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Mysteries & Secrets - Black Hand

World War I
The Hapsburg heir to the Austro Hungarian throne was joyously greeted by the inhabitants of the provincial capital that Sunday morning, June 28, 1914. But shortly after 10 A.M. a bomb was thrown at the open car in which Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, the duchess of Hohenberg, were riding through the streets of Sarajevo. Raising his arm to shield Sophie from the flying object, the archduke deflected the missile so that it bounced off their vehicle to explode in the street behind them.

June 28, 1914 - Sarajevo Although several onlookers and passengers in the following car were slightly injured by bomb fragments, it was decided that the motorcade should proceed to the welcoming ceremonies at the city hall.

"Do you think there will be any more bomb throwing?" the angry Francis Ferdinand asked his host, Bosnia's military governor General Oskar Potiorek. Trying to make light of the incident, the general in turn asked his royal guest, "Does Your Highness think the streets are filled with assassins? "Nonetheless, it was decided to alter the previously published route for the remainder of the motorcade. No one informed the driver of the change in plans.

"What is this? This is the wrong way!" the general shouted, as the archduke's automobile turned off the broad Appel Quay into Francis Joseph Street. Confused, the driver abruptly stopped to back his vehicle out of the narrow street. The maneuver put his royal passengers directly in the assassin's line of fire. Two shots were fired. One bullet pierced Francis Ferdinand's neck the other ripped into Sophie's abdomen. Both were pronounced dead within a few minutes.

Young Bosnia

The gunman was instantly seized, as had been the bomb thrower an hour earlier - their attempts at suicide thwarted by outraged bystanders. The two proved to be Gavrilo Princip and Nedeljko Cabrinovic, adherents of a revolutionary movement among South Slavic youth called Young Bosnia. Taking inspiration from contemporary Russian revolutionaries, these young men were dedicated to the liberation of Bosnia and the neighboring province of Herzegovina from Austro Hungarian rule and unification with the kingdom of Serbia. Along with four other youthful conspirators, Princip and Cabrinovic had stationed themselves along the route of the motorcade with the intention of killing the archduke, the hated symbol of Hapsburg domination.

While students in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, the two had hatched their plot sometime early in the spring upon learning of the archduke's intended visit to Sarajevo. After enlisting a third youth, Trifko Grabez, the conspirators sought arms from an older Bosnia nationalist named Milan Ciganovic. He trained them to fire pistols, instructed them in the use of bombs, and provided them with cyanide capsules for committing suicide after their deed was done. Meanwhile Princip had written to Danilo Ilic, a teacher and writer in Sarajevo, who recruited three other assassins and assumed leadership of the plot.

Insignia : The Black Hand

Tracing the Deed to Serbia

Ilic, it turned out, was a member of a secret terrorist organization named Unity or Death, but unofficially known as the Black Hand. Its members were committed to using whatever means necessary to pry Bosnia and Herzegovina from Austro Hungarian rule and unite the South Slavic population of the provinces with Serbia. At the head of the organization was Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, chief of the intelligence department of the Serbian general staff, known within the Black Hand as Apis. In November 1913 Ilic had visited Serbia to discuss an assassination plot with Apis - though the target then was the military governor of Bosnia, General Potiorek. Early in 1914 Apis sent his chief deputy to a meeting of Bosnian revolutionaries in Toulouse, France, to plan the general's assassination.

How and when the Black Hand conspiracy merged with the plot of Princip and his youthful partners will probably never be known. However, as a frequenter of the Belgrade cafes where Serbian revolutionaries were known to gather, Princip in all likelihood met members of the Black Hand. The motives for both assassination plans were identical: to terrorize the Austro Hungarian empire into relinquishing control of its South Slavic subjects.

The Road to War

In Vienna the Austro Hungarian government held Serbia responsible for the assassination of the heir apparent and his consort. A month later, on July 23, the Austro Hungarian empire sent an ultimatum to Serbia. Vienna was demanding the dissolution of patriotic organizations hostile to the empire; participation in the Serbian inquiry into its responsibility for the killings; arrest of Serbian officials known to have plotted against the Hapsburg monarchy; and explanations of and apologies for Serbian guilt.

Although meant to appear conciliatory, the Serbian reply was evasive. Led to believe that Russia would come to its rescue, the tiny kingdom began mobilizing for war. Five days after the delivery of the ultimatum, the Austro-Hungarian empire declared war on Serbia. When the Russian czar called for general mobilization, Germany - allied with the Austro-Hungarian empire declared war on Russia. France and Britain, allies of Russia, declared war on Germany. By the end of August all Europe was at war.

Caricature representations of a tangle of hostile and competing figures.

Punishment and Guilt

The trial of Princip and 24 codefendants rounded up in the investigation of the assassinations opened in Sarajevo's district court on October 12, 1914. Only the local participants were in the dock. The true culprits, it was widely believed, were in Belgrade - behind enemy lines and unavailable for prosecution. Asked if he was guilty of committing a crime, Princip replied, "I am not a criminal, for I have removed an evildoer. I meant to do a good deed."

Six days after the trial ended, on October 23, the judges handed down their verdicts. Princip, Cabrinovic, and Grabez were found guilty of murder and treason. Being under 20 years of age, they could not be given death penalties but instead were handed maximum prison sentences of 20 years. All three died in prison before the end of the war they had helped spark - Princip and Cabrinovic of tuberculosis; Grabez of chronic malnutrition. Ilic and four others received death sentences, two of which were changed to imprisonment on appeal. The schoolteacher and two of his fellow conspirators were executed in February 1915. Lesser sentences were given to eight other defendants; nine were acquitted.

Two years later, in a puzzling postscript to the trial, Colonel Dimitrijevic took responsibility for the conspiracy. The Black Hand leader had been accused of an attempt on the life of Alexander, Serbia's prince regent, tried, and condemned to death. In a deposition handed to the military tribunal, Apis confessed to his involvement in the plot leading to Francis Ferdinand's death. Whether he was the mastermind behind the scheme is still argued among historians. But in Yugoslavia, the South Slavic homeland that had been his goal, Gavrilo Princip is a national hero.

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