Romanov Book of the Year: The Race to Save the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport

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My personal choice for Romanov Book of the Year! – Paul Gilbert

In July 2018, I travelled to Ekaterinburg to take part in the events marking the 100th anniversary of the deaths and martyrdom of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. I packed with me, a copy of Helen Rappaport’s latest book The Race to Save the Romanovs. It is interesting to note that this was the second of three visits to the Ural capital in which one of the popular Romanov historian’s books has accompanied me – I read Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs during my 2012 visit.

Aside from the publicity hype and favourable book reviews for The Race to Save the Romanovs, I was particularly anxious to read Helen Rappaport’s new book for a couple of reasons. First, the author’s attempt to uncover the many international plots to save Nicholas II and his family, why they failed, and who was responsible. Second, the author’s refutation that the fault to rescue the tsar lay entirely with King George V.

My position on the latter has always been very clear, as I have always supported the traditional claim which has endured for the last century. Over the past 25 years, the opinions which I have held on the life and reign of Nicholas II are my own, formed by the information which has been made available to me. When new information surfaces, I am prepared to review it and alter my opinion when necessary. Having said that, I am not too proud to admit when I am wrong, and with the case of placing the blame entirely on King George V’s failure to come to the aid of his Russian cousin – I was wrong, thanks to this book!

With regard to the idea that the failure to save the Russian Imperial family was all down to King George V, Helen Rappaport aptly notes: “Many people failed them. He was not alone in losing his nerve and worrying about the political consequences. It was a very difficult situation and it is time that there was an acknowledgement of a collective failure to do enough to help them.”

Much of Race to Save the Romanovs focuses on the action — and inaction — of King George V. Rappaport chronicles the well-known story of how the British government offered the Romanovs asylum. In the end, George V feared that the presence of “Bloody Nicholas” on British soil would compromise his position and subsequently bring down the monarchy. 

Rappaport further explores the futile efforts to save the Romanovs by their royal relatives, other governments, and Russian monarchists. She has ferreted out new and never-before-seen sources – including recently declassified documents – from a number of archives in the United States, Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. They shed new light on efforts of the royal families of Britain, Denmark, Sweden, even Germany, all of whom placed their own country’s interests above the well-being of their blood relatives. Even Russia’s staunch ally France was “actively hostile” to allowing the Romanovs a safe haven. Rappaport notes that it was only King Alfonso of Spain, who continuously made inquiries about the well-being of the Romanovs. 

“It is obvious,” Rappaport writes, “that Nicholas and Alexandra were a political hot potato that nobody wished to handle.” They were, despite the ties of blood, “personae non gratae across Europe.” The question of asylum for the Imperial family was much more complicated than packing their bags and putting them on a ship to a more welcoming nation. It was an extremely complicated issue which presented enormous political, logistical, and geographical challenges at a time when Europe was still at war.

Sadly, in the end Rappaport concludes that there was no realistic and viable escape or evacuation plan for the Romanovs once the Petrograd Soviet “tightened the net around them” about a week after Nicholas abdicated.

I have to admit that I found it hard to put this book down! It reveals a series of events, which adds even more sadness and despair to an already tragic story. Without giving any thing away from the book, one thing and one thing alone is clear: that history cannot hold George V entirely accountable for not saving Nicholas II and his family. Thanks to Rappaport’s research, we can firmly acknowledge that ALL of the royal houses of Europe, and Russia’s WWI allies must share the blame. 

For those who still maintain that King George V was solely responsible for failing to rescue the Russian royals, I strongly urge you to put your opinions aside, and read Helen Rappaport’s new book without prejudice.

Helen Rappaport is the author of four back-to-back Romanov titles. I have read all of them, but I have not always agreed with some of her comments on Nicholas II. Having said that, however, I have the utmost respect for her as a researcher and a writer. I also have to give credit where credit is due, and there is no question that she has delivered the goods with her latest book. Well done, Helen!

2018 has been a bumper crop year for new Romanov titles, and I have read them all! As a result of her excellent research and writing, I do not hesitate but select The Race to Save the Romanovs as the Romanov Book of the Year! 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 12 August 2018