Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sarajevo, 28 June 1914:
100 Years Ago
by Tony Langley

The Archduke's Vehicle About to Make a Fateful Wrong Turn
Note the Beer Bottle Sign

If ever it were justified to talk of a "shot heard round the world," then those fired by Gavrilo (Gabriel) Princip in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 would surely top the list. Two pistol shots fired by an underage Serbian nationalist killed the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife by morganatic marriage, Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg, setting off a chain of events and machinations that would ultimately cause the Great War of 1914–1919. Princip was part of a Serb nationalist conspiracy to assassinate the archduke during a state visit to Sarajevo. There were six active and mostly underage members who traveled 300 hazardous miles overland from Belgrade in Serbia to Sarajevo in recently annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, with concealed guns and bombs. All six had vowed to assassinate the archduke and commit suicide afterward to avoid capture.

A first attempt to kill Franz Ferdinand was by throwing a bomb into his moving car. This failed, and the bomb thrower, 19-year-old student Nedeljko Čabrinović after attempting suicide by ingesting cyanide powder, was caught by the police and arrested.

The royal visit was not aborted, and after continuing with the planned upon itinerary, by the greatest ill fortune imaginable, the open limousine containing the royal couple took a wrong turn and while attempting to back out of the street, came to a stop almost directly in front of the unsuspecting conspirator Gavrilo Princip. He took out his pistol and blindly shot twice into the car, mortally hitting both the archduke and the duchess.

Actual Site Shortly After the Assassination
Princip Had Just Purchased a Sandwich at the Delicatessen

Princip, too, took his non-fatal suicide potion and was prevented from using his own pistol to kill himself by a bystander. He was arrested on the spot and taken, vomiting from the cyanide, into police custody. Anti-Serb riots broke out in the city immediately the news was spread.

Eventually all six conspirators were arrested and brought to trial. Due to the complexities of Austrian law, all were charged with high treason and another 19 people as accomplices in varying degrees. No murder charge was brought. Unsurprisingly, all six main conspirators were found guilty and three were sentenced to death. The others, being under 20 years of age, were by Austrian law not subject to the death penalty. Nine of the lesser defendants were acquitted, though one of these was still in captivity at the war's end. Princip and two others received 20 years. The rest received lesser sentences.

This does not mean they were treated with any leniency or even much humanity. Far from it, for they were severely beaten and starved during their imprisonment, condemned to wear a ball and chain, to being handcuffed to walls, and to enhanced solitary confinement and fasting days every month, with additional hardships imposed on anniversaries of the assassination. Food was issued in five-day rations at a time so that it spoiled before new rations were brought. There was no lighting or heating in the cells. Reading matter was forbidden, as was anything but the most elementary medical care of bandaging wounds. In fact, because of their continuing beatings by guards and other ill-wishers, all prisoners developed large suppurating sores on their bodies and several died during captivity in 1916. Princip himself developed tuberculosis of the bones, had his left arm amputated after continued requests and died on 28 April 1918 in the fortress prison of Terezin, or Theresienstadt, which would during the Second World War be turned into a "model" concentration camp by the Nazi regime.

Naturally the events of 28 June 1914 were the subject of intense coverage by the media in all countries, and while several photos were made of events immediately after both assassination attempts, the actual shooting was not caught on photo. This meant that magazines, newspapers, and, later on, history books would commission illustrations and drawings of the shooting.

Click on Image to Expand

Two Depictions of the Assassination from the Period and a Recent Photo of the Site

The two commercial illustrations were not really accurate renderings of the events. In the two shown above, there is a confusion about which side of the limousine Princip shot from and the setting (see current photo of the site) is not accurately captured. In one drawing the archduke is shot from the left and in the other from the right. In both drawings he is standing up, seemingly aware of the impending danger and thereby striking a more masculine and defiant pose. In reality the shots came unawares to the couple. In one of the drawings it appears as if the duchess was shot first and that the archduke is trying to protect her. In reality, he was shot first and instinctively fell over his wife, trying to protect her from bullets. This is just as commendable an action as that portrayed in the drawing, but somehow less heroic-looking. Moreover, Princip, when pulling the trigger, averted his head and turned away from the car, shooting blindly, and by the cruelest of circumstances mortally hitting both archduke and duchess with one bullet apiece. And so theatrical-looking heroics and determined villains end up trumping actual events.

Nevertheless, despite these consistent inaccuracies portraying the assassination, the image of a single assassin shooting into an open limousine has become an almost iconic and recognizable historic event.

Sarajevo images from the collections of Tony Langley and Steve Miller. This article was originally published one year ago on the 99th anniversary of the event.

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