The Romanov Pretenders – The imposters of Alexei, Olga and Tatiana

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In the last article, we heard about the women who pretended to be Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia after her death. To follow on from that, in this post, we will have a look into those who impersonated her siblings who died alongside her in 1918.

Soon after the Romanov family were killed by the Bolsheviks, people began to come forward claiming to be them, insisting that they had survived the attack on the family. This was possible because the news on what had happened to the family was not consistent, and many believed at least some of them were still alive. The most impersonated family member was Anastasia, but other people also pretended to be her siblings in order to gain money or attention. Some of the most famous were:

Michael Goleniewski: imposter of Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich of Russia

There were a number of Alexei pretenders, but today we will discuss one of the most famous, Polish-born Michael Goleniewski was a very successful man; he worked his way up in the Polish army before becoming a spy working as a triple agent providing Soviet and Polish secrets to the CIA. His work on high-profile cases led to him moving to the USA to work for the CIA full-time. Despite leaving Poland for the USA, Michael was sentenced to death by the Polish courts which he escaped by taking American citizenship.

Considering the secretive nature of Michael’s career and the fact he worked under a number of aliases, it is very surprising that he then drew so much attention to himself by claiming to be the deceased Tsarevich, especially as his claim was not very believable and came rather late.

In the 1960s while living in the USA, Michael suddenly claimed that he was Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich of Russia who had been the heir to the throne of the Russian Empire at the time of his death in 1918. At this stage, although there was a widespread belief that Alexei had been killed, there was no firm DNA evidence until 2007, so the stories of pretenders were often popular.

In his story, Michael explained that on the day the Bolshevik assassins attacked his family, one of them actually changed their minds and helped the family to escape. Apparently, after their escape, the family fled through Turkey, Greece and Austria before reaching Poland. This was not the first time Michael had been connected to the story of the Russian royals, as in 1942 a group of soldiers were told that a Polish landowner named Goleniewski was, in fact, Tsar Nicholas II, it is unknown where this rumour came from or why twenty years later Michael decided to claim to be Alexei.

Michael’s story had a huge flaw from the start; he was born in 1922, which eighteen years after Tsarevich Alexei, who was born in 1904! Michael said that he looked youthful because he suffered from haemophilia, which was a condition that the real Alexei suffered from. It was never proven if Michael was a haemophiliac or not.

Michael did have a few supporters who backed his claim, one of those was another pretender Eugenia Smith who was masquerading as the Grand Duchess Anastasia who was the real Alexei’s sister. The two met up surrounded by journalists and apparently recognised each other straight away…there was one problem with this story though, Eugenia had always claimed to be the only survivor of the attack!

The story caused huge embarrassment for Michael’s employer, the CIA, and it was not long before he lost his job. Despite this, he continued to claim to be Alexei throughout his lifetime; he even married using the name Alexei Romanov and tried to sue the Russian Orthodox Church for mistreatment.

Marga Boodts: Claimed to be Grand Duchess Olga

One of the most famous Romanov pretenders was a woman called Marga Boodts, who was one of the few people who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Olga, the oldest of the children.

Marga’s story was that she was the sole survivor of the execution of her family at Yekaterinburg. She supposedly survived after being knocked unconscious by a member of the firing squad who pretended she was dead and put the body of a thief in her place. While this sounds pretty far-fetched, Marga was believed by many people to be the true Olga.

Marga apparently kept her tale a secret until after her marriage to a German officer in 1926 because she had been sworn to secrecy by her uncle Kaiser Wilhelm II who had been supporting her financially. However, when Marga learned of the story of pretender Anna Anderson who was claiming to be Anastasia, she came out with her own story and dismissed Anna’s.

In 1957, Prince Sigismund of Prussia (cousin of the real Olga) bolstered Marga’s claim by recognising her as his true cousin. The Prince organised financial support for his supposed cousin and maintained a lengthy correspondence with her in which they discussed intimate family matters which only the real Olga would have known. On top of this, Olga was also backed by Pope Pious XII and the Prince and Princess of Saxe-Altenburg.

Marga lived a mostly quiet life in Lake Como away from the press. She spent her time working on her memoirs, which were not actually published until 2012. She passed away aged 81 and was buried in a grave marked ‘Olga Nikolaevna’. Despite the discovery of the bodies of the Romanov children, there are many people who still support Marga Boodts; even the Russian Orthodox Church are calling for further testing of all of the remains and do not recognise the found remains to be those of the Romanov family.

Larissa Tudor: Presumed to be Grand Duchess Tatiana

The story of Larissa Tudor is very different to the other tales of pretenders as Larissa never claimed to be Tatiana at all and her story in relation to the Romanovs only began after her death.

In a book called ‘The Romanov Conspiracies’ by Michael Occleshaw is speculation of what happened to Tatiana, as the author believed the Grand Duchess had survived. It is stated that Tatiana was freed before the executions happened while her family were in captivity in Serbia and that she went on to marry an English officer. Over time, people believed a woman called Larissa was really Tatiana.

Larissa was living in Constantinople, apparently working as a belly dancer to support herself when she met her future husband, Owen Tudor. Her name at the time of her marriage was Larissa Haouk, and her father was named as Adolph Haouk on her marriage certificate, but there is no evidence of his existence.

Owen was high up in the British army as a member of the 3rd The Kings Own Hussars and was serving in Constantinople when he met Larissa, the pair were married very quickly, and Owen left his regiment because his colonel had been opposed to the marriage. One of the ideas for why this happened is that Owen was encouraged to marry Larissa in order to protect her due to his high rank in the army. The couple moved from Constantinople to Kent where they lived happily until Larissa’s early death aged just 28.

It was after Larissa passed away that rumours began to circulate that she had in fact been the lost Russian Grand Duchess Tatiana, who she looked very much like. The rumours came about because of a number of strange occurrences: firstly Larissa left her husband a huge amount of money in her will which was more than a yearly income. For a penniless refugee who had been living in Turkey this made little sense, where did she get this money from? Secondly, it became apparent that Larissa’s date of birth and name were never consistent on her documents. On Larissa’s tombstone, her name was ‘Larissa Feodorovna’, this should have been Nikolaevna after her father Nicholas if she was Tatiana, but Feodorovna was the name used by the real Tatiana’s mother Alix after her marriage and could have been used to continue to hide Larissa’s true identity in some way. Larissa died in July 1926, but Owen left flowers on her grave each year on June 10th which was Tatiana’s birthday.

Since the remains of all of the Romanovs have now apparently been found it seems that Larissa’s story was just a strange series of coincidences. For those who are not convinced of the validity of the previous DNA tests and are awaiting further testing on the remains, we shall have to wait and see if any of these ‘pretenders’ are ever proven to have been telling the truth all along.

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