Disputed Legacy: The Destruction of the 1953 Gavrilo Princip Plaque


A Bosnian Muslim soldier and a civilian walk past the destroyed 1953 Gavrilo Princip plaque in Sarajevo during the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war.

In 1992, at the start of the civil war in Bosnia, one of the earliest objects targeted for destruction was the 1953 Communist Yugoslavia era monument to Gavrilo Princip. Bosnian Muslim forces under the Alija Izetbegovic regime demolished the memorial. Based on photographic evidence, the plaque was destroyed purposely and intentionally. Bosnian Muslim forces targeted for destruction all traces of Serbian culture or history in Sarajevo. The footprints memorial was also removed from the sidewalk in front of the plaque and is presumed destroyed as well. Bosnian Muslims ransacked the museum and destroyed all the contents. There are conflicting reports about whether the footprints were destroyed or not. In one account, the footprints were removed and placed in the museum from where they were stolen. A copy or replica is in the renamed Sarajevo Museum: 1878-1918 dedicated to the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg period according to Fran Markowitz in Sarajevo: A Bosnian Kaleidoscope (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2010, p. 45). In other accounts, the footprints were destroyed outright when the plaque was demolished during the civil war. In some accounts, they were destroyed by Bosnian Muslim forces, in other accounts, due to Bosnian Serb shelling.

The photographic evidence shows that the 1953 plaque was deliberately and meticulously removed from the museum wall by Bosnian Muslim forces. The plaque was shattered into fragments. This occurred at the start of the civil war in 1992 when all symbols of the Yugoslav or Serbian past were chosen for destruction and elimination by the Bosnian Muslim faction. The photographs reveal that the footprints were removed. In one photograph, there is a gap in the sidewalk where the footprints concrete slab once stood. There is no trace of the footprints. Where they once stood there is a gaping hole with overgrown green foliage. Both the plaque and the footprints were eliminated from the historic site. There is no trace of them.


The first version of the 1953 plaque with the words “tiranije” and “naroda” hyphenated on four wall panels, which was replaced circa 1987 with a new, second version.

Although the plaque was constructed by the Yugoslav Communist regime, the writing was in Serbian Cyrillic. The building was known as the Museum of Young Bosnia or Muzej Mlade Bosne, or as The Museum of the Assassination. The footprints were an artistic creation by a Bosnian Serb artist who sought to memorialize the event. From the Bosnian Muslim perspective: The plaque was a Serbian symbol, regardless of its Communist or Tito regime origins. It was in Serbian Cyrillic. How were Bosnian Muslims and Croats supposed to read it? Their writing was in the Latin script. It is clear and incontrovertible from the color photograph that the plaque was deliberately and knowingly destroyed by Bosnian Muslim forces. There is no bomb damage on that side of the wall. Only the plaque was damaged. Bosnian Muslim Government forces maliciously and willfully demolished the plaque. This has not received any coverage in the mainstream media in the U.S. or internationally because it exposes the ultra-nationalist animus and enmity of the Bosnian Muslim faction. They were not always victims but victimized others. They were fighting not for multiculturalism and tolerance, but for a narrow and exclusive Bosnian Muslim or Bosniak state.


The first version of the 1953 plaque which was replaced circa 1987 with a new version with a white background on a single panel.

The destruction of the 1953 monument was largely suppressed and covered up or even falsified in the U.S. and the mainstream Western press and even in historical accounts. A certain portion can be ascribed to lack of knowledge and unavailable facts. There was also a conscious and systematic goal to implicate the Bosnian Serb faction in the destruction of the plaque and of the footprints. Tony Fabijancic in Bosnia: In the Footsteps of Gavrilo Princip (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: University of Alberta Press, 2010, p. 158) claimed that the footprints had been destroyed by Bosnian Serb shelling. He did note, however, that the Mlada Bosna or Young Bosnia bas-relief of figures and the name itself in Serbian Cyrillic letters were removed by the Bosnian Muslim government officials. Greg King and Sue Woolmans in The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013, Epilogue, p. 277) noted that the plaque was “sandblasted” by Bosnian Muslim forces


Richard Holbrooke commented on the 1953 Gavrilo Princip plaque in To End a War (New York: Modern Library, 1999): “When I reached the war-torn city [Sarajevo], I ran into John Burns, the great war correspondent of the New York Times, and asked if he could take me to Princip’s footprints in the pavement. Impossible, he said with a laugh: they had been destroyed by the Bosnian Muslims. But the spirit behind their inscription had been revived — murderously so.” John Burns placed the blame for the destruction of the footprints on the Bosnian Muslim forces. The plaque was also undoubtedly and unquestionably destroyed by Bosnian Muslim Government forces.

Richard Holbrooke confused the 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque with the 1953 Communist one in his book. He also failed to distinguish that one plaque was erected by 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.


A copy or replica of the footprints in the Sarajevo 1878-1914 Museum in a 2014 photo by Midhat Poturovic. RFE/RL.

The footprints were designed by local artist Vojo Dimitrijevic. Gavrilo Princip’s footprints were removed in 1992 by Bosnian Muslim forces. The trail becomes murky at this point. In one account, the original footprints were stolen from the Mlada Bosna Museum after being placed there. A copy was made. The copy was returned to the site in the late 1990s. They were then removed a second time and put inside the Sarajevo museum. There were plans by the Bosnian Muslim Government to return the footprints to the site in 2003. But the replica footprints remain inside the museum. The original footprints were set in the sidewalk in 1951, two years before the memorial went up. Needless to say, these are not Gavrilo Princip’s actual footprints nor are they intended to be but are meant to be a memorial to the assassination created during the Communist Yugoslavia or Josip Broz Tito era reflecting the Communist Yugoslavia image of Gavrilo Princip as a “national hero” of Yugoslavia. It is an artistic conception of the event.


Sarajevo-born artist Vojo Dimitrijevic constructed the Gavrilo Princip footprints memorial in 1951/1952. Three factors that explain why the Bosnian Muslim government wanted to preserve the footprints memorial: First, they were an artistic work. Second, the work was created by a recognized Bosnian artist. Third, there was no writing in Serbian Cyrillic letters associated with them.

Principplaque1953The 1953 Gavrilo Princip plaque and the footprints memorial in 1960 at the height of the Communist Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito era.

The new 1953 plaque had been erected in 1953 by the Communist Yugoslav government during the Josip Broz Tito regime era as a memorial to Gavrilo Princip. It consisted of red lettering on a white side panel of the wall of the then newly constructed Young Bosnia or Mlada Bosna Museum which had formerly been the Moritz Schiller delicatessen at the time of the assassination. It had replaced the 1945 plaque put in the same location as the 1930 plaque. The 1945 plaque had a Communist Partisan red star or crvena zvezda above it which sought to encapsulate and to vindicate the Partisan victory. The memorial represented or symbolized the Communist Josip Broz Tito government’s consensus on Gavrilo Princip, regarded as a Yugoslav nationalist, proto-Communist revolutionary.

Ambiguity, however, existed because he was born an Orthodox Serb. The Tito regime portrayed him as a “Yugoslav”, someone who worked for the unification of all Slavs. This view of Princip was supported by his statements at his trial and those made in 1916 to Martin Pappenheim. But another interpretation was possible. Non-Serbs perceived him as a Serbian nationalist who sought the unification of all territory settled by Serbs.

The Communist consensus was fragile. It represented a precarious balance. But it was a balancing act which the Tito regime pulled off successfully.

The 1953 plaque or memorial reflected the Brotherhood and Unity credo of the Tito regime, bratstvo i jedinstvo, the Yugoslav idea which Tito espoused and which was embodied in the Partisan Movement of World War II. Communist Partisans saw the Mlada Bosna Movement, made up of Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims, as a precursor to their own movement.

The original 1953 plaque was replaced with a new one in the late 1980s, circa 1987. The words “tiranije” are “naroda” hyphenated. The plaque was on four wall panels. This plaque stood for 35 years as a showpiece of Communist Yugoslavia. A new version which replaced it stood for about 5 years until it was destroyed in 1992 by Bosnian Muslim forces. This new plaque had a white background and had different letter spacing. The words “tiranije” and “naroda” are single words in the new plaque, unhyphenated. The new plaque was on a single wall panel.



The second version of the 1953 plaque which was erected circa 1987 on a white background with unhyphenated words on a single wall panel.

The plaque, in Serbian Cyrillic with red lettering, read: “From this place on June 28, 1914 Gavrilo Princip with his shooting expressed the protest of the people against tyranny and the centuries-long aspirations of our people for freedom.” “Sa ovoga mjesta 28 Juna 1914 godine Gavrilo Princip svojim pucnjem izrazi narodni protest protiv tiranije i vjekovnu težnju naših naroda za slobodom.” This was the Josip Broz Tito or Communist Partisan interpretation of the assassination and Princip’s role in it. Remarkably, it was not much different from the Serbian monarchist Karadjordjevic plaque erected in 1930. Gavrilo Princip was portrayed as a proto-Communist or proto-Partisan anti-imperialist revolutionary in the 1953 plaque fighting for national self-determination and the liberation of all the people of the former Yugoslavia. Most conspicuously, the 1953 plaque deleted or omitted any reference to Vidov Dan which was central to the 1930 Karadjordjevic monarchist plaque. Vidov Dan had religious and Serbian nationalist connotations which the Communist regime opposed. The Serbian monarchist plaque extolled Princip as bringing “freedom” by assassinating the Archduke and Duchess. The Tito plaque was couched in more Communistic terminology, but the conclusion was the same. Princip was a Communist “national hero” of Yugoslavia. The Serbian Orthodox Church had also elevated the assassin Princip to hero status. Paradoxically, the atheistic Communist government of Josip Broz Tito and the Serbian monarchist Karadjordjevic government as well as the Serbian Orthodox Church perceived and characterized Gavrilo Princip and the assassination in almost identical terms. All used Gavrilo Princip to legitimize their rule and their history.

The assassination was perceived by the Communists as a “protest” against the occupation of Bosnia by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Gavrilo Princip’s motives and goals were characterized as those of a patriotic nationalist who sought to free the South Slavs from a foreign oppressor or from an illegal occupation.

History is a picture or conception we agree on. It is a perception, judgment, or assessment that there is a consensus on.  Not everyone agrees with it but enough believe or acquiesce in it that it becomes the official, dominant, or the generally accepted paradigm, the accepted or conventional wisdom.

That consensus can change. Not everyone sees an event in history the same way. How we remember or perceive the event is determined or dictated by the uses we make of it.

With the collapse of Yugoslavia and of the Yugoslav idea, the assessment or perception of Gavrilo Princip’s role or place in history changed.

For Serbs, he retained his significance as seeking the end of the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia. For non-Serbs, however, his role was now perceived differently. He was seen in negative terms. His role was now contrary to the national aspirations of non-Serbs who wanted to establish their own nations and states. The Yugoslav idea, which the 1953 memorial represented, was, thus, antithetical to that objective.

Very simply, for Bosnian Muslims and Croats, Gavrilo Princip had no use. He represented the Yugoslav idea, the unification of all South Slavs. In 1992, that idea was dead on arrival. It died with Communism and with Yugoslavia. With that Yugoslavism patina removed, he was exposed as a Serb. As such, any traces of Princip had to disappear. That is why Bosnian Muslim troops demolished the 1953 plaque in 1992. That is why Croatian Army troops burned down Gavrilo Princip’s house in the Grahovo Valley in 1995 during Operation Storm.


Gavrilo Princip’s role has changed from “national hero” of Yugoslavia to “national hero” of Serbia. Statues are erected to him in Republika Srpska and in Serbia. But he is no longer a “national hero” to non-Serbs. The destruction of the 1953 plaque is the physical manifestation of this fact.

The First Sarajevo Plaque: The Photographic Evidence


Following the June 28, 1914 assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie of Hohenberg, the Austro-Hungarian government erected a plaque to commemorate their deaths. The marble plaque was placed above the last window on the right of the Moritz Schiller delicatessen on Franz Josef Strasse at the corner intersection on the Appel Quay. In 1918, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes removed the plaque and the monument that was erected in 1917. All traces of the original plaque disappeared.

On February 2, 1930, a new plaque was erected at the exact same place. This was a plaque dedicated to Gavrilo Princip. This plaque was smaller than the original one. The Yugoslav government stated that the plaque was a private memorial which was funded by donations.

How was this complete reversal of fortune to be explained and understood? The assassin was now honored. All references to the victims of the assassin were removed.


The original Sarajevo plaque to commemorate the assassination was finished in 1916. The inscription on the plaque read, in Serbian-Croatian-Bosnian, in Latin script:

“28.VI. 1914.

Poginuse na ovom raskrscu mucenickom smrcu od ubojnicke ruke prijesttolo nasljednik nadvojvoda Franjo Ferdinand i supruga mu vojvotkinja Sofija Hohenberg.”

The English translation is:

“June 28, 1914

They fell at this place to martyrdom of murdering hand the heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife the Duchess Sophie Hohenberg.”


In German translation:


Es erlitten an dieser Kreuzung den Märtyrertod durch Mörderhand der Thronerbe Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand und seine Gattin Herzogin Sophie Hohenberg.“

In between the date there was a Roman Catholic cross. Above the cross there was a crown representing the monarchy.


The 1917 plaque was removed in 1918. The 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque replaced this 1916 plaque. The Gavrilo Princip plaque was put in the exact same location.

From photographic evidence, the Franz Ferdinand and Sophie plaque was finished and in place by the spring of 1916. A photograph dated January 15, 1916 from the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, the Austrian National Library, shows scaffolding as the plaque neared completion. A post-1917 postcard revealed that an Austro-Hungarian black and yellow flag representing Imperial Austria and the Habsburg dynasty was placed left of the plaque nearer to street level. The flag pole mount remained when the Gavrilo Princip plaque was erected although the flag was obviously changed.


That year the Sarajevo city council commissioned a new memorial. This would be erected by the Latin Bridge which was across from the Moritz Schiller delicatessen where the assassination occurred, “the murder site”, “die Mordstelle”. The monument would be designed by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Jeno Bory (1879-1959). It was the “atonement monument in Sarajevo for Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Duchess of Hohenberg”. It was unveiled in a public ceremony on June 28, 1917, the third anniversary of the assassination. Roman Catholic priests officiated at the religious ceremony which was attended by high ranking Austro-Hungarian government and military officials in Bosnia.


The memorial consisted of two columns made of Silesian granite, 12 meters high. The base was similar to an altar where there was a space for prayer ceremonies. In front of the columns was a bronze medallion with relief images of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. The monument featured the coat of arms reliefs and bronze crowns. Across from the columns a bench was constructed as a viewing point.

The 1916 plaque was removed in 1918 by the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which occupied Bosnia and Hercegovina following the defeat of Austria-Hungary. The space where the plaque had stood was restored and left blank.


The two columns of the memorial were also taken down in 1918. The bronze medallion was removed and put in storage in the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Hercegovina. It was subsequently placed in the newly constructed Museum of Sarajevo or Muzej Sarajeva, which was dedicated to preserving the history of the 1878-1918 period when Bosnia and Hercegovina were occupied by Austria-Hungary. The bench was the only part of the memorial that remained. It has remained in place since 1917 to the present. Even sections of the two columns have been located. The columns reportedly were first stored at the State Museum. Then one column was sent to Trebinje and the other kept in Sarajevo. The assumption was that both were cut up and destroyed with no trace left of them. Remnants or fragments, however, have been found.


There was also a third object at the June 28, 1917 unveiling: “A rectangular ornamented metal plate the size of a car was set in Franz Josef’s Gasse at the spot where the shooting had occurred.”

The Latin Bridge, Latinska cuprija, Lateiner Brucke, was renamed the Princip Bridge, Principov most, Princip Brucke, in 1918 in honor of Gavrilo Princip. In 1992, the Bosnian Muslim faction restored it to its pre-1918 name.


There were plans in 1917 by the Austro-Hungarian government to build several memorial projects to commemorate Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. Jeno Bory was to be the designer of these as well. The memorial plans were put under the control of Emperor Karl and Empress Zita, the “Most High Protectorates”. The finance committee which oversaw the funding was headed by Obersthofmeister Konrad Prinz zu Hohenlohe. These were to consist of a complex of several buildings. One was to be the “Archduke Franz Ferdinand Memorial Church”. The other was to be “Sophie’s Home”. The cost was set at three million Austro-Hungarian Kronen or crowns. The funding was to be secured by “generous” contributions by the citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina and the Austria-Hungary. The government solicited donations by maintaining that support for the memorial projects was “a matter of honor of all walks of life”.


The Memorial Church was to have three naves in a neo-Romanesque pattern which would “offer a capacity for 4,000 people and by a square-shaped tower at the intersection of the main and side aisles outside a monumental appearance, inside a great room effect obtained with highly effective central lighting.”

At the entrance was to be erected a semicircular arcade “intended to be a Hall of Fame for the main characters of the World War and for the indefinite multitude of our soldiers who have sacrificed their lives on the battlefields of this war for sovereign and country.”

In the arch or dome of the church in front of a small altar kneeling figures of the Archduke and the Duchess were planned, which were meant to memorialize the church service they attended an hour before the assassination.

Sophie’s Home was to be a building connected to the church in memory of the Duchess Sophie von Hohenberg. It was planned to be a youth center or youth home for males, students, and workers of Bosnia and Hercegovina.

These projects were never realized because the war ended before they could be started.

GavriloPrincipThe 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque placed on the wall where the Franz Ferdinand and Sophie plaque had stood in 1916-1918.

Nothing better illustrates the vicissitudes and permutations of history than the attempt to commemorate the 1914 Sarajevo assassination. In 1916, a plaque was erected to honor the victims of the assassination. Fourteen years later, in 1930, a plaque was erected to honor the assassin who killed them. Which plaque should commemorate the assassination? The 1916 plaque? The 1930 plaque? Neither? Or should the plaque erected in 1945 by the Communist regime be the acceptable one? Should the 1953 plaque be the one? Or should the 2004 plaque that replaced it be the one?

The answer to these questions is subjective. Ultimately, it rests on which position or perspective one takes. We learn that history is not static or transcendent. History evolves and is in a constant state of flux. It is futile to try to control or manipulate history and our remembrances, recollections, or perceptions of it. Like a cloud, history changes its shape and structure constantly. The cloud is gaseous in one phase, liquid in another, and solid in yet another. We can control these metamorphoses and transformations as much as we can control history. It is ultimately an exercise in futility.

Adolf Hitler’s War Trophy: The 1930 Gavrilo Princip Plaque at the Zeughaus


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.

The Waffen SS Against the Chetniks: Heinrich Himmler’s Inspection Tour in Kraljevo


Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler arrived in Kraljevo, German-occupied Serbia on Thursday, October 15, 1942 to inspect the 7th Waffen SS Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen”. Himmler spent four days in Serbia, leaving on Sunday, October 18. The first offensive or operation of the Prinz Eugen division, the anti-guerrilla military operation against the Kopaonik region of central Serbia, was to attack the Chetnik guerrillas under Draza Mihailovich in the Kopaonik, Goc and Jastrebac mountains of central Serbia. Prinz Eugen attacked Chetnik troops under Chetnik Major Dragutin Keserovic.

Himmler was photographed arriving in an air field in a German Junkers Ju 52 transport plane. Te arrival was photographed by German war reporter or Kriegsberichter Beinhauer, who shot a series of three. Himmler was coming from a trip to Italy. August Meyszner, the Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSPL) in Serbia, appointed by Himmler in January, 1942, greeted him as he departed from the plane.


Otto Kumm, who commanded Prinz Eugen from January 30, 1944 to January 20, 1945, wrote: “From 15 to 18 October the Reichsfuehrer SS, Himmler, visited the division. He was pleased by the attitude and state of training and, besides stating his recognition, promoted several of its soldiers: Eberhardt, Schmidt, Vollmer, Kaserer and Antelmann to Stubaf, Neumann to Hstuf.” (Kumm, Otto. The History of the 7 SS Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen”. 1995 U.S. printing by J. J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Calgary, Manitoba, Canada edition, page 28.).


Himmler promoted the following officers in the division during his inspection tour:

Chief of Staff of the division, SS-Hauptsturmführer Erich Eberhardt (March 1, 1942 – June, 1943); Quartermaster, SS-Hauptsturmführer Walter Schmidt (March 1, 1942 – July 2, 1943): SS-Sturmbannführer Eggert Neumann, Kdr. SS-Aufkl.Abt. 7: Ostuf. Herbert Vollmer, SS-Pi.Ausb.Btl.1; and, Richard Kaserer, the commander of the 1 battalion, regiment 2.

On his arrival, Himmler was greeted by SS Gruppenfuehrer Artur Phleps, the commander of the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS division. Behind Himmler SS Obergruppenfuehrer Karl Wolff, Himmler’s liaison officer, is seen climbing down the stairs from the plane. Artur Phleps gives a “Heil Hitler!” salute to Himmler as he steps off the plane. With his back to the camera SS Gruppenfuehrer August Meyszner was photographed during the arrival. Meyszner was the head of all the police in Serbia and was put in charge of recruiting volksdeutsche for the Waffen SS. Kraljevo is approximately 31 miles southwest of Kragujevac and 20 miles southeast of Cacak. In 1941, Serbian civilians of the city had been executed en masse as reprisals for resistance.


Former Austro-Hungarian officer Artur Phleps, the commander of the Prinz Eugen division, left, with Heinrich Himmler during the inspection tour of the division in Kraljevo, Serbia, October, 1942.

In October, 1942, the Prinz Eugen SS Division engaged in its first large-scale military operation, against Serbian forces under Draza Mihailovich’s commander Major Dragutin Keserovic in the Kopaonik Mountains in the region of Kriva Reka. On October 5, 1942, Phleps issued his first commitment order for the attack on the Kriva Reka area:

“1. The organization center of the senior rebel commander of middle-Serbia, Major [Dragutin] Keserovic, is located in the Kopaonik Mountains (center of Kriva Reka). Its strength cannot be determined. However, the entire population of this area must be considered rebel sympathizers.

2. SS Division “Prinz Eugen,” in cooperation with elements of the Bulgarian 9th Infantry Division, has to destroy this enemy under my command….

12. …Every man in Division “Prinz Eugen” will fight victoriously wherever the combat takes them. We now lay the groundwork for future operations. The division must fight to destroy our enemy, eliminate his headquarters and maintain the peace. “Forward, Prinz Eugen!”

The Division Commander, Phleps, SS Gruppenfuehrer and Generalleutnant of the Waffen SS.”

According to Otto Kumm in his history of the division, this first military engagement of the Prinz Eugen SS Division against General Draza Mihailovich’s guerilla forces was a failure:

“The operation brought the troops untold difficulties and ended (if one considers the enemy contact) without any success. The Chetniks had their spies in every town and were warned long beforehand. The only success was that the troops (advancing out of various departure positions) were able to conduct the reconnaissance, maintain communications, and cooperate during maneuvers. The operation proved the division’s readiness for commitment.”


Heinrich Himmler speaking to troops in the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division in Kraljevo, October, 1942.

During the latter part of October, the Prinz Eugen Division attacked Mihailovich’s guerilla forces in Gorni Milanovac and Cacak.The II Battalion of the 2nd Regiment of Prinz Eugen was transferred to Topola.

Phleps ordered the anti-guerrilla offensive on October 5 in the Kraljevo, Uzice, Ivanjica, Cacak, Raska, Kosovska Mitrovica, and Novi Pazar regions. The Bulgarian 9th Infantry Division participated in the operation. The Prinz Eugen Division had approximately 20,000 troops available for the attack. They attacked the Chetnik Rasina Corps under Dragutin Keserovic, who had approximately 1,500 men under his command.

The offensive was launched on October 12, three days before Himmler’s visit. The area was of vital strategic military value because of the railway and road and communications links to Greece and North Afrika, where Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps needed to be supplied. The Trepca mine in northern Kosovo was also vulnerable to attack.


Heinrich Himmler, third from left, with a picture of Prinz Eugen of Savoy on the wall at a meeting-during his tour of the Waffen SS Division “Prinz Eugen, October 15-18, 1942, Kraljevo, Serbia. SS-Standartenfuehrer Emanuel Schäfer, BdS Serbien, Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des Sicherheitsdienstes, the Commander of the Security Police and Security Service (BDS) in Serbia, first on left, and SS-Gruppenfuehrer August Meyszner, HSSPF Serbien, second from left.

Keserovic had prior information on the offensive and where the German units were positioned. He was able to disperse his troops into small units which were able to escape the intended encirclement. The Prinz Eugen troops attacked from four corners in an attempt to encircle and trap Keserovic’s men. The operation was a failure.


German forces photographed the capture of several Chetnik guerrillas by troops of the Prinz Eugen division. Chetnik daggers seized during the operation were also photographed.


The Axis forces retaliated for the lack of success of the operation by targeting civilians. There are reports that the Waffen SS troops and Bulgarian forces executed Serbian civilians and burned down villages.

In Kriva Reka, 120 Serbian civilians were reported killed. The report claimed that 120 civilians were locked in the Orthodox Church and burned alive. The most recent estimate is at least 46 were killed. Kriva Reka had been Keserovic’s HQ. This atrocity was attributed to members of the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division.

In Kopaonik, 300 civilians were reported killed.

In Mount Goc, the report was that 250 Serbian civilians had been shot.

The claim was that the German and Bulgarian forces killed 670 Serbian civilians during the failed offensive.

August Schmidthuber, a commander of the 14th SS Regiment of the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division, was tried by the Communist Yugoslav government under Josip Broz Tito in Belgrade in a trial from February 5-16, 1947. At least 50 civilians were allegedly blown up in the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kriva Reka by 14th SS Regiment. Schmidthuber repeatedly accused the commander of the 1st Batallion, Richard Kaaserer or Kaserer, as being responsible for this war crime. Kaserer accused Schmidthuber as being the commander responsible.


Himmler inspects the Artillery Regiment of the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division with Phleps, Meyszner, and Hanns Johst.

The Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division developed a reputation for committing atrocities and was cited at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

Klaus Schmider, in his account “Auf Umwegen zum Vernichtungskrieg” in: Rolf-Dieter Mueller/ Hans-Erich Volkmann, Die Wehrmacht, Mythos und Realitat, The Wehrmacht: Myth and Reality, Munich, 1999, p. 911, wrote:

”During its first deployment even the Commanding General in Belgrade noticed Prinz Eugen’s striking propensity for violence. On the merest pretext, they resorted to disproportionate reprisals. After a few weeks the General had to request that they avoid in future unnecessary brutality towards unarmed civilian population, such as shooting women and children and burning villages.”

Like Hitler, Himmler was determined to destroy the guerrilla movement led by Draza Mihailovich. None of the German leaders had any trust or faith in any of the Serbian leaders they installed in Serbia, not even in the State Guard. Jozo Tomasevich from the posthumously published 2002 book Occupation and Collaboration: War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945, noted that both Hitler and Himmler were anti-Serbian: “But both Hitler and Himmler detested all Serbs…this attitude at the highest level influenced all official policy,” He cited a letter from Himmler to Harald Turner, the head of the German military administration in Serbia, dated August 23, 1942:

“In Serbia there should be only the State Guard, which should be supplied with foreign rifles and machine guns that cannot use either German or former Yugoslav ammunition, so that the ammunition can be strictly rationed by us. All other formations, such as the Chetniks and similar ones, should be disarmed, gradually and in a planned fashion.

Never forget that the Serbs remain Serbs, and that the Serbian people are a people who have been in armed resistance for centuries and are trained for it, and that we should do nothing except what is necessary at the moment to maintain our own strength. Anything that would in any way contribute to the strengthening of the Serbian government and thus of the Serbian people must be avoided.” None of the German leaders had any trust or faith in any of the Serbian leaders they installed in Serbia, not even the State Guard.” Tomasevich, Jozo. Occupation and Collaboration: War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945, page 213.

On July 17, 1942, Himmler wrote a letter to the chief of the Gestapo, Geheime Staatspolizei, the Secret State Police, SS Gruppenfuehrer and Generalleutnant der Polizei, Heinrich “Gestapo” Mueller, that Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrillas were the main targets in the Balkans:

“The basis of every success in Serbia and in the entire southeast of Europe lies in the annihilation of Mihailovich. Concentrate all your forces on locating Mihailovich and his headquarters so that he can be destroyed. Any means may be used to achieve this end. I expect the smoothest cooperation between all agencies concerned, from the Security Police and Security Service to all other branches of the SS and police. The head of the SS and police Meissner [Martin misspelled the name of August Meysner, HSSPL in Serbia] has already received instructions from me in this regard. Please let me know which clues we already have of Mihailovich’s whereabouts. Please inform me weekly about the progress of this action.” (Martin, David. Patriot or Traitor: The Case of General Mihailovich: Proceedings and Report for the Commission of Inquiry of the Committee for a Fair Trial for Draja Mihailovich (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institute on War, Revolution, and Peace Press, 1978), page 46, and T-175-140-2668302.)


The Kriva Reka Serbian Orthodox Church where Serbian civilians were massacred by Prinz Eugen Waffen SS troops.

The core of the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division was made up of Volksdeutsche from the Serbian Banat, ethnic Germans known as Schwabian Germans. The troops in the division targeted Serbian guerillas as shown in a song the members of the division sang, as related by SS Hauptsturmfuehrer of the Prinz Eugen Division Sepp Krombholz:

“Prinz Eugen, the noble troop,
it must scuffle with Serbs,
our trash division!
And many Serbian skulls
and many Serbian maids
will I soon see fallen …”

The first offensive of the Waffen SS division against Draza Mihailovich’s forces in Serbia in 1942 was a total failure. They retaliated against Serbian civilians by executions and massacres.

The offensive against the Chetnik guerrillas by the Prinz Eugen Waffen SS division in 1942 showed that the Chetniks were a viable and effective resistance force. Heinrich Himmler’s commitment to the division demonstrated that the Chetniks were perceived as a major threat and adversary to the Third Reich in the Balkans. The Prinz Eugen division continued to target Chetnik guerrillas when it was redeployed to the so-called Independent State of Croatia, Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska (NDH), later in 1942. The action in Kopaonik also highlighted the fact that the Chetnik guerrillas remained implacable foes and unrelenting opponents of the New Order in Europe.

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. https://triptape.wordpress.com/

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.