The Assassination of King Alexander


In picture 2, the king on the left, the minister on the right

kingColonel Piolet on horseback attacks the assassin

It was the first assassination to be caught on news cameras. The assassination of Alexander, first King of Yugoslavians, by Vlado Chernozemski, an experienced marksman in the employ of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) would have been forgotten had it not been for the multitudes of still- and reel- cameras.

A superstitious man, Alexander usually refused to go out on Tuesdays because three of his family members died on Tuesdays. However, on Tuesday 9 October 1934, had no choice; he was arriving in Marseille on the Yugoslav cruiser Dubrovnik, to start a state visit to France to strengthen the two countries’ alliance in the Little Entente. While being driven in a car through the streets along with French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou, Vlado Chernozemski, stepped from the street and shot the King and the chauffeur. The king was wearing his customary bullet-proof vest under his admiral’s uniform, but the mortal bullet went through his back. Because Alexander’s mortal wound was in his back, experts surmised that a bullet from one of Alexander’s wildly firing bodyguards probably killed him. He had been on French soil for less than five minutes.

Barthou was accidentally shot by a French policeman and died later. Immediately after assassinating King Alexander, Chernozemski was cut down by the sword of a mounted French policeman, Colonel Piolet, and then beaten by the crowd. He died in custody that evening and was laid to rest in a Marseilles cemetery in the presence of two detectives and a grave digger. The cameraman, Georges Mejat of Fox-Movietone News, captured not merely the assassination but the immediate aftermath; the body of the chauffeur (who had been killed instantly) became jammed against the brakes of the car, allowing the cameraman to continue filming from within inches of the King for a number of minutes afterwards. To add the dramatic flourish, he focussed on the submachine Mauser gun Chernozemski used to kill Alexander as the gun was being picked up by a gendarme.

Alexander was among the most hated dictators in Europe, and it was eventually discovered that a half-dozen other would-be assassins of various nationalities were waiting in Marseilles that day. He was a despotic man who declared himself King-Dictator, and abolished the constitution. He used murder as an instrument of government, outlawed all political parties and began persecution of Jews. When the famed Croatian intellectual Milan Sufflay was murdered by his secret police, even Albert Einstein and Heinrich Mann joined in the international chorus of condemnation. By the time of his death, more than 19,000 Croatians had been sentenced to prison for up to twenty years or more and over two hundred had received the death penalties; hundreds more “committed suicide,” died of illness in prison or were shot by gendarmes in the “suppression of rebellion.”

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