Thursday, 14 August 2014

Book of the Month: The Last Runaway (Tracey Chivalier)


The protagonist of Tracy Chivalier’s 2012 novel, The Last Runaway, is a twenty year old Quaker woman named Honor Bright.

The name of the protagonist and her Quaker background are clues as to the course of the heroine’s life in the novel. Whether Honor Bright is bright can be a matter of opinion; what cannot be doubted are her honourable intentions. The woman is more upright than Gandhi and more honourable Mother Teresa.

Jilted by her Quaker fiancĂ© in England who decides to abandon not just Honor but his faith in order to marry a non-Quaker woman he has fallen in love with, Honor decides to leave the bad memories and the Quaker community of Bridport, Dorest behind, and travels with her more enterprising sister, Grace, who is set to go to Ohio, America to join her Quaker betrothed, an ex-neighbour of the Bright family. Upon reaching America Grace swiftly (and conveniently) pops her clogs and Adam Cox, the man who is set to marry Grace (and does not know of Grace’s death) ,is faced with Grace’s younger sister, who, he doesn’t know, has travelled with Grace to America. After spending a few awkward weeks in the Cox household—Abigail, Grace’s would be sister-in-law, recently widowed herself, and, as subsequent developments show, having marked Adam as a possible replacement for his dead brother, does not take kindly to the uninvited guest, possibly marking her as a rival—Honor, not keen at all on returning to England, although in her letters to her friend back in Bridport she moans endlessly about the brash Americans who lack subtlety, because of her horror of sea-sickness (!), marries into another Quaker family in the community, after making love with her would be husband, Jack Haymaker, in a cornfield (a very un-Quakerish behaviour, if you ask me, although I am no expert on the mores of the nineteenth century Quakers). Honor starts her new life with the Haymakers, with her husband, Jack; mother-in-law, Judith; and Jack's unmarried sister, Dorcas. At this stage Honor is faced with a moral dilemma that threatens to break her marriage (and which gives the novel its title). Soon after she reaches Ohio Honor becomes aware of the so called Underground Railroad, a network of liberal minded Americans who provide shelter and food to slaves who are escaping from South, towards freedom in Canada. Indeed soon after her arrival in America, while awaiting Adam Cox to fetch her, Honor spends a few days with a feisty alcoholic (no cause and effect relationship, here) named Belle Mills, who is heavily involved in the Underground Railroad. Her half-brother, Donavon, on the other hand, is an egg that is bad (and not even trying to be good). Donovan is a slave-catcher, and has the law on his side. Herein lies Honor’s moral dilemma. As a Quaker she is vehemently against slavery and wants to do what she can to help the escaping slaves who are passing through Ohio; at the same time, as a Quaker, she is also expected to obey the law. Her in-laws are in no doubt as to what course of action the family should follow: obey the law and steer clear of the runaway slaves. The slaves have obviously enough wits about them that brought them all the way from the South to Ohio; and the same wits would see them make their way to freedom in Canada. And if they get caught, well, it’s too bad, but what can anyone do about it? Honor Bright begs to differ. She wants to hide the slaves from Donavon, and give them water and such comestible as can be gathered. (Donavon seems to be the only slave-catcher in the area who, for reasons best known to him, has taken into his head that stalking the Quaker community, in particular the Haymakers, would greatly enhance his chances of catching slaves.) The situation in the Haymaker family is fast reaching what the hostage negotiators describe as impasse. Honor Bright refuses to back down, and, even though Jack has managed to put her bun in the oven, decides to leave the marital home to stay with Belle Mills. Belle is not best pleased with this development, not because she does not wish to share her alcoholic beverage (although that could be a reason; the recidivist alcoholics have been known to be notoriously selfish in these matters), but because she is worried that Honor's presence in her house might put her secret activities linked to Underground Railroad in jeopardy. And she is right. Donovan the rapscallion begins visiting his half-sister's house with worrying frequency, giving signals that are hard to miss (and ignore) that while he suspects Honor of harbouring sympathy for the runaway slaves he also finds the pregnant Quaker woman a trouser-stirrer. The end, when it finally comes, is as predictable as it is formulaic. It all ends well for Honor, you will be pleased to know. Donovan meets his comeuppance; and the person who sends him packing to his meeting with his Maker is Belle, who can't be prosecuted for murder as she herself is dying having drunk her way to liver cirrhosis.

Tracy Chivalier, an American novelist who lives in England (and probably has a Quaker background), has built for herself a formidable reputation as a novelist of historical fiction. In The Last Runaway she attempts to combine historical narrative with romance. The result is a strangely unconvincing and anaemic novel. Chivalier, as the afterwards of the novel informs, has undertaken a lot of historical research for this novel. (The Underground Railroad system, for example, was an actual system run by the whites that helped slaves on the run from their masters.) To Chivalier’s credit, for the most part, she does not allow the painstaking research to sit heavily on the novel, and avoids the temptation of showing off. The first half of the novel is full of what can be described period details aimed at conveying the minutiae of the daily life of the nineteenth century Quakers. The readers can be excused for feeling a tad weary after being subjected to a detailed account, that runs into pages, of how quilts are sown, accompanied by a scholarly discourse on the relative merits of the American and English styles (the English type is more intricate and requires more skills, in case you want to know).

The problem with the novel is that the plot does not really go anywhere. There is no drama. It is almost as if Chivalier is too much in awe of the central character. Honor Bright has the conviction of her beliefs that one can expect in the self-righteous. The moral uppitines, combined with the fact that Honor, in reality, is doing not a great deal to ease the afflictions of the runaway slaves (leaving water and dried meat outside of the house must have been of help, but it would stretch the limits of credulity to think that the slaves, who have managed to travel several hundred kilometres, would have been unable to survive without the meagre food rations; and did they really need the Haymakers when the there seems to be only a solitary slave-catcher in the region, Donavon, whose attentions and energies are divided between getting drunk and casting lustful glances at Honor’s loins?) makes Honor Bright, for the most part, more irritating than a kidney stone. The latent sexual attraction between Honor and Donavon remains just that; this strand of the novel remains frustratingly underdeveloped. The main the characters are either two-dimensional or cartoonishly implausible or both.

The strength of the novel is its prose. There is a soothing quality and an understated elegance to Chivalier’s prose that makes The Last Runaway an easy enough read despite its rather lame story that is neither a romance nor serious historical fiction. Not one of Chivalier’s best, I am afraid. 


Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Event that Sparked World War I: Time is A Great Equaliser

The first monument to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand went up in 1917. It was raised in the honour of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.

The monument was erected across the road where the Archduke was assassinated, at the corner of Appel Quay and Latin Bridge.

                                            Latin Bride, Sarajevo

The monument lasted two years.

In 1919 the monument was pulled down.

At the end of the Great War the Austro-Hungarian Empire disappeared, and Austria lost control of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Bosnia instead became integrated into a new kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

In 1929, King Alexander dissolved parliament, declared Royal dictatorship, and renamed the country Yugoslavia—Land of the South Slavs. Gavro would have nodded with approval.

After the Great War, Gavro was not celebrated across the Kingdom of Serbia (as it was called then). The new rulers were not overly keen to celebrate Gavro in Belgrade; they wanted to keep it a local, Sarajevo, affair.  He had not yet become a national hero.

In 1920 the remains of Gavro and his co-conspirators (who had died) were brought back to Sarajevo with a great deal of ceremony and pomp. The plan to bring back Gavro’s body and those of the other dead plotters arose in the town of Hadzici, where Gavro’s brother Jovo had once lived. It is not known however whether Jovo took any active part in this. He was not part of the committee that was formed and he did not go to Terezin. Only one relative amongst all the conspirators went out to Terezin to bring back the bodies. That was Nedjo’s younger sister Vukosava, whom, their father feared, Nedjo had influenced with his anarchist ideas. Although he did not go to Terezin, Branko Cubrilovic, the brother of Veljko and Vaso (Vaso, by this time was released from prison and was most probably living in Sarajevo, but does not appear to have taken part in the proceedings) who had become the leader of an organization called Yugoslav Academic Youth, petitioned that a memorial be built for the plotters in Sarajevo.

Thanks to Frantisek Lebl, the Czech prison officer at Terezin where Nedjo, Grabez and Gavro had died, the locations of their graves were known.

By this time in Austria a new Socialist government had come to power, which cooperated with the disinterment of the bodies of the men who had died in the prison in Mollersdorf, Austria (Jakov Milovic, and the father and son Mitar and Nedjo Kerovic), and bringing them to Terezin.

Only the remains of Lazar Djukic were not found, and would never be found.

A temporary podium was erected in the cemetery in Terezin and thousands of Czechs had gathered to accompany the carts carrying the coffins to the railway station. Here the coffins were loaded on to a special carriage decorated with flowers.

The train stopped at the Bosanka Brod in Bosnia for a few days while the bodies of the three men who were hanged (Veljko Cubrilovic, Danilo Ilic, and Misko Joavnovic) were exhumed and displayed.

The original plan was apparently to carry the coffins in the last part of the journey to Sarajevo on a goods- wagon. However, the transport workers’ Union complained: ‘If a diseased tyrant [Franz Ferdinand] could be transported out of Bosnia in a luxury car, why couldn’t the diseased heroes be transported in the same manner?’ A special train was prepared and travelled slowly from one station to the next, with silent crowds waiting at each station.

As the coffins were transferred, in Sarajevo, to a tram that would take them to the Judicial Hall, the crowd roared, ‘Glory to the Vidovan heroes.’

All the coffins were carried out in a procession to the cemetery where a large plot had been prepared. The coffins were lowered one by one, allowing Gavro’s a slight elevation in deference to his role in the assassination.



In later years, a chapel was built at the sites and the names of all the conspirators were inscribed in an arched plaque of black marble.



The newly created kingdom of Serbia was plagued right from the beginning with internecine hostility amongst the different ethnic groups. The Croats were unhappy about the arrangement right from the beginning. The seeds of discontent were sown which would bear bitter fruits a couple of decades later in the Second World War, and again in the bloody, multi-ethnic conflict in the 1990s, as Tito’s Yugoslavia disintegrated, proving also that Gavro’s vision of the unification of all the South Slavs was only going to be an ephemeral dream.

In 1930, the first memorial in honour of Gavro was erected. It was erected on 2 February 1930 (the day three of the conspirators, including Gavro’s friend Danilo Ilic, hung from the scaffold 15 years earlier). It was erected on the wall of the delicatessen, above the spot where Gavro Princip had stood waiting for Franz Ferdinand. 

A black marble plaque was erected. The plaque proclaimed: ‘Here in this historic place, on St Vitus Day, the 28th of June, Gavrilo Princip proclaimed freedom.’

The plaque was erected in a religious ceremony presided over by the Orthodox Archbishop, The relatives of Veljko Cubrilovic, Misko Jovanovic and Trifko Grabez attended the ceremony.

Years later Vaso Cubrilovic would observe to writer Albertini that the Slavs carry with them the cult of hero worship. Gavro was a Serbian hero associated with the final liberation.

The Latin Bridge was renamed Princip Bridge. Later in 1930 a road in Theresienstadt (the prison where Gavro was initially placed; it was used as a concentration camp by the Nazis during the Second World War) was renamed Principova Aley in Gavro’s memory.

Even at the time when the plaque went up in Sarajevo, there were those in Western Europe who disapproved of the celebratory mood surrounding its erection and the elevation of Gavro to a cult hero.

Winston Churchill, the imperialist future Prime Minister of what was still then Great Britain, was piqued. In his book, The Unknown War: the Eastern Front, Churchill observed bitchily: ‘Princip died in prison, and a monument erected in recent years by his fellow countrymen records his infamy and their own.’

For Churchill Gavro was not a freedom fighter; he was a terrorist who in cold blood had killed a man and his wife in pursuance of his political aims. Never mind that the empire, during the years that it controlled the region, had oppressed the people ruthlessly and reduced them to the level of cattle.

Yugoslavia, as King Alexander had named it, remained unstable. Alexander, who had got ridof his enemy Dragutin Dimitrijevic (Apis) in 1917 by falsely implicating him (Dmitrijevic) in a non-existent plot to assassinate him (Alexander), was assassinated in 1934. An underground Fascist Croat organization, Utasa, was implicated in the murder.

Throughout the 1930s Paul, Alexander’s brother who had become Price Regent, employed repressive policies in a desperate bid to keep the kingdom together. During this decade Communism grew steadily in influence in the region. And the Communist had a charismatic leader: Josip Broz, who adopted the sobriquet Tito.

Tito, who became the leader of the Communist party, as the Second World War broke out, called for armed resistance when Paul allied his country with the Nazi Germany. Paul was deposed by the Communists and the Nazi invaded Serbia (or Yugoslavia as it had come to be known) after bombing Belgrade (the capital would be bombed again decades later, this time by the NATO forces determined to remove Slobodan Milosevic from power). German troops occupied Belgrade and the country was chopped up between the Nazis and their allies: the Italians, the Bulgarians, and the Croatian Fascists, Utasa.

The Utasa took control of Bosnia and Hercegovina and, over the next few years, carried out systematic genocide directed against the Serbs, the Jews, and Romas. It is estimated that Utasa exterminated 750,000 Serbs, Jews and Romas.

The cottage in which Veljko Cubrilovic had spent happy years with his wife and new born daughter when he taught in Priboj, was set on fire by the Utasa Fascists, not because they knew Veljko had resided once in the cottage, but because they wanted to murder Serb teachers who were hiding in the cottage.

Surprisingly, the Utasa left Gavro’s memorial in Sarajevo untouched.

In 1945 Tito’s Communist party won the elections and a Socialist state of Yugoslavia was created, comprising Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Kosovo, in the South of Serbia, became an autonomous region. Gavro would have been pleased. His dream of unifying all the South Slavs, free from the control of the imperialists, had come true.

For the Communists, Gavro’s assassination of an imperialist was an act of utmost bravery and his subsequent ordeal a supreme sacrifice of a man for his ideals.

During the thirty odd years of the Communist regime in Yugoslavia, what Churchill would have described as a cult of hero worship around Gavro Princip, encouraged by the Communist regime, increased.

A set of footprints was cemented in the pavement opposite the delicatessen shop where Gavro had stood on that morning of 28 June 1914. It was symbolic and had no real historic significance, as, by that time, no one knew the precise location where Gavro had stood.



In the 1950s, the old delicatessen was converted into a museum of Young Bosnians. The museum was centred around Gavro and had displays of old artefacts and photographs. 

It seemed that, years after he met his awful end in a prison in Bohemia, Gavro Princip’s fortunes had changed. He was being hailed as a national hero. And his act—of killing the heir of an empire—which was considered high treason by the imperialists was now being hailed as supreme bravery that liberated oppressed people. No one remembered the dead heir of a dead empire while roads were named and museums opened in memory of the man who, with two shots, had terminated two lives and triggered off the Great War.

Not so fast.

Marshall Tito, by sheer force of his personality, kept Yugoslavia from self-imploding. Before he died (in 1980),Tito, in an attempt to prevent the breaking up of the Land of the South Slavs, put in place a power-sharing model where the presidency would revolve annually amongst the member states of Yugoslavia.

It was never going to work. The regional tensions got progressively worse in the 1980s; there were increasing debts from international loans and high unemployment. Croats were fed up with what they saw as the Serb domination of the federation while Slovenia wanted economic independence.

The inevitable happened.

In 1991 Slovenia, after a brief fight, attained independence. This was relatively painless. Next, the Croats followed. The Croatian separation was bloody with a right-wing ultra nationalist government in Croatia employing a policy of systematic terror against the Serbs in the region. More than 200,000 Serbs were estimated to have been driven out of Croatia into Serbia by 1995.

But the bloodiest of the battles was reserved for Bosnia-Hercegovina, the birthplace of Gavro and all of his co-conspirators.

It is beyond the scope of this posting to go into the details of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. In Bosnia-Hercegovina there was a more or less balanced population of Serbs, Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks).

Simplistically put, the Serbs wanted to stay with Serbia while the Croats and Muslims wanted to leave the influence of Belgrade.

There then followed one of the bloodiest battles in the Balkans, including the infamous siege of Sarajevo by the forces of Slobodan Milosevic, who insisted on calling himself the President of Yugoslavia (Montenegro and Macedonia were still in the Federation). The three-year siege of Sarajevo was commanded by General Ratko Mladic (who was arrested in 2011, sixteen years after he was indicted for war crimes, the killings of about 7500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebenica, alleged to be the worst single atrocity in Europe since the Second World War, being one of them).

The 1990s multi-ethnic bloody conflict between Serbians, Bosniaks (Muslims of Albanian origin) and Croats has left bitter ethnic divide and hatred. In the Serb majority Srpska regin in Bosnia, there were, until 1991, half a million Muslims. By the time Mladic’s forces were through them only 30,000 were left. In the rest of Bosnia, it was the Serbs who were at the receiving end and, by the end of the Balkan wars, only 20,000 Serbs were left in the rest of Bosnia.

It would be an interesting exercise to speculate what Gavro Princip and his co-conspirators would have made of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s that saw their dream of Yugoslavia—the nation of Southern Slavs, which existed for 40 odd years—disintegrate. Gavro and his friends considered themselves revolutionaries and were fired with the idea of freeing Bosnia and Hercegovina from the oppression of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the same time there is no doubt that they looked towards Serbia for inspiration—Serbia was the mother country. They wanted Bosnia and Hercegovina to be free of Austria, but linked with Serbia in Yugoslavia. One would like to think that when the inevitable fragmentation of Gavro’s dream country began in the 1990s and the ultra nationalist Slobodan Milosevic presided over the destruction of the region, Gavro would have disapproved. 

The Young Bosnian museum dedicated to Gavro Princip was closed in 1992. With the multi-ethnic conflict gripping the region, Gavro Princip, for non-Serbs, was no longer a symbol of revolutionary drive; he was just a Serb-terrorist.

The museum would re-open again many years later but many exhibits would be lost; and the museum would reorient itself to tell the story of Sarajevo under the Austrian rule; it would no longer be just a celebration of the assassination.  

During the three year siege of Sarajevo (1992 to 1995) when Ratko Mladic’s forces shelled the city every day, it was a common practice of many citizens (presumably non-Serbs) to spit at Gavro’s plaque and the footprints.

The footprints were hacked at too. Eventually they were removed.

The Princip Bridge was renamed Latin Bridge.

The Marble plaque disappeared. No one knows what happened to it. A new plaque has gone up since the war. It is neutrally worded and reads as follows:

‘From this place on 28 June 1914 Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.’

One hundred years after he assassinated Franz Ferdinand (which triggered the First World War, though that was not his intention), Gavro Princip is a divisive figure in Sarajevo and Bosnia. For the Serbs Princip is a heroic figure who stood against an oppressive empire; for the Muslims and Croats of Bosnia, Princip and his fellow conspirators brought to an end a golden era in the history of Bosnia and Sarajevo. For them Gavro is not a hero but a terrorist. The wounds of 1990s' ethnic conflict in Bosnia, in particular the 1425-day siege of Sarajevo by Serbian forces, have not completely healed. As Sarajevo marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination, the city's biggest international moment since the end of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, the ceremony was boycotted by the President and Prime Minister of Serbia. Bosnia, today, is a divided (for all practical purposes) country: the predominantly Muslim and Croat dominated federation, and the highly autonomous Serb-dominated Serb Republic (RS). The capital (Sarajevo) too is controlled by the Muslims and Serbs. The East part of the capital (Istocno Sarajevo) is under Serb control, and the two parts of the city are not even joined by public transport. The Serbs, in Istocno Sarajevo are highly resentful that an attempt is being made to what they see as changing of history. 

The graves of the most of the conspirators, a loosely bound group of hot-headed, single-minded young men, fired with revolutionary ideas, striking at the heart of an empire, hoping that their heroic act would trigger the building a of a nation, Yugoslavia—the union of Southern Slavs— and also that posterity would remember them for their martyrdom, lie neglected in a grey stone chapel in a cemetery in the middle of a residential area in Sarajevo. On the memorial stone at the back of the chapel are names of all of them except Cvjetko Popovic, Vaso Cubrilovic, Mehmed Mehmedbasic, and Ivo Kranjcevic. Mehmedbasic died in Sarajevo, but being a Muslim, he is presumably resting in a Muslim cemetery. Vaso Cubrilovic died in Belgrade, and although his dying wish was to be buried with his friends in Sarajevo, it was not fulfilled, presumably because of the beginning of the ethnic trouble between the Serbians and Bosniaks by the time of Vaso’s death. (Popovic died in Sarajevo in 1980; it is unclear why his name is not on the memorial stone.)

Above the names on the stone are the words: ‘Heroes of Vidovan’.

Along the line of the arch is the inscription: ‘Blessed are those that live for evermore.’



[The source of this plus all the previous posts in this series, beginning with the assassination; the profiles of the plotters (Gavro Princip, Nedjo Cabrinovic, Danilo Ilic, Veljko Cubrilovic, Vaso Cubrilovic, Trifko Grabez, Mehmed Mehmedbasic, Cvejtko Popovic, and the rest); conspiracy theories, the aftermath, the outcome of the trial, and how it ended for the conspirators (Veljko Cubrilovic, Danilo Ilic, Nedjo Cabrinovic, Mehmed Mehmedbasic, Trifko Grabez, Vaso Cubrilovic, Cvejtko Popovic, and, finally, Gavro Princip) is in the main two excellent books:Origins of the World War I (Joachim Remak), and One Morning in Sarajevo (David James Smith), which, I'd unhesitatingly recommend; plus a variety of Internet publications and blogs.]







The Even that Sparked World War I: How it Ended for Gavro Princip

                                                                 Gavro Princip                             
When Nedjo Cabrinovic, Gavro Princip's fellow conspirator in the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on 28 June 1914,  died in January 1916, Gavro Princip was also experiencing a severe decline in his health. He had been treated most harshly up to that point by the prison authorities, and for all of the 16 months since his 20 year prison sentence began was kept in chains and in solitary confinement. Both his hands were shackled to the wall of his dark cell. Gavro could do nothing but sit and stare into the darkness. It is an indirect testimony to the strength of Gavro's character that he did not lose his mental balance after a prolonged solitary confinement.

Soon after Nedjo’s death Gavro tried to commit suicide by hanging, using a towel. He was not successful. The authorities would not let him die. He would live for two more years.

Soon after the unsuccessful suicide attempt the prison authorities brought in the Viennese psychiatrist, Dr. Pappenheim, to interview Gavro (what the poor man probably needed at that time were good nutrition and medical care, and not an interrogation by a psychiatrist).

Pappenheim had a series of interviews with Gavro. As he got to know Pappenheim Gavro took some pleasure in these meetings, but always kept his reserve. He told Pappenheim that he found the solitary confinement extremely hard to cope with, without books (which he loved reading) and without being able to speak to anyone for days on end. His sleep was erratic, he told Pappenheim. He spoke longingly of the small library of books he had built up. Books for me, he said, signify life. If only he could have something to read for 2-3 days, he would be able to express himself more clearly. He slept no more than 4 hours and nights and dreamed constantly. But they were pleasant dreams—‘about life and love’.

When in lucid mind Gavro thought about his country (Serbia). He would hear snippets of information (presumably from prison guards) and was distressed to learn that Serbia no longer existed. (At the beginning of the war the Serbian army was routed by the advancing armies of Germany, Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary, and forced to flee.)

Gavro told Pappenheim that he believed the World War would have started anyway, irrespective of the assassination. He had killed the Archduke for wanting to revenge his people who, in his view, were oppressed terribly by the Austro-Hungarian regime.

Gavro spoke about his suicide attempt. It was about midnight and he was in very low spirits. And suddenly the idea came into his mind to end it all by hanging. It would be stupid to hope, he said.

By this time Gavro was showing unmistakable signs that he was suffering from tuberculosis. Pappenheim noted a fungus like growth on Gavro’s chest and arm.

Pappenheim noted that Gavro was always hungry and nervous. He made the obvious observation that the prisoner ought to have more sun and air. (The good doctor did not make his views known to the prison authorities, presumably thinking it was futile.) Gavro’s demeanour made it obvious to Pappenheim that he no longer had any hopes for anything; his life was finished. Everything that was linked to his ideals, he felt, was destroyed.

Gavro spoke a little bit about the assassination. He told Pappenheim that he was aware that there had been attempts at assassinations before, and the perpetrators were like heroes to young Serbians. He, Gavro, however, so he would tell Pappenheim, had no wish to become a hero. He merely wanted to sacrifice his life for his ideology. Before the assassination, Gavro had read an article by Kroptokin about what one can and should do in case of a worldwide social revolution. Gavro had studied this article and repeatedly talked about it with his friends. He had convinced himself that a worldwide social revolution was possible. (The assassination of Franz Ferdinand was presumably an important first step in the right direction.)

Gavro talked of his friendship with Danilo Ilic, Nedjo Cabrinovic and Trifko Grabez, and how Milan Ciganovic came to be involved. He made it clear that the assassination was not the idea of Major Tankosic (of Komite army and a member of the Black Hand); indeed Tankosic had not been made aware of the target of the assassination until the last minute.

Pappenheim gave Gavro a pen and paper and invited him to write something about the social revolution. Gavro was pleased, not least because it was the first time in almost two years he was holding a pen in his hand. But he could not carry on for long. He said he had to stop because he was feeling ill and his thoughts, he said, were gone from his head.

At one stage Pappenheim asked Gavro whether he thought the assassination of the Archduke was a service in the light of what had happened in its wake (World War). At this Gavro became agitated. He said he could not believe that the Great War was the consequence of the assassination; he did not hold himself responsible for the catastrophe; therefore he could not say whether the assassination had been of service or not.

As Pappenheim continued to meet Gavro he noticed that his wounds were getting worse. The wounds were discharging freely and Gavro was miserable yet resigned. He told Pappenheim that he had no sure means to kill himself and suicide was impossible. He simply had to wait till the end.

Pappenheim asked Gavro—the kind of non sequitur only psychiatrists seem capable of making—how he felt and what he thought about. Gavro would have him believe that for most of the time he was in a philosophical mood. He thought about human soul. In his mind he struggled with questions such as what was the essential in human life—intrinsic will or spirit; and what moved man.

Gavro made it clear to Pappenheim that while many people who talked to him had formed the impression—owing to Gavro’s young age—that he must have been influenced by others, it was not so. People, he felt, formed that impression, because he was not a gifted talker—he was more of a reader—and could not express himself properly.

When Pappenheim met with Gavro for the fourth and last time, Gavro’s health had worsened considerably. The wound on the arm had suppurated. The arm, Pappenheim noted, clinically, would have to be amputated. Gavro looked resigned to his fate and was awaiting death.

The death would not oblige Gavro so easily and so soon. There was further suffering to be endured. Two more years, to be exact.

Dr. Pappenheim took notes of what Gavro said to him. He had apparently no intention of publishing them; but neither did he destroy them. In the 1920s, Dr. Pappenheim was introduced to one Ratko Parezanin, a former Young Bosnian who had settled in Vienna. Parezanin persuaded Pappenheim to publish these notes. Pappenheim agreed, ignoring the views of his wife, who was against the publication. The notes were first published in German. In 1927, they appeared in New York Times Current History (Issue 5), under the headline: ‘Confessions of the Assassin Whose Deed Led to the World War’.

The assassin was dead for nine years by the time Pappenheim’s notes were published.


                                                     Dr. Martin Pappenheim

The last years of Gavro’s life were indescribably horrendous. A doctor named Marsch saw Gavro in his last years, wasted to the bone and several tuberculosis ulcers, some as large as the palm of a hand, on his body. There was little doubt in Dr.Marsch’s mind that Gavro had been carrying the disease before his arrest.

Tuberculosis spread to Gavro’s bones and began corroding his elbow joint. There were suppurating ulcers all over his body. At this stage he was removed to the hospital. He was still considered a ‘dangerous prisoner’ who could escape and there was always a soldier in Gavro’s room! The doctors pointed out that this was unnecessary as Gavro could barely walk at this stage. But the soldier remained.

Dr.Marsch’s observations were similar to those of Dr. Pappenheim. At this stage Gavro had grown a long beard over his two years in prison. However when it was shaved off, the doctor felt that his young face was intelligent and full of expression. He seemed resigned to his inevitable fate. His eyes were sunken and had lost the fire. He told the doctor that his earthly life was finished and was waiting for the end. The only time he appeared to come to life when he spoke of the liberation of his people. He spoke about his ‘short life’ and his family. He never mentioned The Black Hand.

This is how Dr. Marsch noted down Gavro’s appearance:

‘The slim, frail body showed a typical tubercular appearance . . . His chest was covered with tubercular ulcers of hand size and full of pus. The disease had destroyed the elbow joint of his left hand to such an extent that the lower part of the arm had to be connected with the upper part with a silver wire. Why the doctors were forbidden to amputate the lower part of his arm which had become completely useless I am unable to explain to this day.’

Gavro required extensive dressing of his wounds every two days, which was provided. His wounds were so extensive the whole of his upper torso had to be covered, requiring bandages that would have covered five people.

A Jewish doctor (who actually was an inmate after he issued some false health certificate) showed Gavro kindness by bringing his pieces of chocolate he had received from home. That ended when the doctor killed himself, upon learning that his fiancé had died.

In his last year, Gavro’s prison guards were predominantly Czech and came to treat him with sympathy.  Many apparently kept him informed of the events, as the Great War unleashed by the assassination Gavro carried out, entered its last phase.

Gavro’s arm was eventually amputated, although it probably did little to alleviate the pain and misery of his last months.

Gavro did not see out the Great War. He died on 28 April 1918 at 6.30 am. The war would go on for a few more months.

The cause of death given was tuberculosis of bones. At the time of his death, Gavro was three months short of his 24th birthday.

Gavro did not live to see the misfortune that befell his mother. Gavro’s mother outlived her son by twenty years and ended her days in extreme poverty, begging on streets. She died just before the Second World War.

The prison authorities ordered five prison guards to take Gavro’s body to a nearby catholic cemetery for a secret burial. The guards were led by a young Czech officer, Frantisek Lebl. Lebl had earlier overseen the burials of Nedjo and Grabez, and secretly noted down the locations.

When Lebl arrived at the cemetery he noted that Gavro would be sharing his plot not with his fellow-conspirators but with a young prisoner who had died. The grave was already dug, in the middle of a path, where he would be forever trampled upon by the passing public. (No doubt, one last calculated insults by the Austrians.) That night Lebl made a sketch of the cemetery, noting down the location of the grave. He then posted it to his father in case he was killed in action.

Frantisek Lebl survived the war. After the war he went straight to the cemetery in Terezin and put a Czech flag on Gavro’s grave.


                                 Prison Cell where Gavro Princip was incarcerated. 

The Event that Sparked World War I: How it Ended for the Plotters


Vaso and Popovic were the youngest of the conspirators and in better physical health. They were the only two with a direct involvement in the assassination who survived the prison sentence. However, Popovic’s health was ruined in prison; he was diagnosed first with tuberculosis, then with rheumatism.

In 1917, after the Russian revolution, the conditions improved. Vaso and Popovic were put in one cell together and the prison guards, many Czechs, but also a few Germans, began treating them with greater consideration.

Both Vaso Cubrilovic and Cvjetko Popovic were released in 1918 at the end of the Great War, and lived into old age.

Vaso Cubrilovic, later life

                     Vaso Cubrilovic, 17 years of age, at the time of his arrest

Vaso in fact achieved modicum of success, both academic and political, in his later life. After his release from prison, Vaso returned to Sarajevo, where he finished gymnasium in 1919. He then moved to Belgrade, Serbia, where he graduated in general history at the faculty of philosophy. In 1929 Vaso obtained Ph.D at the faculty of philosophy (Belgrade), where his thesis was 'The Bosnian Uprising 1875-1878'. For the next forty years, Dr. Vaso Cubrilovic worked as a professor of history at the faculty of philosophy.  

Vaso Cubrilovic was the founder member of the Serbian Culture Club in 1937.

In March 1937, Vaso Cubrilovic presented a memorandum in a meeting which ensured that he would, in the fullness of time, be embroiled in another controversy.

The title of Vaso’s paper was ‘Expulsion of the Albanians’. The paper began with the following sentence: ‘The problem of the Albanians in our national and state life did not arise yesterday.’ The memorandum went on to criticise the ‘intractable character’ of the Albanians. What was Vaso’s solution to the ‘Albanian problem’? Massed resettlement of the tens of thousands of Albanians from Kosovo (in South Serbia) back to Albania and Turkey.

Vaso was blunt about the ‘methods’ that could be used to achieve this goal. Under the section 'The Mode of Evacuation', Vaso commented:

"It is well known that the Moslem masses are generally readily influenced by religion and are prone to superstition and fanaticism. Therefore, we must first of all win over the clergy and men of influence through money and threats in order for them to give their support to the evacuation of the Albanians. Agitators, especially from Turkey, must be found as quickly as possible to promote the evacuation..."

Vaso went on to 'recommend' state coercion and fomenting conflict (which could be presented to the world as the conflict amongst different clans) to gain complete Serbian control in Kosovo.

This was the time when the Nazis were in power in Germany. Hitler was expelling thousands of Jews, while in Soviet Union Stalin was forcibly resettling tens of thousands across the Union. Forced resettlement of a few thousand Albanians, Vaso argued, would hardly start a world war. Plus, he reminded the congregation, he was proposing nothing new. Way back in 1878, when the control of Bosnia and Hercegovina was passed on to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Serbia had used similar tactics with great efficiency. 

The above lecture leaves the reader or listener in little doubt as to what Vaso Cubrilovic’s views were with regard to the Kosovo problem; however it is unclear to what extent a speech delivered in front of a bunch of academics in the 1930s came to influence the policies of Slobodan Milosevic who was the president of Serbia for almost a decade from 1989 onwards and subsequently faced charges of war crimes and genocide.

While there are those who cite Vaso Cubrilovic as the architect of ethnic cleansing, there is no evidence that the Serbian policies in the 1990s were influenced by Vaso’s lecture more than fifty years earlier. Rather, his speech could be seen as representative of many in Serbia, over generations, who fiercely believed that Kosovo should be part of Serbia. It is beyond the scope of this posting to go into the bloody and destructive Balkan conflict of the 1990s, but it seems pretty clear that ethnic cleansing was practised by all the parties involved in the bloody conflicts, and not just the Serbs.

Vaso achieved some political success too in his mid-life. After the Second World War Vaso was, for a few years, the Minister for Agriculture in Marshal Tito’s Communist regime. It was during this period that Vaso saved the life of his former fellow conspirator and prisoner Cvjetko Popovic.

Immediately after he seized power Tito started a terror campaign against fascist collaborators. Thousands of intellectuals suspected of harbouring fascist sympathies were arrested and executed without trials. Amongst them was Cvetjko Popovic, who by that time, had become the director of a teacher training school (therefore highly suspect in Tito’s eyes). At great personal risk Vaso Cubrilovic wrote a long letter to Tito’s interior minister, vouchsafing Popovic’s patriotic credentials and delineating his role in the 28 June plot to assassinate Ferdinand. Surely a man who was prepared to lay down his life for Serbia couldn’t be her enemy? Popovic was spared (although his brother was executed).

Vaso’s life, however, was not without regrets. His only son Milos fought as a teenage soldier for Tito’s Partisans against the fascists and was involved in fierce fighting in 1945. He lost his mental balance as a result and, to Vaso’s great sorrow, spent the rest of his life in locked psychiatric hospitals. Milos died a few years before Vaso.

Vaso Cubrilovic never really enjoyed robust health after his release from prison in 1918. Despite this he went on to lead a very long life and died in 1990.

                                                    Vaso Cubrilovic in later life

Cvetjko Popovic, later life

After his release from prison Popovic returned to Sarajevo and started teaching. He became a professor of philosophy and eventually became a curator of the ethnographic museum in Sarajevo. According to Wikipedia Popovic died in 1980, in Sarajevo. The archives of an American newspaper show that a reporter had tried to interview Popovic in 1964 about his role in the 1914 assassination of Ferdinand, but Popovic, who, at that time, was living in Sarajevo and was the curator of the Ethnographic Museum had refused to speak. The brief article mentions that Popovic was reluctant to speak about it and certainly not to strangers. 

Decades later, in 1969 Popovic, in an interview to an American newspaper, recalled the morning of the assassination. 'The sun had come up hot in the clear sky,' Popovic recalled. It was a bright sunny morning, which apparently posed Popovic with a problem. It had rained for days prior to that day. He now had to think of a way to conceal the pistol and bomb he was carrying.It was 10 o'clock and the crowds had begun to gather. The seven assassins ('the seven of us') were spread across the area, 'each armed with either grenades or pistols or both'. (This seems like hindsight memory on Popovic's part. It is highly unlikely that at the the actual time of the assassination Popovic was aware that there were six others besides him involved in the plot.) The sound of the royal motorcade grew nearer, the crowd surged forward, and suddenly Popovic knew that he was in 'grave trouble'. The reason he felt he was in grave trouble (so he told the American interviewer in 1969) was because he knew that he had to hit the bomb against something hard, 'like the wall behind me' and wait for 10-11 seconds before he lobbed the bomb. If he moved ahead with the crowd there would be no hard surface available against which to hit the bomb. On the other hand, if he stayed back and hit the bomb against the wall, he would have to lob the bomb over the heads of people in front of him. In the event Popovic did nothing; but that was because (so he claimed in 1969) he heard a muffled sound, 'like a grenade that had fizzled'. There was lot of shouting and 'milling about' and no one noticed Popovic with his grenades and pistol. That did not stop him from panicking. As Gavro Princip, who eventually killed the Archduke after Nedjo Cabrinovic's failed attempt, sat in a nearby outdoor cafe to drink a cup of coffee and think of his next move, Popovic went around in a daze, thinking they had failed. Suddenly he heard 'a great shout over by the river, and I knew I was wrong. I just knew.'

Popovic died in Sarajevo, in 1980.

Ivo Kranjcevic

Kranjcevic was the only Croat involved in the plot to assassinate the Archduke. He only had a peripheral involvement. As seen in an earlier post, Kranjcevic agreed to hide the weapons of Vaso Cubrilovic after the assassination. He did not hide the weapons in his own house but in the house of a relative and implicated them, too, in the plot.

Kranjcevic paid dearly for his foolishness and spent years in prison in harsh circumstances. However, being young and in good physical health, he survived the prison and lived into old age.

The exact year of Kranjcevic’s death is not known, but he carried on living in Sarajevo in relative obscurity (and possibly poverty). In the 1960s, roughly fifty years after the assassination, Kranjcevic was interviewed by an American magazine. A short video clip of the interview is available on the net. In the clip Kranjcevic, a tall, hefty man with white hair, is seen complaining that the world had forgotten the heroes of 28 June 1914.


The Event that Sparked World War I: How it Ended for the Plotters


                                                             Veljko Cubrliovic

Veljko Cubrilovic appealed against his death sentence. He was wasting his time. He waited for several weeks for the judgment of the High Court which rubber stamped the death sentence.

Even though Danilo Ilic and Misko Jovanovic had not appealed against their death sentences, the two men received a reprieve while the High Court deliberated on Veljko’s appeal. For some reason the Austrians wanted to hang the three men together.

While he awaited his fate Veljko exchanged several letters with his wife. He wrote a letter to his daughter Nadja, who was an infant at the time, with the instruction to his wife that Nadja receive the letter when she turned 15. Veljko ended this very moving letter by telling his daughter, who grew up without knowing her father, that in his last hours his thoughts were directed at her and her mother.

Veljko’s wife, Jovanka (who did not remarry after Veljko’s death and wore mourning clothes for many years after her husband’s death), gave this letter to Nadja, as her husband had wished, when Nada turned 15. Jovanka had never exactly hidden the story of Veljko’s life from Nadja, but she became more open about it as Nadja grew older.

In 2006, 92 year old Nadja would tell an interviewer, in Belgrade, that her father was a Yugoslav hero and, even though she never knew him, she was immensely proud of him.

Veljko was hanged along with Danilo and Misko on 2 February 1915. On the last day of his life Veljko wrote his final letter to Jovanka. There is a note of resignation in this letter. He wrote: ‘Do not grieve too much and don’t be sad. It had to be this way.’ As Veljko wrote this letter, a photograph of his wife and daughter was in front of him, on the table. 

The last letters Veljko wrote to his wife and daughter got to them by a stroke of good luck. The prison authorities sent these letters not to Jovanka, but to a judge in the town Jovanka was living at the time (Bosanka Gradiska). The judge wrote to the Austrian High Court that the letters be destroyed. In one of the letters Veljko had written that he was leaving behind ‘untarnished name’. It was unacceptable, the judge felt, that a child in a crib [Nadja] be told that a man who had committed high treason and who was subsequently hanged was leaving an ‘untarnished name’! The High Court agreed with the judge’s recommendation and the letters were destroyed. However, a high court clerk made copies of these letters before destroying them. The copies were passed on to the director of a bank in Sarajevo. The director handed the letters to Vaso Cubrilovic after the war and Vaso passed them on to Jovanka.

The last moment of Veljko’s life were described to Jovanka by a friend of Veljko from Priboj, a priest, who was in the same prison.

Veljko left some money for the guards to have a drink in his memory. As he was being given the last rites on the platform, along with Danilo Ilic and Misko Jovanovic, Veljko asked the priest to tell his wife and daughter that he was thinking of them at the end.

Veljko was very co-operative with the executioner. When ordered to remove his coat, he also removed the collar and tie so that the hangman would find it easier to fit the noose around his neck. There was a fixed smile on his face all the time. As the noose went round his neck, he said: ‘Long live the Serbian people! Long live the Serbian army! Long live King Peter!’

The executioner, Alois Seifried, an Austrian, left an account of the execution. According to Seifried’s account the three prisoners’ chains were removed in their cells and they walked unaided to the gallows, led by a priest who was reciting prayers.

All three men were calm and looked composed. They listened quietly when the verdict was read out.

The first one to step forward was Veljko, As Veljko fumbled to unbutton his shirt and tie so Seifried offered to help him. Veljko declined and said he would do it himself.

According to Seifried, the second man, who was Misko Jovanovic, was also very calm.

The third man, Danilo Ilic, Seifried wrote, had the greatest guilt written on his face, but he too was serene.

One of the men, Seifried could not remember which one afterwards, said to him, ‘please don’t torment me for long.’

As the drums were rolling the executioner heard all the men shouting. He recalled that all three of them expressed themselves very strongly against Austria.

Seifried completed his account by saying that he had never met such brave, calm delinquents in his life.

According to Vaso Cubrilovic, both Veljko and Misko refused to say goodbye to Ilic on the scaffold, presumably still holding a grudge against him for the betrayal. Vaso, who would only be one of the two main accused who survived prison, could afford to be magnanimous to Ilic in his memoirs. He wrote:

‘I don’t blame [Veljko and Misko] nor do I support the fact that the late Veljko and Misko did not wish to say farewell to him [Ilic] before their deaths.’ Vaso then turned philosophical. ‘ I know,’ he continued, ‘from my own experience that there are moments in life that require the utmost energy of soul to remain in balance.’

                                                            Danilo Ilic

Austrians decided to bury the bodies of the three hanged men secretly at night. The Empire did not want the graves to become a point of pilgrimage. (The chief of police wrote: ‘Their graves will be decorated with flowers every night as if they were martyrs and heroes.’)

The burial took place the following day, 3 February 1914. No one knew where the bodies were buried until sometime later, when a landscape artist walking round the suburbs of Sarajevo was told by a peasant that his (the peasant’s) son had watched city policemen on the night of 3 February 1914 digging graves.

The artist who was a professor at the Teacher’s Collage and had taught Danilo Iliac painting when Ilic went to the Teacher’s School, immediately guessed that this was the grave of the three hanged men.

The authorities were informed about this after the Great War ended. By that time the Austro-Hungarian Empire had disappeared. The bodies were recovered and reburied in the cemetery in Sarajevo. Here they were eventually reunited at the memorial for all the conspirators.

                                                         Misko Jovanovic



                                                        Mehmed Mehmedbasic

Mehmedbasic, the only Muslim involved in the plot to assassinate Franz Ferdinand, escaped. As seen in earlier postings Mehmedbasic escaped to Montenegro and from there went to Belgrade. He joined the Komites and fought in the First World War. It was while he was in the Komite that Mehmedbasic became close to Dragutin Dimitrijevic (Apis).

Three years later, in 1917, Apis was arrested, along with 10 others, on charges of conspiracy to assassinate the Prince Regeant Alexander. As seen in an earlier post these were trumped up charges and the aim was to neutralize Alexander’s enemies within the army.

One of the 11 men who stood trial was Mehmed Mehmedbasic. He was found guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

One wonders whether Mehmedbasic appreciated the irony of his situation. Three years earlier (in 1914) he had avoided conviction for an assassination in which he was directly involved (if caught he would most certainly have been hanged, as he had a direct involvement and was over the age of 20), but now he was facing 15 years in prison for something which he did not do.

As it happened, Mehmedbasic did not spend 15 years in prison. He spent only 2 years and was released in 1919 after the First World War ended..

After his release Mehmedbasic returned to Sarajevo. He was 31 and his CV boasted involvements in two high profile assassinations—one genuine and one imaginary. He obviously decided that he had had enough excitement and lived for the remainder of his life quietly in Sarajevo, making a modest living as a gardener and carpenter. Beyond this not much is known of Mehmedbasic’s life in Sarajevo. In 1937 he was interviewed by the Italian historian Luigi Albertini about his role in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

However, fate had one final violent twist for Mehmedbasic. The exact circumstances of his death are not known, but it is believed that the man who participated in the assassination of a noble for his revolutionary ideas in 1914 was killed by the Ustase fascists on 29 May 1943, probably because of his long standing Serb sympathies. Mehmedbasic would have been 56 or 57 when he was murdered.

The Rest

Vaso Cubrilovic, Veljko’s younger brother, and Cvjetko Popovic were escorted from Sarajevo in chains, and taken by train to the prison at Zenica, 70 kilometres away from Sarajevo.

A second group of prisoners, comprising the Kerovic father and son, Lazar DjukicIvo Kranjcevic and Jakov Milovic soon joined the teenage conspirators.

In December 1914, the prisoners were removed from this prison. Austria had declared war against Serbia within a month of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination and, after initial success, the Empire was struggling. The Austrians became increasingly nervous about keeping the prisoners on Bosnian territory and decided to remove them.

Lazar Djukic and Ivo Kranjcevic were sent to the prison in Theresienstadt (current day Czech republic) while Vaso, Popovic, the Kerovic father and son, and Milovic were sent to Mollersdorf near Vienna, and were immediately sent to solitary confinement. The conditions in the prison were extremely harsh.

Gavro Princip, Nedjo Cabrinovic, and Trifko Grabez were removed to a fortress in Terezin, North of Theresienstadt in Bohemia (the former name for Czech Republic).

In the initial months of the war, Austrians were prevailing against Serbia and a prison guard told the prisoners of the Austrian successes. Gavro replied, ‘Serbia may be invaded but not conquered. Serbia will one day create Yugoslavia, mother of all south Slavs.’ When the guard asked Gavro whether he was sorry he was going to die in prison, Gavro waved his hand dismissively. The guard then asked Gavro why had he killed a woman (the Archduchess)? Gavro replied that he had no wish to kill a mother; it just happened. The bullet, he said, does not always go where one wishes and the two (Ferdinand and Sophie) were sitting close to each other. Gavro concluded that it was all Archduke’s mistake as he wished to subjugate and destroy whole of his people and all the Slavs.

The trio were joined by Lazar Djukic and Ivo Kranjcevic. Kranjcevic was the only one who got out alive.

All the prisoners were subjected to considerable spite and physical violence. When they became ill, they were denied proper treatment.

Except Vaso, Popovic, and Kranjcevic who were young and in robust health, no one survived.

As the winter of 1915 set in the health of the prisoners began to deteriorate.

Death of Nedjo Cabrinovic

                                                     Nedjo Cabrinovic

Nedjo was the first to die. He died within a year of imprisonment, of advanced tuberculosis, hunger and exhaustion.

Nedjo Cabrinovic’s family lived in Sarajevo and faced a calamitous situation following Nedjo’s arrest. His father Vaso was arrested, and the rest of the family expelled from Sarajevo. Their house and restaurant were ransacked by rioting anti-Serb mobs. Nedjo’s mother gathered the rest of the family and took a train to Trebinje, the home of her brother-in-law. Vaso had looked after his brother’s children and paid for the education, so Nedjo’s mother had high hopes from the Trebnje branch of Cabrinovics. However, the brother-in-law closed the door in her face and told her that he did not want anything to do with her family. The family was given shelter by a friend of Vaso until, three months later, the police arrived and arrested all of them. The family was taken to an internment camp where some of the children caught dysentery, and were removed. The family never reunited.

Nedjo’s mother died during the Great War. Vaso Cabrinovicreturned to Sarajevo and remarried. The new wife was not kind to the children of the first wife and they dispersed. Vaso Cabrinovic lived into his seventies, a bitter and unhappy man, frequently talking of killing himself.

Dusan Cabrinovic, Nedjo’s youngest brother was only four when Nedjo was arrested. Dusan carried on living in Sarajevo until his death in the mid-1990s.

None of the family ever saw Nedjo again, although the siblings remained proud of Nedjo.

Vukosava, Nedjo’s favourite sister, learned from a young Austrian soldier, Franz Werfel, who went on to become a novelist in America, how her revolutionary anarchist brother met his end.

Werfel had been posted in Terezin when he was invited by his corporal to ‘see something’ on the closed ward of hospital number 13 in the fortress town. That ‘something’ was Nedjo, who, by this time, was suffering from advanced tuberculosis. It was a pathetic sight. His lymph glands were swollen. He was so weak and emaciated that he could barely sit and could not keep his legs from shaking while he was sitting. He was completely broken by cold, hunger, isolation and tuberculosis.

Werfel was appalled to learn that the hospital doctor had deemed Nedjo fit enough to be taken back to his cells. The doctors said they believed Nedjo posed a danger of escape! The truth probably was the doctors had concluded that Nedjo’s condition was beyond redemption and there was nothing they could do for him, not even allowing him to die with dignity.

Years later (in 1924) Werfel wrote an article about his only encounter with Nedjo Cabrinovic. Werfel waxed lyrical in this article. He wrote:

‘I now detect a white, indescribably ethereal form clinging with a phosphorescent hand to the iron bedstead. It seems to be clothed in spectral white linen wound tightly around it. But it does not give the impression of a shrouded skeleton—no, of a tremulous, pale vision, an insubstantial hovering vapour in the air—as if a disembodied spirit was about to dissipate in the unnatural yellow luminescence that filled the room.

‘Cabrinovic supporting his hand upon the bed, made motions with his feet like those of a man trying to step into his slippers standing up. His emaciated knees touched each other. His limbs trembled violently as in some nervous crisis.’

Werfel noted that the guards were rude and aggressive towards Nedjo while he, in striking contrast, was serene and elegant, a figure (Werfel turning lyrical again) almost saintly in his martyrdom.

(Werfel was Jewish and later himself faced charges of high treason because of his outspoken support of pacifism. He moved to Vienna where he met and fell in love with the widow of composer Mahler, who left her second husband to be with Werfel. Werfel was living in Vienna at the time of Anschluss. He moved to California where he died in 1945 after a long career as a writer.)

                                                       Franz Werfel

Nedjo Cabrinovic did not last long after the doctors sent him back to his cell. He lay in his cell for a few more weeks and died on 27 January 1916. The police authorities in Sarajevo later wrote to the prison authorities in Terezin, asking them to exhume Nedjo’s body, cut off the head and send back the skull to Sarajevo. The permission was not granted. Nedjo’s body remained intact when it was exhumed in 1920.

Nedjo was 20 at the time of his death.


Death of Jakov Milovic

Milovic was the next to die. He had never recovered from the beatings he had received. An abscess the size of a fist had developed on his rib cage but he was denied treatment and lay in his cold damp cell. He died in April 1916.


Death of Nedjo Kerovic

A few days after Milovic’s death Mitar’s son Nedjo, who was also denied treatment despite complaining of severe stomach pain, died. In the end he could no longer sit up or walk. At this stage he was removed to the infirmary where he died a week later.

Nedjo Kerovic was 30 when he died.


Death of Mitar Kerovic

Mitar Kerovic, Nedjo’s father, was 65 at the time of his imprisonment and suffered terribly. He survived his son by a few months. He too developed severe stomach complaints.

Mitar Kerovic died in September 1916.

The Kerovic father and son were poor peasants who got embroiled, most probably unwittingly, in the conspiracy when, at the behest of veljko Cubrilovic, they provided gavro and Trifko Grabez with transport (a cart!) to travel from Priboj to Tuzla. For this, they paid with their lives.


Death of Trifko Grabez

                                                         Trifko Grabez

By the time the winter of 1916 arrived Trifko Grabez’s health began to deteriorate rapidly. Like the rest of the conspirators he was denied access to proper treatment. Eventually he was taken to a hospital when he had severe stomach pain, but was returned to his cell the same day. He was found dead in his cell the next day. Vaso Cubrilovic believed that Grabez took his own life. However, Kranjcevic, who was in the same prison as Grabez had seen Grabez the day before he died. Grabez was so exhausted he could neither eat nor sit up nor stand. To cheer Grabez’s spirits Kranjcevic told him that he didn’t look too bad; that he [Kranjcevic] too suffered from stomach complaints; and that hopefully they would meet each other again if they could find a friendly guard. Grabez could not answer. The next day he was found dead in his cell.

Kranjcevic believed that Grabez died from general exhaustion and chronic starvation. Grabez would have been 20 when he died.

Lazar Djukic

Djukic, who had a peripheral involvement in the plot, suffered a mental breakdown in prison. He was convinced he was being poisoned and began rambling incoherently. He also began claiming that he had knowledge of an old plot to assassinate the Emperor, Franz Joseph. The authorities took this seriously to begin with and summoned Kranjcevic to confront Djukic. Kranjcevic recalled later that Djukic was all skin and bones, and had a festering wound in his right eye which was untreated.

Djukic was eventually transferred to a psychiatric ward in Prague where he died in either March or May of 1917. He was buried secretly and his grave has never been found.


Djukic would have been 21 when he died.