, instituted a propaganda which rapidly demoralized the guards and initiated a progressive persecution of the prisoners. Insulting inscriptions began to appear on the walls and the fences. The soldiers now refused to return the salute which Nicholas scrupulously accorded each in passing. Permission to attend divine service in the outside church was withdrawn. Nicholas was ordered to remove his epaulettes. The harmless 'snow mountain,' which the whole family had built as a joint recreation and which gave them much distraction, was demolished.
It is not within the scope of the present article to trace, step by step, the declining fortunes of the Kerensky Goveriiment and, the corresponding rise of the Bolshevist power. Suffice it to say, at this point, that the reasons for the increasing severity in the treatment of the royal hostages became apparent in distant Tobolsk about the middle of November. The Petrograd experimentation in democracy was at an end; Russia's one short summer of freedom had passed and a change of masters was at hand. While the Duma theorized and perorated interminably, Lenin mounted to the balcony of the Kseshinskaya Palace—owned by a ballet dancer once the favorite of Nicholas II—and shouted his political platform in four promises: 'Peace, land, bread, power.' Magic words, easily understood by all! Under the irresistible appeal of universal formulas, never intended to be fulfilled, popular imagination, already surfeited with war and hungry for booty, was whipped to easy mutiny. Petrograd seethed again. Russia was put on the auction block; Lenin simply outbid Kerensky. Constitutional Democracy was swept into the discard and Militant Communism emerged an undisputed victor. It was a second Russian Revolution, which left Nicholas Romanov and his family in the hands of his most relentless personal enemies.1