Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I believe, I believe, it's silly, but I believe.

When I was a kid, my dad used to watch this t.v. show about famous missing person cases. That show is how I first learned about D.B. Cooper, Dr. Livingstone, and Anastasia. Naturally, the story about the supposedly murdered princess who may have miraculously survived the slaughter of her family made the biggest impression on me. I believe that is where my interest in all things Russian began. (That, and my love of my mother's beef stroganoff.)

I read Russian literature in high school, naming The Brothers Karamazov as my favorite book. I was a tad obsessed with Catherine the Great, especially after watching the 4 hour miniseries starring Julia Ormond. I took all the Russian history and literature classes I could in college. I loved everything about the Romanovs: their elegance, their culture, their use of French, their eggs. I loved everything Russian, too. (Except the pogroms - those were bad- and Fathers and Sons - my least favorite Russian novel.)

Most of all, I loved the legend of Anastasia. I ate up the t.v. miniseries starring Amy Irving as Anna Anderson, the most famous woman who claimed to be Anastasia. (Side note: Christian Bale played the czar's son, Alexei, in that miniseries. Maybe this is only interesting to me because I so adore Christian Bale.) I read the book by Peter Kurth and believed Anna had been woefully abused by those who declared her a fraud. I loved the Ingrid Bergman movie, and not just because Yul Brynner looked delicious in a tuxedo. For high school forensics, I chose a scene from the stage play "Anastasia" as my duet act. I did the scene where the Grand Duchess finally decides to believe that this Anna is her lost granddaughter. And I can admit that I also love the animated musical starring the voices of Meg Ryan and John Cusack.

The fate of that last czar and his family always haunted me. By the accounts I have read, they maintained such dignity and closeness as a family throughout their imprisonment, first in their own palace and eventually in Yekaterinburg. They also apparently remained convinced that their imprisonment would not last, until that awful July day. I hated the idea that even the children were executed in so horrific a fashion, right alongside their beloved parents. Instead, I latched on to the very romantic notion that one of the daughters survived the onslaught and was rescued by a lowly soldier who loved her and so risked his life to save her. Maybe when I first learned about Anastasia, I was just still at an age where I needed to believe that happy endings were always possible. At least if one daughter survived, the Romanovs could have some glimmer of a happy ending.

My dad, the historian, always scoffed at the notion that anyone survived the bloodbath in that basement, but I didn't care. Truthfully, I always knew in my head that it couldn't be true, but sometimes it's good for the soul to believe in the impossible. So I always said maybe Anna Anderson really was Anastasia, despite evidence that she was Polish factory worker Franziska Schanzkowska.

Then in 1991, the Romanov graves were found. "See?" said my dad. "They were all murdered." But wait! Two bodies were missing: Alexei and one of the daughters! I could still believe. Some experts claimed the missing daughter was Maria, but others concluded it was Anastasia. Ha!

Of course, then someone decided to test tissue from Anna Anderson, who died in 1984, against living descendants of the Romanovs. No match. Anderson's tissue was also tested against the Schanzkowska family. That was declared a match. Once again, my sensible dad declared the evidence was clear that Anastasia had died in July 1918 and Anderson was a fraud. I admit the evidence is compelling, but the evidence was always pretty compelling against Anastasia having survived and I choose to believe, so why stop? After all, the living descendants of the Romanovs wouldn't want Anderson's claims to be proven true. They have money and power, so why couldn't they get to the DNA testing and switch the Anderson sample? Who had saved that tissue sample that allegedly came from the body of Anna Anderson anyway? Conspiracy theories are necessary to sustain belief in a story such as Anastasia's.

Then in 2007, someone found a second Romanov grave, containing the remains of the two missing children. DNA testing in 2008 concluded the remains were, in fact, Romanov. Just this week, the results of a second round of independent DNA testing were released, once again concluding that all 7 members of the Imperial family have been accounted for in those Yekaterinburg graves.

All right. I get it. Anastasia didn't survive. She was murdered, just like the rest of them. Anna Anderson was a big fraud. There was no daring rescue, no love story, no hopeful ending for that destroyed dynasty. My foolish, childhood desire to believe that Anastasia did make it out of that hideous basement is something I have to put aside now as a sensible adult who cannot deny the mountain of evidence that Anastasia died. The case is now closed for good.

Or that's what someone wants us to believe...

I've let myself believe in the possibility of Anastasia's survival for so long, against all odds and evidence, there's no reason to give up now. Lots of people believe in unbelievable things that defy all logic - this is mine. I choose to believe that it is at least possible that Anastasia survived because I still want to believe that the grand Romanov dynasty could have had an ending slightly less awful than the one published in history books. And I really do like that animated movie.

Points to anyone who can identify the source of the quote that is the title of this post.


Meryl said...

Seriously? You *know* what hack stuff can go on during DNA testing; you *know* that even DNA--the stuff people cite as perfect "beyond a reasonable doubt" evidence--can be horribly manipulated--and you're going to let it displace a practically life-long held belief?

Who are you and what have you done to my Sarah?

She has to have survived....I refuse to believe the world is that cruel.

Meryl said...

P.S. You don't happen to have a copy of the Julia Ormond mini-series on DVD?

S said...

I'm still here! I said I still believe.

I do not have the Ormond miniseries. Sigh. But I do think I will be watching my animated John Cusack after basketball gets over tonight.

Meryl said...

P.P.S. Miracle on 34th Street

One Girl's Opinion said...

LOVE Anastasia and the mystery and all the movies (even the animated version - which on a birthday that I'm almost ashamed to admit, my mother asked me if I'd rather see Anastasia on ice or go to a Tori concert ... I chose Anastasia on ice. :) It was awesome.)

I believe.

k said...

I've always found the Anastasia mystery to be really interesting as well.

Elvis- alive or dead?

S said...

You know, if you want to fake your death and have people really fall for it, don't you come up with something that is so embarassing that people will believe it must be true? Nobody wants to go out having a heart attack or a stroke while on the john, right? So nobody would suspect it's a made up story...

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