Russia is launching an investigation into whether Tsar Nicholas II and his family were killed by Jews as part of a ‘ritual murder’ in a move that has infuriated anti-Semitism campaigners.
Father Tikhon Shevkunov, the Orthodox bishop heading an investigatory panel, is among hardcore members of the church who claim the final Russian emperor was murdered in a Jewish ritual.
Tsar Nicholas was shot with his wife and five children by Communist Bolsheviks in 1918 after Vladimir Lenin came to power, and wild rumours about the circumstances surrounding his death have circulated ever since.
Russia is launching an investigation into whether Tsar Nicholas II and his family (pictured) were killed by Jews in a ‘ritual murder’
The country’s final emperor was shot with his wife and five children by Communist revolutionaries in 1918 after Vladimir Lenin came to power. Pictured: Romanov family in Tobolsk
Boruch Gorin, a spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities, Russia’s largest Jewish group, expressed a strong concern about the claims, which he described as a ‘throwback to the darkest ages’.
Some Christians in medieval Europe believed Jews murdered Christians to use their blood for ritual purposes, something which historians say has no basis in Jewish religious law or historical fact.
The tsar and his family were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad on July 17, 1918, in a basement room of a merchant’s house where they were held in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. The Russian Orthodox Church made them saints in 2000.
Conspiracy theories blaming the Jews for spearheading the Bolshevik revolution were popular among the post-revolution Russian emigres and the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, and were later picked up by some hard-line nationalists.
Mr Gorin said his group was shocked and angered by the statements from both the bishop and the Investigative Committee, which he said sounded like a revival of the century-old ‘anti-Semitic myth’ about the killing of the imperial family.
Discussing the Tsar’s murder, Father Shevkunov claimed the ‘Bolsheviks and their allies engaged in the most unexpected and diverse ritual symbolism’.
This is the room where the tsar was shot. Nicholas and his family were canonised as passion bearers, a title commemorating believers who face death in a Christ-like manner, by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000
How claims of ‘ritual murder’ are just the latest slur against Jews in Russia
Jews in Russia have long struggled against anti-Semitism both before, during and after the days of the Soviet Union.
Under the Tsars, the country’s five million Jews mostly lived in poverty and were confined to a Pale of Settlement in the west of the empire.
They faced discriminatory laws and were often the victims of anti-Jewish riots known as Pogroms, which were often organised by the royal family.
After the 1917 Russian Revolution, the new Bolshevik government abolished all restrictions on Jews and proclaimed their opposition to all forms of anti-Semitism.
Yet persecution soon began afresh, with synagogues and other Jewish properties confiscated by the state in 1919 under anti-religion laws.
Stalin, who took power in 1924, was known for his anti-Jewish outbursts, and used anti-Semitic tropes in his power struggle with Trotsky, who was of Jewish heritage.
By the 1940s, Soviet campaigns against ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ – which many took as a supposed euphemism for Jews – led to the deaths of several leading Jewish intellectuals.
After the Second World War, Nazi persecution of the Jews on Soviet soil was denied, and people of Jewish heritage accused of kowtowing to the Americans and influencing policy in Washington.
Thousands of Jews have emigrated to Israel over concerns about anti-Semitism in a phenomenon that has continued under the Putin regime.
He claimed that ‘quite a few people involved in the execution – in Moscow or Yekaterinburg – saw the killing of the deposed Russian emperor as a special ritual of revenge’.
And he alleged that Yakov Yurovsky, the organizer of the execution who was Jewish, later boasted about his ‘sacral historic mission.’
He put forward as evidence the claim that a bullet was assigned to eat royal but the majority of the bullets hit the tsar because ‘everybody wanted to be part of the regicide’ and ‘it was a special ritual for many’.
The ‘ritual’ claims were dismissed by the Prosecutor General’s Office in the 1990s but will be explored again as part of a new criminal investigation into the killing.
But Bishop Tikhon’s said his panel were taking the claims ‘very seriously’.
His claims carry particular weight given his reported close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and influence within the church.
An investigative committee has now launched a ‘psychological and historical evaluation’ into the matter as part of the on-going criminal case into the slaying of the Romanovs.
Marina Molodtsova, a senior Investigative Committee official, said the probe would ‘resolve issues of whether the Romanov family murder had a possible ritual component’.
Key members of a church commission linked to the criminal investigation ‘do not have any doubts’ the shooting was ‘ritualistic’, he said.
A staunchly pro-Putin MP, Natalia Poklonskaya, 37, has also claimed the tsar’s killing had ‘evil’ religious motives.
‘They murdered the entire royal family, they killed the children in front of their father, they killed the mother in front of the children,’ said the politician, formerly the chief prosecutor in Crimea. This is a crime, a frightening ritual murder.’
The ‘ritual’ claims were dismissed by the Prosecutor General’s Office in the 1990s but will be explored again as part of a new criminal investigation into the killing
Left: Empress Alexandra with son Alexei. Right: Yakov Yurovsky who executed the Romanovs
‘Many people are afraid to talk about it – but everyone understands that it happened. It is evil.’
Top Bolshevik Yakov Sverdlov – who specifically ordered the killing of the last tsar – was also Jewish, say supporters of this theory.
Alexander Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, said the accusations – tantamount to a conspiracy theory – were plainly aimed at Jews, and risked stirring up hatred.
‘Accusing Jews of a ritual murder is one of the most ancient anti-Semitist slanders,’ he said.
‘It repeatedly causes persecutions resulting in deaths of hundreds and thousands of people.
‘But each time those accusations were considered by people free of anti-Semitic prejudices, it emerged that this slander is false.’
Alexander Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, said the accusations – tantamount to a conspiracy theory – were plainly aimed at Jews, and risked stirring up hatred. Pictured: Romanov family in Tobolsk
Top Bolshevik Yakov Sverdlov – who specifically ordered the killing of the last tsar – was also Jewish, say supporters of the theory. Pictured: Romanov family in Tobolsk
‘It’s regrettable that it is being advanced again, presenting libelous slander as a theory worthy of an inquiry,’ he said.
Judaism was the first religion to abolish human sacrifices and does not know the concept of a ‘ritual murder’, he said.
Tikhon is widely seen as Putin’s personal confessor and spiritual adviser.
The ultra-conservative churchman once said: ‘You can believe those rumours if you want, but they certainly are not spread by me.’
The pair were introduced to one another by exiled Russian banker Sergei Pugachev, estranged lover of British socialite and former BBC Horse People presenter, Alexandra Tolstoy.
Bishop Tikhon demanded that the claims of a ritual killing of the imperial family should be ‘substantiated and proven’. Pictured: Nicholas and Alexei in Tobolsk exile
Russia’s final emperor: Nicholas II pictured leaning from a train after his resignation