Who Killed Grigori Rasputin?


IBDP History Internal Assessment Sample



                                                                                    



Who Killed Grigori Rasputin?





Identification and Evaluation of Two Sources


This investigation will explore the question: Who killed Grigori Rasputin?  Rasputin had become a friend, an advisor, and a healer to the Romanov family in St Petersburg.[1],[2] He gained increasing power after Nicholas II was at the fronts of the war, leaving his wife Alexandra in charge reciting anything that Rasputin told her to say. However, his power was only short lived as many wanted him dead and, he died in the final days of 1916.[3]



Source I: Felix Yusupov’s Memoirs

This unique account has exceptional value through its origin as it shows a first handed account of how the killer himself murdered Rasputin. As it comes from the murderer, historian, Greg King, argues, that Yusupov wanted to make himself seem heroic and boast about his actions, which is evident as he states that he is ‘saving’ Russia by killing Rasputin, possibly making the entire memoir an exaggeration.[4],[5] The purpose of these journals is for Felix Yusupov to immortalise himself in a sense as many will read about his account of killing Rasputin and hence he will continue to live. This journal comes to a great value as it allows us insight into a higher class member's perspective on Rasputin and his emotions towards him. On the contrary, it also poses as a limitation on account of the fact that this piece of writing is prone to exaggerations to shine a better and more heroic light onto Yusupov. The content of the piece contains a recital of the events that took place on the night of the 29th of December 1916. We learn that Rasputin, whom the prince lured into his basement, survived cyanide attacks and a gunshot before being shot multiple times and then thrown into a river. This account provides excellent value as we are given an account from the person who has allegedly committed the crime and the days leading up to the event, however it is questionable whether this representation is entirely accurate. Yusupov also fails to mention the role of his co-conspirators to make him seem like the lone attacker.









Source II: To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin by Andrew Cook written in 2006





 Cook’s book, on the other hand, was published after the Russian archives were opened to the public providing great value as retrospect is available and used in the book citing amongst other things police and medical reports which were not available before 1992.[6] Cook was the fifth historian to gain access to secret MI5 documents under the Waldegrave Initiative in 1992, giving him a unique ability to discuss MI5’s links and involvement in the murder of Rasputin.[7] The purpose of this book is to share newly found evidence which Cook received through the Waldegrave Initiative and from tracking down relatives of stakeholders.[8] This gives the source great value as it explores new perspectives which were not available before and therefore provides updated information on this historic event. The book’s content describes many reasons why people wanted Rasputin dead, also exploring new angles identifying the possibility that the British Secret Service was involved in the assassination. The limitations of this text are that Cook beings to repeat himself near the end and is unable to decide on a single perspective to stick with switching between different accounts of the book making it quite confusing which one is in fact true. Next, the use of evidence while very resourceful is also limiting as the widely believed to be fabricated Soviet-Russian autopsy from Professor Kosorotov's is, without a second thought, used throughout the book.[9]





Investigation



            “RA RA RASPUTIN, Lover of the Russian queen, They didn't quit; they wanted his head”, as sang by the band Boney M in 1978 begins to show the cult that had formed around the death of this self-proclaimed healer. [10] The song identifies that Rasputin was murdered by “some men of higher standing" referring to Felix Yusupov and his conspirators.[11] However, evidence found in the opening of the Russian archives in 1992 and further developments have brought up new evidence, which historian Andrew Cook argues that MI6 played a vital role in the peasant’s assassination.[12] With this new contemporary evidence, we must identify Who killed Grigori Rasputin.   The first and predominant account of the death comes from Rasputin’s self-proclaimed murderer, Prince Felix Yusupov. In the final quarter of his memoirs, he describes the night vividly and gives a fiction-like account. He states that he killed Rasputin by first feeding him cakes, tea, and wine all laced with potassium cyanide, enough of this poison to apparently ‘kill several men instantly’.[13] The cyanide did not have the desired effect on Grigori and only made his head heavy and gave him a burning sensation in his stomach. Consequently, Yusupov heroically jumped to a Plan B and shot him.[14] He shot Rasputin once in the heart leaving him crippled on the floor, yet then as if an allusion to some horror movie his left eye reopened and he leapt forward and bound himself to Yusupov's legs. The young prince was in shock and described Rasputin as a reincarnation of Satan himself, through what he self-loathingly calls a “superhuman effort” he succeeded in freeing himself from ‘Satan’.[15] Grigori then took off with high speed and ran towards an exit. His co-conspirator Vladimir Purichkevich, who had impressed and gained the trust of Yusupov through his public denouncing of Rasputin, shot Rasputin twice more while he tried to exit, fatally hitting him once in the head before throwing him into the Nevka river.[16] This account is the most commonly believed and accepted of the assassination of Rasputin, and also the inspiration for Boney M's song. From this source, it is evident that Yusupov is confessing to the murder. Yusupov had nothing to lose in doing so according to Orlando Figes, who states that the prince had immunity to a police investigation due to his social rank.[17] This protection makes it seem pointless for him to invent the story.  Secondly, autopsy reports agree with Yusupov's account of three shots entering the body making the statement seem very credible.[18] Lastly, Yusupov's co-conspirator Purishkevich in his memoirs paraphrases a nearly identical story as shown in the Prince's leaving one to believe that this must be the correct account of the December night.[19] With this, it seems that Yusupov's account will remain to be the version of the murder that is told to be true. How come there are still books emerging in the past decades on Rasputin's death if the murderer confessed to his crime? Andrew Cook states that he had found significant new discoveries on the death of Rasputin apparently disproving Yusupov’s statement.[20] The first piece of evidence that seemingly disproves the aforementioned memoirs comes from professor Kosorotov's autopsy report. In this report, Kosorotov states that no poison was found in the stomach of Rasputin as Yusupov assured us he had ingested. Cyanide was what Dr Lazovert had prescribed to kill Rasputin, the same chemical that caused the death of 6,000 Jews a day in Auschwitz, yet this magical healer was able to survive according to Yusupov's account.[21],[22] While it may seem absurd that Rasputin did not die of cyanide as the prince dictates, there are possible reasons that explain the lack of poison in Rasputin's stomach and his ability to survive this attack. The first and most obvious is that the cakes had not contained poison and Yusupov wanted to make the murder seem more profound than it was and depict Rasputin as a Satan-like figure surviving the worst of all poisons as he does in his account. Another possible reason as mentioned by John Emsley is that Rasputin apparently had a very low acidity of his stomach acid causing the poison to not affect, as cyanide requires acid to begin forming into a deadly poison.[23] Through this we begin to see the flaws in Yusupov’s story, making us reconsider his trustworthiness. Moreover, there are discrepancies between Yusupov and Purishkevich’s memoirs. Both memoirs differ on three most important aspects: how many times Felix went upstairs to his co-conspirators, if Yusupov was handed the gun or if he took it himself, and if Yusupov was present in the final fatal shoot out.[24],[25],[26]   Jenny Hughes, who worked alongside Kyril Zinovieff who shared time with Yusupov at Oxford, brought forward a statement that the Tsar and Tsarina did in fact not listen to Rasputin in political or military matters citing the letters between the royal family. Additionally, Zinovieff states that Yusupov seldom spoke the truth in his memoirs calling him a fantasist and strongly believes that Felix was too weak to commit murder.[27] Lastly, the autopsy report also proves to disprove the prince's memoirs. While initially establishing the account to be true through the correspondence above of the three bullet wounds, all of the impact holes show varying ranges and calibres of weapons with the fatal shot to the head (see image below) not being mentioned by either of the conspirators. Thus with contemporary evidence seemingly disproving the orthodox account laid out by the prince, and a clear third gun appearing to have been used for the murder the question of who killed Rasputin remains. 
Rasputin: Bullet Wound in Forehead [28]
An opposing theory that has surfaced in the past decade is that MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, is accountable for the monk’s murder.[29] Oswald Rayner met Yusupov at Oxford University where they became friends, Rayner was later recruited by MI6 where he is believed to have aided in the murder of Rasputin.[30] The British had a clear motive to get rid of Rasputin as his antiwar policies would have led to Russia retreating from WWII allowing Germany to focus its forces solely on the western front, against, amongst others, Britain, instead of attacking both the eastern and western front.[31] Cook refers to a letter from Stephen Alley, another British agent, which states that “Reaction to the demise of "Dark Forces" has been well received, although a few awkward questions have already been asked about wider involvement”.[32] Dark Forces had become the code name for Rasputin and this letter shows for certain that the British diplomatic staff were pleased with the murder however it does not directly indicate any meddling from MI6. The ‘awkward questions' most likely refer to those asked by the Tsar several days after the murder of British ambassador Buchanan about Rayner's involvement due to his friendship with Yusupov at the university.[33] Buchanan in his memoirs wrote that a week before the assassination he was aware of imminent plots against Rasputin.[34] However British involvement in the plot was a spontaneous according to Cook. Cook cites Rayner's driver's logbook which recalls several visits that coincide with Yusupov's memoirs with a single date missing, the one of the murder; Cook believes that it was redacted.[35] The driver’s grandchildren today still recall their grandfather’s boasting of knowing the Englishman who murdered Rasputin.[36] Rayner also carries a British secret service model revolver which carries the same bullet which the fatal shot was carried out with according to Kosorotov's already mentioned autopsy report.[37] This evidently shows that the British were allegedly involved in the murder of Rasputin.     In conclusion, both of the recollections of the event seem to be partially true, Yusupov was instrumental to the operation luring in Rasputin and firing a shot at him, yet his co-conspirators were forced to intervene, Purishkevich firing the second shot and then finally Rayner ending the ordeal once and for all. Rayner aided in the translation and publishing of the book and therefore was able to censor any information of British involvement.[38] Clearly, this conflict of interest was the main reason for the inaccuracies seen in the memoirs which are completed by the Rayner theory. However, by combining both documents one can identify a more likely, accurate account.    
“And so THEY shot him till he was dead”[39]



Reflection




This investigation has allowed me to further investigate a topic which we disused in class and find ulterior theories than the commonly accepted version.



What I found most surprising is just how accepted Yusupov’s memoirs had become and seemingly to argue against them was frowned upon by many historians who would state that any British involvement was merely speculative. I found this disturbing as whilst there is no mass of concrete evidence, more on this later, even the Tsar at the time was certain that the British were involved in the plot and therefore by openly being able to research such a topic would further the understanding of exactly what happened during that night in the Moika basement. There were three key historians who I reference to greatly in my investigation which were the first to break the norm story and investigate the meddling of MI6 in this matter. However, this is still a very young theory that is still being developed therefore I quickly struck another larger issue. There was a great lack of information. Oswald Rayner before his death in 1961 thoroughly burned all of his paperwork relating to his time in Russia and did not leave many accounts and also told his family nothing more than a few anecdotes. This made it hard to find enough factual evidence. Andrew Cook with his unique insight into MI5 documents was able to find some last traces.



When comparing Yusupov’s and Purishkevich's memoirs, I first found it troubling that even the most basic facts had become discrepant and was unsure if this was due to poor recollection, high levels of adrenalin in the moment or for any other reasons. Initially I did not want to include them in my investigation as I did not see them of worthy as there would not have been a difference if Yusupov went upstairs once or thrice or who handed him the weapon as both accounts resulted in the same outcome. The final inconsistency was what caught my eye which was that Purishkevich states that Yusupov was not present for the final shot, this greatly contradicts what Yusupov wrote. Therefore, with variations in something as simple as who handed Yusupov the gun and as large as the location of the main conspirator during the death of Rasputin it was vital to find further sources which can see which account was correct.



A final issue which prevented my investigation was that many of the original documents are still not available to the public or only in strongly redacted forms. I also found that many discussions were in the Russian language and had not yet been translated. With access to such documents, the investigation would be able to go more in depth of the issues with the unseen autopsy report amongst other documents which would have been immensely helpful to the investigation.







Works Cited




Ascher, Abraham. The Russian Revolution: a Beginner's Guide. Oxford, Oneworld Publ., 2014.



Oxley, Peter. Russia, 1855-1991: from Tsars to Commissars. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001.



Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra. London, Head of Zeus, 2013.



Yusupov, Felix. Lost Splendour. London, 1953.



Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.



Boney M. “Rasputin.”



Figes, Orlando. People's Tragedy: Russian Revolution, 1891-1924. Vintage, 1999.



Harris, Carolyn. “The Murder of Rasputin, 100 Years Later.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 27 Dec. 2016, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/murder-rasputin-100-years-later-180961572/.



Purishkevich Vladimir M., and Michael E. Shaw. The Murder of Rasputin. Ann Arbor, MI, Ardis, 1985.



Grunwald-Spier, Agnes. Who Betrayed the Jews?: the Realities of Nazi Persecution in the Holocaust. Stroud, The History Press, 2016.



Emsley, John. The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison. Oxford University Press, 2005.



“Who Killed Rasputin.” Timewatch, performance by Michael Praed, season 4, episode 6, BBC, 1 Oct. 2004.



Zinovieff Kirill, and Jenny Hughes. The Companion Guide to St Petersburg. Woodbridge: Companion Guides, 2005. Print.



“Dead Rasputin.” History Things, 5 Dec. 2016, historythings.com/rasputin-mysterious-counsel-to-russias-last-tsar-was-the-man-who-wouldnt-die/.



Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.



Danzinger, Christopher. “The Oxford Alumnus Who Helped to Assassinate Rasputin.” Oxford Today, Oxford University Press, 12 Dec. 2016, www.oxfordtoday.ox.ac.uk/features/oxford-alumnus-who-helped-assassinate-rasputin.



Smith, Douglas. Rasputin. Macmillan, 2016.



Buchanan, Sir George. My Mission to Russia and Other Diplomatic Memories. Cassell and Company, 1923.






[1] Ascher, Abraham. The Russian Revolution: a Beginner's Guide. Oxford, Oneworld Publ., 2014.
[2] Oxley, Peter. Russia, 1855-1991: from Tsars to Commissars. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001.
[3] Massie, Robert K. Nicholas and Alexandra. London, Head of Zeus, 2013.
[4] Citation needed
[5] Yusupov, Felix. Lost Splendour. London, 1953.

[6] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[7] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[8] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[9] Citation needed
[10] Boney M. “Rasputin.”
[11] Boney M. “Rasputin.”
[12] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[13] Yusupov, Felix. Lost Splendour. London, 1953.
[14] Yusupov, Felix. Lost Splendour. London, 1953.
[15] Yusupov, Felix. Lost Splendour. London, 1953.
[16] Yusupov, Felix. Lost Splendour. London, 1953.
[17] Figes, Orlando. People's Tragedy: Russian Revolution, 1891-1924. Vintage, 1999.
[18] Harris, Carolyn. “The Murder of Rasputin, 100 Years Later.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 27 Dec. 2016, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/murder-rasputin-100-years-later-180961572/.
[19] Purishkevich Vladimir M., and Michael E. Shaw. The Murder of Rasputin. Ann Arbor, MI, Ardis, 1985.
[20] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[21] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[22] Grunwald-Spier, Agnes. Who Betrayed the Jews?: the Realities of Nazi Persecution in the Holocaust. Stroud, The History Press, 2016.
[23] Emsley, John. The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison. Oxford University Press, 2005.
[24]“Who Killed Rasputin.” Timewatch, performance by Michael Praed, season 4, episode 6, BBC, 1 Oct. 2004.
[25] Purishkevich Vladimir M., and Michael E. Shaw. The Murder of Rasputin. Ann Arbor, MI, Ardis, 1985.
[26] Yusupov, Felix. Lost Splendour. London, 1953.
[27] Zinovieff Kirill, and Jenny Hughes. The Companion Guide to St Petersburg. Woodbridge: Companion Guides, 2005. Print.
[28] “Dead Rasputin.” History Things, 5 Dec. 2016, historythings.com/rasputin-mysterious-counsel-to-russias-last-tsar-was-the-man-who-wouldnt-die/.
[29] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[30] Danzinger, Christopher. “The Oxford Alumnus Who Helped to Assassinate Rasputin.” Oxford Today, Oxford University Press, 12 Dec. 2016, www.oxfordtoday.ox.ac.uk/features/oxford-alumnus-who-helped-assassinate-Rasputin.
[31] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[32] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[33] Smith, Douglas. Rasputin. Macmillan, 2016.
[34] Buchanan, Sir George. My Mission to Russia and Other Diplomatic Memories. Cassell and Company, 1923.
[35] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[36] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[37] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[38] Cook, Andrew. To Kill Rasputin: the Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin. Stroud, The History Press, 2013.
[39] Boney M. “Rasputin.”