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.