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?

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

The executions were the subject of an article in Der Spiegel, 38, September 16, 1996, “War Crimes: Green Jackets”, “Kriegsverbrechen: Gruene Jacken”, pages 64-65. In Wuertzburg, the SS troops who committed the executions were being investigated by prosecutors for possible war crimes.

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.


Members of the Waffen SS Karstwehrbataillon.

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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.