Le New York Times vient de publier un remarquable article sur les recherches effectuées par des amateurs locaux pour avoir le fin mot de l'histoire.
Archéologues à la recherches des restes des membres
« disparus » de la famille impériale.
« disparus » de la famille impériale.
EKATERINBURG, Russia — On the outskirts of this burly industrial center, off a road like any other, on a nowhere scrap of land — here unfolded the final act of one of the last century’s most momentous events.
The new remains were 70 yards from the first burial site.
A short way through a clearing, toward a cluster of birch trees, the killers deposited their victims’ bodies, which had been mutilated, burned and doused with acid to mask their origins. It would be 73 more years, in 1991, before the remains would be reclaimed and the announcement would ring out: the grave of the last Russian czar, Nicholas II, and his family had been found.
But the story does not end there.
Eleven people were said to have been killed that day in July 1918 on Lenin’s orders. Just nine sets of remains were dug up here and then authenticated using DNA. The remains of the czar’s son, Aleksei, and one daughter, whose identity is still not absolutely clear, were missing. Did their bones lie elsewhere, or could it actually be that they had escaped execution, as rumor had it for so long?
Only in the past few months have these questions dating from the Russian revolution apparently been resolved here, and only by a group of amateur sleuths who spent their weekends plumbing the case. In fact, it appears that the clues to what happened to the two children were always there, waiting to be found. All that was needed was to listen closely to the boastful voices of the killers.
Their accounts are in secret reports in Soviet-era archives, one of which offered the most tantalizing hint: a single phrase in the recollection of the chief killer that seemed to suggest where the two bodies might have been deposited.
“All of them wanted to leave a trace in history, for they considered that this was a kind of heroic deed,” said Vitaly Shitov, who lives in the area and undertook a review of the testimony to hunt for the remains. “They wanted to promote their roles.”
Following that wisp of a clue this summer, Mr. Shitov and other amateur investigators went to where the other remains had been found — and they kept walking. Away from the road, about 70 yards from the first burial ground, is a slightly elevated area among the trees.
It is there that the bodies of Aleksei, 13, and his sister were apparently consigned.
The amateurs found the bones, many of them charred by fire, scattered among bullets and pieces of jars that held acid used to disfigure the bodies. These fragments appeared similar to those from the first grave.
So it seems that for all the years since the first discovery, even as people made pilgrimages to the site and wondered what had happened to Aleksei and his sister, their remains were only a short stroll away.
Scientists in Russia and the United States are testing the new finds extensively. The sister is believed to be Maria, 19, though that is not entirely settled.
Others long conjectured that the sister was Anastasia, 17, a theory that fed a belief that she survived. (A woman named Anna Anderson was one of several who over the years claimed to be Anastasia, but DNA testing later disproved her.)
If, as expected, results of DNA tests on the two sets of remains are conclusive, they would put to rest many of the doubts that have arisen in Russia and worldwide about the inquiries into what had happened to the royal family.
Among the most skeptical has been the Russian Orthodox Church, which has never recognized the authenticity of any of the bones here, in part because it said that the missing remains raised questions about whether the nine sets were authentic.
Among some Russians and foreigners alike, the fate of Aleksei and his sister drew intense interest in recent years, as if the inability to find their remains and give them a proper burial was a final affront to the royal family by the Bolsheviks. People looked for bones all over Yekaterinburg, which is in the Russian heartland, 900 miles east of Moscow, on the divide between Europe and Asia.
They painstakingly went over the events of July 17, 1918, when the killers knifed and gunned down Nicholas II, his wife, five children, doctor and three servants in the basement of a house where they were being held after Nicholas was forced to abdicate. It was not easy determining what had occurred — the efforts to dispose of the bodies were poorly planned and inept. Subsequent recollections in the archives are sometimes contradictory.
The killers wanted to conceal the bodies so their graves would not become rallying points for the czar’s supporters. They first dumped them in a mine shaft, then moved them to the burial site off the road.
Maria, 19, and Aleksei, 13. The remains of Aleksei and one of his sisters, probably Maria, were found at last in the summer.
In recent years, the mine was searched for the missing two sets of remains. People also periodically hunted in the immediate area around the grave where the first set of bones was found.
Then Mr. Shitov and his colleagues decided to scrutinize a statement by the chief killer, Yakov Yurovsky, in the archives. Yurovsky related how he had set aside two corpses, believing that if they were burned and buried separately they would confuse royalists who later might be seeking 11 bodies, not nine.
But how separately? The amateur investigators focused on a Russian phrase that Yurovsky used to describe the sequence of events in the second burial. The phrase — “tut zhe” — can mean “nearby,” “right here” or “right now.” It had often been interpreted as indicating that the second grave was next to the first.
Nicolas II et sa famille avant la Première Guerre mondiale.But now a different thought arose. From the context, the experts wondered whether Yurovsky meant that the grave was in the area, but not very close to the first. They also presumed that to burn the bodies he needed to find a place away from the wet ground near the road.
Working weekends this summer, they began searching away from the first grave and road, and first found the remnants of the bonfire that was apparently used to burn the two bodies.
Sergei Pogorelov, an archaeologist who was called in to oversee the work, said that about 15 intact bone fragments were recovered, and more than 40 pieces of charred bone.
Mr. Pogorelov emphasized that many of the reservations about the discoveries at the first site cropped up because the excavation there had been done haphazardly. This time, he said, a professional archaeological dig was done, and the Russian Orthodox Church was invited to observe.
“We have tried to avoid the mistakes that they made in 1991,” he said. “Before, there was simply not any scientific method.”
The nine sets of remains were interred in a lavish ceremony in 1998 at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg, which contains the crypts of earlier Russian royals. But the Russian Orthodox Church would not formally take part in that ceremony because of its concerns about authenticity.
For now, the church has declined to say whether it considers the newly found remains genuine, pending further tests. But people who have long sought the remains say they are hopeful that once the results are in, the church will formally conduct a service at the cathedral in St. Petersburg to lay to rest the final remains of the Romanovs.
“This brings closure to a very sad chapter in Russian history,” said Peter Sarandinaki, an American of Russian descent who started an organization to help find the remains and had conducted several searches here. “It is because their murder symbolizes the start of a diabolic era in world history. And now that has all come to an end.”