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The Myth of Gavrilo Princip’s Sandwich

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One morning in Sarajevo in 1914 changed the course of history. We are talking about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, of course. Franz Ferdinand was murdered by the hand of young Gavrilo Princip. This act set Austro-Hungarian Empire against Serbia, and from that moment on Europe went on a slippery road that lead to World War I. June 28, 1914, was one of the days that shook the world.

No Shooting, No War?

In the summer of 1914, Bosnia has just become part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and people were not excited about that change. Moreover, there was a group of young people known as ‘Mlada Bosna’. At the time ‘Mlada Bosna’ was a secret youth revolutionary organization that was established in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The main goal of this organization was to defeat Austro-Hungarian in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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The archduke traveled to Sarajevo in June 1914 to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, at the time annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908. Serbian nationalists were angered by annexation, as they believed the territories should be part of Serbia. Moreover, among so many different days, the archduke chooses to visit enraged Bosnia by Austro-Hungarian moves, on the 28th of June.

This day is known as Vidovdan and is a Serbian national and religious holiday. Members of ‘Mlada Bosna’ saw this move as disrespect and utterly showcasing of Austro-Hungarian dominance over Bosnia. Therefore, they decided to strike the Austro-Hungarian empire during Franz’s visit to Sarajevo on the 28th of June, in 1914.

From that moment on, that day is known as the day that changed the world.

The Assacination

The assassination didn’t go as planned at first. Actually, seven conspirators position themselves at different intervals along Ferdinand’s route. The first attack included a hand grenade, but the grenade was as an old one, with a 10-second fuse.

The grenade simply bounced off the limo and into the road. Ferdinand was uninjured. Everything went down the hill from that moment on. Ferdinand is rushed to the city hall to meet state officials. However, his driver was a stranger to Sarajevo and he got lost. He went from Appel Quay into crowded Franz Joseph Street, then drifts to a stop right in front of Schiller’s. This is where they meet Princip who was eating his sandwich.

Princip saw his target sitting just a few feet away. He pulls his gun and fire two times. The first shot killed Sophie, Ferdinand’s wife, while the second one killed Franz hitting him in the neck. The security and the police hustle Princip away, while inside Schiller’s deli, the most important sandwich in the history lies half-eaten on a table. But, was there really a sandwich?

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Gavrilo’s Sandwich

First, when we talk about the Balkan area it’s crucial to take into consideration the linguist’s deconstruction. Simply said, the sandwich is an Anglo-American food and it was named in the 1760s for John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Montagu was in the habit of requesting his meat always placed between two slices of toast so he could lunch at his desk. It’s hard to believe that this food-idea cross the Channel and was featured on a Bosnian menu as early as 1914.

Secondly, at the time the most common food in Sarajevo was traditional and didn’t include sandwiches in the form that we know them today. Moreover, even today when sandwiches are everywhere and easily found on every corner, few Serbs or Bosnians would go for such an option.

Furthermore, people in this area will always opt for local specialties such as ‘burek’ or ‘pljeskavica’.

It’s known that Princip was present in the vicinity of the ‘Latin bridge’ when the car came along – he said it during his trial. Also, Mihajlo Pusara, who actually was talking with Princip before the shooting never mentioned any sandwich.

Also, Milan Drnic (at the time he was standing at Schiller’s door and offered his wife a seat) saw him only holding his Browning (the gun) before emptying it at the duchess and archduke. No sandwich here either.

Where This ‘Sandwich Idea’ Came From?

If you can spare a few moments and check great TV documentary named ‘Days that Shook the World’ you will understand why sandwich myth went viral. At 5:15 the script states:

“Gavrilo Princip has just eaten a sandwich, and is now standing outside Schiller’s delicatessen … when suddenly the Archduke’s car happens to turn into Franz Joseph Street. Completely by chance, fate has brought the assassin and his target within 10 feet of each other.”

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The documentary was a big hit both in the U.K. and the States. Soon after it, the documentary was also available for sale on DVD, which has helped to make it popular in schools. The writer and the director of quality historical programs stated that he couldn’t remember how ‘sandwich’ information appeared in his sources.

What is important here for educators is to focus their teaching around the events that lead to this assassination and what it start.

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