Date: June 28, 1914
About the Photographer: The photographer is unknown.
Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918) assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife Sophie on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia. These murders set off World War I.
Pricip, born to a Serbian family in Bosnia, became an ardent Serbian nationalist following Austria-Hungary's annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. The annexation was in direct conflict with the interests of Serbia and threatened a possible future Serbian-led pan-Slav state. In 1911, Princip joined Young Bosnia, a secret society that hoped to detach Bosnia from Austria and link it to a larger Serb state. During the First Balkan War of 1912, Princip attempted to join the Serbian army's irregular forces, but was rejected for being too small and weak. A humiliated Princip then determined to do something great for his people.
On June 28, 1914, Franz Ferdinand arrived in Sarajevo on an official visit designed to showcase the power of Austria-Hungary rule in Bosnia. The day chosen for his visit, Saint Veit's Day, was a national holiday in Serbia. Austrian officials knew that Serbian nationalists would view the visit as a provocation but they failed to take adequate precautions. Security preparations were careless.
Princip had obtained weapons and training from the Central Committee of Unity or Death (popularly known as the Black Hand), a secret terrorist organization that opposed Austria. While seven men conspired to assassinate Franz Ferdinand, Princip is the only one who actually fired a weapon. He used a pistol to shoot the archduke in the neck and his wife in the abdomen. Both died that day. Princip attempted to turn the gun on himself but he was mobbed by the crowd and immediately arrested.
Tried at Sarajevo on October 28, 1914, he was convicted but spared the death penalty because he was a minor. Instead, Princip received a sentence of twenty years in prison, the maximum permissible. He died in prison, probably of tuberculosis, on April 28, 1918. The events he set in motion would cost the lives of thousands of Serbs and millions of other Europeans in World War I.
See primary source image.
The government of Austria-Hungary held Serbia responsible for the nationalist murders that Princip committed. It gave Serbia an ultimatum to stop all subversion in Austria and all anti-Austrian propaganda in Serbia. It also demanded that a thorough investigation of all aspects of the assassination be undertaken in Serbia by a joint commission of Serbian and Austrian officials—which was essentally an attempt to control Serbia. When Serbia replied moderately but evasively, Austria declared war on July 28, 1914. This act led directly to the start of World War I.
Germany unconditionally supported Austria-Hungary although it knew that Russia would not stand idly by and watch fellow Slavs be crushed. Russian pan-Slavs saw Russia as the protector and eventual liberator of the southern Slavs of Serbia. On July 29, 1914, Russia began mobilizing to fight Germany and Austria. Germany responded by launching an attack on Russia's ally, France, by marching through neutral Belgium. It planned to knock France out then turn on Russia. In defense of Belgium, Great Britain joined France in declaring war on Germany in August 1914. World War I had begun.
When the war ended in 1918, at least 10 million people lay dead and 20 million suffered from wounds. Of the 300,000 Serbs who fought in the war, only 109,000 survived. The 1917 Pact of Corfu united Croats, Slovenes, and Serbs into Yugoslavia. This new country would last until another rise of nationalism in the 1990s. Austria-Hungary did not survive the war. The casualty rate among that nation's soldiers was 87 percent, the highest among the major powers. By the time that Austria-Hungary sued for peace in October 1918, crowds were rioting for bread. In November 1918, the government dissolved itself and the empire ceased to exist.
Cassels, Lavender. The Archduke and the Assassin: Sarajevo, June 28th 1914. New York: Stein and Day, 1985.
Dedijier, Vladimir. The Road to Sarajevo. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966.
Joyce, C. Patrick. Sarajevo Shots: A Study in the Immediate Origins of the First World War. New York: Revisionist Press, 1978.