Vienna

“It Is Nothing”

 The car in which Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were riding in when they were assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914

The car in which Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were riding in when they were assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914

Near the center of Vienna, is the city’s oldest museum known as the Heeresegeschichtliches, the Military History Museum of Austria. The museum collection and displays focus on Austrian military feats, but in one room a tragedy unfolds through a collection of artifacts that provide a window into the most transformative moment of the 20th century. It was a moment that would shatter illusions of peace and prosperity in Austria-Hungary, Europe and the entire world.

In what is known as the Franz Josef, Sarajevo room an automobile is the largest item. This was the car in which the Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the Habsburg throne) was traveling through Sarajevo with his wife Sophie on Sunday, June 28, 1914. Take a good look at the folded back convertible cover of this 1911 Graf & Stift Double Phaeton automobile.

At ten minutes past ten o’clock in the morning a bomb thrown at the car deflected off this cover. It would injure travelers in another vehicle that was part of the Archduke’s entourage. Nonetheless, the Archduke insisted that the visit continue as he was being taken to the town hall for a reception.

It is at this point that one wonders if arrogance, a quality which Franz Ferdinand was known to exhibit in great quantities, ended up costing him his life. Would it not have been prudent to leave the city at this point? At the very least put the convertible cover back down to conceal the passengers.

The Archduke with his family

The Archduke with his family

After the reception, the Archduke and his wife were once again traveling back through Sarajevo, when due to a mix-up the chauffeur took a wrong turn and ended up stalling the car on a side street. It was then that the assassin, a Bosnian Serb by the name of Gavrilo Princep, pulled out a semi-automatic pistol.

From just one and a half meters away he fired two shots. The Archduke was hit in the jugular vein, while his wife was shot in the abdomen. The pistol, a Fabrique Nationale model 1910 can be seen in a display.

As incredible as it is to actually see the real weapon, we should never forget this gun murdered two people. It was the first two shots of a conflict that would take the lives of at least ten million people. Sophie was the first casualty as she died soon after being shot.

The display contains several photos of would be assassins (there were multiple ones) along with their weapons. The contrast between the assassins and the royal family is brought home by their pictures in the same exhibit.

Here we notice the scruffy looking Princep, his eyes gazing back at the camera with a fearful perplexity. By contrast, the royal family looks aristocratic, refined and well to do. There could hardly be a greater contrast.

 The assassin Gavrilo Princep

The assassin Gavrilo Princep

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie would only meet Princep in that one hair trigger moment, but through history they are forever linked.From the pistol walk to another display case holding the uniform which the archduke wore that fateful day.

A hole is visible just below the collar where the bullet’s entry occurred. Down the front of the uniform there are blood stains which have turned a dirty brown over the years. To view the final piece, move to a chaise lounge on display.

It is from the governor’s residence in Sarajevo. It is here where the Archduke was laid. He was still alive, barely breathing. Ten minutes after Sophie died, Franz Ferdinand is said to have uttered, “Sophie, Sophie! Don’t die! Live for our children” Then he repeated “It is nothing” over and over. Those were his final words.

At this point the visitor is no longer in a museum, but somewhere deep in the historical past, imagining a moment that transformed the entire 20th century. Franz Ferdinand’s final words, “It is nothing” are quite the opposite of what came afterward. For the Hungarian leadership at that time, it must have filled them with both relief and trepidation.

Relief since Franz Ferdinand had loathed Hungary and wanted to limit its power in the dual monarchy by expanding the role of the empire’s Slavic peoples. Trepidation, because many of them knew that war which had loomed so long on the horizon, was bound to arrive in the very near future.

Gun used in the assassination

Gun used in the assassination

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