Following the June 28, 1914 assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie of Hohenberg, the Austro-Hungarian government erected a plaque to commemorate their deaths. The marble plaque was placed above the last window on the right of the Moritz Schiller delicatessen on Franz Josef Strasse at the corner intersection on the Appel Quay. In 1918, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes removed the plaque and the monument that was erected in 1917. All traces of the original plaque disappeared.
On February 2, 1930, a new plaque was erected at the exact same place. This was a plaque dedicated to Gavrilo Princip. This plaque was smaller than the original one. The Yugoslav government stated that the plaque was a private memorial which was funded by donations.
How was this complete reversal of fortune to be explained and understood? The assassin was now honored. All references to the victims of the assassin were removed.
The original Sarajevo plaque to commemorate the assassination was finished in 1916. The inscription on the plaque read, in Serbian-Croatian-Bosnian, in Latin script:
Poginuse na ovom raskrscu mucenickom smrcu od ubojnicke ruke prijesttolo nasljednik nadvojvoda Franjo Ferdinand i supruga mu vojvotkinja Sofija Hohenberg.”
The English translation is:
“June 28, 1914
They fell at this place to martyrdom of murdering hand the heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife the Duchess Sophie Hohenberg.”
In German translation:
Es erlitten an dieser Kreuzung den Märtyrertod durch Mörderhand der Thronerbe Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand und seine Gattin Herzogin Sophie Hohenberg.“
In between the date there was a Roman Catholic cross. Above the cross there was a crown representing the monarchy.
The 1917 plaque was removed in 1918. The 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque replaced this 1916 plaque. The Gavrilo Princip plaque was put in the exact same location.
From photographic evidence, the Franz Ferdinand and Sophie plaque was finished and in place by the spring of 1916. A photograph dated January 15, 1916 from the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, the Austrian National Library, shows scaffolding as the plaque neared completion. A post-1917 postcard revealed that an Austro-Hungarian black and yellow flag representing Imperial Austria and the Habsburg dynasty was placed left of the plaque nearer to street level. The flag pole mount remained when the Gavrilo Princip plaque was erected although the flag was obviously changed.
That year the Sarajevo city council commissioned a new memorial. This would be erected by the Latin Bridge which was across from the Moritz Schiller delicatessen where the assassination occurred, “the murder site”, “die Mordstelle”. The monument would be designed by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Jeno Bory (1879-1959). It was the “atonement monument in Sarajevo for Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Duchess of Hohenberg”. It was unveiled in a public ceremony on June 28, 1917, the third anniversary of the assassination. Roman Catholic priests officiated at the religious ceremony which was attended by high ranking Austro-Hungarian government and military officials in Bosnia.
The memorial consisted of two columns made of Silesian granite, 12 meters high. The base was similar to an altar where there was a space for prayer ceremonies. In front of the columns was a bronze medallion with relief images of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. The monument featured the coat of arms reliefs and bronze crowns. Across from the columns a bench was constructed as a viewing point.
The 1916 plaque was removed in 1918 by the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which occupied Bosnia and Hercegovina following the defeat of Austria-Hungary. The space where the plaque had stood was restored and left blank.
The two columns of the memorial were also taken down in 1918. The bronze medallion was removed and put in storage in the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Hercegovina. It was subsequently placed in the newly constructed Museum of Sarajevo or Muzej Sarajeva, which was dedicated to preserving the history of the 1878-1918 period when Bosnia and Hercegovina were occupied by Austria-Hungary. The bench was the only part of the memorial that remained. It has remained in place since 1917 to the present. Even sections of the two columns have been located. The columns reportedly were first stored at the State Museum. Then one column was sent to Trebinje and the other kept in Sarajevo. The assumption was that both were cut up and destroyed with no trace left of them. Remnants or fragments, however, have been found.
There was also a third object at the June 28, 1917 unveiling: “A rectangular ornamented metal plate the size of a car was set in Franz Josef’s Gasse at the spot where the shooting had occurred.”
The Latin Bridge, Latinska cuprija, Lateiner Brucke, was renamed the Princip Bridge, Principov most, Princip Brucke, in 1918 in honor of Gavrilo Princip. In 1992, the Bosnian Muslim faction restored it to its pre-1918 name.
There were plans in 1917 by the Austro-Hungarian government to build several memorial projects to commemorate Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. Jeno Bory was to be the designer of these as well. The memorial plans were put under the control of Emperor Karl and Empress Zita, the “Most High Protectorates”. The finance committee which oversaw the funding was headed by Obersthofmeister Konrad Prinz zu Hohenlohe. These were to consist of a complex of several buildings. One was to be the “Archduke Franz Ferdinand Memorial Church”. The other was to be “Sophie’s Home”. The cost was set at three million Austro-Hungarian Kronen or crowns. The funding was to be secured by “generous” contributions by the citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina and the Austria-Hungary. The government solicited donations by maintaining that support for the memorial projects was “a matter of honor of all walks of life”.
The Memorial Church was to have three naves in a neo-Romanesque pattern which would “offer a capacity for 4,000 people and by a square-shaped tower at the intersection of the main and side aisles outside a monumental appearance, inside a great room effect obtained with highly effective central lighting.”
At the entrance was to be erected a semicircular arcade “intended to be a Hall of Fame for the main characters of the World War and for the indefinite multitude of our soldiers who have sacrificed their lives on the battlefields of this war for sovereign and country.”
In the arch or dome of the church in front of a small altar kneeling figures of the Archduke and the Duchess were planned, which were meant to memorialize the church service they attended an hour before the assassination.
Sophie’s Home was to be a building connected to the church in memory of the Duchess Sophie von Hohenberg. It was planned to be a youth center or youth home for males, students, and workers of Bosnia and Hercegovina.
These projects were never realized because the war ended before they could be started.
Nothing better illustrates the vicissitudes and permutations of history than the attempt to commemorate the 1914 Sarajevo assassination. In 1916, a plaque was erected to honor the victims of the assassination. Fourteen years later, in 1930, a plaque was erected to honor the assassin who killed them. Which plaque should commemorate the assassination? The 1916 plaque? The 1930 plaque? Neither? Or should the plaque erected in 1945 by the Communist regime be the acceptable one? Should the 1953 plaque be the one? Or should the 2004 plaque that replaced it be the one?
The answer to these questions is subjective. Ultimately, it rests on which position or perspective one takes. We learn that history is not static or transcendent. History evolves and is in a constant state of flux. It is futile to try to control or manipulate history and our remembrances, recollections, or perceptions of it. Like a cloud, history changes its shape and structure constantly. The cloud is gaseous in one phase, liquid in another, and solid in yet another. We can control these metamorphoses and transformations as much as we can control history. It is ultimately an exercise in futility.