Assassin Fires at Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek

As Archduke Franz Ferdinand—heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne—visits Sarajevo, he does something unusual on the 28th of June, 1914. He decides that his wife, Sophie, will accompany him in his touring car. That has never happened before.

He does something else that is not just unusual, it's unsafe. The heir wants to visit a local hospital where officers from his entourage are being treated for wounds they'd sustained earlier in the day. How were those men wounded? When a bomb—intended to kill Franz Ferdinand—bounced off his car, slid under the car behind him and exploded.

In today's world, security officers would make sure that such a targeted individual is immediately off the streets and whisked out of town. After all, it's Serbia's National Day—on the day of the Archduke's visit—and it's well-known that many Serbians resent Austro-Hungarian rule.

Instead of leaving town, however, Franz and Sophie—in their open car—head toward the hospital. Leopold Lojka, their driver, is unfamiliar with his route of travel. 

The car, owned by Count Franz von Harrach, has this license number:  AIII 118. (More about that in a minute.)

When Lojka makes a wrong turn, he has to stop. Quite unbelievably, he stops about six feet away from Gavrilo Princip, a member of an assassination-plotting group of young men who want to kill Franz Ferdinand. 

Princip, who had not been designated as the Archduke's shooter, has tuberculosis. He knows that he doesn't have long to live himself. 

Pressed-in by a throng of people, Gavrilo is unable to use a small bomb he's carrying. Instead, he pulls out his pistol. Later he tells the police:

I recognized the heir apparent. But as I saw that a lady was sitting next to him, I reflected for a moment whether I should shoot or not. At the same moment I was filled with a peculiar feeling and I aimed at the heir apparent from the pavement – which was made easier because the car was proceeding slower at the moment.

Where I aimed I do not know. But I know that I aimed at the heir apparent. I believe I fired twice, perhaps more, because I was so excited. Whether I hit the victims or not, I cannot tell, because instantly people started to hit me. (See One Morning in Sarajevo, by David James Smith, at page 190.)

He actually hits Sophie first. Princip’s bullet hits the car door, penetrates it, then travels into Sophie’s stomach.

Princip’s second bullet hits the Archduke’s neck where it severs his artery, then lodges in his spine.

Sophie, stunned, turns to her husband and says:

For God’s sake. What has happened to you?

Collapsing, first against her husband’s chest and then into his lap, Sophie is dying. Her stricken husband pleads with her:

Soferl, Soferl, don’t die! Stay alive for our children!

Sophie is already dead.

Franz Harrach, who owns the car, leaves his front seat and takes hold of the wounded heir:

Are you suffering, your highness?

Franz Ferdinand replies:

It is nothing, it is nothing, it is nothing.

It was actually everything. With those words barely spoken, Franz Ferdinand dies.

Princip admits his crime but says that he regrets killing Sophie:

…I had no intention of killing her.

At his trial, Princip explains his motive:

I do not feel like a criminal because I put away the one who was doing evil. Austria as it is represents evil for our people and therefore should not exist … The political union of the Yugoslavs was always before my eyes, and that was my basic idea. Therefore it was necessary in the first place to free the Yugoslavs … from Austria. This … moved me to carry out the assassination of the heir apparent, for I considered him as very dangerous for Yugoslavia. [Note that Yugoslavia was not-yet a country when Princip spoke those words.]

Less than twenty years old, Princip cannot be sentenced to death. After his murder conviction, he is sentenced to twenty years in prison. His TB causes him to lose an arm—it is amputated while he’s a prisoner—and he dies on the 28th of April, 1918.

Before his death, Princip writes these words on the wall near his bunk:

Our ghosts will walk through Vienna
And roam through the palace
Frightening the lords. (See the Afterword of Thunder at Twilight, by Frederic Morton.) 

By that time, the "great war" which had erupted a few months after the assassination had been raging nearly four years (and millions of people, throughout Europe, were dead because of the fighting). The war did not end until the parties agreed to an Armistice on November 11, 1918.

Remember the license number on the assassination car? If we break-down AIII 118, we could read it like this:

A = Armistice

II = November

I1 = 11

18 = 1918

In other words ... the license number is the equivalent of the Armistice date.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 05, 2017

Updated Last Revision: Oct 05, 2017

Media Credits

This illustration, of Princip assassinating Franz Ferdinand and his wife, was published in "Le Petit Journal," a French newspaper, on 12 July 1914 (about two weeks after the actual event).


All quotes, uncited in the text of the story, from "The Great Pictorial History of World Crime, Volume 2, by Jay Robert Nash (at page 71.)


To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Assassin Fires at Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 05, 2017. Jan 20, 2020.
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