Moussia 22: Vladimir Baranovsky back in Siberia, 1919

In article 20, I have presented my reasons for believing that the writer of Rescuing the Czar (1920) knew Maria Baranovsky very well. Moussia must have been his inspiration for “The Baroness B.”, alias “The girl from the Metropole”, alias “Lucie de Cleve, vaudeville actress.

Interesting as that may be,  it does not  shed much light on the origin, the sources of the book. I refer again to Shay McNeal’s detailed investigations and her “The Secret Plot to save the Tsar”.  In her book, McNeal demonstrates convincingly that Rescuing the Tsar contains many details, even the names of obscure Bolshevik officials, which in 1920 were totally unknown in the West. Reports of officially appointed investigators such as Nicolaï Sokolov and Pavel Bulygin had not yet been published in 1920. She writes: “Also, Rescuing the Czar mirrors many events that we now know had really taken place but which, in 1920, could only have been known to someone who was on the ground at the time. If not, then only someone who had been thoroughly briefed as to the actual details, which were unknown in the West in May or June 1920, could have concocted the book.”

Indeed. There was someone who had been thoroughly briefed. I think he was Vladimir Baranovsky, Moussia’s husband and, during the two years before the book was written, the friend of George Romanovsky and Michal Rumanov. In 1919, he returned to Russia, to Siberia, and was back in San Francisco before the year was out. Years later, he spoke about his trip to his second wife, an accomplished American pianist whom he married in Chicago in 1924. In very simple terms, without details. In 1990, when she was ninety years old and Vladimir had been dead fourteen years, she passed on the following story to her niece who recorded it on tape.

She said that according to Vladimir, George Romanovsky had come to dinner one evening, in Vallejo Street. George said that if Vladimir would want to go back to his estate to fetch some of his valuable belongings, he’d better go now while the White Army was still in power in the area.

Vladimir agreed and he went to Russia. His wife: “He never reached his estate and got the last train out from Russia with permission of the  White Army. But he became ill, “so they put him off the train, it was in a Siberian peasant village and being a nobleman, they immediately acquiesced to whatever he asked and she said she would give him a room but she wouldn’t enter the room so she’d open the door a crack and  give him a bowl of soup and  he thinks he had typhoid fever at the time, because he said ‘that’s when I lost all my hair’.”

Being very ill, he had to leave behind two heavy alligator suitcases. When they arrived in Chicago a few years later, sent by “his man”, they only contained the two golden vodka cups he got for his fifth birthday, his white tie and tails, a tuxedo, a smashed down silk hat and his pearl studs.

We have seen in Article 19 that Vladimir moved Moussia and the Rumanov couple to Los Angeles on December 31, 1919. They had abandoned the posh house in Vallejo Street, San Francisco after having lived there for only just over a year. In the 1920 Census  on January 5, Vladimir was listed as a lodger at 120 Ellis Street, San Francisco. After McGarry, George Romanovsky and Michal Rumanov had concocted a book from his adventures in Siberia but the book had been taken off the market ‘by order’ less than 3 months after its publication, Vladimir disappeared.

He may have feared for his life, see article 20. He went back to Los Angeles one more time and from there left California for Chicago. On arrival he went to a judge and changed his name in Barstow, the name of a place he had seen from the train after leaving Los Angeles. In Chicago, he met his future wife, divorced Moussia in 1921, and got married in 1924. He became a successful bridge designer and a proud American, as will be described in future articles. Was he the mystery man whom President Roosevelt wanted to write a book about?

The story as told by Vladimir’s wife, while true, is not, of course, enough to make us believe that Vladimir was the source of the information in Rescuing the Czar.

However, let us look at his background. He was not just a brilliant Engineer of Roads and Traffic from the Petrograd Polytechnic who had completed the five-year study in three years, as a bronze plaque in Petrograd shows. He was also a Russian nobleman (potomstvenniy dvoryanin), see articles 9, 10 and 11.

Vladimir was born in Omsk. The family lived there for a long time. Later, the family lived in  Kazan, from 1902 until the end of 1907. It was the place where Vladimir obtained a copy of his birth certificate and where the picture of his parents was taken, see article 10. It was also where Vladimir’s mother Lydia was born, the daughter of Professor Vasiliev who taught Chinese  there for many years. It was in Kazan that his parents stayed in 1918, during their flight from Petrograd to the South, with Elena and her baby daughter and where they were reunited with Vera (see article 18).  So, the family estate was most probably in the Kazan area. Vladimir told his wife that his estate included ownership of two villages.

Let us recap for a moment. Vladimir’s father became Military Attorney in Omsk in 1888, one year before Vladimir was born. He became Prosecutor in the same court, being promoted regularly thereafter and from 1894 until 1902 he was Military Investigator Omsk and Turkestan. In 1902, when Vladimir was 13, he was transferred to Kazan and in 1907 become Military Judge in Moscow and thereafter in Odessa. He then went to Finland where he became Senator in 1914, having attained the rank of General. He retired in 1916.

When, in 1919, the Red Army advanced towards Kazan, the family fled further South. They ended up in Constantinople where, after a stay in the transit camps on the Princes’ Islands, Vsevolod took on the responsibility for an organisation caring for Russian war invalids abroad until he died, unexpectedly, in 1921. He was buried in the Orthodox Cemetery in Constantinople. The family continued their travels and finally reached Paris.

When Vladimir passed through Omsk he must have heard that he could not reach Kazan anymore, see the map at the end of this article. He knew the town and may have heard about the arrival of Nikolaï Sokalov, “Criminal Investigator for Cases of Exceptional Importance”, whom Admiral Kolchak had appointed to investigate what happened to the Czar and his family. Vladimir’s father Vsevolod, who had just been Russia’s most senior Military Judge, must have known him personally. Maybe Vladimir knew him, too. From his office in Omsk and most of the time on site in Ekaterinburg, Sokolov carried out a thorough investigation. He was assisted by Captain Pavel Bulygin and a large team.

I propose that the on-the-spot knowledge of Rescuing the Czar came from  Vladimir, because he took part in Sokolov’s investigation. In that position he could  well have heard all the details which ended up in Rescuing the Czar. Maybe Vladimir’s father was involved in his appointment, maybe Vladimir participated in the team as a civil engineer. The investigations included inspection of mines which had to be pumped dry to look for the bodies of the murder victims.

Paul Bulygin wanted to write a book about this investigation in the early 1920s. He had to abandon the idea under pressure from high circles, including Kerensky. The original outline of his book is in the Archives of the Hoover Institute in Stanford University. I have received from them  a scan of the document. I quote one sentence from this outline:

« (9) Reihengel. Markoff II. Baranovsky and others. Their examination by Sokoloff.” Sokoloff’s departure. »

In his book, which finally came out in 1935, The Murder of the Romanovs – The authentic account, which includes a separate account by Kerensky, there is no mention of Baranovsky, notwithstanding the mention of his name in the original outline. Like Shay McNeal in her Epilogue, I am disappointed about that. But it may be that Bulygin left a trace of Vladimir in his book: at a certain moment Sokolov asked Bulygin to accompany a contingent of prisoners on a train from Omsk to Chita.  On their way, at two o’clock in the morning, the train suddenly crashed into eight empty carriages which had been released by saboteurs. The train was being fired upon but the attackers were silenced by the accompanying machine gunners. “When the line was cleared, I detailed one of my officers, a former Transport Engineering student, to look after our unreliable train driver, who had failed to notice the danger in time and then jumped off instead of applying the brakes. With this precaution, we were able to proceed, and safely reached Chita …”. A former Transport Engineering student? An officer? Wasn’t Syvarotka, the rescuer of the Czar, an officer of the 7th Hussars?

I know very well that I have not proved yet what the background is of Rescuing the Czar. However,  I believe that I have brought enough to the surface to warrant a review by the real experts, I am thinking in particular of Shay McNeal and Gretchen Haskin.

The pictures in this article have all been taken from the superb historical site of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, . Their “B” Squadron was in the Omsk region in 1919. I strongly recommend my readers to visit that website . The exploits of the Squadron are described in six Parts, illustrated with many unique pictures, like the following:

Czechslovak machine gunners on a train on the Trans-Siberian , 1919


(to be continued)

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