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Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Murder in Sarajevo and the First World War

Deutsche Kinemathek (opens in new window) (Museum für Film und Fernsehen)

Saturday, 28 June this year marked one hundred years since 19-year-old Serbian Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, sparking controversy and anger all across Europe and eventually leading to the outbreak of war in August 1914. So what exactly happened, how did it lead to one of the bloodiest wars in history and what kind of film footage relating to the event is available today? Archduke Franz Ferdinand was commanded by the Emperor of Austria to go to Sarajevo to make an inspection of the Austro-Hungarian troops stationed there.

The presence of Austria-Hungary in Bosnia angered the Serbian freedom fighter group, The Black Hand, who were part of a movement to seek independence of the Slavic people from Austro-Hungarian rule. Having attempted the assassination of other Austro-Hungarian officials, seven members of the group seized this opportunity and conspired to kill the Archduke during his visit to Sarajevo. On the morning of 28 June 1914, everything was set in place. Assassins had been prepared along the route of the procession. When the cars containing the Archduke and his wife passed the first and second assassin, both failed to act. The third assassin along the route threw a grenade at the car but it missed and exploded under the car following the Archduke, injuring about 20 people.

The driver of the Archduke’s car, realising what had happened, decided to drive away from the procession and in doing so, passed the other three assassins, but drove so quickly that they were unable to carry out their plans. It seemed as though they had missed their opportunity. Assassin Gavrilo Princip made his way out of the crowds and contemplated what to do next. In the meantime, the Archduke decided to abandon the rest of the planned procession to visit those who had been injured in the blast earlier that day. The driver, unsure of the way to the hospital, took a wrong turn down the very road along which Princip was walking.

The young Serbian could not believe his luck when his target’s car drove straight down the road towards him. He fired two shots into the car and both the Archduke and his wife, Sofia, were killed almost instantly. This assassination caused an uproar across Europe and set off an accelerated chain of events. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the attack and sent them an ultimatum, which was supported by Austria-Hungary’s ally, Germany. While Serbia accepted most of Austria-Hungary’s demands, there were some upon which the two countries could not agree and as a result both the Austro-Hungarian and the Serbian armies mobilised for attack.

Russia, in support of Serbia, also prepared for war, while Germany refused Britain’s demand to declare support for Belgian neutrality in case of war and also began to mobilise its army. Less than two weeks after Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia was issued, Serbia, Russia, and its allies France, Belgium and Great Britain had declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, and World War One had begun.

EFG1914’s Virtual Exhibition gives an indication of how even films covering the same events can be used to tell their own stories. The page titled ´Same images, different stories’ uses the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife as examples of the way that events can be dramatised and exaggerated for a more impressive cinematic experience, with one reenactment of the event having been released as late as 1968 (Sarajevski atentat: Yugoslavia, 1968).

Other remaining newsreel footage from films such as Das Attentat auf den Thronfolger Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand am 28. Juni 1914 in Sarajevo (Austria-Hungary, 1914) highlight the paramount significance of the assassination on an international scale, and anticipate the rise of the international newsreel, which would become a dominant mode of European film in the four years to follow.

World War I