A Car Stalled…

  • Author: Andrew Mangravite
  • Published: June 26, 2014

The day had not gone well at all. One of the group failed to act, claiming that a police officer was standing behind him, the other had tossed his grenade too soon, missing their target and injuring lesser members of the inspection party. Worse still, he had botched his suicide attempt and was now in the custody of the authorities.

General Oskar Potiorek, the governor of the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was embarrassed and his guest, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the sprawling Austro-Hungarian Empire, was dismayed. He hadn’t expected such a greeting, and now Eric von Merizzi and Count Alexander von Boos-Waldeck were being rushed to the Sarajevo Hospital.

Although the archduke’s motorcade prudently sped from the scene, denying four other would-be assailants their chance to strike, Franz Ferdinand was not prepared to flee Sarajevo. Two members of his party were wounded in this attempt on his life and he was determined to visit them in the hospital. General Potiorek, wished to demonstrate that Sarajevo wasn’t a nest of traitors. He mapped out a new route to the hospital that would avoid the center of the city. It seemed a safe measure.

At this point two unrelated events collided. Perhaps assuming that the man knew Sarajevo better than he did, the general neglected to brief the archduke’s chauffeur on the new route. Gavrilo Princip, one of the four remaining members of the assassination team was loitering near a popular café.

Princip was twenty years old. He was a student and an enthusiastic follower of Young Bosnia, one of the movements calling for an end to Austrian domination of the Balkans. He had tried to enlist in the Serb army during the First Balkan War but had been rejected on physical grounds. Even the irregular Serb guerilla groups rejected him as being too puny and frail before being accepted by Young Bosnia and trained in use of weapons. He was a young man with something to prove, and today he had a pistol in his jacket pocket.

Now Potiorek’s error played itself out. The driver, unfamiliar with the new route took a wrong turn onto Franz Josef Street. When he tried to reverse, the gears of the engine locked and the car stalled.

Rushing to the stalled car and firing at a distance of less than two feet from his target, Princip’s bullet struck Franz Ferdinand in the throat. His wife the Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, who had accompanied him to Sarajevo against his wishes, threw herself over her husband to shield him and was shot in the abdomen. The royal couple died en route to the hospital. In all, less than an hour had elapsed from the time that their train had arrived at the station.

The Bewildering War That Destroyed Old Europe

  • Author: Charles Greifenstein
  • Published: June 25, 2014
Postcard for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo

Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo

World War One, it is convenient to say, started with the two pistol shots that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.  Somehow, this act of political terrorism lit a fire that consumed Europe in the greatest war the world had yet seen.

The “real” causes of the war have been debated ever since.  Militarism and the arms race?  Secret and not-so-secret defense treaties?  The competition for colonial power?  The desire for territorial expansion?  Nationalistic fever and national honor?  Governmental ineptitude?

All these factors contributed to the outbreak of the war; none alone caused the war.

Despite political tensions and social and economic inequities, Europe appeared to many remarkably stable and prosperous.  If there was one overriding emotion on the continent, it was optimism, a faith that lives were getting better and would continue to do so.

At this distance in time the war seems a pointless waste, destroying old Europe with mechanized, anonymous, mass death and shattering all illusions of war as romantic adventure.  Survivors were left anchorless, and the  seeds were sown for the next, greater conflict.

In Tender is the Night, Dick Diver, the protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, says, while surveying a World War One battlefield, “All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love.”

Arch romantic he may have been, but Fitzgerald was right.

Charles Greifenstein
American Philosophical Society

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Last Modified: June 25, 2014