Anastasia: The Great Imposter

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia (June 18 1901 – July 17, 1918) was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia,  the last sovereign of Imperial Russia. She had three older sisters’ named Olga, Tatiana and Maria and a younger brother, Alexei. On 17th July 1918, soon after her seventeenth birthday, Anastasia and her family were assassinated in an extrajudicial killing by forces of the Bolshevik secret police.

Family_Nicholas_II_of_Russia_ca._1914The Russian Royal Family.


Or at least that is how the story goes…

The location of her burial was unknown during the decades of Communist rule, which resulted in persistent rumours of her possible escape. In 1991 the remains of the Tsar, his wife and three of their daughters were found in a mass grave near Ekaterinburg.

Anastasia’s and her brother were missing.

Enter 28 year old Miss Anna Anderson (16 December 1896 – 12 February 1984). Much like the 1997 Disney movie, Anastasia,  Anderson famously claimed to be the missing Grand Duchess.

Most members of Grand Duchess Anastasia’s family and those who had known her, including her tutor, said Anderson was an impostor but others were convinced she was the real Anastasia. In 1927, a private investigation funded by the Tsarina’s brother identified Anderson as Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish factory worker with a history of mental illness.

It was brought to light that Anderson was institutionalised in a mental hospital after a suicide attempt in Berlin, 1920. This did nothing to help legitimise her case. After a lawsuit lasting many years, the German courts ruled that Anderson had failed to prove she was Anastasia. However, the mass media coverage brought her claim great notoriety.

anastasia 2Anna Anderson who famously, and falsely, claimed to be the Grand Duchess, Anastasia


Between 1922 and her death in 1984, Anderson lived in Germany and the United States with various supporters in nursing homes and at least one asylum.

Unfortunately for Anna her claim to the Duchy was about as legitimate as my claim to the British throne. After the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, the locations of the two missing bodies were finally revealed. In January 2008, Russian forensic scientists announced through DNA testing they could confirm that the charred remains of a young boy and a young woman found near Ekaterinburg in August 2007 were most likely those of the thirteen-year-old Alexei and one of the four Romanov grand duchesses.

Unlike the Disney movie there is no fairy-tale ending here. The evidence proves conclusively that the remains of all four sisters have now been accounted for, and tragically none of them escaped an untimely death.

To conclusively draw a line under Miss Anderson’s elaborate claims, DNA tests were made on available pieces of her tissue and hair. Unsurprisingly there was no relation between her tissue and that of the Imperial family.

Anderson’s claims may sound ludicrous today, but it is worth remembering that at the time the body of Anastasia was still missing. Anna gained notoriety because in times of tragedy people hold on to hope. Regardless of its political significance, what a wonderful story it would have made had little Anastasia survived.

On the other hand if you were hoping for a happy ending…

anastasia 3Please see Disney’s 1997 film ‘Anastasia’


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