In a quiet corner of Upper Bavaria sits a tranquil cemetery once dedicated to the local nobility. There, among the remains, are the ashes of a woman laid to rest a decade ago beneath a simple gravestone that bears the inscription, "Our heart is unquiet until it rests with you, Lord," a Russian cross, and a name in Cyrillic letters -- Anastasia.
After three quarters of a century of speculation, it was only yesterday that the memory of the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II of Russia's ill-fated royal family, was truly put to rest. The woman in the Bavarian grave, who claimed to be the surviving heir to the Romanov throne until her death in Charlottesville in 1984, has been finally, unequivocally revealed as a fraud.
In a fiercely bitter scientific race, two separate research teams simultaneously unlocked the key to her identity using DNA tracing. A German team, led by television producer Maurice Philip Remy, used a 43-year-old specimen of blood from the woman, who was known throughout her life as Anna Anderson. A British team, led by forensic scientist Peter Gill, had a minute sample of her intestine that was preserved in paraffin wax.
Their results, presented at a press conference in London yesterday, showed Anderson's DNA bore no resemblance to that of the czar and czarina, whose bones were discovered in 1991 with samples of their DNA still intact.
"Perhaps anticipating science, Anderson requested she be cremated before her death," said Remy. "Since the genetic secrets of her body could not be derived from ashes, it seemed as if the mystery would never be solved, but at last we can say that this woman, who was supported by champions throughout her life, was not Anastasia."
Last month, the Russian government reported that after two years of study, scientists had concluded that Anastasia had indeed died in 1918 -- her bones were among those of the royal family identified in 1991.
For the princes, dukes, writers and historians who had made Anderson's claims their most treasured cause, the fairy tale is finally over. But her real life, as described this week, was a story as poignant as "The Princess and the Pauper." Not only has science shown who she was not, for the first time we know who she probably was -- most likely the daughter of a poor Polish farming family.
But how could Anderson's fantasy have taken root and entranced so many for so long?
It started in the bloody wake of the Russian revolution when the Bolsheviks arrived at Yekaterinburg in July 1918 to massacre the Russian royal family. As they faced the seven Romanovs, the royal physician and three servants, the soldiers were ordered to aim straight at their hearts.
Instead bullets ricocheted across the room, bouncing off the crown jewels sewn into the clothing of the princesses in what a soldier witness later recalled as "a shower of hail." The bodies disappeared without a trace, and the rumors began.
Two years later, a world away, policemen saved a young woman from a suicide attempt in the freezing waters of the Landwehr canal in Berlin. She was eventually admitted to the Dalldorf mental hospital refusing to reveal her identity to anyone, and the nurses finally christened her Miss Unknown.
But in 1921 while she was still a patient at the mental hospital, according to staff, she saw a magazine with the headline "Did Anastasia Survive the Massacre?" And there was a picture of the princess. A nurse later recalled Miss Unknown's response. "She asked me if I didn't notice something about it," said Anna Chemnitz. "I answered that I didn't. She then said, 'Can't you see the similarity between us two?' "
Within months Russian exiles began to stream to the mental asylum to meet the lost Anastasia and brought their own memories of life in the aristocracy. "With each group of visitors she would glean information on the world in which Anastasia lived to impress the next," Remy said. "She was the blank screen onto which they could project their longing for a world that had disappeared."
For the monarchists who had been banished from their homeland, she was a bridge back to the past, and they offered the woman a middle-class home outside the hospital. For the rest of the world, the story proved an irresistible romance: A 14-year-old princess who had escaped such a horrible fate, and reemerged unharmed and removed from danger.
Of all the impostors who have ever stepped into the shoes left by vanished royalty, Anderson was to be one of the most successful. In Berlin, chocolate boxes bore her portrait and cigarettes were sold under her name. There would be a play, many books, and three films, one of which won Ingrid Bergman an Academy Award.
Even in the face of two serious challenges, she stood firm. Baroness Buxhoeveden, a lady-in-waiting to the royal family who had escaped Russia, visited Anderson at the mental hospital and immediately dismissed her assertions. In response, Anderson claimed the baroness had betrayed the royal family and did not wish to be exposed. Then, in 1927, a young Berlin woman told a German newspaper she recognized Anderson as her former roommate, Franziska Schanzkowski, a Polish farm worker.
Until this week, that was all that was known of the woman who claimed to be a princess. But the British team's tests on Anderson's DNA and that of a descendant of the Schanzkowski family have revealed there is only a 1-in-300 chance that Anderson was not Schanzkowski, a working-class Polish girl with her eye on the main chance.
While the real Anastasia was growing up in the luxury of the imperial Russian Court, learning French and English, Anderson, four years her senior, had determined to break free from the Polish provinces. She went to Berlin, was engaged to be married as World War I was breaking out, and found a job in a munitions factory.
"My auntie Franziska was the cleverest of the four children," Waldtraud Schanzkowski, a niece, reportedly said. "She didn't want to be buried in a little one-horse town in the depths of Kashubia. She wanted to come out into the world, wanted to become an actress -- something special."
But in 1916 her new life fractured. Her fiance was killed on the Western Front. Soon after, she accidentally let a grenade slip from her hands on the factory line and it exploded, tearing a foreman to pieces before her eyes. Depression overcame Schanzkowski, and the last sign of life her family received from her was a postcard to her favorite brother on his birthday in February 1920.
Shortly afterward, Anastasia would be resurrected.
Among her most ardent followers was Prince Frederick Sachsen Altenburg, a German aristocrat whose Prussian cousin had compared memories of Romanov holidays before 1914 with Anderson's. Two others were Grand Duke Andrew and Grand Duchess Xenia, who married a wealthy American industrialist.
But the immediate relatives of the Romanovs refused steadfastly to accept her. "The murder of the czar and his family was such a horrible thing, there was that wish among the people that it couldn't be so horribly true," said Prince Nicholas Romanov, 72, a cousin of the czar and the head of the family, who now lives in Switzerland. "It was also a good tactic for the Bolsheviks because it divided those in exile. "
Even yesterday, the followers who survived Anderson remained convinced they had pinned their hopes to a genuine princess. Richard Schweitzer, a lawyer married to a descendant of the royal physician who died with the Romanovs, commissioned the British forensic team, and he sat beside Gill yesterday in London, still protesting that Anderson was Anastasia.
"I still believe Anna Anderson was Anastasia -- my belief is based on rational human experience," he said. "She would not have wasted two minutes with a Polish factory worker."
Yet even with such loyal followers, Anderson's troubled life seems to have benefited little from the illusion of being a lost princess. In Charlottesville, where she spent her last years after marrying historian John E. Manahan, she was known as Annie Apple, a mad local. One restaurant advertised its wine with the claim that you too would believe you were Anastasia after a few glasses.
When she received her rare visitors, they were shocked by the state of her home. "The stench of half empty dog bowls, open tins of food and dried-up dog dirt is enough to make you vomit," wrote one. "Amid all the trash lies the mattress. On it is the tiny figure of Anna Anderson in a matted tangle of blankets."
Shortly before her death, Anderson was forcibly committed to a psychiatric clinic, and in an act of desperation Manahan, who believed in her claims to the end, attempted to abduct her. After a wild car chase that ended with the vehicle surrounded by policemen holding rifles, they surrendered. Two months later Anderson died.
"I am certain at the end of her life she believed in her own story, and in a confused way she forgot her own life," said Prince Nicholas. "And there are those who wished to share her story. People look for exceptional events to change the past. But history is brutally effective in its solutions, and brutally simple."