Just After Midnight, Four Girls and A Boy

It wasn't that long ago. Not in an astronomical sense, nor in a cultural or relative one. Humphrey Bogart was 19, perhaps "looking for a job", as Rick reminisces with Ilsa in Bogart's most memorable film. John Kennedy was one. Frank Sinatra was a nearly three-year-old toddler. John Lennon would be born in 22 years, Elvis in 17. The first world war was about to end. (It was called The Great War then.) Hemingway and Fitzgerald were off to Paris, or at least packing. Queen Elizabeth's grandfather was on the throne. He had been for eight years. And four young girls slept on cots in a stifling upstairs bedroom, in the middle of July, in the requisitioned house of a local merchant.

It had been, as it so often still is in summer, hideously hot. One window had finally been opened to provide the upstairs rooms, over-crowded with both furniture and people - the ones with the guns and the ones without - with an occasional waft of air. It had also been another long day of reading, stitching, a back-and-forth hour's walk in the garden, and then to bed to face tomorrow which, they must have assumed, would bring another day of just the same. One of their party had been removed, suddenly, frighteningly that evening. He was just 14. Had he been jailed separately, as the more optimistic of them hoped, or had something worse happened, as others more realistically feared had happened to earlier members of their party who had been similarly snatched away? (And if they feared this, they were right. Some had already been taken to the woods and shot. Shot not for a crime, but for existing. Shot for holding a legal job that was not the right legal job or for being born to a family that was not the right family or for having a name that was not the right name or for having a father who was in the wrong class.)

It would have been their mother who awakened them, those being times of deep modesty. Their father, or perhaps the family doctor, would have gone to wake the invalid brother. He was thirteen. The four girls, 17 to 23, dressed in their simple grey skirts and white cotton blouses. They didn't wear coats. It had been so hot and, even after midnight, would still have been, and besides, they were just being moved to a new place of confinement, a new, family-sized, political ghetto.

Coming down the stairs, past the men, some hostile, others benign in expression, they would not have known. No tears, no indication of doubt. Perhaps a little worry - nothing was ever certain. Nowhere completely safe. They would have known that. But they were sleepy - how well that had been planned, arousing them in the deep night - and were easily led into a room in which, so they were told, to await the truck that would move them to another place. A safer place.

Then, standing to be photographed to assure their distant relatives that they lived yet, they saw more than a photographer enter. It happened quickly. The reading of their sentence anyway; for it was just a short explanation written (they wrote it down!) to explain to those who would never again need that explanation why they, four girls, a boy, their parents and four others loyal to the family, were going to be murdered, there, in the cellar, in a time not so very far from our own.

In 15 years FDR would be elected president. In 11 Anne Frank would be born. In 27 more she would die.

The shots, misplaced, chaotic, hysterical, resounded over and over in the room. (Outside, the truck driver repeatedly gunned the motor in an attempt to mask the sound.) The two oldest girls, long hair dripping with the brain matter of their mother, blood pouring down their lengthy skirts, clung together until a shot ripped most of the head off of one and the other was finished with a bullet to the brain as she screamed and screamed and cowered on the floor next to her bloodied sister. (They had both been pianists of exceptional skill.)

The two younger sisters also hugged each other and, as if in some sort of odd twin-ship of death, struggled vainly to get a door open, and then crawled along the floor, as the bullets directed toward them shattered legbones yet ricocheted off their upper bodies. It was finally necessary to use the bayonets to finish them. (What a dirty business.) The son also survived for some minutes, snaking brokenly through the pooling blood, grabbing pathetically at the shirt of his dead father until the drunkest killer had the right stuff and, stepping boldly through the sticky red puddles, calmly dispatched him with a bullet to the brain.

Hair clips and buttons and combs and sashes and ribbons and tin soldiers and snippets of scarves and sheets of paper were left upstairs. All were packed up and sent to the government. The girls and their brother were not found for many years. A new era had begun.

(Note, a repost from Open Salon. Reposted because Pre-Revolutionary Russia and Revolutionary Russia are hobbies of mine, also because, despite everything, this country is one I love and a second home, and also because the 97th anniversary of this event was last night.)

Views: 99

Comment by Julie Johnson on July 19, 2015 at 5:00am

That was good, how you weave the timelines together.  R&L

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on July 19, 2015 at 5:36am

This is so well done. 

Comment by Arthur James on July 19, 2015 at 5:58am


I'll reread slower off-line.

Brain Picking - Maria Popova -

I bet You'd Appreciate Her Blog -

Brain Pickings - She referenced -

a sense writers - Have a Astro -

Physicist Outer - Space Unseen -

Muse Inspiration - She Uplifts -


Even what we may thing is a bad

Negative is a Grand Teacher that

Is Good & Permanent. No get thee

Dumps * Endure in Obstructions.

1- I agree...

2- Evil teaches...

3- Calm - Rest...

4- Contemplate...

As? Reflect - Be peace.

`, ' Gads, now go read?



Aways a Good Read.


Today? ref ` Trump?

John McCain ` I agree...

McCain Dropped Bombs.

I saw a off the Tourist Path

a Back Yard Rose Garden.

Our Interpreter was a 

Hotel Hilton - Interpretor.

He was fabulous and was

the Interpreter ( 1990 ) in

Hanoi * into * Ho Chi Minh

City - Great Memory and a

Healing- Insight Experience.


2- Months - Yien Vien -

Vietnam Restoration -

Rebuilt - Reconciliation -

We were 12 - Vietnam -

Pained Veterans who did -

Work Alongside Former -

Enemies? no. Gov has the

enemies? We were Guest of

The Peoples Committee, and

The State Department approved

Before Formal Status - Recognition 

of Normalization Of - Relations 





strife in our

inner emotions?

then, we at war...


thanks - vent

1- peace that

passeth all our

Simple Human



Comment by koshersalaami on July 19, 2015 at 6:25am
Comment by JMac1949 Today on July 19, 2015 at 7:35am

The tragedy of the Romanov family was not an historical necessity; rather it was a travesty of venal politics that would lead to tens of millions more deaths across two continents and continues to this day in the PRC, DPRK, the lesser former Soviet republics of Central Asia, the Ukraine and Putin's Russia.  Most excellent and very well written post.

Comment by Barbara Joanne on July 19, 2015 at 7:42am
Thank you Julia, Jonathan, Kosher, and Arthur for reading and leaving your kind comments.
Comment by Barbara Joanne on July 19, 2015 at 7:45am
JMac1949, I totally agree. Thank you for your compliment on the writing. I appreciate it very much.
Comment by Jerry DeNuccio on July 19, 2015 at 12:26pm

This is history written with dramatic flair: illuminating detail curated to deliver an emotionally textured, narratively dramatic insight into a small space of time that grew large in the march of time.  Absorbing, and not a little haunting.

Comment by Barbara Joanne on July 19, 2015 at 12:51pm
Oh Jerry, thank you so much for your comments.
Comment by Heidi Banerjee on July 19, 2015 at 3:05pm

Yes, I have read it the first time at OS.


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