Saturday, 12 July 2014

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.