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.