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Gavrilo Princip's sandwich

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Gavrilo Princip's sandwich

Postby mikedash on 10 May 2010 21:48

My daughter, who is studying the origins of World War I in school, has been taught that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed in Sarajevo because of a remarkable coincidence: after the failure of the initial assassination attempt, Gavrilo Princip had gone off to get himself some lunch, and the Archduke's car happened to stop directly in front of him while he was busy eating a sandwich in a roadside cafe.

This was news to me, and none of the historical material I have to hand - Smith's One Morning in Sarajevo,for instance - makes any such claim. Yes, it seems generally accepted that Princip was standing near Schiller's delicatessen when Franz Ferdinand appeared, but the every source I've seen suggests that he was standing on the street when the car hove into view, not sitting in a deli.

Nonetheless, a quick internet search shows that this peculiar "fact" has evidently wormed its way into schools other than my daughters', and it seems the story of Princip's sandwich is actually being widely taught, at least in Britain and the US. There are hundreds of references to the story online, many of them facetious queries from school-age students as to what sort of sandwich it may have been.

Petty though the point is, it irks me not to know how the story first made its way into circulation and whether it has any sort of basis in fact. My guess is that it owes much of its popularity to the fact that it was mentioned in a documentary reconstruction, "The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hE8552joxfE) of the assassination that has been shown on BBC 4 here in the UK, and presumably elsewhere. This documentary was certainly the one screened for the history class in my daughter's school. It's not a scrupulously accurate production - it makes the killers seem far more professional than they were, and makes various other statements I've seen contradicted, for example suggesting the assassin Cabrinovic failed to kill himself because he cyanide was - in not quite so many words - past its sell-by date (Smith disputes this and suggests Cabrinovic failed to take a sufficiently large dose.) And I can see how the story may have made its way onto film by a process of reinforcement of some error, or joke. ("So Franz Ferdinand was shot because his car stopped where Princip was waiting by a deli." "What was he doing there?" "I don't know. Probably buying a sandwich.") Whatever the truth, the documentary makes no mention of its source for the sandwich statement.

Personally, I have my doubts whether so quintessentially British a convenience food as the sandwich was even on the menus in Bosnia as early as 1914 - I remember there being quite a fanfare when the French took up sandwich-eating in quite a big way when Marks & Spencer began to penetrate the local lunch market as late as the early 1990s. But I would like to be sure.

Does anyone know when and how this story first emerged, and if the legend of Gavrilo Princip's sandwich can be traced to any contemporary source? Is the story taught in Austrian (or Bosnian) schools? And if there really is anything in the tale, is there, actually, any way of discovering what sort of sandwich it was?
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Re: Gavrilo Princip's sandwich

Postby G. Trifkovic on 11 May 2010 01:00

Hi mikedash,

I've been looking at official court minutes of the trial of "Mlada Bosna" and nobody mentions Princip eating anything at the moment of the assassination. Princip merely said he was present in the vicinity of the "Latin bridge" when the car came along (p.60). Certain Mihajlo Pusara who was talking to Princip just moments prior to the assassination also doesn't mention Princip eating (p. 258); the same with Smail Spahovic, guard who threw himself at Princip before he could fire the third shot (277-8). Especially interesting for us is the affidavit of certain Milan Drnic who was at the time standing at Schiller's door (Schiller offered his wife a seat); he was standing "some 6 paces" from Princip and clearly saw him holding his "Browning" before emptying it at the Archduke and Duchess (p. 300). No sandwich here either.

Source: Vojislav Bogicevic, "Sarajevski atentat: stenogram glavne rasprave protiv Gavrila Principa i drugova, odrzane u Sarajevu 1914. g." (Sarajevo, 1954).

I personally hear about the "sandwich thing" for the first time, although I'm no expert at Assassination. Hope this helps,

Gaius

P.S. We in Bosnia are not interested in discussing petty historical details like this. Far more important is to raise our youth in conviction that Princip was either a vile monster or a saint (depending on political convictions and nationality of one's parents)...
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Re: Gavrilo Princip's sandwich

Postby mikedash on 11 May 2010 08:14

Thank you, Gaius. I appreciate your help.

Of course I realise this is a very trivial bit of "history", but it is also a good example of how history of any kind can quickly be perverted by the modern tendency to focus on colourful popular takes on subjects, and "engaging" documentaries.

Amazing as it may seem, the sandwich story is actually in danger of becoming the accepted version of events among schoolchildren here in the UK – just google Princip + sandwich and you'll see what I mean – and while superficially that seems to make no real difference to the way what happened in Sarajevo in 1914 is perceived, I think it actually does. It portrays the assassination of Franz Ferdinand as a piece of outrageous coincidence and so moves emphasis away from Princip and his companions and their motives and determination - or, in some cases, lack of it.

As such, I do feel it is dangerous in itself and should not be allowed to go without correction. So, thanks again for taking the trouble to go back to the original sources.

Mike
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Re: Gavrilo Princip's sandwich

Postby The Edge on 11 May 2010 11:11

Well, we in Serbia ARE interested in such details, but this "sandwich" theory is not plausible - even today, with sandwiches available in every street bakery, few Serbs would go for such option. :roll:

It's either "burek" or "pljeskavica". :wink:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%B6rek ... d_Slovenia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pljeskavica
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Re: Gavrilo Princip's sandwich

Postby Douglas Jr. on 15 Jul 2010 17:09

Well, I had seen this documentary also.
There is another mistake: the gun used in the movie is an anacronism. The pistol that appears is a FN Browning HP-35 (the famous "Hi-Power"), with tangent sights, which only appeared in the market more than 21 years later, in 1935. The gun fired by Princip was another FN Browning product, the Model 1910 in .380 ACP caliber. One of the guns confiscated by the Austrian police was located a few years back and it is currently in a Museum.

Below is a FN Browning 1910 for your reference.

Douglas
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Re: Gavrilo Princip's sandwich

Postby mikedash on 16 Sep 2011 10:43

Since first posting my appeal for information on this subject, I've completed some research on the sandwich story and posted the results as an article on the Smithsonian website here: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/history/2011/09/gavrilo-princips-sandwich/. The help of AHF members was vital in getting to the bottom of the problem, and is most gratefully acknowledged.
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Re: Gavrilo Princip's sandwich

Postby G. Trifkovic on 16 Sep 2011 12:50

Thanks for the kind words Mr. Dash, but I'm hardly a "WW1 expert" ;) Anyway, a great read!

Cheers,

G.
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Re: Gavrilo Princip's sandwich

Postby Terry Duncan on 16 Sep 2011 21:42

Just of note, I had heard something close to the 'sandwich theory' long prior to 2003, from memory it would have been about 1983, although the food item was not really mentioned and the important final timing was different. It may have no greater accuracy than the sandwich idea, but might explain where it originated from.

The version I was told had all the usual details up to the car passing Princip after Cabrinovic's attempt. Between this and the return by the car, quite some time passed and it was at this point that Princip was supposed to have eaten something which was described to me as a snack. Later, when the car returned Princip may have been outside Schiller's, and then the rest is pretty well documented.

It is possible that the sandwich idea derives from much the same thing, as the idea of Princip doing something between the two car journeys is hardly unreasonable. Eating at moments like this would strike some as being a strange thing anyhow, but then so is standing there doing absolutely nothing at all - I am sure any of us who have ever been to an event where something will pass first one way and then another will admit we did something inbetween, even if it is not memorable or even important enough to be mentioned in the usual recounting of tales. It would also account for it not being mentioned in the many reports too. It is quite possible that it is a myth still, people do like to believe that monumental things can arise from even the most mundane things, but it is far older than just the last eight years, and iirc gets a mention in The First World War series that is derived from the book of that name by Hew Strachan.
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Re: Gavrilo Princip's sandwich

Postby G. Trifkovic on 18 Sep 2011 02:16

Hi all,

Not sure about 1914 but sandwiches were definitely not unheard-of some two decades later. :wink: The following add can be found on page 62 of Sarajevo's "Yellow pages" from 1937. It reads:

"Buffet Restaurant Prijakovic (Aleksandar's street 87) offers various sandwiches for patron saint's feast days and weddings at affordable prices. Telephone: 29-73".

Cheers,

Gaius
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Re: Gavrilo Princip's sandwich

Postby G. Trifkovic on 18 Sep 2011 02:23

And the photo of the Brownings carried by the conspirators (Photo from Vienna's Museum of Military History, November 2007):
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