Nedjelko Cabrinovic

Nedjelko Cabrinovic

Nedjelko Cabrinovic was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1895. He left school at fourteen and worked as a plumber and carpenter before becoming a typesetter. His health was poor and was diagnosed as suffering from tuberculosis.

After a dispute with his father, Cabrinovic, moved to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia where he found work in a print shop specializing in anarchist literature.

Cabrinovic returned to Sarajevo in 1912 but after taking part in a typesetting strike was expelled from the city for five years. He returned to Belgrade where he joined the Black Hand secret society. For the next two years he spent most of his spare time with other nationalists who favoured a union between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.

When it was announced that Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austro-Hungarian Empire, was going to visit Bosnia-Herzegovina in June 1914, Dragutin Dimitrijevic, the chief of the Intelligence Department in the Serbian Army and head of the Black Hand, sent three men, Cabrinovic, Gavrilo Princip, and Trifko Grabez to Sarajevo to assassinate him.

Each man was given a revolver, two bombs and small vial of cyanide. They were instructed to commit suicide after Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been killed. It was important to Dragutin Dimitrijevic that the men did not have the opportunity to confess who had organised the assassination.

Cabrinovic, Gavrilo Princip, and Trifko Grabez were suffering from tuberculosis and knew they would not live long. They were therefore willing to give their life for what they believed was a great cause: Bosnia-Herzegovina achieving independence from Austro-Hungary.

Nikola Pasic, the prime minister of Serbia, heard about the plot and gave instructions for the three men to be arrested when they attempted to leave the country. However, his orders were not implemented and they managed to reach Bosnia-Herzegovina where they joined forces with fellow conspirators, Muhamed Mehmedbasic, Danilo Ilic, Vaso Cubrilovic, Cvijetko Popovic, Misko Jovanovic and Veljko Cubrilovic.

On Sunday, 28th June, 1914,
Franz Ferdinand and Sophie von Chotkovato arrived in Sarajevo by train. General Oskar Potiorek, Governor of the Austrian provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was waiting to take the royal party to the City Hall for the official reception.

In the front car was Fehim Curcic, the Mayor of Sarajevo and Dr. Gerde, the city's Commissioner of Police. Franz Ferdinand and Sophie von Chotkovato were in the second car with Oskar Potiorek and Count von Harrach. The car's top was rolled back in order to allow the crowds a good view of its occupants.

Seven members of the Black Hand group lined the route. They were spaced out along the Appel Quay, each one had been instructed to try and kill Franz Ferdinand when the royal car reached his position. The first conspirator on the route to see the royal car was Muhamed Mehmedbasic. Standing by the Austro-Hungarian Bank, Mehmedbasic lost his nerve and allowed the car pass without taking action. Mehmedbasic later said that a policeman was standing behind him and feared he would be arrested before he had a chance to throw his bomb.

The next man on the route was Cabrinovic. At 10.15. Cabrinovic stepped forward and hurled his bomb at the archduke's car. The driver accelerated when he saw the object flying towards him and the bomb exploded under the wheel of the next car. Two of the occupants, Eric von Merizzi and Count Boos-Waldeck were seriously wounded. About a dozen spectators were also hit by bomb splinters.

After throwing his bomb, Cabrinovic swallowed the cyanide he was carrying and jumped into the River Miljacka. Four men, including two detectives, followed him in and managed to arrest him. The poison failed to kill him and he was taken to the local police station.

Franz Ferdinand's driver, Franz Urban, drove on extremely fast and other members of the Black Hand group on the route, Cvijetko Popovic, Gavrilo Princip, Danilo Ilic and Trifko Grabez, decided that it was useless to try and kill the archduke when the car was going at this speed.

Later that day, Gavrilo Princip managed to kill both Franz Ferdinand and Sophie von Chotkovato. Cabrinovic and Princip were interrogated by the police. They eventually gave the names of their fellow conspirators. Muhamed Mehmedbasic managed to escape to Serbia but Trifko Grabez, Danilo Ilic, Vaso Cubrilovic, Cvijetko Popovic, Misko Jovanovic and Veljko Cubrilovic were arrested and charged with treason and murder.

All the men were found guilty. Under Austro-Hungarian law, an offender who was under twenty when he committed the crime, could not be executed for the offence. Cabrinovic therefore received the maximum penalty of twenty years. Nedjelko Cabrinovic died of tuberculosis in January, 1916.

Primary Sources

(1) Nedjelko Cabrinovic, statement in court (23rd October, 1914)

We did not hate Austria, but the Austrians had done nothing, since the occupation, to solve the problems that faced Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nine-tenths of our people are farmers who suffer, who live in misery, who have no schools, who are deprived of any culture. We sympathized with them in their distress.

We thought that only people of noble character were capable of committing political assassinations. We heard it said that he (Archduke Franz Ferdinand) was an enemy of the Slavs. Nobody directly told us "kill him"; but in this environment, we arrived at the idea ourselves.

I would like to add something else. Although Princip is playing the hero, and although we all wanted to appear as heroes, we still have profound regrets. In the first place, we did not know that they late Franz Ferdinand was a father. We were greatly touched by the words he addressed to his wife: "Sophie, stay alive for our children." We are anything you want, except criminals.

In my name and in the name of my comrades, I ask the children of the late successor to the throne to forgive us. As for you, punish us according to your understanding. We are not criminals. We are honest people, animated by noble sentiments; we are idealists; we wanted to do good; we have loved our people; and we shall die for our ideals.