The Arrest of Gavrilo Princip


Gavrilo Princip was unintentionally one of the most influential and notorious people of the last century, and he achieved this dubious infamy quite young. The discontented Bosnian-Serb student was just nineteen when he fatally shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo and set the continent on course towards a world war, end of three powerful empires and inevitably towards the horrors the Nazis unleashed.

Yet, after two failed attempts on the Archduke’s life earlier that day, Princip’s success was an unlucky coincidence at best, very much like Franz Ferdinand’s visit to the city on Vidov Dan, the anniversary of the Serbs’ defeat at the Turkish hands in Kosovo in 1389. Dissolute Princip was at a sandwich shop when the Archduke’s car made a wrong turn into the Plaza and was making a slow backing.

After shooting Franz Ferdinand and his consort Duchess Sophie, Princip — whose political goal was to cleave away Serbia from Austria-Hungary and to create an united pan-slavic country — tried to kill himself. A man behind him saw what he was doing, and seized Princip’s right arm. A couple of policeman joined the struggle and Princip was arrested. The above photo, one of the earliest photodocumentary scoops of the century, was taken by one Milos Oberajger, a forestry engineer and amateur photographer. Doubt remains as to the identity of the man being arrested in the photo, however. 

After a 12-day murder trial in Sarajevo in October 1914, Princip was sentenced to 20 years, the maximum penalty since he was younger than 20 when he committed his crime. Probably tubercular before his imprisonment, he had an arm amputated because the disease spread to the bone. He died in hospital in April 1918, failing to outlive the conflagration he had unleashed.  In a final irony, the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28th 1919, five years to the day of the assassination. 

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