The assassination that heralded WWI

Archduke Franz Ferdinand with his wife on the day they were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, 28 June 1914

In an event that is widely acknowledged to have sparked the outbreak of World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of Emperor Franz Josef and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was shot to death along with his wife by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on June 28, 1914.

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These assassinations were a spark to the start of World War I, Europe had been boiling for a few years already and was just waiting for a reason to start a war. His last words after being shot in the neck were to his wife, who was hit in the stomach by a stray second shot. They were: “Sophie! Sophie! Don’t die! Live for our children!“. He was asked about his condition on the way to the hospital and kept saying “It’s nothing. It’s nothing“, over and over. Sophie died there in the car and he followed 10 minutes after arriving at the hospital.

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The great Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, the man most responsible for the unification of Germany in 1871, was quoted as saying at the end of his life that: “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans”. It went as he predicted.

The archduke traveled to Sarajevo in June 1914 to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Ottoman territories in the turbulent Balkan region that were annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908 to the indignation of Serbian nationalists, who believed they should become part of the newly independent and ambitious Serbian nation.

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The date scheduled for his visit, June 28, coincided with the anniversary of the First Battle of Kosovo in 1389, in which medieval Serbia was defeated by the Turks. Despite the fact that Serbia did not truly lose its independence until the Second Battle of Kosovo in 1448, June 28 was a day of great significance to Serbian nationalists, and one on which they could be expected to take exception to a demonstration of Austrian imperial strength in Bosnia.

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