The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 1/New Light on the Sarajevo Murders (1)

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The Bohemian Review, volume 1, no. 4 (1917)
New Light on the Sarajevo Murders (1) by B. Novotný
2970244The Bohemian Review, volume 1, no. 4 — New Light on the Sarajevo Murders (1)1917B. Novotný

New Light on the Sarajevo Murders.

By Dr. B. Novotný.

The immediate occasion of the European war was the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife, Princess Hohenberg, in the capital of Bosnia, June 28th, 1914. The Austrian government saw in the double murder a complete justification for making war on Serbia, regardless of the strong probability that invasion of Serbia would bring on general war. The ruling persons of Vienna have defiantly proclaimed to the world that it was fitting to have millions of the common people die rather than leave the murder of the two august personages unpunished. This is a terrible doctrine from the point of view of American democracy, even when sincerely believed in. But the fact is that the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the few people around Francis Joseph who decided to use the Sarajevo murders as an excuse for crushing Serbia, were in reality accomplices in the death of the heir whom they cordially hated.

Francis Joseph whose long region of sixty eight years came recently to a close has always been subject to female influences. In his declining years the strongest person around him was archduchess Marie Valerie, his daughter; together with archduchesses Isabella and Marie Josephine she was the real power behind the throne. To obtain the consent of the emperor to any important matter it was necessary to work through his all-powerful daughter. Marie Valerie was swayed by one ruling passion, a deep and all pervading hate of Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the empire, and a still more intensive hate of his morganatic wife, Princess of Hohenberg, former Countess Sophia Chotek. It is difficult to account for this passionate hate; perhaps it was intense personal dislike, perhaps jelousy fed by the thought that on some future day that could not be far distant the Countess Chotek would become the emperor’s wife and take precedence of the emperor’s daughter. It was well known that Francis Ferdinand was completely devoted to his wife and would upon accession to the throne overturn the barriers by which his wife and children were excluded from the throne. Possibly Marie Valerie was swayed by medieval prejudice against persons raised above their rank. Who can sound the depths of a woman’s soul, especially if she be a Hapsburg princess?

No doubt exists on the point that Francis Ferdinand was constantly pursued by the enmity of the archduchess and hated by all her court. It was well known in Vienna that the heir’s mental condition was to say the least abnormal. Both in his castle of Konopiste and in Vienna stories were told of fits resembling insanity to which His Imperial Highness was subject. In his living room all the protraits had eyes shot out, for they were the target at which the future emperor exhibited his skill with revolver. His bodyservants, coachmen and gardeners told other stories. One morning three years ago the castle of Konopiste was astounded by an unusual spectacle. The steward of the estate presented himself before the archduke for reports and orders. The heir to the throne exchanged a few words with his servant, and suddenly without any reason picked up his sword and commenced to beat the steward with the flat side of the weapon, careless of where the blows fell. The man turned and ran from the rooms; the archduke ran after him and pursued him with the sword all over the castle grounds to the village below. The attendants were struck with fear and dared not interfere. This was but one instance of the frequent fits of the Archduke who losing all control of himself with his own hand whipped lackeys, coachmen and laborers.

The entourage of Marie Valerie looked upon Francis Ferdinand as insane. Generals, ministers and high officials spoke of him among themselves as “the idiot”. That there was a physical derangement of some sort, producing these violent acts, was proved by autopsy performed after his assassination. The physicians reported that his physical and mental condition had been such that he could not lived longer than one year.

Sophia, too, exhibited peculiar traits of temperament. She beat her maids and servants, even the governess of her children, but her outbursts of temper were accounted for generally by avarice. The story is told of her youngest child, who said, after Princess Hohenberg was buried: “Now I can keep the money that people give me.” The courtiers of Marie Valerie made these traits of the royal pair the butt of their witticisms, and it was well known that the surest way to the favor of the powerful archduchess was to poke fun at and exhibit contempt for the heir to the throne and his family. There was little real mourning in Vienna, when Francis Ferdinand and Sophia were killed, and the scandals connected with their funeral proved that the hate of the archduchess pursued them into the grave.

Both sides, the heir presumptive and the people who had the ear of the reigning emperor, shared the guilt of causing the war. Ferdinand, spurred on by his ambitious wife, lent himself to the far-reaching plans of Kaiser Wilhelm, hoping to make his children’s succession to the Hapsburg throne easier by adding territory to the inherited empire. For some years he had represented the old emperor in foreign and military affairs. He realized that his personality was popular neither with the ministers and generals, nor with the many races of Austria-Hungary. The majority of his future subjects were afraid of his centralizing and germanizing tendencies. The archduke realized that the foundations of the Hapsburg monarchy were tottering and that war on the eastern frontiers was bound to arise, unless a total change in the internal policy of the dual empire was effected. He decided to give his support to the imperialistic plans of William, hoping to make the future of the monarchy and of his own family secure by a successful war.

But Berlin knew perfectly well that as long as the old emperor lived, Marie Valerie and her friends had the final word in Vienna. Much care was therefore taken to dispose them favorably to the German designs. Stress was laid on the danger which Serbian national aspirations constituted to the integrity of the empire, and promises were made of complete backing in case of Balkan complications. The Kaiser encouraged the fire-eaters of Vienna and Budapest who constantly talked about smashing the despised nation of swineherds and made preparations for a war with Italy; he was on very friendly terms with Generals Conrad Hoetzendorf and Von Auffenberg, who for a time were most influential about the Vienna court. William’s diplomacy toward his ally was very simple; to be on good terms with whatever faction might be in power in Vienna at the moment he might need Austria’s help. It was all the same to him, whether his ally would be Francis Ferdinand and Sophia Chotek, or Marie Valerie and her generals.

The events of Sarajevo settled that question. In Bohemia, where the heir was well known having resided there long, it was known the day after the double murder that Master of Ordnance Potiorek, governor of Bosnia, had not taken the proper precaution to have his distinguished guests safeguarded. A few days later documents were published in the newspapers which proved that the Vienna police had been expressly warned that an attempt on the archduke’s life would be made during his stay in Bosnia’s capital. On the fatal day of June 28, after the first attempt miscarried and when it was plain that a conspiracy existed including a number of reckless men, General Potiorek, who was resonsible for the archduke’s safety, deliberately advised him to carry out the original arrangements and expose his own and his wife’s persons in the public streets once more. It may be that Potiorek’s advice was given in good faith, but the fact is that when war broke out, Hoetzendorf, Auffenberg and Potiorek were given commands of principal Austrian armies, and their promotion coupled with their well-known enmity to the heir casts a sinister light upon Potiorek’s blunder on the day of the assassination.

The promotion of these three generals was due to the influence of archduchess Marie Valerie. Hoetzendorf and Auffenberg were leaders in the military clique that had long been preparing for war with Serbia on the one side and Italy on the other. To that end they cultivated diligently the good will of the emperor’s all-powerful daughter.

Two years prior to the war Auffenberg became involved in an ugly affair and was saved only through the interposition of Marie Valerie. As the Austro-Hungarian minister of war he sold one million rifles to Roumania, and it became known that he personally benefited by the transaction to the extent of a million crowns. But proof of graft could not seriously hurt an Austrian minister enjoying the favor of the high personage who swayed the emperor’s will. Shortly afterward a more serious scandal was talked about in Vienna. Auffenberg’s wife, it was well known, was greatly interested in politics. During the Balkan wars, when it seemed very likely that Austria would attack Serbia, Frau Von Auffenberg called on her broker after each session of the ministerial council and made great sums speculating in the rise and fall of the state rentes. The indignation of the Vienna public became so great that Auffenberg had to resign.

But even after these scandals Auffenberg retained his army command and cultivated constantly the favor of Marie Valerie. He was playing for the position of commander-in-chief in the war which he knew to be coming. To that end he staged a comedy that proved to be the sensation of the year in Vienna. It both humiliated the family of Ferdinand D’Este and pleased the powerful archduchess.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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