Adolf Hitler’s War Trophy: The 1930 Gavrilo Princip Plaque at the Zeughaus


Nazi Germany enshrined the 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque at the Zeughaus military museum in Berlin in an elaborate military ceremony. The plaque assumed a dominant and central place in the museum as one of the most symbolic and meaningful war trophies of the war. The plaque was more than just a war trophy. It was a symbol. It represented the anti-thesis of the New Order. For that reason it was the showpiece exhibit at the Zeughaus museum during the war and was one of Adolf Hitler’s top war trophies.

The 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque was removed in an elaborate ceremony shortly after German troops seized Sarajevo on April 15, 1941. The removal ceremony was filmed and photographed by German media.  Wehrmacht Kriegsberichter Kurt Mittelmann then had the plaque taken to Adolf Hitler’s Amerika train HQ. Mittelmann and another PK officer from Sarajevo then presented the plaque to Hitler on his 52nd birthday on April 20. Hitler ordered that the plaque be placed in the Zeugheus military museum or armory in Berlin. By the end of the month the plaque was in place in the museum, as a central showpiece. A photograph of the plaque in the museum was published in the Nazi Party daily newspaper Volkischer Beobachter, in issue Nr. 120, on April 30, 1941.


There was an official presentation ceremony of the Sarajevo 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque as a trophy in the Zeughaus armory located on Unter den Linden, in Berlin, Germany, in May, 1941. This is something totally new. There have never been any analyses on the significance or meaning of the plaque in Nazi Germany. There was a special ceremony in May, 1941 when the plaque was unveiled at the Berlin Museum. Just as there was a ceremony in Sarajevo to remove the plaque, there was a similar one to present it as an exhibit.


A column of German Wehrmacht troops were photographed marching in front of the Zeughaus in an official ceremony. Crowds can be seen on the side of the streets observing the procession. There was a military band that played. They played drums, tubas, and trumpets.

In another photo, German Wehrmacht troops are marching in a military parade in front of the museum. They are holding rifles and have backpacks. This was the military honor guard for the ceremony.

In photographs of the exhibit, on the top left corner is a captured French flag with the phrase “Honneur et Patrie”, “Honor and Country”. There is a Yugoslavian military uniform with a sajkaca cap on the left. On the right is a British military uniform with a Brodie helmet.


A photograph of the 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque at the Zeughaus in Berlin in August, 1941, reveals that captured Soviet battle flags were added directly above and behind the plaque. Remarkably, the plaque remained as the central war trophy in the exhibit at the museum. It was the core around which the other exhibits were anchored to.

Behind the plaque are captured battle flags from the 1939 Polish campaign, 1940 Belgian campaign, the 1940 French campaign, and the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa: 1. French 2. French 3. Soviet 4. Soviet 5. Soviet 6. Unidentified 7. Belgian 8. Unidentified regimental flag 9. Polish 10. Polish. In 1945, Soviet Red Army troops captured the museum and seized whatever war trophies remained. This raises the possibility that Soviet troops took the plaque to the USSR after the war, assuming it survived the Allied bombing raids.

A German officer on the lower right is shown examining the display in the photograph. The Gavrilo Princip plaque is directly in front of him and in his line of sight in the middle of the exhibit.


In the photographs of the plaque, both German soldiers and officers are shown examining the plaque, along with civilians. The photos show a queue or lines of German civilians wearing hats and suits and overcoats. Women as well as children were also shown waiting to view the plaque.

The plaque was placed in the middle of a wooden wall or barricade that extended in front of the staircase. On the right, a captured artillery piece is prominent. Cannons and mobile guns as well as other captured weapons can also be seen. The British and Belgian helmet and uniform exhibits had been added in 1940. The plaque and the Yugoslavian cap and uniform exhibit were the newly-added attractions. From the photographs of the plaque in situ in the museum, this was a popular exhibit.

Hitler had delivered a speech at the Zeughaus in March, 1941, a month before trhe plaque was installed there. He was photographed examining the British and Belgian helmet and uniform exhibits along the wall. He was also later photographed viewing captured Soviet weapons in a special exhibition along with Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler, and Wilhelm Keitel.


The Gavrilo Princip plaque retained a central position in the Zeghaus museum until the end of the war. Special exhibitions were set up featuring captured Soviet weapons. Nevertheless, the plaque had a central place in the museum. Why was this so?

The plaque had symbolic value for the Nazi regime. It was as a symbol that the plaque had most meaning for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement. What did it symbolize?

The plaque represented all that Adolf Hitler found abhorrent. First of all, it was a “shameful” glorification of victory. It was a triumphalist statement. It enshrined the victory of the Allied Powers in World War I. It rubbed it in the noses of Germany and the former Austria-Hungary as a permanent reminder of their defeat. To Hitler, it was like the Compiegne train, a symbol of victory for France and utter defeat for Germany. As such, both were unacceptable to Hitler.

The plaque celebrated the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie of Hohenberg. It celebrated and glorified an assassination that had started the Great War, World War I. The result of that war was the defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Hitler sought to reverse that result. The Nazi movement had emerged to right the wrongs of World War I. That was their raison d’etre. Their goal was to restore Germany’s position.


The plaque, more significantly, represented the Versailles Treaty, a treaty that represented “victor’s justice”, a Carthaginian peace or settlement. Austria-Hungary was destroyed as a state and dismembered. Germany was stripped of territory and shackled with reparations that destroyed the economy of the country. Germany’s armed forces were restricted. The Ruhr industrial center was occupied by French and Belgian troops.

The Sarajevo assassination was the nominal causus belli of World War I. It was at the core of World War I. It was at the center of German grievances. It was the big bang or genesis of the conflict that led to Germany’s defeat and destruction. For these reasons, it had especial meaning and symbolic significance for Hitler and the Nazi regime.


This photograph showing German Wehrmacht officers examining the newly-installed Gavrilo Princip plaque exhibit, Serbische Gedenkplatte, Serbian Memorial Plaque, was published in the Nazi Party newspaper Volkischer Beobachter on April 30, 1941, in issue Nr. 120. Within ten days from its presentation to Hitler, the plaque had been set up in the museum.

Throughout the the war, the Gavrilo Princip plaque retained its central position in the exhibition of war trophies at the Zeughaus. It was the key showpiece around which other trophies were arrayed and arranged. Symbolically, the plaque represented German defeat in World War I. Indeed, it unapologetically celebrated and glorified Allied victory. That is why it was one of the major war trophies coveted by the Nazi regime.

The Waffen SS Against the Chetniks: Heinrich Himmler’s Inspection Tour in Kraljevo


Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler arrived in Kraljevo, German-occupied Serbia on Thursday, October 15, 1942 to inspect the 7th Waffen SS Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen”. Himmler spent four days in Serbia, leaving on Sunday, October 18. The first offensive or operation of the Prinz Eugen division, the anti-guerrilla military operation against the Kopaonik region of central Serbia, was to attack the Chetnik guerrillas under Draza Mihailovich in the Kopaonik, Goc and Jastrebac mountains of central Serbia. Prinz Eugen attacked Chetnik troops under Chetnik Major Dragutin Keserovic.

Himmler was photographed arriving in an air field in a German Junkers Ju 52 transport plane. Te arrival was photographed by German war reporter or Kriegsberichter Beinhauer, who shot a series of three. Himmler was coming from a trip to Italy. August Meyszner, the Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSPL) in Serbia, appointed by Himmler in January, 1942, greeted him as he departed from the plane.


Otto Kumm, who commanded Prinz Eugen from January 30, 1944 to January 20, 1945, wrote: “From 15 to 18 October the Reichsfuehrer SS, Himmler, visited the division. He was pleased by the attitude and state of training and, besides stating his recognition, promoted several of its soldiers: Eberhardt, Schmidt, Vollmer, Kaserer and Antelmann to Stubaf, Neumann to Hstuf.” (Kumm, Otto. The History of the 7 SS Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen”. 1995 U.S. printing by J. J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Calgary, Manitoba, Canada edition, page 28.).


Himmler promoted the following officers in the division during his inspection tour:

Chief of Staff of the division, SS-Hauptsturmführer Erich Eberhardt (March 1, 1942 – June, 1943); Quartermaster, SS-Hauptsturmführer Walter Schmidt (March 1, 1942 – July 2, 1943): SS-Sturmbannführer Eggert Neumann, Kdr. SS-Aufkl.Abt. 7: Ostuf. Herbert Vollmer, SS-Pi.Ausb.Btl.1; and, Richard Kaserer, the commander of the 1 battalion, regiment 2.

On his arrival, Himmler was greeted by SS Gruppenfuehrer Artur Phleps, the commander of the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS division. Behind Himmler SS Obergruppenfuehrer Karl Wolff, Himmler’s liaison officer, is seen climbing down the stairs from the plane. Artur Phleps gives a “Heil Hitler!” salute to Himmler as he steps off the plane. With his back to the camera SS Gruppenfuehrer August Meyszner was photographed during the arrival. Meyszner was the head of all the police in Serbia and was put in charge of recruiting volksdeutsche for the Waffen SS. Kraljevo is approximately 31 miles southwest of Kragujevac and 20 miles southeast of Cacak. In 1941, Serbian civilians of the city had been executed en masse as reprisals for resistance.


Former Austro-Hungarian officer Artur Phleps, the commander of the Prinz Eugen division, left, with Heinrich Himmler during the inspection tour of the division in Kraljevo, Serbia, October, 1942.

In October, 1942, the Prinz Eugen SS Division engaged in its first large-scale military operation, against Serbian forces under Draza Mihailovich’s commander Major Dragutin Keserovic in the Kopaonik Mountains in the region of Kriva Reka. On October 5, 1942, Phleps issued his first commitment order for the attack on the Kriva Reka area:

“1. The organization center of the senior rebel commander of middle-Serbia, Major [Dragutin] Keserovic, is located in the Kopaonik Mountains (center of Kriva Reka). Its strength cannot be determined. However, the entire population of this area must be considered rebel sympathizers.

2. SS Division “Prinz Eugen,” in cooperation with elements of the Bulgarian 9th Infantry Division, has to destroy this enemy under my command….

12. …Every man in Division “Prinz Eugen” will fight victoriously wherever the combat takes them. We now lay the groundwork for future operations. The division must fight to destroy our enemy, eliminate his headquarters and maintain the peace. “Forward, Prinz Eugen!”

The Division Commander, Phleps, SS Gruppenfuehrer and Generalleutnant of the Waffen SS.”

According to Otto Kumm in his history of the division, this first military engagement of the Prinz Eugen SS Division against General Draza Mihailovich’s guerilla forces was a failure:

“The operation brought the troops untold difficulties and ended (if one considers the enemy contact) without any success. The Chetniks had their spies in every town and were warned long beforehand. The only success was that the troops (advancing out of various departure positions) were able to conduct the reconnaissance, maintain communications, and cooperate during maneuvers. The operation proved the division’s readiness for commitment.”


Heinrich Himmler speaking to troops in the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division in Kraljevo, October, 1942.

During the latter part of October, the Prinz Eugen Division attacked Mihailovich’s guerilla forces in Gorni Milanovac and Cacak.The II Battalion of the 2nd Regiment of Prinz Eugen was transferred to Topola.

Phleps ordered the anti-guerrilla offensive on October 5 in the Kraljevo, Uzice, Ivanjica, Cacak, Raska, Kosovska Mitrovica, and Novi Pazar regions. The Bulgarian 9th Infantry Division participated in the operation. The Prinz Eugen Division had approximately 20,000 troops available for the attack. They attacked the Chetnik Rasina Corps under Dragutin Keserovic, who had approximately 1,500 men under his command.

The offensive was launched on October 12, three days before Himmler’s visit. The area was of vital strategic military value because of the railway and road and communications links to Greece and North Afrika, where Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps needed to be supplied. The Trepca mine in northern Kosovo was also vulnerable to attack.


Heinrich Himmler, third from left, with a picture of Prinz Eugen of Savoy on the wall at a meeting-during his tour of the Waffen SS Division “Prinz Eugen, October 15-18, 1942, Kraljevo, Serbia. SS-Standartenfuehrer Emanuel Schäfer, BdS Serbien, Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des Sicherheitsdienstes, the Commander of the Security Police and Security Service (BDS) in Serbia, first on left, and SS-Gruppenfuehrer August Meyszner, HSSPF Serbien, second from left.

Keserovic had prior information on the offensive and where the German units were positioned. He was able to disperse his troops into small units which were able to escape the intended encirclement. The Prinz Eugen troops attacked from four corners in an attempt to encircle and trap Keserovic’s men. The operation was a failure.


German forces photographed the capture of several Chetnik guerrillas by troops of the Prinz Eugen division. Chetnik daggers seized during the operation were also photographed.


The Axis forces retaliated for the lack of success of the operation by targeting civilians. There are reports that the Waffen SS troops and Bulgarian forces executed Serbian civilians and burned down villages.

In Kriva Reka, 120 Serbian civilians were reported killed. The report claimed that 120 civilians were locked in the Orthodox Church and burned alive. The most recent estimate is at least 46 were killed. Kriva Reka had been Keserovic’s HQ. This atrocity was attributed to members of the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division.

In Kopaonik, 300 civilians were reported killed.

In Mount Goc, the report was that 250 Serbian civilians had been shot.

The claim was that the German and Bulgarian forces killed 670 Serbian civilians during the failed offensive.

August Schmidthuber, a commander of the 14th SS Regiment of the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division, was tried by the Communist Yugoslav government under Josip Broz Tito in Belgrade in a trial from February 5-16, 1947. At least 50 civilians were allegedly blown up in the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kriva Reka by 14th SS Regiment. Schmidthuber repeatedly accused the commander of the 1st Batallion, Richard Kaaserer or Kaserer, as being responsible for this war crime. Kaserer accused Schmidthuber as being the commander responsible.


Himmler inspects the Artillery Regiment of the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division with Phleps, Meyszner, and Hanns Johst.

The Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division developed a reputation for committing atrocities and was cited at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

Klaus Schmider, in his account “Auf Umwegen zum Vernichtungskrieg” in: Rolf-Dieter Mueller/ Hans-Erich Volkmann, Die Wehrmacht, Mythos und Realitat, The Wehrmacht: Myth and Reality, Munich, 1999, p. 911, wrote:

”During its first deployment even the Commanding General in Belgrade noticed Prinz Eugen’s striking propensity for violence. On the merest pretext, they resorted to disproportionate reprisals. After a few weeks the General had to request that they avoid in future unnecessary brutality towards unarmed civilian population, such as shooting women and children and burning villages.”

Like Hitler, Himmler was determined to destroy the guerrilla movement led by Draza Mihailovich. None of the German leaders had any trust or faith in any of the Serbian leaders they installed in Serbia, not even in the State Guard. Jozo Tomasevich from the posthumously published 2002 book Occupation and Collaboration: War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945, noted that both Hitler and Himmler were anti-Serbian: “But both Hitler and Himmler detested all Serbs…this attitude at the highest level influenced all official policy,” He cited a letter from Himmler to Harald Turner, the head of the German military administration in Serbia, dated August 23, 1942:

“In Serbia there should be only the State Guard, which should be supplied with foreign rifles and machine guns that cannot use either German or former Yugoslav ammunition, so that the ammunition can be strictly rationed by us. All other formations, such as the Chetniks and similar ones, should be disarmed, gradually and in a planned fashion.

Never forget that the Serbs remain Serbs, and that the Serbian people are a people who have been in armed resistance for centuries and are trained for it, and that we should do nothing except what is necessary at the moment to maintain our own strength. Anything that would in any way contribute to the strengthening of the Serbian government and thus of the Serbian people must be avoided.” None of the German leaders had any trust or faith in any of the Serbian leaders they installed in Serbia, not even the State Guard.” Tomasevich, Jozo. Occupation and Collaboration: War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945, page 213.

On July 17, 1942, Himmler wrote a letter to the chief of the Gestapo, Geheime Staatspolizei, the Secret State Police, SS Gruppenfuehrer and Generalleutnant der Polizei, Heinrich “Gestapo” Mueller, that Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrillas were the main targets in the Balkans:

“The basis of every success in Serbia and in the entire southeast of Europe lies in the annihilation of Mihailovich. Concentrate all your forces on locating Mihailovich and his headquarters so that he can be destroyed. Any means may be used to achieve this end. I expect the smoothest cooperation between all agencies concerned, from the Security Police and Security Service to all other branches of the SS and police. The head of the SS and police Meissner [Martin misspelled the name of August Meysner, HSSPL in Serbia] has already received instructions from me in this regard. Please let me know which clues we already have of Mihailovich’s whereabouts. Please inform me weekly about the progress of this action.” (Martin, David. Patriot or Traitor: The Case of General Mihailovich: Proceedings and Report for the Commission of Inquiry of the Committee for a Fair Trial for Draja Mihailovich (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institute on War, Revolution, and Peace Press, 1978), page 46, and T-175-140-2668302.)


The Kriva Reka Serbian Orthodox Church where Serbian civilians were massacred by Prinz Eugen Waffen SS troops.

The core of the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division was made up of Volksdeutsche from the Serbian Banat, ethnic Germans known as Schwabian Germans. The troops in the division targeted Serbian guerillas as shown in a song the members of the division sang, as related by SS Hauptsturmfuehrer of the Prinz Eugen Division Sepp Krombholz:

“Prinz Eugen, the noble troop,
it must scuffle with Serbs,
our trash division!
And many Serbian skulls
and many Serbian maids
will I soon see fallen …”

The first offensive of the Waffen SS division against Draza Mihailovich’s forces in Serbia in 1942 was a total failure. They retaliated against Serbian civilians by executions and massacres.

The offensive against the Chetnik guerrillas by the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS division in 1942 showed that the Chetniks were a viable and effective resistance force. Heinrich Himmler’s commitment to the division demonstrated that the Chetniks were perceived as a major threat and adversary to the Third Reich in the Balkans. The Prinz Eugen division continued to target Chetnik guerrillas when it was redeployed to the so-called Independent State of Croatia, Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska (NDH), later in 1942. The action in Kopaonik also highlighted the fact that the Chetnik guerrillas remained implacable foes and unrelenting opponents of the New Order in Europe.

Gavrilo Princip’s Grave: The Interwar Years, 1920-1939

Gavrilo Princip was first buried in secret in an unmarked grave at the Theresienstadt or Terezin prison following his death on April 28, 1918. His remains were exhumed and transferred to Sarajevo on July 7, 1920. This was Gavrilo Princip’s grave until 1939 when a Chapel was built to replace the grave.


The Grave of Gavrilo Princip, Sarajevo cemetery, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Yugoslavia, 1939. (Photo by IBL Bildbyra/Heritage Images/Getty Images).

The other conspirators were also interred in this grave. Bogdan Zerajic’s remains were also reburied here.

The assassination occurred on the Orthodox holiday, Vidovdan or St. Vitus’ Day, Sunday, on June 28, 1914. For this reason the conspirators were called the “Vidovdan Heroes” and the Chapel memorial was named “The Tomb of the Vidovdan Heroes”.

After the war, the remains of the conspirators were located and exhumed by the government of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes and brought back to Sarajevo from the burial sites within Austria-Hungary. They had been buried in unmarked graves in the vicinity of the prisons where they had been incarcerated. They were reburied in the common grave in Sarajevo on July 7, 1920. Exactly 19 years later, on July 7, 1939, the Chapel of the Holy Archangel was built and dedicated to them. This was the grave of Gavrilo Princip that remained up to the time of the centennial in 2014.

But for 19 years, from 1920 to 1939, Gavrilo Princip’s grave was a three-layered stone tombstone. There were three tiers or slabs arranged in an oblong shape. The grave was near the cemetery fence. The palings of the cemetery fence can be seen in photographs to the left of the grave made of black metal spikes or stakes. The grave itself was surrounded by large chains which were attached to short columns. There were round bushes in the corners. This is the grave that Rebecca West described in 1937 in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941) before the Chapel was built in 1939. The old grave had a slab on top with a Serbian or tetragrammatic cross with the Cyrillic letter “c”, “s” in Latin, in the four corners. They stand for the motto: Samo sloga Srbina spasava. Only unity saves the Serbs. This was the national symbol, coat of arms, or crest of Serbia. The crest appeared on the royalist Serbian flag from 1882 to 1918 and was the coat of arms of Yugoslavia along with the Croatian checkerboard symbol on the right and the Slovenian symbol on the bottom. The tetragrammatic cross is also the symbol of the Serbian Orthodox Church.


Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: The Record of a Journey through Yugoslavia in 1937 by Rebecca West. First Edition, 1941. 2 Volumes. London: Macmillan, 1941. 652 + 586 p. Illustrated. First edition, first printing in original dust jackets.

In Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: The Record of a Journey through Yugoslavia in 1937, Rebecca West, the pen name of British author and journalist Cicely Isabel Fairfield, sought to understand the country and its people. West had visited Yugoslavia with her husband in 1936, 1937, and 1938. Her 1937 trip, which took her across Yugoslavia, was the subject of her book, which was first published in 1941 by Macmillan in London. One of the major themes of her travels was to determine the legacy and influence of Gavrilo Princip. Throughout the book there are lengthy discussions and analyses of his life and death and the Sarajevo assassination. She grapples with his role in history and attempts to come to a conclusion. In that regard, one purpose of her travels was to search for Gavrilo Princip’s lasting impact on Yugoslavia and the Balkans. Yugoslavia was the end product of Princip’s assassination, constructed in the aftermath. It was a fragmented country that emerged from World War I, a war triggered by the assassination.


In her quest to pinpoint Princip’s legacy in and on Yugoslavia, in 1937 she made a visit to his grave in the Orthodox cemetery in the Kosevo section of Sarajevo. She described not only what she saw but also tried to ascertain its meaning and implications for the present.

She had visited Sarajevo in her journey that year. She discussed Gavrilo Princip and the assassination in the course of her travels in Bosnia and Hercegovina. This led her to visit the historic places in the city that touched on the assassination. Her companion Constantine suggested that they go to see Gavrilo Princip’s grave in the Sarajevo cemetery.


“‘You must come up to the Orthodox cemetery and see the graves of these poor boys,’ said Constantine. ‘It is very touching, for a reason that will appear when you see it.’ Two days later we made this expedition, with the judge and the banker to guide us. But Constantine could not keep back his dramatic climax until we got there. He felt he had to tell us when we had driven only half-way up the hillside. ‘What is so terrible,’ he said, ‘is that they are there in that grave, the poor little ones, Princip, Chabrinovitch, Grabezh, and three other little ones who were taken with them. They could not be hanged, the law forbade it. Nobody could be hanged in the Austrian Empire under twenty-one. Yet I tell you they are all there, and they certainly did not have time to die of old age, for they were all dead before the end of the war.'”

“The judge and the banker said, ‘Look, they are here.’ Close to the palings of the cemetery, under three stone slabs, lie the conspirators of Sarajevo, those who were hanged and five of those who died in prison; and to them has been joined Zheraitch, the boy who tried to kill Bosnian Governor General Vareshanin and was kicked as he lay on the ground. The slab in the middle is raised. Underneath it lies the body of Princip. To the left and the right lie the others, the boys on one side and the men on the other, for in this country it is recognized that the difference between old and young is almost as great as that between men and women. The grave is not impressive. It is as if a casual hand had swept them into a stone drawer. There was a battered wreath laid askew on the slabs, and candles flickered in rusty lanterns. This untidiness means nothing… After all, a stone with a green stain of weed on it commemorates death more appropriately that polished marble. … It does not imply insensibility. The officer swaying in front of the cross on the new grave might never be wholly free of his grief till he died, but this did not mean that he would derive any satisfaction at all in making the grave look like part of a garden. And as we stood by the shabby monument an old woman passing along the road outside the cemetery paused, pressed her face against the railings, looked down on the stone slab, and retreated into prayer. Later a young man who was passing by with a cart loaded with vegetables stopped and joined her, his eyes also set in wonder on the grave, his hand also making the sign of the cross on brow and breast, his lips also moving.”

“On their faces there was none of the bright acclaiming look which shines in the eyes of those who talk of, say, Andreas Hofer. They seemed to be contemplating a mystery, and so they were, for the Sarajevo attentat is mysterious as history is mysterious, as life is mysterious. Of all the men swept into this great drawer only one, Princip, had conceived what they were doing as a complete deed.” (West, Rebecca. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Sarajevo VII, pages 380-381. New York: The Viking Press, December, 1968 11th printing, One Volume Edition.)

She noted the ambiguity and ambivalence that visitors to the grave exhibited. She described the grave as “shabby” and “not impressive”. What she noticed was the “untidiness” of the memorial. There was, however, a sense of “wonder” and of “mystery”. For West, only Gavrilo Princip was committed to the assassination and only he had grasped the gravity and the consequences of the act. The other conspirators stumbled into the plot in a haphazard and irresolute manner. Only Princip had the determination and the conviction to carry it through to its logical conclusion.

“At the cemetery we forgot for a moment why we were there, so beautifully does it lie in the tilted bowl of the town. It is always so in Sarajevo. Because of the intricate contours of its hills it is forever presenting a new picture, and the mind runs away from life to its setting. And when we passed the cemetery gates, we forgot again for another reason. Not far away among the tombs there was a new grave, a raw wound in the grass. A wooden cross was at its head, and burning candles were stuck in the broken clay. At the foot of it stood a young officer, his face the colour of tallow. He rocked backwards in his grief, though very slightly, and his mouth worked with prayer. His uniform was extremely neat. Yet once, while we stared at him in shocked distress, he tore open his skirted coat as if he were about to strip; but instantly his hand did up the buttons as if he were a nurse coolly tending his own delirium.” (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. NY: Viking, 1968 printing, p. 379.)

West attempted to come to a conclusion or to reach a judgment on Gavrilo Princip and on the assassination. But she could not. Was he a hero? Was he a terrorist? Was he a liberator? Was he a murderer? Did he bring on the war? Was he responsible for the carnage and the deaths of millions? Was it appropriate and morally correct to see him as a person who ushered in freedom and liberty? Was he a martyr? Was he a criminal? In the end, West concluded that a final judgment that was unanimous and accepted by all was impossible. There could only be subjective and self-interested and self-serving interpretations based on which perspective or viewpoint you consulted or relied on. For “Westerners”, the assassination is incomprehensible and is seen as a crime. But for Serbs, the assassination has been transmogrified and adapted to fit in with Serbian national identity and history. He is needed to rationalize and to justify that history. The ultimate judgment and final assessment, thus, depends on who you ask.

“What these youths did was abominable, precisely as abominable as the tyranny they destroyed. … It shows also that moral judgment sets itself an impossible task. … I write of a mystery. For that is the way the deed appears to me, and to all Westerners. But to those who look at it on the soil where it was committed, and to the lands east of that, it seems a holy act of liberation.”


Gavrilo Princip’s grave in 2014: The Chapel of the Vidovdan Heroes.

In 1939, the Gavrilo Princip grave was transformed into a Chapel in Sarajevo constructed by the Serbian Orthodox Church with a red cross on the front wall in the center. The Chapel also contains the remains of the other conspirators and of Bogdan Zerajic. The Chapel was built in Kosevo, in the centuries-old Orthodox cemetery of Archangel Michael, at the behest of the Patriarchy of the Orthodox Church in Sarajevo. It was designed by Aleksandar Deroko, a Serbian architect who had been a volunteer pilot during World War I.


At the front of the Chapel is a marker with the names of the conspirators. They are described as Vidovdan Heroes. There is a cross above their names. At the bottom is the date “1914”. Above the portal their names are inscribed in Serbian Cyrillic: Gavrilo Princip, Bogdan Zerajic, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, Danilo Ilic, Trifko Grabez, Nedeljko Cubrilovic, Mihajlo-Misko Jovanovic, Mitar Kerovic, Nedjo Kerovic, Jakov Milovic, and Marko Perin. There are also verses from The Mountain Wreath (1847) by the Montenegrin poet, Petar II Petrovic Njegos, which are written in Serbian Cyrillic across the top: “Blago tome ko dovijek zivi, imao se rasta I roditi.“ In English, the lines are: “Blessed are those who live forever, they were not born in vain.”

Both the 1920 grave and the 1939 Chapel survived the vicissitudes of the more politically oriented plaques and memorials erected at the assassination site. The 1930 and 1945 plaques were removed and replaced while the 1953 memorial was destroyed during the Bosnian civil war which began in 1992. A politically neutral memorial was erected in 2004 at the site by the Bosnian Muslim government.

The post-1918 government of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which became Yugoslavia in 1929, transformed Gavrilo Princip’s image from an atheistic anarchist and revolutionary to a nationalist. In the process of mythopoesis and idealization, he was added to the Serbian historical narrative and made a part of the nationalist palingenesis and teleology. For the Serbian Orthodox Church, he was made a part of the Kosovo saga or mythos. He was compared to Milos Obilic who had killed Murad in 1389 during the Battle of Kosovo. Concomitantly with his political or nationalist transformation, there was a religious one as well.

The Communist regime of Josip Broz Tito that emerged in 1945 recast and reformulated Gavrilo Princip’s image as a proto-Communist and as a key founder and proponent of Yugoslavism, of brotherhood and unity. As a consequence, he was incorporated into the Partisan or Communist national ideology and depicted as a “national hero”, a symbol of Communist Yugoslavia.

During the 1992-1995 civil war, the Chapel was neglected and vandalized. Bosnian Muslims used it as a public lavatory.

In 2014, on the 100th anniversary of the assassination and the start of the war, many visited the Chapel and placed flowers on the grave. Others condemned Gavrilo Princip as a terrorist and murderer. After a hundred years, Gavrilo Princip’s legacy remains unsettled and in flux. Like Rebecca West in 1937, historians and commentators have grappled with his legacy. But also like West, they could not come away with any definite conclusion or judgment.

Gavrilo Prinicp at Theresienstadt: Imprisonment and Death



Gavrilo Princip was sentenced to 20 years in prison. This was because under Austro-Hungarian criminal law, he could not receive the death penalty because he was under twenty years of age at the time of the assassination. There was some dispute about his age. He was born on July 13, 1914. So at the time of the assassination, he was 19 years, 11 months and 15 days old. He was two weeks short of his twentieth birthday. Investigators sought to show that he was born on June 13 based on an entry in the civil registry.

In the Serbian Orthodox Church registry of baptisms, Princip’s date of birth is recorded as July 13, 1894. The date of birth in the civil register, however, was recorded as June 13, 1894. This would make Prinicp over twenty at the time of the assassination. He would be subject to the death penalty. The Austro-Hungarian criminal court, however, accepted the July 13 date.


Gavrilo Princip, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, and Trifko Grabez, all under twenty, escaped the death penalty. Instead, they were subjected to a slow and excruciating death, a “slow murder”. The sentence they received was twenty years of hard labor, the deprivation of food for one day each month, and being forced to lie on a hard surface in a darkened cell on June 28 each year. Of the 13 conspirators sentenced to prison in Austria-Hungary, nine would be dead in a matter of 3 and a half years. Many were in their twenties. Moreover, many of them went into prison in a perfect state of health. Gavrilo Princip told Martin Pappenheim that he had always been healthy.

He did sustain serious head and back injuries and to other parts of his body after the assassination. Princip had an untreated wound to his chest, back, and arm. At least one rib had been broken and his arm had been smashed. These wounds were never treated. They were allowed to fester and to grow worse and to become infected and septic. His right arm reportedly had so deteriorated that it was held together by wire. His lower right arm was amputated in 1916.

They were all sent to the Theresienstadt prison. Princip was placed in a cell marked “1”. He was photographed at the door of the cell in what is the most reproduced photograph of his likeness.


Theresienstadt, or Teresa’s City, Terezin in Czech, is located northwest of Prague and Lidice in northern Bohemia along the Ohre River near the Elbe River. It was a military fortress and a walled garrison town 30 miles or 48 kilometers from Prague. The military fortress was known as “the Small Fortress” or Kleine Festung. This is where Gavrilo Princip was imprisoned. The town is in the Sudetenland region, which was a majority German region annexed in 1938 by Germany following the Munich Crisis. It was a German transit and concentration camp during World War II, established in 1940.

It was constructed by Austrian Emperor Joseph II in 1780, who named it after his mother, Empress Maria Teresa. It was a fortress town to defend against Prussian attacks.

Gavrilo Princip arrived at the prison on December 5, 1914. He was in Terezin from that day until his death on April 28, 1918. He was in solitary confinement during the entire time of his incarceration. The only time he was out of his cell was when he was taken to the hospital.

Martin Pappenheim had four meetings with Princip, on February 19, May 12, May 18, and June 5, 1916. Entry for February 19, 1916. These records give an accurate and starkly vivid picture of his time there.

Princip found it difficult in solitary confinement. He was not given anything to read. He was chained to the wall. There was no air or sunlight in his cell. He usually only slept for four hours each night.

Princip revealed to Pappenheim that he did not receive adequate food. He was beginning to show the effects of malnutrition. He was slowly being starved to death. In this respect, the prison would function like the later Nazi concentration camps which slowly starved their inmates to death. There were many ways to slowly kill an inmate. Starvation was one.


Martin Pappenheim’s accounts in Gavrilo Princips Bekenntnisse: Ein Geschichtlicher Beitrag Zur Vorgeschichte Des Attentates Von Sarajevo, published by Rudolf Lechner and Son in Vienna in 1926, and in Zagreb in a Serbo-Croat translation, record Princip’s imprisonment during the crucial year of 1916 when his health and state of mind deteriorated drastically.

On February 19, 1916, Pappenheim recorded that his chains were removed when he was transported to the hospital: “Three days ago, chains off. …Always has been healthy. Knew nothing of serious injuries before the assassination. At that time injuries on the head and all over. At that time senseless. Scarlet fever. … Never had attacks of unconsciousness… not particularly religious. … The love for the girl did not vanish, but he never wrote her. Relates that he knew her in the fourth class; ideal love, never kissed; in this connection will reveal no more of himself. … At the time of the assassination was injured on the head and back and all over. Took cyanide of potassium, but was weak and vomited. … It is very hard in solitary confinement, without books, with absolutely nothing to read and intercourse with nobody. Always accustomed to read, suffering most from not having anything to read. Sleeps usually only four hours in the night. … Is not badly treated. All behave properly toward him. … Admits attempt at suicide a month ago. Wanted to hang himself with the towel. … Has a wound on the breast and on the arm. A life like mine, that’s impossible. At that time, about 12 o’clock, he could not eat, was in bad spirits, and on a sudden came the idea to hang himself. If he had opportunity he would do it. Thinks of his parents and all, but hears nothing of them.”


Princip was in the Prison Hospital in Teresienstadt when Pappenheim wrote the entry for May 12, 1916: “He recognizes me immediately and shows pleasure at seeing me. Since 7 IV here in hospital. Always nervous. Is hungry, does not get enough to eat. Loneliness. Gets no air and sun here; in the fortress took walks.” From April 7 to May 12, Princip was in the hospital. … For two months has heard nothing more of events. But it all is indifferent to him, on account of his illness and the misfortune of his people. … On being requested to write something on the social revolution, he writes on a sheet of paper the following, saying that for two years he has not had a pen in hand. Translates. … Broke off here, feeling ill. My thoughts are already—I am very nervous. … The time before he wrote ten lines and one word. Now after this talk he continues writing again. Stops often and reflects. Complains himself that it is difficult for him. Ceases writing again after fifteen lines. Again translates. …”

Princip’s injury had deteriorated by May 18, 1916: “Wound worse, discharging very freely. Looking miserable. Suicide by any sure means is impossible. ‘Wait to the end.’ Resigned, but not really very sad.”

Pappenheim described Princip’s mood and state of mind. He had lengthy political and philosophical discussions with Princip: “Sometimes in a philosophical mood, sometimes poetical, sometimes quite prosaic. Thinks about the human soul. What is the essential in human life, instinct or will, or spirit—what moves man? … Thought that as a result of repeated attempts at assassination there could be built up an organization such as Ilic desired, and that then there would be general revolution among the people. Now comprehends that a revolution, especially in the military state of Austria, is of no use. What he now thinks the right thing he would not say. Has no desire to speak on the matter. It makes him unquiet to speak about it. When he thinks by himself, then everything is clear, but when he speaks with anybody, then he becomes uncertain. … If he had something to read for only 2-3 days, he could then think more clearly and express himself better. Does not speak to anybody for a month. Then when I come he wants to speak about ideas, about dominating thoughts. He considered that if he prepared the atmosphere the idea of revolution and liberation would spread first among men of intelligence and then later in the masses. Thought that thereby attention of the intelligentsia would be directed upon it. As for instance Mazzini did in Italy at the time of the Italian liberation. Thought that the Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro should be united.”

The final entry was for June 5, 1916. “When permission comes, arm is to be amputated. His usual resigned disposition.”

This was the last entry in Pappenheim’s notes. Princip’s arm was subsequently amputated. Princip hung on to life for almost two years longer after this final meeting.

British author Rebecca West described Princip’s imprisonment in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (New York: The Viking Press, 1941, 1968 printing of the 1943 One Volume edition, page 378). West had travelled to Yugoslavia in 1936, 1937, and 1938. Her accounts were published in October, 1941.


An obelisk monument marks the grave where Gavrilo Princip was secretly buried in Theresienstadt in 1918. Photograph by Vova Pomortzeff.

She described the mistreatment and abuse which Princip received at Theresienstadt succinctly and graphically: “Princip appears to have suffered greatly under his imprisonment, though with courage. In his death, as in everything we hear reported of his life, there was a certain noble integrity of experience. He offered himself wholly to each event in order that he might learn in full what revelation it had to make about the nature of the universe. How little of a demented fanatic he was, what qualities of restraint and deliberation he brought to his part in the attentat, is revealed by the testimony of the Czech doctor who befriended him in prison. From the court records one would suppose him to be without personal ties, to be perhaps an orphan, at any rate to be wholly absorbed in politics. Yet to the Czech doctor he spoke perpetually of his dear mother, of his brothers and their children, and of a girl whom he had loved and whom he had hoped to marry, though he had never kissed her.”


West argued that Gavrilo Princip and the other prisoners were subjected to what amounted to a “slow murder”: “Thirteen conspirators were sent to Austrian prisons. Before the end of the war, which came three and a half years later, nine of them had died in their cells. How this slow murder was contrived in the case of Princip is known to us, through Slav guards and doctors. He was taken to an eighteenth-century fortress at Theresienstadt between Prague and Dresdem. The Austrians would not leave him in Sarajevo because they already saw that the war was not as they had hoped, and they feared that Bosnia might fall into Serbian hands. He was put in in an underground cell filled with the stench of the surrounding marshes, which received the fortress sewage. He was in irons. There was no heating. He had nothing to read. On St. Vitus’s Day he had sustained a broken rib and a crushed arm which were never given proper medical attention. At Theresienstadt the arm became tuberculous and suppurated, and he contracted a fungoid infection on the body. Three times he tried to commit suicide. But in his cell there lacked the means either of life or of death. In 1917 his forearm became so septic that it had to be amputated. By this time Chabrinovitch and Grabezh were both dead, it is said of tuberculosis. Grabezh at any rate had been a perfectly healthy boy till his arrest. Princip never rallied after his operation. He had been put in a windowless cell, and though he could no longer be handcuffed, since the removal of his arm, his legs were hobbled with heavy chains. In the spring of 1918 he died. He was buried at night, and immense precautions were taken to conceal the spot. But the Austrian Empire had yet to make the last demonstration of Schlamperei in connection with the Sarajevo attentat. One of the soldiers who dug the grave was a Slav, and he took careful note of its position; he came forward after the peace and gave his information to the Serbs. They were able to identify the body by its mutilations.”

Gavrilo Princip’s death certificate noted that he died on April 28, 1918 at 6:30 p.m. of tuberculosis of the bone in the Theresienstadt Hospital. At the time of his death, ravaged by disease and starvation, Princip only weighed 88 pounds. He was buried secretly in an unmarked grave.

After the war, a guard revealed the location of the grave. An Austro-Hungarian soldier of Czech nationality, Frantisek Lobl, buried the body with four other guards. Lobl noted the location on a map which he sent to his father. After the war ended, Princip’s burial site was located. Princip’s remains were identified and his body was transported to Sarajevo for reburial in 1920. He and the other conspirators were reburied in the Sarajevo cemetery in a common grave on July 7, 1920.


On July 7, 1939, the Chapel of the Holy Archangel was built and dedicated to them. The assassination had occurred on June 28, the Orthodox holiday Vidovdan or St. Vitus’ Day, so the conspirators were called the “Vidovdan Heroes”.

The Patriarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Sarajevo had the Chapel of the Vidovdan Heroes built in Koševo in the St. Mark cemetery. The memorial was designed by Aleksandar Deroko, a Serbian architect and veteran of World War I.


The names of those who died are inscribed on black marble at the front of the memorial: Gavrilo Princip, Bogdan Žerajic, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, Danilo Ilic, Trifko Grabež, Nedeljko Cubrilovic, Mihajlo-Miško Jovanovic, Mitar Kerovic, Nedjo Kerovic, Jakov Milovic and Marko Perin. The body of Bogdan Žerajic was also interred in the grave. He had attempted to assassinate General Marijan Varesanin, the Governor of Bosnia and Hercegovina, in 1912. He committed suicide after the failed attempt. Gavrilo Princip followed his example and precedent. The memorial contains verses by the Montenegrin poet Petar II Petrovic Njegoš: “Blessed are those who live forever, they were not born in vain.”

Gavrilo Princip was dead but his impact and influence on the twentieth century, for good or ill, were immeasurable and would endure.

War Trophy: The 1930 Gavrilo Princip Plaque


The 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque in Sarajevo had been put up on February 2, 1930 amid controversy and international censure. The Yugoslav government made a point of the fact that it was a private memorial to Gavrilo Princip.

The plaque was, nevertheless, attacked and vilified. Critics maintained that the plaque represented “infamy”, was “shameful” or a “shame”, “an affront”, a “monstrous provocation”, and “a barbarous record”.

In Sarajevo: The Story of a Political Murder (New York: Criterion Books, 1959), Joachim Remak cited Winston Churchill’s remarks on the memorial to Princip: “Perhaps the cruelest comment on it all was made by an old friend of the Austrian monarchy, Sir Winston Churchill, who wrote (in The Unknown War [New York, 1932], p. 54): ‘He [Princip] died in prison, and a monument erected in recent years by his fellow countrymen records his infamy, and their own.’”

The pre-Adolf Hitler German Weimar Republic newspaper Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung characterized the plaque as “a monstrous provocation”.

Not everyone, however, was critical of the memorial. British author Rebecca West wrote in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (New York: Penguin Books, 1994, pp. 351-352), published in 1941, that the 1930 plaque was appropriate: “I had read much abuse of this tablet as a barbarous record of satisfaction in an accomplished crime. Mr. Winston Churchill remarks in his book on The Unknown War (The Eastern Front) that “Princip died in prison, and a monument erected in recent years by his fellow country-men records his infamy and their own.” It is actually a very modest black tablet, not more than would be necessary to record the exact spot of the assassination for historical purposes, and it is placed so high above the street-level that the casual passer-by would not remark it. The inscription runs, “Here, in this historical place, Gavrilo Princip was the initiator of liberty, on the day of St. Vitus, the 28th of June, 1914.” These words seem to me remarkable in their restraint, considering the bitter hatred the rule of Austria had aroused in Bosnia. The expression ‘initiator of liberty’ is justified by its literal truth: the Bosnians and Herzegovinians were in fact enslaved until the end of the war which was provoked by the assassination  of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. To be shocked at a candid statement of this hardly becomes a subject of any of the Western states who connived at the annexation of these territories by Austria.”


Richard Holbrooke commented on the 1930 plaque in To End a War (New York: Modern Library, 1999), Prologue, page xx, although he confused that plaque with the 1953 Communist or Josip Broz Tito era one: “According to Rebecca West in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, the inscription, engraved on ‘a very modest black tablet,’ actually read, ‘Here, in this historical place, Gavrilo Princip was the initiator of liberty, on the day of St. Vitus, the 28th of June, 1914.’ In The Unknown War Winston Churchill referred to this inscription as ‘a monument erected by his fellow countrymen [which] records his infamy and their own.’ West, pro-Serb throughout her famous book, objected to Churchill’s characterization, and described the words on the plaque as ‘remarkable in their restraint … [and] justified by their literal truth.'” He also failed to realize that one plaque was erected under a monarchist regime while the second was erected by a Communist or Socialist regime. They were two different plaques by two different and completely opposite regimes or governments politically.

The 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque had replaced the 1917 Franz Ferdinand and Sophie plaque on the wall of the Moritz Schiller delicatessen. The Ferdinand and Sophie plaque was removed and the Princip plaque was put in its place, in the same location. The location for both plaques was above the last window near the bridge, closest to the Appel Quay. This plaque was removed in 1918 by officials of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

After German troops entered Sarajevo on April 15, volksdeutsche or ethnic Germans who lived in Yugoslavia marched to the site and removed the plaque. The volksdeutsche in Yugoslavia lived in areas that had been part of the Austria-Hungary before 1918 when these territories were incorporated into the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, later becoming Yugoslavia. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the Banat region had all been a part of Austria before the Versailles Treaty made them a part of the new Yugoslav state in 1919. They retained their own cultural customs and traditions, spoke German, and had their own newspapers and organizations. As Germans, they had looked to Vienna as their political center. Moreover, the ethnic Germans of the Banat had been settled by the Habsburg Austrian state. They were known as Schwabian Germans after the region in Germany where they originated from.


For them, the Princip plaque was a symbol of the loss of their national identity and ethnic affiliation. It was the assassination and subsequent war that had deprived them of their German identity. As part of a Slavic state, they became a minority and peripheral population. They preferred a return to the pre-1918 period when they were part of a German state, Austria. So they obtained satisfaction and redemption in removing the plaque.

The removal of the plaque was part of an elaborate ceremony. A German military band played on the occasion. German war correspondents were photographed holding the plaque. Wehrmacht Leutnant Kurt Mittelmann was a kriegsberichter or military reporter who took the plaque to Monichkirchen and personally presented it to Adolf Hitler on his 52nd birthday. Mittelmann was photographed in front of the plaque with other German officers when it was removed in Sarajevo. He was also photographed in the cabin of the Amerika train talking to Hitler as the latter viewed the plaque.

The photograph of that presentation first appeared in the May 1, 1941 Nazi Party magazine, Illustrierter Beobachter, No. 18. The magazine editors characterized the plaque as a “shame”, or “shameful”, “Schande”. The Serbian people were glorifying a crime and the criminal who committed it. It had to “disappear”. They noted that it was volskdeutsche or ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia and the families of Wehrmacht members who had taken the plaque down. It was their present to him on his 52nd birthday. Adolf Hitler had ordered that that it be placed in the Zeughaus military museum or Armory in Berlin.


This is where the plaque was taken and put on display. During the war, spectators were photographed examining it.

The museum also contained Polish and French war trophies in 1940, brought back from the successful campaigns in those countries in 1939 and 1940.

The Zeughaus had been begun in 1695 by the Elector of Brandenburg Frederick III on Unter den Linden in Berlin. It had been completed in 1730. The structure was built to house artillery weapons from Brandenburg and Prussia. In 1875, the building was changed into a military museum.

During the war, Hitler had visited the museum on several occasions. Hitler visited the Zeughaus on March 15, 1942, to make a speech on Germany’s Heroes’ Memorial Day celebration. There was a failed assassination attempt against him there in 1943. On March 21, 1943, Rudolf von Gersdorff attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler at the Zeughaus military museum during the opening of an exhibition. Hitler had come to the museum to inspect captured Soviet weapons. The top echelon of the German government was in attendance that day, including Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, and Grand Admiral Karl Donitz. Gersdorff was to be a guide for Hitler on a tour of the exhibition. After Hitler entered the museum, von Gersdorff set off two ten-minute delayed fuses on explosives hidden in his coat pockets. His plan was to throw himself around Hitler.

The structure was severely damaged by Allied bombing during the war. After the war, the building was in the German Democratic Republic or GDR sector of the city which converted it to the Museum of German History, Museum für Deutsche Geschichte, in 1952. After 1989, the building was transformed again into the German Historical Museum, Deutsches Historisches Museum.


The plaque was photographed in the museum in situ in 1941. The plaque was placed on a wall slightly above eye level with a placard on top of it and one beneath it. The title of the exhibit was Serbische Gedenkplatte, Serbian Memorial Plaque.

Two German officers and a soldier were shown examining the plaque. On the left there was a Serbian sajkaca or cap with a military uniform. On the right there was a British helmet and uniform. That appeared to be a separate exhibit. To the right and left are rifles. There also was a large bass drum underneath the plaque. This photograph first appeared in the German Nazi Party daily newspaper the Volkischer Beobachte, the People’s Observer, Nr. 120, issue 120, April 30, 1941. Adolf Hitler was the owner of the Volkischer Beobachter newspaper. Within ten days after the presentation of the plaque to Hitler, it had been installed in the Zeughaus as an exhibit. The source for the first photograph is the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, the Bavarian State Library.

In a second photograph, the lower small plaque can be seen but not the top plaque and the uniform is not in front of it. A civilian spectator is examining the plaque wearing a hat. The sajkaca cap can be seen on the top far left corner but it has been moved farther to the left. This photo is most likely from 1941.

In a third photo from 1945 by Austrian photographer Albert W. Hilscher, the plaque underneath is placed lower on the wall away from the plaque. German spectators, two men wearing hats and a child wearing a hat, are shown viewing the plaque, crouching to read the lower placard underneath the plaque. The source for the third photograph is the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, the Austrian National Library.

After the war, the plaque disappeared and all traces of it were lost. There is only photographic evidence of its placement and display in the museum.

A new plaque honoring Gavrilo Princip was erected in 1945 by the new Communist regime that emerged after the war. The new plaque, like the 1930 plaque, venerated Princip as ushering in freedom, as the earlier plaque had done. The 1953 plaque, likewise, glorified Gavrilo Princip as bringing freedom to the Balkans.


The site of the plaque in Sarajevo has undergone a transformation during the 20th century. The 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque was photographed with a Kralja Petra street sign underneath. The former Franzjosefstrasse or Franz Joseph street had been renamed King Peter street in 1919 by the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. After 1945, the Communist regime renamed it JNA street, or Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija street. After the 1992-1995 civil war, the Bosnian Muslim government renamed the street Zelenih Beretki street, or Green Beret street, after a Bosnian Muslim paramilitary formation.

The Appel Quay, which intersects the street, was renamed Obala Vojvoda Stepa Stepanovich street in 1919. From 1941 to 1945, the street was named Obala Adolfa Hitlera, or Adolf Hitler street. After 1945, the street was renamed Vojvoda Stepa. After the 1992-1995 civil war, the street was renamed Obala Kulina Bana, or Ban Kulin street. The 1953 Mlada Bosna or Young Bosnia Museum was renamed the Museum of Sarajevo, 1878-1918 by the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina following the 1992-1995 civil war. The Princip Bridge or Principov Most in Sarajevo is now named Latin Bridge or Latinska Cuprija. This was its pre-1918 name under Austria-Hungary

In 2004, the government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina erected a new plaque at the site of the assassination, now turned into the Museum of Sarajevo, 1878-1918, covering the period under Austro-Hungarian administration. Gavrilo Princip is still mentioned on the plaque, but this time in neutral and matter-of-fact terms. The new plaque notes that he committed the assassination on that spot. The 20th century history of Sarajevo shows that nothing is permanent and enduring except change

Infamy or Freedom? The 1930 Gavrilo Princip Plaque


What did the 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque in Sarajevo represent? Was it just a rotting piece of wood with rain smears running down it? Did it represent “infamy” or “freedom”?

Winston Churchill wrote that it represented “infamy” in 1932 and demonstrated the infamy of the Serbian people: “The assassin, a Serbian student named Princip, was seized by the crowd. Princip died in prison, and a monument erected in recent years by his fellow-countrymen records his infamy and their own. Such was the tragedy of Sarajevo.”

The Nazis, as revealed in the May 1, 1941 Illustrierter Beobachter, the official illustrated magazine of the Nazi Party, wrote that it represented a “shame” or “Schande” that had to “disappear”.

Hitler ordered that it be put on display at the Berlin military museum, the Zeughaus.

It was given to Hitler by Yugoslav ethnic Germans or Volksdeutsche and the families of German Wehrmacht troops. The German Army was thus involved in its removal.


Hitler apparently did not ask for it and may not have even known about it. It was placed high on the wall of the former Moritz Schiller delicatessen where the assassination occurred. It was hard to see from the ground and was weather-beaten. It was easy to overlook. It was a present that was sent to him for his 52nd birthday on April 20, 1941. The inscription on the plaque read in Serbian Cyrillic: “On this historical site Gavrilo Princip proclaimed freedom on Vidov-Dan 15. (28.) June 1914.”

What must have struck Hitler was the word “sloboda” or “freiheit” in German, “freedom”, when it was translated to him. The word “freiheit” also appears in the German newsreel that was shot by Die Deutsche Wochenschau. So Hitler is contemplating that message on the plaque, Gavrilo Princip brought “freiheit” or “freedom” by the assassination, by the political murder of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie von Hohenberg.


The cover of the Thursday, May 1, 1941 Illustrierter Beobachter, No. 18, featuring Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering congratulating Fuehrer Adolf Hitler on his 52nd birthday in front of the Amerika train in Austria.

What did the pre-Hitler German Weimar Republic think of the 1930 plaque in 1930? Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung characterized the plaque as “a monstrous provocation”.

British historian R. W. Seton-Watson, who was staunchly pro-Serb, wrote that the plaque represented “an affront to all right thinking people”.

The plaque represented “infamy”, was “shameful” or a “shame”, “an affront”, a “monstrous provocation”, and was inappropriate. This was the general consensus in the Western countries in 1930 after the plaque was erected on February 2, 1930, the 15th anniversary of the executions by hanging of three of the conspirators in the assassination. The international reaction was one of rebuke and consternation.

Why were so many people offended and shocked by the plaque? What are we missing here? What were they missing? What didn’t they get? What don’t we get?

Why did German occupation forces remove the plaque? Why was it one of the first objects targeted by German troops in Sarajevo in 1941? Why and how was Adolf Hitler photographed with the plaque?

The photograph of Adolf Hitler examining the plaque was first published in the German magazine Illustrierter Beobachter, The Illustrated Observer, No. 18, in the May 1, 1941 issue, on page 542. The photograph was featured in only some issues of the magazine while other editions had different photos showing the German entry in Zagreb. The Illustrierter Beobachter was published by the Nazi Party in Munich by the publisher Franz Eher Verlag, which also published the party newspaper Volkischer Beobachter from 1920 and editions of Mein Kampf from 1925. Max Amman headed the publishing firm in the 1930s. The illustrated magazine, edited by Hermann Esser, was published from 1926 to 1945.


This alternate page 542 appeared in some issues of the May 1, 1941 magazine, while other editions contained the 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque photograph on the same page.

Why is the photograph in only some issues and not in others of the magazine? It appears that the plaque photograph was inserted later. The plaque page has an asterisk on the top right corner before the year and issue designation: “*1941/Folge 18.” None of the other pages in that issue have that marking. This denotes that the page is a variation or alternate page added later. The alternate edition has photos of German General Field Marshals Walther von Brauchitsch and Wilhelm List, as well as photos of German troops being received with “joy” or “jubilation” by cheering crowds in Zagreb. These were taken on April 10. The Hitler plaque photo was taken on April 20. Most likely the latter was unavailable when the magazine was printed and was added later in subsequent printings. It is the only page that is different in the two editions of the magazine.

The photograph was taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s personal photographer and the official photographer of the Nazi Party. Hoffmann took a series of at least three photographs in rapid succession of Hitler examining the plaque.


In the first published photo, Hitler’s head is slightly bowed as he contemplates the plaque. The scene shows Hitler with two German Wehrmacht officers on the left and a third officer on the far right barely in the frame. All three officers have Iron Crosses. Hitler is contemplative, pensive, and thoughtful in examining the plaque. This is in stark contrast to his examination of the Compeigne railway car memorial in France in 1940 where he was in a rage, furious, and disdainful. He left the Ferdinand Foch statue standing but had the train sent to Berlin and the Alsace-Lorraine memorial dismantled. A second, different photograph of the same scene was taken by Hoffmann with a different pose by Hitler. In the second photo, Hitler is standing straight and upright. He is more detached and sober in this shot. He is looking directly at the plaque. The third German officer is not in the scene on the right. The photo has a flaw in the top right corner with a diagonal section that was clipped off. That section could not be cropped because it would also cut away from the plaque on the right. A third photograph of the same scene by Hoffmann shows Hitler with his back to the camera. The third officer on the far right can be clearly seen wearing a Wehrmacht uniform and collar tabs and an Iron Cross. This photo also has a flaw with two white, round spots that appear on the shot of Hitler. In all three photos, Hitler’s arms are crossed.

What was the original reaction to the plaque by the Nazis and by Adolf Hitler in 1941? Can we ever know?



Top photo, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Heinrich Himmler, Karl Wolff, Hans Lammers, Hermann Goering, and Wilhelm Keitel, with back to the camera, congratulate Adolf Hitler on his 52nd birthday. Bottom: Adolf Hitler in front of the Amerika train on his 52nd birthday greeted by Hermann Goering, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, Field Marshal Walther Brauchitsch, and OKW chief Wilhelm Keitel.

The original publication of the photograph contained a caption. This can be assumed to be an accurate interpretation or understanding of the plaque by Hitler and the German Nazi Party.

The title of the caption was: “The glorification of a shame disappears.” The objection to the plaque was that it “glorified” a political murderer, an assassin. This is how the Germans perceived the plaque. A murderer was deemed a “hero” who deserved to be on an “honor roll”. The assassination was blamed on the Serbs and was seen as the spark that ignited World War I. The assassination was “an atrocity”. It was “shameful” or a “shame” to honor a mass murderer. This was the German take on the plaque.


Volksdeutsche in Sarajevo removing the plaque as a German Army band plays in the foreground.

The original caption in German read as follows:

Die Verherrlichung einer Schande verschwindet.

Am 28. Juni 1914 wurde in Sarajewo das Erzherzogthronfolgerpaar von dem bosnischen Serben Princip ermordet. An dieser Untat serbischer Verschwoererkreise entzundete sich der Weltkrieg. Die an der Mordstelle von den Serben angebrachte “Ehrentafel” zur Erinnerung an diese Bluttat wurde jetzt von Volksdeutschen abgenommen und von Angehoerigen der Wehrmacht dem Fuehrer im Hauptquartier ueberreicht. Adolf Hitler verfuegte ihre Ueberfuehrung in das Zeughaus. Aufn. Hr. Hoffmann.

The translation in English is as follows:

“On June 28, 1914, the Archduke couple was murdered by the Bosnian Serb Princip in Sarajevo. By this atrocity the Serbian conspiracy circles inflamed the World War. The Serbs attached at the murder site this ‘honor roll’ in memory of this bloody deed which has now been removed by ethnic Germans and family members of the Wehrmacht who have passed it to the Fuehrer’s headquarters. Adolf Hitler decreed its transfer to the armory.”


In his 1932 book The Unknown War: The Eastern Front, Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1st edition, 3rd American printing, Volume 6 in The World Crisis series, Winston Churchill wrote that the 1930 plaque represented “infamy” and showed the infamy of the Serbian people.

The plaque was subsequently placed in the Berlin Zeughaus or military museum where it was viewed by spectators. At least three photographs exist of the plaque on display in the museum. It was removed and disappeared after 1945. There is no trace of it after the war.

What does the plaque represent? Infamy or freedom? With the ninety-six year anniversary of the end of World War I on November 11, do we now know in 2014? Or is this still an open question? What are the lessons, if any?