Review: Race to Save the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport


Tzar Nicholas II, for all his faults, deeply loved his wife, Alix [Alexandra] and their five children. The couple wrote sweetly passionate letters when apart and when together they lived in modest simplicity among the splendor of their various palaces and homes. Helen Rapport has written a series of books on various aspects of the Romanov story. This book, The Race to Save The Romanovs, sorts fact from fiction and even down right fantasy regarding the tragic end of the family in the cellar in Ekaterinburg in July 2018. In the 100 years since that night much has been lost, misfiled, misinterpreted or, best of all, finally made available from all angles of the story. Rapport has done an extremely commendable job of searching archives worldwide–some with tremendously bad cataloging systems, to unearth new information or information that allows for a better understanding of the circumstances.

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Britain’s King George V (grandfather of the current Queen) is usually accused of failing to save his look-alike maternal first cousin, Nicholas. (Alix was his fraternal first cousin). Rapport shows how unlikely it was that George could have affected any change in what happened to Nicky and his family. (Imagine having George and his “twin” Nicky both in England–the confusion that could have caused in a fun way!)

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King Alfonso XIII and Queen Ena

The surprise hero here was King Alfonso XIII, the husband of another first cousin of both George and Alix, Princess Ena of Battenberg–one of the Grandchildren of Queen Victoria via her ninth child, Princess Beatrice. Alfonso, whom this book claims, had never met Nicholas, still worked tirelessly to have Nicky, Alix and the children released.

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Queen Elizabeth II as a child with her paternal grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary

One interesting note. When Kenneth Rose published his biography of George V in the 1980s, Queen Elizabeth reviewed and signed off on the first inclusion of some previously denied information on the Romanov story. One thing missing here, to me, was the influence of Prince Phlip. He is known to have said on visiting Russia fort the first time, when asked if he was glad to be there, “Yes, they murdered most of my family, but yes, I’m happy to be here” [paraphrase]. For Alix was his mother’s Aunt and so, too, was Ella–the former Princess Elizabeth of Hesse, (aka Grand Duchess Serge Mikhailovich Romanov)– a woman regarded as a near Saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. Unlike Nicky and his family, Ella and a few other Romanov’s were thrown alive down a mine shaft and left to die over several days. A few grenades were dropped to speed the process but she was not killed by them. Philip’s dna was used in testing the bodies to positively identify the Romanovs.  I think this likely had a huge bearing on the Queen releasing sensitive information from the royal archives.

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Statue errected in Russia in 2017 in memory of Ella

This is a very well-told story of both the end of the Romanovs and of what tenacious, thorough, research can uncover.  My only complaint is with the reader of the audio version Damian Lynch. His voice was often a dull monotone and he seemed to hesitate at many Russian words, names or place names (or perhaps they were badly dubbed by someone else?). This detracted from the excellent work Rapport has done.

My rating

4 Stars

Just for fun, here’s another George/Nicky look-a-like, George’s grandson,  Prince Michael of Kent, who is widely revered in Russia due to his uncanny resemblence to his martyred relative. His maternal grandmother was first cousin to Nicholas II. Prince Michel’s dna has also been used in testing remains of the Romanovs.

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You can read my reviews of two other of Helen Rappaport’s Romanov books. Click title to read my review:

Caught in the Revolution

Romanov Sisters


3 thoughts on “Review: Race to Save the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport

  1. Oh wow — Prince Michael and King George really do look alike! And it’s amazing to see the photo of Margaret and Elizabeth with their grandparents. Almost seems like two different historical periods there in a single photo. Wild to think how much of history QEII has personally witnessed.

    Liked by 1 person

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