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 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.
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