War Trophy: The 1930 Gavrilo Princip Plaque

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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.”

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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 Wan Winston Churchill referred to this inscription as ‘a monument erected by his fellow countrymen [which] 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 newspaper the Volkischer Beobachter in 1941, issue 120. 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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Adolf HitlerWhat 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.

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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. 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. Hoffman took a series of at least three photographs in rapid succession of Hitler examining the plaque.

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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 examining 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. 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. 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?

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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.

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

The original caption in German read 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.”

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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 two 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?

German Atrocities in the Balkans: German-Occupied Slovenia, 1944

German occupation troops committed horrific atrocities and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia during World War II. The country was dismembered and ceased to exist in 1941. In Serbia, the Pancevo and Kragujevac mass executions of civilians were the most brutal and shocking atrocities and war crimes. German occupation forces resorted to reprisals and punitive measures against the civilian population due to the guerrilla movements which were causing casualties for German occupation forces. The magnitude and scope of the Yugoslav resistance was unprecedented and came as a surprise to German forces. The German occupation forces had the law on their side as the victors. Under international law, the guerrillas had virtually little if any legal protections and could be summarily shot. They were technically not “legal combatants” under international laws and customs of war. They were what could be termed “terrorists”. The Germans took full advantage of their rights as occupiers. German forces were brutal against the resistance movements.

One of the most brutal actions was the execution of two 20-year-old Slovenian guerrillas who were killed on a farm in the Slovenian village of Idrijske Krnice west of Idrija in Slovenia on June 11, 1944. These executions are notable because German forces photographed the killings. The way the prisoners were killed was also noteworthy. The German troops used an axe to behead them.

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Were the executions war crimes and murders of POWs? As guerrillas, it could be argued that they were not “legal combatants” but were what was then called “free shooters” who could be summarily killed. As such, they would not be afforded the customary rights of POWs.  The issue would revolve around whether they were civilians or combatants and whether they shot at or endangered the lives of the German occupation troops. In the photos, the two guerrillas are wearing civilian clothes. One is wearing a white shirt. There are no signs of a military uniform of any kind.

The two captured prisoners were beheaded by members of the SS Volunteer Karstwehr Battalion during the anti-guerrilla operation codenamed Annemarie in the summer of 1944. The soldiers in the photos are Waffen SS troops. The insignia on the sleeve of one soldier is a Waffen-SS chevron designating the rank of SS-Rottenführer. The insignia is a double silver-aluminum sleeve chevron on a black wool base. Their uniforms are those of mountain troops of the Waffen SS.

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Slovenia ceased to exist as a country after the German invasion of Yugoslavia which began on April 6, 1941. The Axis allies divided up the spoils. Germany annexed the north region. Hungary annexed the eastern section. The southern section was annexed by Italy. The newly formed Independent State of Croatia occupied some towns as well. The Slovenian town of Idrija was occupied by Italian troops from 1941 to 1943. It is in the Slovenian Littoral region. German troops occupied the region after Italy surrendered in 1943.

The German goal was to resettle the northern section of Slovenia with ethnic Germans and to expel the Slovenian Slavic population to Serbia, Croatia, and Germany. Italy formed the Province of Ljubljana in its zone.

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The troops who committed the executions were members of the SS Volunteer Karstwehr Battalion which was made up primarily of ethnic Germans or Volksdeutsche from the Balkans and the South Tyrol region of Italy. It was engaged in several anti-guerrilla operations: Zypresse, Märzveilchen, Maulwurf, Hellblau, Osterglocke, Liane, and Annemarie. It was eventually downsized to a brigade as the Waffen Mountain Karstjaeger Brigade of the SS in December, 1944. The brigade retreated into Austria between Villach and Klagenfurt where it surrendered to the British 6th Armored Division on May 9, 1945.

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The formation was initially organized in 1942 as an anti-guerrilla unit as a company based in the Karst region of the former Yugoslavia, Italy, and Austria. The Karst area was a limestone region that was barren and mountainous. The company was established at the Dachau SS training base on July 10, 1942. The core of the men were taken from the supply services training and replacement battalion of the Bosnian Muslim 23rd Waffen Mountain Division of the SS “Kama” , officially designated as the 2nd Croatian division. On July 18, 1944, the Battalion was upgraded to the 24. Waffen-Gebirgs-(Karstjaeger-) Division der SS on the orders of Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler. SS Standartenfuehrer Hans Brand was the first commander in 1942 until June, 1944 when he was replaced by SS Sturmbannfuehrer Josef Berschneider.

In February, 1944, the battalion conducted Operation Ratte, Rat, against guerrilla forces in the area during which it burned down the villages of Komen and Rihenberg and resettled the population in camps. In one operation in Cividale del Friuli, in northern Italy, 15 members of the battalion were captured, tortured, and killed. Their bodies were found with their decapitated heads placed on bayonets.

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In Slovenia, the guerrillas were part of the Chetnik guerrilla movement, the Yugoslav Army of the Homeland, led by Draza Mihailovich, and the Communist National Liberation Front, a Partisan movement. The two guerrillas in the photos are believed to be Slovenian Communist Partisans.

The two guerrillas had been tortured before they were beheaded. They were beaten with logs, kicked, and dragged by the hair. Reportedly one SS member had a knife with which he cut out their eyes. They were taunted: “Do you see now the Allies?” They were laughed at and mocked.

They were then taken to a chopping block. A large group of members from the battalion gathered around the execution site and watched. Two SS members held the victims by the arms. Another member with rolled up sleeves then beheaded them with an axe. Some of the SS troops smoked cigarettes. Some are wearing tropical uniforms.  Their uniforms are clearly and unmistakably those of Waffen SS mountain troops. Some are wearing Waffen SS mountain caps and camouflage jackets and belts and buckles.

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The German troops put the two decapitated heads on a table with a note next to it. It was written in Slovenian: “Warm greetings from SS KWB – the men in green jackets!” The “SS KWB” abbreviation stood for “SS Karst-Wehr-Bataillon”, “SS karst defense battalion”. The objective was to terrorize the local population and to deter them from supporting or aiding the resistance movement.

In one of the series of photographs of the execution, two SS troops hold the prisoner down with his neck on a chopping block which appears to be a tree stump. A third SS soldier is shown bringing the axe to the neck of the prisoner. The SS troops are shown watching in the background smoking cigarettes.

In a second photograph, an SS soldier with rolled up sleeves brings the axe down on the neck of the prisoner. The executioner has a satisfied grin on his face. A second SS soldier is holding the prisoner. His Waffen SS uniform is clearly visible with SS collar tabs and rank insignia on the left arm. On the left, one SS soldier is wearing shorts as part of the Waffen SS tropical uniform.

In the third photograph, an SS soldier who is shirtless has swung the axe and beheaded the prisoner. A second SS soldier, who held the prisoner down, grimaces and steps back.

In the fourth photograph, the decapitated head of the prisoner is shown dangling from the body on the stump. The SS soldier who held the prisoner is shown smiling broadly. His Waffen SS uniform and SS runes collar tab can be seen and the rank insignia on his left arm.

In the firth photograph, the two decapitated heads are shown. The one on the right is mutilated and shows signs of torture.

No one was brought to trial or prosecuted for the executions. SS Standartenfueher Hans Brand who initially created the formation and commanded it, died in 1959. Josef Berschneider, a commander of the SS Volunteer Karstwehr Battalion at that time, was the military officer in charge at the time. Karl Weiland, a former SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer in the formation, was questioned but denied any involvement. One of the SS soldiers wielding the axe was identified as the former SS-Oberscharfuehrer Walter W. from Pforzheim in Germany. He had died, however, in 1989.

The executions remain as shocking images of World War II in the Balkans. They are merely the norm in war. What made them special in this instance was that there was a photographer present who preserved the images.

British Wartime Film: On the Set of the Movie Chetnik in 1942

In 1942, the British movie studio Ealing began filming the wartime film Chetnik in Wales. The subject was the Chetnik guerrilla movement in German-occupied Yugoslavia under Draza Mihailovich. As British support for Mihailovich dwindled, however, by the time of its release in 1943 the title had been changed to Undercover. Moreover, references to the Chetniks were removed. The movie became a fictionalized account of the guerrilla resistance in Yugoslavia without a specific reference to the Chetniks or the Communist Partisan guerrillas.

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The British Picture Post magazine, similar to LIFE in the U.S., was an illustrated magazine which featured the movie in a front page story in the October 10, 1942 issue, Vol 17, No. 2, pp. 17-19. The editor was Tom Hopkinson. The magazine was founded by Edward Hulton and was published by Hulton Press, Ltd., 43-44 Shoe Lane, London, E.C.4. The title of the feature was “How Jugoslavia Fights Back” which began on page 17. The Yugoslav resistance was described in glowing terms of superlatives and hyperbole: “A struggle that will live for ever in heroic legend. It will be brought home to the world in the film ‘Chetnik.’”

Chetnik guerrilla activity under Draza Mihailovich is described. The scenes in the film are modeled and based on actual and reported Chetnik operations in Yugoslavia: “Jugoslav patriots blow up a German military train carrying troops on the way to join Rommel. They work havoc among the Nazi soldiers on the train. They destroy large quantities of the German war material. And the Germans, as a reprisal, shoot every man in four villages, send every woman and child to concentration camps.”

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The guerrillas are under the command of Yugoslav General Draza Mihailovich: “Such is the latest incident in the epic struggle that is ceaselessly waged under General Mihailovitch, Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces resisting the Axis in Yugoslavia, leader of between 80,000 and 150,000 ‘Chetniks,’ who have pinned down for over a year no less than 36 Axis divisions.”

The film was made to chronicle and to dramatize the resistance activities of the Chetniks: “The gallantry, courage and resolution of the Chetniks will live for ever in the annals of mankind, and already a film is being made which will display their amazing story to the world.”

The origins of the film and the plot are delineated. The story began with Dr. Milosh Sekulich, “Sokulic” in the article, who was a physician in Belgrade when the Germans bombed and occupied the city. German occupation troops searched his clinic but he was allowed to work in the hospital. Sekulich was secretly working with the underground. He was described as “an intimate friend of General Mihailovitch”. The clinic became a center for the underground and for the resistance movement.

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The decision was made to send someone from Yugoslavia to London to make contact with the exile Yugoslav government. Two earlier attempts failed. Sekulic succeeded.

Sekulich wrote the original plot outline or synopsis for the story. He worked as an adviser to the film’s producer, émigré Russian screenwriter, director, and producer Sergei Nolbandov. His goal was to make the movie “realistic and authentic in its detail”. He sought to recreate the Chetnik guerrilla movement under Mihailovich.

The photos on the set in the magazine were shot during the climactic scene in the film when Yugoslav guerilla leader Milosh Petrovitch, played by John Clements, and the Chetnik guerrillas organize an ambush of German troops who have to pass through a village. Milosh fires a machine-gun at German troops as they cross the bridge. During a pitched battle, the German convoy is defeated and forced to retreat, suffering heavy casualties. Constantine, one of the Chetnik guerrilla leaders, played by Michael Wilding, is killed during the operation.

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Mary Morris played Milosh’s wife Anna who is apprehended by German forces. She escapes and joins the guerrilla movement. Stephen Murray played the role of Dr. Stephan Petrovitch, modeled on Milosh Sekulich. Godfrey Tearle played the German General von Staengel while Robert Harris played German Colonel von Brock. Tom Walls plays Kossan Petrovitch, Milosh’s father, who joins the guerrillas.

Dr. Stephan Petrovitch goes undercover as a German collaborator. She is able to obtain information which he passes on to the guerrillas. He is able to blow up a vital railway tunnel in the mountains. To deter resistance activity, the German occupation troops execute six students. Von Staengel orders that “one hundred Yugoslavs for every German” will be killed and orders retaliatory strikes against the guerrillas. German retaliation only spurs the resistance on.

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The impact and effect of the movie was described. The film would serve primarily to show the opposition and resistance to German and Axis occupation in the Balkans. The goal was to galvanize anti-German and anti-Axis sentiment. The focus was on building and sustaining morale and highlighting the struggle against German forces: “Vast opportunities are opening up to use the screen as a medium for displaying conditions in Nazi-occupied Europe and the struggle of the people against their overlords. If this opportunity is taken in the right way, the cinema will have a potent effect as an instrument for helping forward the common struggle. The production of this new film ‘Chetnik’, is a notable step in this direction.”

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All references to the Chetniks were taken out of the film. Nevertheless, the uniforms, the caps, hats, the characters, and setting reveal the actual source for the film.

The film is notable for showing the vagaries and ambivalence of Allied support during World War II. In late 1942, Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrillas were wholly supported and lauded in the United Kingdom. Within six months, however, by the time the movie was released, Mihailovich and the Chetniks would be in disfavor and support for them would be waning. Indeed, by the end of 1943 they would be abandoned and rejected in favor of the Communist partisan resistance under Josip Broz Tito.

The events in Sekulic’s life are well-depicted in the film as are the sabotage and infiltration operations of the Chetnik guerrillas. The character of Yugoslav Captain Milosh Petrovitch is modeled on Draza Mihailovich.

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Michael Wilding as Constantine on a 1944 Columbia Pictures lobby card for the U.S. release of the movie under the title Underground Guerrillas.

The history of the film demonstrates the vicissitudes of the war. Within the span of a single one year period, 1942 to 1943, Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrillas were built up and lionized to impossible and improbable proportions and then deconstructed and vilified to the opposite extreme.

Ealing Studios released the movie under the title Undercover on July 27, 1943 in the UK. The film was re-released in the U.S. in 1944 by Columbia Pictures under the title Underground Guerrillas.

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North American Odyssey: King Peter II’s 1942 Visit to Canada

King Peter II arrived in Washington, DC on June 21, 1942 to begin his meetings with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The goal was to secure aid for the Yugoslav guerrilla resistance movement in occupied Yugoslavia. He had come at the invitation of the U.S. government.

He had arrived in Detroit, “the arsenal of democracy”, on June 30, to inspect war production plants. He met Ford Motor Company president Edsel Ford and Michigan Governor Murray Van Wagoner. He toured the River Rouge complex and the Ford Bomber Plant in Willow Run. He was photographed with Edsel Ford in a jeep during his tour.

From Detroit, he travelled by train to Canada, for a two day stay in Ottawa with a stop in Montreal.

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“A Royal Marksman Fires an R.C.A.F. Machine-Gun: King Peter of Jugoslavia tries his hand on a Browning aerial machine-gun during his visit to No. 2 Service Flying Training School at Uplands Airport, near Ottawa. Looking on at the king’s left is Wing Commander W.R. MacBrien, commanding officer of the R.C.A.F. school while in the background is Flight Lieutenant W.H.S. O’Brien, aide-de-camp to His Excellency the Earl of Athlone, the Governor General of Canada.” Photograph dated: July 17, 1942. Source: Director of Public Information, Royal Canadian Air Force.

He came at the invitation of the Canadian government. The occasion was an official state visit by an ally during World War II.

Peter made history as the first reigning monarch to sit in the speaker’s gallery of the Canadian House of Commons. He toured the Parliament Building in Ottawa with Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King and the Speaker of the House of Commons James Allison Glen. He also met with R.B. Hanson, the Conservative party leader and J.H. Blackmore, the leader of the Social Credit party. He was applauded by House members when he appeared in the gallery.

He arrived in Ottawa on Friday, July 10, by train. He told the Canadian reporters during a press conference that the Yugoslav guerilla army led by Draza Mihailovich would continue fighting “as long as it can — as long as it has something to fight for”. He stated that “very little” in terms of supplies had reached the approximately 100,000 strong Yugoslav guerrilla army. He explained the nature of the guerrilla conflict: “We get quite a lot of news from them. You probably have read that we recently made an attack on Italy. But first you have to understand that kind of warfare. Our men can go anywhere they like. They come up and attack the enemy. And then simply disappear. Then they turn up behind the enemy.”

He was asked about the exile Yugoslav government. He told them that it was based in London. He was also asked about his entourage, which included the seven ministers of the exile government along with his aides and staff. He responded: “Well, we have a big cabinet.”

A female reporter queried him about his opinion of Canadian women. He replied: “Well, I haven’t seen many yet.”

Canadian Prime Minister King asked the last question. He wanted to know what Peter thought of the U.S. and the U.S. relationship with Canada. Peter replied: “The people of the United States have a wonderful spirit, which is getting stronger and stronger.” His visits to the war plants in Detroit had convinced him that the war would be brought to a speedy end. He perceived the U.S. and Canada as one country without a border. He told them how easy it had been for him to cross the border and visit Niagara Falls several days earlier.

When queried about the economic agreement that had been signed between Yugoslavia and Greece, Momcilo Nincic, the Yugoslav Foreign Minister replied that “only the beginning of a great union of the peoples and the nations of the Balkans.” With the aid of the United Nations, he envisioned a post-war Europe where the countries of Middle Europe would be united, stretching from the North Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

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“Royal Visitor Inspects Squadron”, King Peter II of Yugoslavia at the Uplands air force training base in Ontario, Canada, Saturday, July 11, 1941. R.C.A.F. Wing Commander W.R. MacBrien, the commander of the base, is behind Peter and the R.C.A.F. flight lieutenant. Director of Public Information, Royal Canadian Air Force. R.C.A.F. Official Photograph.

When a reporter asked about his uniform, he replied: “Really, it’s just small. It’s the rank of a captain. It makes me look like an admiral. But I’m not.”

He revealed that he was in contact with Draza Mihailovich by wireless and other means. His goal was to secure military and financial aid for the guerrillas which Mihailovich led.

The headlines in the July 11, 1942 Ottawa Evening Citizen newspaper revealed his objectives, to sustain the Yugoslav resistance forces with military and economic aid: “Says Yugoslavian Army Will Continue Hitting. Young King Peter Tells Press Conference That Getting Supplies to the Fighting Men in His Country Is Big Problem. Monarch Makes History by Sitting in Speaker’s Gallery of Commons.”

In the article “Rousing Welcome Given King Peter On Visit To Hill”, The Evening Citizen, Ottawa, Ontario, Saturday, July 11, 1942, page 7, the favorable reception he received is detailed. Like in Washington, DC, and Detroit, he was greeted and welcomed as a staunch ally of the Wesern countries fighting the Axis.

He entered Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday afternoon, July 10, at 3:45 PM. He was greeted enthusiastically with 200 members pounding their desks. He received an ovation that lasted five minutes. He stood and bowed to the MPs. He stayed in the House of Commons chamber for fifteen minutes. He was accompanied by seven ministers in exile and his aides. They toured the building. He visited the Peace Tower, the Senate chamber, the portrait gallery in the corridors, and the library. He spent 90 minutes in the building.

Afterwards a dinner was held in his honor hosted by PM Mackenzie King at the Country Club. Those in attendance included the Governor-General, Earl of Athlone, Canadian and Yugoslav cabinet ministers, House Speaker Glen, Sir Lyman Duff, the Chief Justice of Canada, and members of the opposition parties.

On Saturdy, July 11, Peter went on inspection tours of Canadian military installations in the vicinity of Ottawa. “Uplands Show Features King Peter’s Busy Day”, an article in the Monday, July 13 issue of The Evening Citizen, Ottawa, page 8, recounted his visit to the Uplands Canadian Air Force base.

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“First Photo of King Peter After Taking Throne”, The Evening Citizen, Tuesday, April 8, 1941, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, page 2, an NEA Radiophoto from Berlin to the U.S.

On that Saturday morning, he had first visited the Petawawa military base to observe artillery maneuvers. In the news article “Peter Scores Direct Hits in ‘Gun Play’ at Petawawa”, The Evening Citizen, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Monday, July 13, 1942., page 8, his tour of the military facility was detailed. He had arrived at the base in a twin-engine amphibious aircraft at Lake Alumette. He was greeted by the commander of the Petawawa district, Brigadier A.V. Tremaine, Col. F.E. Wootton, Col. S.M. Polson, and Major M. Darling. Peter fired a high-velocity anti-tank gun at decoy tank and truck targets at the camp. Captain P.S. Fitzgerald of the ‘E’ company battery told him: “Well done, sir. That was a direct hit.” Peter had struck the decoy tank directly on target. Peter replied: “I would like to try again.” He also rode a jeep with Izidor Cankar and his aide. He also watched artillery target practice from a shelter and barbed wire surmounting exercises.

He then had lunch with the 1st Earl of Athlone, Alexander Cambridge, the Governor-General of Canada since 1940 and PM King at the Yugoslav legation. At 4:00 PM, he visited the Uplands air base for two hours. He toured the hangars, the classrooms, and the grounds. He fired a new Browning machine gun and rode in a Link trainer. He also visited the tower. He saluted as troops marched past. He then inspected the planes and witnessed a flyover. He also inspected a Harvard single-engine training plane in the hangar. Wing Commander W. MacBrien, the commanding officer at the base, accompanied him on the tour along with Canadian Royal Air Force Vice Air-Marshal Ernest Walter Stedman.

At 6:30 he made a 10 minute speech over the CBC in an address to the Canadian people. He spoke in English, French, and Serbo-Croatian.

Peter had studied at Claire College at Cambridge University in the UK. Aviation and mechanics were his major interests. He spent the war years in London.

Peter had escaped German troops in a plane which was attacked by German fighters. En route from Yugoslavia to Greece, his plane was machine gunned. Marko Dakovich, a Minister Without Portfolio from Montenegro, was killed. The seven members of his Cabinet of the Yugoslav Government in exile accompanied him on his visit to the U.S. and Canada. His cabinet consisted of: M. Nincic, Minister of Foreign Affairs, M. Trifunovic, Minister of Education, B. Cubrilovic, the Ban of Croatia, I. Subasic, the former President of the Cabinet and currently Minister of State, B.D. Jevtic, Minister of State, B. Markovic, Minister of State, S. Kosanovic, Minister of State, F. Snoj, Minister of State, and R.L. Knezevic, a top aide to Peter. During his tour, he was escorted by Slovenian-born Izidor Cankar, who was appointed by the exile Yugoslav government in 1942 as the ambassador to Canada.

At the Seigniory Club the next day he rowed a boat on the Ottawa river for an hour. He showed reporters his hands which were covered with blisters.

On that Sunday, July 12, Peter left for Montreal where he attended a dinner held in his honor. This was his last destination in Canada. From here he traveled to New York.

The Canadian visit had been a success. From Montreal he traveled to New York where he would be greeted by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Nikola Tesla.

The Death of Gavrilo Princip: How Did He Die?

The statements that Gavrilo Princip made to Dr. Martin Pappenheim during his conversations from February to June in 1916 reveal a contradiction. The picture presented is contrary to the accepted perception that Gavrilo Princip was in ill health his entire life. Gavrilo Princip told Pappenheim that he was always healthy. There was no history of illness in the family. This contradicts the accepted view that he was “sickly” and had “tuberculosis”.  Two contradictory views emerge. Princip was in perfect health. Princip was ill and diseased. Which view is accurate?

The contradiction in what Princip told Pappenheim and the accepted view obfuscates a key issue: How was Gavrilo Princip treated in prison? How did he die? How did the other plotters fare?

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Was there a cover-up? Was Gavrilo Princip murdered? Was the accepted historical view meant as a smokescreen or deception? Eight of the thirteen plotters died in prison. This was all in the space of several years. They died before the end of the war in 1918. What could account for such an unusually high mortality rate among the prisoners? Were they all sickly and diseased? Or were they slowly murdered, through starvation, abuse, neglect, and mistreatment?

Gavrilo Princicp told Pappenheim at his first meeting: “Was always healthy. … No illness in the family.” This appeared in Gavrilo Princip’s Confessions in 1926, translated as Princip o Sebi in Serbo-Croat and published in Zagreb that same year. This is what Gavrilo Princip told Pappenheim in 1916. He was in perfect health. He had always been so.

In the news story “Gavrilo Princip: His Life and Death”, Saturday, July 9, 1927, Townsville Daily Bulletin, Australia, page 4, an account of the Pappenheim booklet, Princip is described as being in perfect health: “Princip did not drink, had always good health, and no serious injuries until after the outrage; then he had wounds on his head, and wounds everywhere.” In the February 19, 1916 conversation, Pappenheim described his health and the family history of illness: “Was always healthy. Had no serious injuries until assassination. … Father is a peasant, and is also in business. Father is a calm man, doesn’t drink; lives in Grahovo, Bosnia. No illness in the family.” He was “an intelligent youth, mentally normal.”

He had been rejected by Serbian Major Vojislav Tankosic when he wanted to join a guerrilla band but this was because he was “small” and “weak”, not because he was “sickly” or diseased or unhealthy.

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The accepted or orthodox view of his health is succinctly expressed on the historywiz.com website: “Gavrilo Princip was a sickly man his whole life who died in prison from tuberculosis.” Variations or permutations of this conclusion permeate all the standard accounts that relate to Princip’s health. The implication is that he was sick or ill all his life. He was always in poor health. Therefore, it is not surprising that he died in prison. His illness was only exacerbated in prison but it was not due to his imprisonment. This orthodox view, however, is challenged by what Princip told Pappenheim.

Where did this perception of Princip as sickly emerge from? Was it meant to preclude an examination of his treatment in prison? Was it meant to hide the fact that he was slowly starved to death in prison, that he was murdered?

But if he was, on the other hand, always healthy, how did the accepted view gain acceptance that he was sickly and always in ill health?

How did the prisoners fare as a whole in prison? The trial lasted from October 12 to October 23, 1914 and was held in Sarajevo. The verdicts and sentences were announced on October 28, 1914.

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The interior of Gavrilo Princip’s cell in the Theresienstadt prison. Source: The Holocaust Education Foundation.

Gavrilo Princip, sentenced to 20 years, died in prison on April 28, 1918, aged 23. The cause of death given was tuberculosis.

Nedjelko Cabrinovic, also sentenced to 20 years, died in prison on January 20, 1916, aged 20. His cause of death was also tuberculosis.

Trifun Grabez, who also received a sentence of 20 years, died in prison on October 21, 1916, aged 21. The cause of death was tuberculosis.

All three thus died of tuberculosis only after a short period of incarceration. Did all three suffer from tuberculosis? Was the disease the result of their imprisonment?

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by strains of mycobacteria, most commonly Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The most common form of the infection is of lungs, known as pulmonary tuberculosis. But other areas of the body can be infected, such as the bones and nervous system. High risk factors are malnutrition. Untreated wounds and illnesses are also risk actors as are unsanitary conditions and overcrowded areas. It is highly unlikely that all three had tuberculosis before their imprisonment or that all contracted the disease randomly. That they all died of tuberculosis is highly suspicious and raises obvious red flags.

Lazar Djukic died on March 19, 1917 in Prague. He had received a 10 year sentence. He was a student who did not accept Danilo Ilic’s offer to participate in the assassination but directed him to other plotters. He was also sent to Theresienstadt. His remains were never found.

Nedjo Kerovic died in prison. His original sentence had been death by hanging which was commuted to 20 years in prison by Kaiser Franz Joseph based on the Finance Minister’s recommendation.

Jakov Milovic died in prison. His original sentence had also been death by hanging which likewise was commuted to life in prison by Kaiser Franz Joseph based on the court and Finance Minister’s recommendation.

Mitar Kerovic died in prison. He had received a life sentence.

Marko Perin died in prison. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Five of the prisoners survived their captivity and were released after the war.

Vaso Cubrilovic was released in November, 1918. He had received a sentence of 16 years in prison. He died in 1990.

Cvjetko Popovic also survived. He had received a sentence of 13 years in prison. He was released in November, 1918.

Ivo Kranjcevic survived as well. He had been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Cvijan Stjepanovic also survived. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

Branko Zagorac served his sentence of three years in prison.

Three of the defendants were sentenced to death by hanging and were executed on February 2, 1915. They were Danilo Ilic, Veljko Cubrilovic, and Mihaijlo Jovanovic.

Nine of the defendants were acquitted: Jovo Kerovic, Blagoje Kerovic, Nikola Forkazic. Dragan Kalenber, Miko Micic, Obren Milosevic, Ivan Momcinevic, Franjo Sadilo, and Angela Sadilo.

The deaths were all due to the following causes: Starvation, exhaustion, diseases contracted in prison, and untreated wounds, ailments, and injuries. Their deaths were due to the conditions of their imprisonment and their treatment or lack thereof.

How was Princip treated in prison? During his conversations, Pappenheim recorded his physical and mental states very succinctly.

On February 19, 1916, he told Pappenheim: “Here since 5 XII 1914. The whole time in solitary confinement. Three days ago, chains off.” Princip was in solitary confinement and he was chained against the wall. He most lamented the lack of books.

Princip had to be tight-lipped about his treatment in the prison: “Will say no more in the presence of the guard. Is not badly treated. All behave properly toward him.” He could not safely reveal to Pappenheim his real treatment in the prison.

Princip tried to kill himself: “Admits attempt at suicide a month ago. Wanted to hang himself with the towel. It would be stupid to have a hope. Has a wound on the breast and on the arm.”

On May 12, 1916, Princip was in the prison hospital. He again spoke with Pappenheim. He told him that he was hungry and that he was being starved. Here we have evidence that he was, indeed, being starved. Starvation was being used to slowly kill him. This was also being done to the other prisoners.

Pappenheim described this meeting: “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. Has no longer any hope for his life. There is nothing for him to hope for. Life is lost.”

Pappenheim revealed that Princip was ill during their meetings: “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.”

He described how Princip wrote down his responses to his queries. He revealed that “for two years he has not had a pen in hand.”

Princip could not continue writing because he was ill: “Broke off here, feeling ill. My thoughts are already—I am very nervous.”

He was weak and could barely write: “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.”

In his entry for May 18, 1916, Pappenheim describes vividly the deterioration of his wound. Princip’s injuries were never treated. They were allowed to fester and worsen.

Pappenheim described his physical and mental state: “Wound worse, discharging very freely. Looking miserable. Suicide by any sure means is impossible. ‘Wait to the end.’ Resigned, but not really very sad.”

He noted his isolation: “Does not speak to anybody for a month.”

The final entry was on June 5. This was their last meeting. Only a few sentences were written on this date. Princip reveals that his condition had deteriorated to the point where his arm had to be amputated: “When permission comes, arm is to be amputated.”

The Theresienstadt fortress became a Nazi concentration camp in 1941 after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1940. The treatment that Gavrilo Princip and the other plotters received is similar to the slow murder that was a key component of the concentration camps. Inmates would be deprived of required and necessary nutrients and sustenance. They would gradually weaken and wither and sicken. How did concentration camps inmates die? From malnutrition and disease.

Princip’s statements to Pappenheim in 1916 raise questions about how he was treated in prison. They challenge the accepted view that Princip and the others were always sickly, unhealthy, and diseased. A contrary view presented in the conversations is that he was always healthy and there was no history of disease or ill health. Was he thus slowly murdered in prison, along with the other plotters? The accepted view has the result of precluding or preventing an examination of this question.