Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Event that Sparked World War I: the Plot and Plotters

                                                             Trifko Grabez

Trifko Grabez had a direct involvement in the plot to assassinate Franz Ferdinand. Apart from Gavro Princip and Danilo Ilic who hatched the plot, Trifo Grabez (together with Nedjo Cabrinovic) had the longest involvement (approximately a few months) in the plot.

Grabez helped Gavro to smuggle the weapons from Serbia into Bosnia. He was Gavro’s constant companion throughout this ‘mystic journey’.

Gavro Princip recruited Trifko Grabez  into the plot, in Belgrade, in the Spring of 1914.

Originally from the town of Pale (near Sarajevo), Grabez had studied first in Sarajevo and then in Tuzla.

Grabez was a short-tempered, hot-headed young man who had spent two weeks in jail for assaulting his professor who he thought had laughed sarcastically at him. After the assault he was barred from Tuzla and expelled from Bosnia.

Like many other disaffected, angry young Serbs, Grabez made his way to Belgrade where he spent time frequenting cheap cafes and plotting revenge on the Austrians.

When Gavro Princip arrived in Belgrade in March 1914 (his last visit to the Serbian capital), he met Grabez, born, ironically enough, on 28 June, the day the Archduke Ferdinand would be assassinated.

Gavro and Grabez knew each other from before when both lived in Sarajevo.

Grabez’s father was a priest and Grabez himself was a believer. In his trial Grabez said that he wanted unification as Yugoslavia and political freedom. When asked what he meant by political freedom he answered that he did not know, as he was not familiar with the term. The court suggested that he did not use terms he did not know the meaning of.

Gavro recruited Grabez to their plot to assassinate Ferdinand. Grabez agreed readily. It was a duty, he said, of every Bosnian to ‘welcome’ the Heir-apparent. During one of his earlier visits to Sarajevo, Grabez had read the hints in the newspapers that Austria might attack Serbia. When he read that Grabez made up his mind that Ferdinand had to be killed.

Gavro informed Grabez that Nedjo Cabrinovic too was fully committed to the assassination.

The would-be assassins then got a message from Milan Ciganovic that Major Vojislav Tankosic, the leader of the Komite army, wanted to meet them. Gavro had already met with Ciganovic and negotiated obtaining weapons from him. However, he would not go to see Tankosic (even though it was Tankosic who had given the final authorization that the plotters be provided with the weapons) because he had not forgiven the major for dismissing him when he had volunteered to join the Komite at the time of the First Balkan War. Nedjo Cabrinovic would not go because he had a tendency to laugh at the most inappropriate times and annoy the other person ( so he said). In the end Ciganovic took only Grabez to meet major Tankosic.

Tankosic asked Grabez whether he could shoot. Grabez told the major he couldn’t. Indeed none of the aspiring assassins could shoot. Tankosic then took out a gun, gave it to Ciganovic and told him to teach the ‘boys’ how to shoot.

Grabez and Gavro smuggled the weapons from Serbia to Sarajevo. This was the arduous journey which took them through Priboj and Tuzla. Nedjo Cabrinovic accompanied them for part of their travels, but, after a quarrel with Gavro, Nedjo made his way separately to Tuzla, after handing his weapons to Gavro and Grabez. In this journey (which Gavro described as a mystic journey during the trial) Grabez and Gavro were helped by Veljko Cubrilovic, Misko Jovanovic and a number of peasants, all of whom were arrested and meted out severe punishment.

Grabez arrived in Sarajevo, in the company of Gavro Princip in June 1914. He consorted closely with Gavro and Danilo Ilic. As mentioned in a previous posting, Ilic seemed to have developed doubts about the advisability of their endeavours in the last three weeks before 28 June. He most probably tried to dissuade Grabez in vain from participating in the assassination on more than one occasion.

Grabez was one of the seven plotters (including Danilo Ilic) who took a direct part in the assassination. He was given his weapons by Danilo Ilic. Ilic took Grabez to his (Ilic's) mother’s house and gave him a bomb and a revolver. He did not give him the cyanide pill, probably believing that he had successfully put Grabez off the mission.

Perhaps Danilo’s exhortations had their effects. Because it would appear that Grabez changed his mind more than once as to what he was going to do. In the trial he said that even as he received the weapons he promised Ilic that he would not carry out the shooting, nor would he kill himself. He would keep himself alive for working for the revolution. But, so he informed the trial, it was all sham; he just wanted Ilic off his back.

Grabez would live, but not for long. And the remainder of his short life he would not be spent working for any revolution.

On the day the Archduke met his end Grabez was one of the six assassins waiting for him on his route. 

After collecting his weapons from Iliac, Grabez went to Appel Quay to carry out his part in the assassination. In his trial he said that he went there with the intention of locating Gavro. He, Grabez, was going to throw the bomb and create a diversion while Gavro was going to carry out the actual shooting. (It is not clear whether the two had met before the assassination and had actually discussed this, or whether this was something Grabez had in his mind but had not discussed with Gavro.)

However, when he reached the Quay, Grabez was unable to find Gavro and assumed that he must have been arrested.

Grabez then took up his position by the Emperor’s Bridge which was on the direct route to the Governor’s building (Konak) where a lunch in honour of Ferdinand was arranged. Grabez reckoned that if Nedjo Cabrinovic failed to kill the Archduke with his bomb, the chauffeur would want to bring him to Konak by the quickest route where, by the Emperor’s Bridge, he would be waiting for the royal couple.

Grabez was standing near the bridge for a few minutes when he heard an explosion. Nedjo’s bomb had gone off. Grabez was sure that it was Nedjo who had thrown the bomb, as the others, so he would say at the trial, were Bosnian youths of weaker qualities (presumably he meant Vaso Cubrilovic and Cvjetko Popovic).

Grabez was still at the Emperor’s Bridge when the Archduke’s cavalcade returned to Appel Quay an hour later, after Nedjo’s bomb failed to kill him. However Ferdinand avoided Grabez because of a last minute change to his route following Nedjo’s unsuccessful attempt on his life, only for the Royal chauffer to make an error and turn into a side-street (Franz Joseph Street, named after the Emperor) where Gavro Princip was waiting forhim.

The above was Grabez’s account to the chief of the trial.

Grabez gave two different accounts from the one above: one before and one after his interview with the chief of trial.

In the pre-trial interview Grabez denied that he had agreed to take part in the assassination.

Finally, when the trial began, Grabez changed his version yet again. He said that even though he had stopped trusting Ilic (who tried to dissuade him at the last minute from taking part in the assassination attempt), he had decided not to take part; he had never gone even to Appel Quay on the day the Archduke was assassinated; he had collected the weapons only to remove the evidence from Ilic’s house. (He wrapped the weapons into an awkward shaped package.) He had no intention of assassinating anybody. He said he had lied before (when he gave evidence to the chief of trial) about being at the Emperor’s Bridge on the day of assassination because he wanted to hide the identity of someone he had been with that day.

Grabez dug his grave even deeper by these repeated changes of his account. The trial became more and more sceptical as Grabez changed his versions. ‘That is the third time you’ve changed your story,’ the trial reminded Grabez. ‘What are we to believe?’