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22 September 2018

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Author: Tamara Eidelman
Translation: Nora Seligman Favorov

Nov/Dec 2017
Russian Calendar
Page 19   ( 6 pages)

Summary: All this year, in connection with the centennial of the 1917 revolutions, Calendar has offered readers a view of that year through the eyes of contemporaries. This issue we conclude the series with a look at what was going on in the pivotal months of November and December 1917.


the politicians

Like any other year, 1917 officially ended on December 31. In a more profound way, however, the year came to an end during the nighttime hours of October 25-26 (November 7-8 New Style). That is when the Bolshevik Military Revolutionary Committee raised a rebellion, grabbed power by arresting the Provisional Government, and cynically used the Second Congress of Soviets to give this brazen takeover a veneer of democracy: formally, they placed power in the hands of the congress, which they by then essentially controlled, along with their temporary comrades, the SRs or Socialist Revolutionaries, with whom they would break a few months later. The Mensheviks and other leftist members of the Congress could do little but voice their objections.

And that was that.

Some rejoiced, others were indignant, while still others hastily packed their bags to flee the country, or made their way to the Don region to join the anti-Bolshevik military effort. Few truly appreciated the impact the events of that night would have on the rest of their lives.

Nicholas II and his family were still in Tobolsk. Under guard but relatively well treated, they, for the time being, lived a fairly comfortable life. By now understanding that they would not be allowed to leave Russia, they corresponded with friends and family and hoped they might at least make it to Crimea. In truth, their lives were rather dull, but then again they had always lived in isolation from society. As prisoners, they did their best to recreate their old way of life. Nicholas took walks (for now, he was still allowed this pleasure), sawed firewood, and read out loud, choosing, interestingly, books like Victor Hugo’s Ninety-Three (about a brutal revolution), Ivan Turgenev’s A Hunter’s Sketches (a powerful literary denunciation of serfdom), and Smoke (a book about revolutionaries, also by Turgenev).

Nicholas’s sweet and open-hearted daughters quickly developed something akin to friendship with their guards. The royal family even decorated Christmas trees for them and gave them presents. As Nicholas wrote in his diary:

December 24. Sunday. Before taking a walk, we prepared presents for everyone and organized the holiday celebration. During teatime, until 5 o’clock, Alex and I went to the guardhouse and decorated a Christmas tree for the 4th regiment’s 1st platoon. We visited with the guards from all the different shifts until 5:30. After supper we had a Christmas celebration with the retinue and all the servants, receiving our people until 8:00.

Meanwhile, in Yekaterinburg, the Ural Soviet already had its eye on a house belonging to Nikolai Nikolayevich Ipatiev, an engineer and member of the Kadet (Constitutional Democratic) Party. Ipatiev had bought this fine home in the center of town in 1908, keeping the ground floor as his place of business while he and his family lived upstairs. In April 1918 Ipatiev was evicted: his home was needed to house the royal family, which the Ural Soviet was eager to have under its control. A few months later the family met its violent end there.

For now, the Romanovs, of course, had no idea that they would be shot in the basement of what is now known as Ipatiev House. They wrote letters, staged plays, and the children kept up their studies with the teachers who had followed them into exile.

To read more, follow the "Purchase Back Issue" link from the full story listing for this issue.