Yes,” says Anna Anderson Manahan, 74, of Charlottesville, Va., “I am who I say I am.” For nearly 60 years she has claimed to be Her Imperial Highness, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, sole surviving child of Russia’s Czar Nicholas II, the last of the ruling Romanovs.
Her claim, the subject of fierce controversy and legal battles, has now received substantial corroboration in a widely praised new book, The File on the Tsar, by British journalists Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold. The book is based on seven volumes of sworn testimony and police reports compiled in Russia in 1918-19 and only recently discovered at Harvard.
Along with most historians, the authors agree that the czar was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. But they contend that Empress Alexandra and her four daughters survived and were imprisoned for several months. The reason: The Bolsheviks hoped to make a deal with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, a relative of the empress. They speculate that during this time Anastasia might have escaped.
Despite the authors’ support for her claim, “Anastasia” does not approve of their book. “It’s a mess,” she says. “People will be trying to make money off the czar and his family forever, and I resent it.”
“Anastasia” says she retains vivid memories of her childhood—cooking meals for her dolls, singing songs in English with her three older sisters. “I recall my father, the czar, used to take his knife and cut up an apple in equal parts for all the children,” she says in heavily accented English (she reads Russian but does not speak it). “I have clear memories of the carved Danish pipe he used to smoke. One time I was punished for being bad and I was held upside down.”
Mrs. Manahan’s husband, John, 56, a onetime political science professor at colleges in Virginia and Maryland, was drawn to her by his interest in geneology. They married in 1968. For many years before that she had lived in small German towns as the mysterious Anna Anderson, supported by meager contributions from those who believed she was Anastasia. One of her champions was Gleb Botkin, son of the czar’s physician, and Anastasia’s childhood playmate. Botkin drew copies of caricatures of court personalities he had made as a boy—according to him, Anna identified each one.
Over the past 40 years “Anastasia” has sued in German courts to establish her identity and her right to the Romanov legacy. (The czar once was believed to have deposited millions in the Bank of England.) After close scrutiny of voluminous records, a Berlin court rejected her claim, but she has sued again in Hamburg. Some researchers think that she is, in fact, Franziska Schanzkowski, a long-missing Polish woman with a romantic fixation on the Romanovs. Manahan remains a true believer. “I am married to the white queen,” he says, “and the white queen usually wins in chess.”
He and his wife live quietly, if eccentrically, in a $300,000 home (Manahan has family money), surrounded by thousands of books, flags, heraldic shields, icons, pictures, figurines and a dozen stray cats. There is garbage in the front yard. More cats have taken over their country mansion near Scotsvilie, Va. “My wife likes to live in total confusion,” Manahan admits.
The tiny “Anastasia” gardens, reads Agatha Christie and joins her husband in collecting folklore about Blue Ridge Mountain people. She lives on hope. “Russia,” she says, “cannot get along without the Romanovs. Someday it will return the czars to power. There will be a worldwide revolution, and all the old monarchies will be restored.”