On 28 June 1914, Gavro Prinicp, a Bosnian Serb, assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There were a number of men involved in the conspiracy to assassinate the Archduke. One of them was Nedjo Cabrinovic.
Family Background and Childhood
Nedjo Cabrinovic was the only one amongst the plotters, other than Gavro Princip, with direct involvement in the plot to kill Franz Ferdinand, who actually made an attempt. Nedjo threw a bomb at the Archduke’s car on the morning of 28 June 1914 when Archduke’s procession was passing through the main street of Sarajevo.
Nedjo’s was a city family, having been based in Sarajevo for generations. His father, Vaso, was born under the Turkish rule, in 1864; however, when the control of the city was passed over to the Hapsburgs in 1878, Vaso Cabrinovic had prospered under Austrian rule. He was the proud owner of one of the first coffee-grinding machines in Sarajevo. He roasted and sold coffee from his home.
Nedjo’s family was socially superior to the families of almost all the other plotters, except perhaps the Cubrilovic brothers.
Vaso Cabrinovic was a rough, unsophisticated man who subscribed to the notion that the best way to raise children was to be inordinately stern with them and refuse them whatever they asked for. He was a man of extreme moods. When he was in good mood he liked himself to be photographed surrounded by his children. After a quarrel, however (recalled his daughter Vukosava while speaking to English writer Rebecca West in the 1930s), he would go round the house cutting the faces of those who had offended him, out of the pictures. But he never destroyed them. When the offending party was back in favour, the face would be pasted back in the photograph.
Vaso Cabrinovic had a very volatile relationship with Nedjo, the eldest of his seven surviving children (he fathered ten).
Nedjo Cabrinovic was born in 1895. As a child he spent some of his time with relatives in the Bosnian city of Trebinje. Age 12, Nedjo was in a school in Trebinje, where he failed his exams. His enraged father summoned him back to Sarajevo and refused to pay for his education. For the rest of his short life Nedjo remained bitter towards his father about having to leave school. He ran away from home and tried to earn a living as a locksmith. That did not work out and he had to return home with tail between his legs.
Teenage years and Interest in Politics
Age 14 (year 1909), Nedjo began an apprenticeship at a printing plant, the Serbian Press, in Sarajevo, where he worked for two years and learned typesetting. Around this time he also began to get interested in politics. He began reading about Socialism and revolution. His father caught him one night reading a Russian revolutionary novel and beat him mercilessly.
Nedjo was a hot-headed, impulsive young man who frequently got into trouble, both at work and at home, because of his fiery nature. He walked out on his job at the printing press after an argument with an older colleague and his father, equally short-tempered as Nedjo, drove him out of the house. He was accepted back after a month but got into more trouble with his father when he argued with a housemaid and refused to apologize. This time round, Vaso reported Nedjo to the police and had him jailed for three days.
Nedjo goes to Belgrade and is influenced by Anarchist Ideology
Like many young Bosnian Serbs, Nedjo ended up in Belgrade where he took up a printing job with a group of anarchists. He became influenced by the anarchist ideas and frequently attended late night meetings. The intense life-style, together with poor nutrition, took its toll and Nedjo became ill. He returned to Sarajevo, to his father’s house. He was now 17, and the year was 1912.
Back in Sarajevo and in further Trouble
As he convalesced, Nedjo became involved with a radical group of young Serbs in Sarajevo called ‘Young Bosnians’ (Mlada Bosna). When his health improved further he found himself a job and began printing a political journal.
It was in the summer of 1912 that Nedjo met with Gavro Princip, who, having led an itinerant, impoverished life until then, was, like Nedjo, not in the best of health. The two men soon became close friends. They began reading together and made notes.
Nedjo sometimes brought Gavro to his house where Gavro met Nedjo’s beautiful younger sister, Vukosava. It is probable that Gavro developed romantic longings towards Vukosava; however, perhaps owing to his shy nature, but also to the large social gap that existed between their backgrounds, it did not lead to anything.
Nedjo’s unstable life-style and clashes both with authorities and his father continued unabated. The same year (1912) he resigned his job in the printing press in order to join printer’s strike and, as a result, was asked to leave home (yet again) by his father. He was arrested and jailed for three days for threatening to burn down the printing press—he was trying to influence the strike, he recalled in his trial, from his own anarchist position.
Nedjo was asked to give the authorities the names and whereabouts of the strike-leaders. Nedjo refused. After being given a long lecture by an Austrian officer, Nedjo was banned from Sarajevo for 5 years and exiled to Trebinje. In his 1914 trial Nedjo recalled:
‘A personal motive drove me to vengeance after I was banished from Sarajevo. I was suffering because a foreigner who came to my country banished me from my native town.’
Flitting between Belgrade and Sarajevo
Nedjo of course did not go to Trebinje. He went to Belgrade instead. The year was 1912. Gavro Princip had reached Belgrade too; and the two men frequented cafes patronised by Bosnian Serbs in the city. Gavro was studying while Nedjo was doing a day job. Both were skint.
The cafes Nedjo and Gavro frequented were cheap cafes where men could sit for long hours over cups of coffee. The cafes were also frequented by Komite officers (the mobilization for the First Balkan War had begun). One such officer was Milan Ciganovic. Two years later Ciganovic would provide the plotters with weapons and also train them in shooting from a pistol.
Nedjo and his father, Vaso, it would appear, could neither get on with each other, nor without each other. Vaso successfully applied to the Austrian authorities against his son’s expulsion and sent Nedjo money. As the summer of 1912 neared its end Nedjo was back in Sarajevo.
Nedjo stayed in Sarajevo until May 1913. He finally qualified as a journeyman typographer and promptly began a furious political debate in print with the Social Democrats (to whose organization he belonged) in Sarajevo, criticizing them severely. The Social Democrats responded aggressively and accused him of being an agent of the Serbian government. Around this time rumours started circulating that his father was an agent of Austrian authorities.
While Nedjo was determinedly continuing with his life of conflict, it has to be said that it was a reflection of what was going round him. Unrest was growing in Bosina. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had controlled Bosnia and Hercegovina since 1878, had formally annexed the territory in 1908. The Austrian authorities were becoming uncomfortably aware that all manners of assassination plots were being hatched against the royalty. The Empire responded predictably: with repression. In May 1913 the Austrian governor Oskar Potiorek announced ‘Emergency Measures’: he banned assemblies, organizing, closed many school, and banned Serbian newspapers. The Austrian newspapers hinted that the Empire might attack Serbia which, at that time, was involved in the Second Balkan War, this time with Bulgaria, one of the original Balkan League nations.
To Nedjo Cabrinovic this was unconscionable. In his 1914 trial he said,
‘Serbia would be empty and then they [Austria] could invade her with 100,000 men. I felt I had greater nationalism in me and when that Balkan war [the Second Balkan War] startred, there developed in me a great desire to be in Serbia.’
Around this time Nedjo was finally expelled by the Social Democrats and his former colleagues boycotted him. His father Vaso banned him from writing to his younger sister Vukosava (who, by this time, was studying in Croatia), blaming him for influencing Vukosava with his anarchist ideas.
Final Year in Belgrade (May 1913 to May 1914)
Nedjo, the restless soul that he was, felt he could not stay in Sarajevo. Where did he go? To Belgrade, via Trieste (where he borrowed a gun).
By the time Nedjo arrived in Belgrade, in 1913, the Second Balkan War was almost over, and, while Serbia had prevailed, there was little money and great hardship. Nedjo could get only a very poorly paid job in a printing press.
Nedjo would stay in Belgrade for 12 months. He would return to Sarajevo in June 1914, ready to slay his victim, Franz Ferdinand.
Nedjo was starving, but it did not diminish his revolutionary fervour. He began frequenting the cheap cafes in Belgrade and debated furiously all night long. He was an anarchist while many who came to these cafes were radical nationalists. However, Nedjo had in common with them the belief of one pan-Slavic state that would unite all Serbs. They all were unanimous that Austria must be forced out of Bosnia and Hercegovina.
One morning in the spring of 1914, either March or early April 1914, Nedjo received a letter. The letter, which bore the stamp of Franz Joseph, the Emperor, had come from Bosnia. Inside the envelope was a clipping from a newspaper, and only one word—‘greeting’—was added to it. The text read:
‘From Sarajevo, it is announced that the Archduke heir Apparent with his wife will come to Sarajevo and participate in manoeuvres.’ (It never became clear who had sent this clipping to Nedjo).
Nedjo meets with Gavro Princip and agrees to participate in the Assassination
One day, in spring 1914, Nedjo met his old friend Gavro, who too was in Belgrade, in one of the cafes. Nedjo still had the newspaper clipping with him, which he showed to Gavro. Gavro read the cutting and returned it to Nedjo without a comment.
At this stage Nedjo was not seriously thinking about assassinating the Archduke. The same evening Gavro returned to Nedjo’s digs and suggested they go for a walk to discuss the news clipping Nedjo had shown him earlier in the day.
The two of them went to a park in Belgrade where Gavro put it to Nedjo that the two of them carry out the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. After a minimum of hesitation Nedjo agreed. The two young men, barely out of their teens, gave each other their word of honour and shook hands.
Journeys back to Sarajevo, June 1914
Nedjo and Gavro discussed ways to obtain weapons; Gavro took upon himself the responsibility. As described in the earlier post, Gavro managed to obtain weapons through Milan Ciganovic. However, unbeknown to Gavro, Nedjo too had approached Ciganovic for weapons after he ran into Ciganovic in a Belgrade cafe.
Milan Ciganovic, flanked by Gavro Princip and Nedjo Csbrinovic
Nedjo had only a nodding acquaintance with discretion and, like some of the other conspirators, spoke freely about the plot to assassinate the Archduke. It was this indiscretion of Nedjo that caused strife between him and Gavro when the two, together with Trifko Grabez, set off from Belgrade for Sarajevo on 28 May 1914. Halfway through the journey Gavro asked Nedjo to make his own way separately to Tuzla, taking away the weapons from him. Nedjo was, in Gavro's eyes, becoming a liability because of his unfortunate urge to tell anyone willing to give him an ear about the assassination plot.
Nedjo travelled separately and waited for his two friends in Tuzla. Gavro and Trifko Grabez arrived in Tuzla, kept the weapons with Misko Jovanovic, and the three conspirators left for Sarajevo on a train. By that time Nedjo had another falling out with Gavro.
When Nedjo arrived at his father’s home in Sarajevo after 12 months, Vaso decided that he must be immediately registered with the police his son’s return. In the police register, where he had to write Nedjo’s address, his father wrote: ‘all around the world.’
In the next three weeks leading to the assassination Nedjo met several times with Gavro. However, he was now ‘outside the loop’, having fallen out with Gavro during the journey. Gavro had obviously decided that Nedjo was a motormouth and hence unreliable. He told Nedjo very little especially in relation to the weapons. Nedjo had no idea almost until the end whether the weapons had arrived in Sarajevo.
Gavro and Grabez told Danilo Ilic (Gavro’s childhood friend and the principal conspirator) that they thought that Nedjo was ‘very naive’ and unsuitable to be an assassin.
In his prison interview with Dr. Pappenheim Gavro told the psychiatrist that Nedjo initially wanted to be the lone assassin. But [Gavro continued] he [Nedjo] was ‘only a type-setter, not of sufficient intelligence’ (a touch of academic snobbery, here, from Gavro, towards his friend who came from a more prosperous, city, background, as opposed to Gavro’s village, peasant background). Also, he was not considered sufficiently nationalist because of his previous anarchist ideas.
Nedjo was also unaware that other men (Mehmed Mehmedbasic, Vaso Cubrilovic and Popovic) were being recruited to the plot.
Nedjo, as was his nature, continued to talk indiscriminately and boasted to several people (including family, friends and even housemaids) the heroic journey he had undertaken from Belgrade to Sarajevo with his two friends.
Nedjo had a large circle of friends in Sarajevo, many of them unconnected to the plot. In the three weeks leading to the assassination Nedjo looked in on many of them. These friends were summoned to the trial and described a revealing picture of Nedjo’s personality. The picture emerges of a confident, outgoing, gregarious man who was a charmer. With these friends Nedjo rarely talked of politics. He met with them in the company of girls and sang songs.
Whenever he met Gavro and tried to talk about the assassination, Gavro told Nedjo to shut up.
Nedjo came to the conclusion, based on the very minimal information provided by Gavro, that the plot to assassinate Franz Ferdinand had been abandoned. He carried on believing this almost until the last day.
It was only on 26 June, a Friday, that Gavro disclosed to Nedjo that the plan to kill Franz Ferdinand was going ahead, after all.
27 June 1914, Sarajevo
Nedjo met with Gavro the next day (27 June). Gavro took Nedjo to Appel Quay, the main road where Ferdinand’s car would pass the next day, on 28 June. By this time Gavro and Danilo Ilic had decided and planned where everyone would stand. Even at such late stage Nedjo was unaware of the identities of other assassins recruited to the plot, and believed that Danilo Ilic would take direct part in the assassination.
Gavro showed Nedjo his place: next to the Austro-Hungarian bank. Nedjo would be the third in line to kill the Archduke, although he did not know that. (The first two would be Mehmed Mehmedbasic and Vaso Cubrilovic.)
That evening Nedjo began carrying out last acts in anticipation of his death the next day. He gave away the few things he owned. He gave his mother his pocket-knife and watch. He gave his grandmother, to whom he was especially close, 20 crowns from his last wages (in the three weeks he was in Sarajevo, incredibly, Nedjo had found a job). He bought a bouquet of flowers and sent it to a young girl who must have been close to her heart. He had only a few crowns left. He gave them to his younger sister, Jovanka. He told her that he was going on a journey and they would never see each other again. As Jovanka left the room she noticed that her brother had tears in his eyes.
In his trial, Nedjo would say that he felt sorry for all his family, even his father with whom he had never got on well. ‘I have not been satisfied with him [his father],’ Nedjo would inform the trial. ‘The raising he gave me has brought me to this. But I still feel sorry for him.’
Nedjo left his home for the last time on 28 June 1914. He never saw any of his family again. He was arrested straightaway after his unsuccessful attempt on the Archduke’s life. The prisoners were kept in isolation before the trial and were not allowed any visitors. There was no open gallery for the family or other interested parties at the trial.
After the trial and until his death Nedjo had only two visitors, and they were not his family.