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Black Hand
The Black Hand, or Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (Union or Death), was a secret society created in
Belgrade in 1911. The group's goal was the attainment of a Greater Serbia by any means
necessary and the recruitment of militants for a possible war with Austria.
By 1914, approximately 2,500 members made up the ranks of the Black Hand, most of
whom were Serbian Army officers. The group's activities included anti-Austrian
propaganda, espionage, sabotage, and political murder throughout the Austro-Hungarian
Empire. In order to maintain the element of secrecy, the Black Hand was made up of
three- to five-man units that acted under a district committee, which in turn was
instructed by the central committee in Belgrade.
In 1914, the Black Hand plotted and carried out the assassination of the heir to the
Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led to the outbreak of World War I.
However, due to the intense secrecy of the group, it would take weeks for authorities to
link Black Hand members to the act, allowing the blame to fall on Serbia as a whole.
By 1916, Serbian prime minister Nikola Pasic found the group to be growing too
dangerous. In 1917, six of the group's leaders were arrested and charge with plotting the
assassination of Prince Regent Alexander. Three of the accused were given life sentences,
while the remaining three were executed by firing squad, including the presumed leader,
Col. Dragutin Dimitrijevic. Later that same year, Pasic took measures to officially outlaw
the Black Hand.
Inextricably linked to the outbreak of World War I, the Black Hand continued its same
agenda and tactics in a new form known as the White Hand.
Further Reading
Black Hand (; Pitkin, Thomas M., The
Black Hand: A Chapter in Ethnic Crime, 1977.
Select Citation Style:
"Black Hand." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2011.
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Sarajevo assassination
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, was the spark that
eventually set off World War I. Franz Ferdinand was disliked by many in the Austrian
government, but they were quick to exploit his death to try to defuse a situation that
threatened to dismember the empire. The Austrians' failure to do so without a war
resulted in the destruction of the empire they attempted to save.
Franz Ferdinand became heir to the Habsburg throne through a number of tragedies that
eliminated other members of the family. He was not trained as a ruler but, like other
archdukes, had a military background. He was married to Countess Sophie Chotek, who
was not sufficiently royal to be married to a Habsburg. She was forced to accept a lower
station at all official functions in Austria. Franz Ferdinand was a devoted husband and
father, although that side of his personality was largely hidden from the public.
Franz Ferdinand prepared to succeed his uncle Franz Joseph I by studying the AustroHungarian Empire's problems. He recognized the growing disaffection of the Slavic
minorities in the southern part of the empire and the dangers posed by Magyar
obstruction in the Hungarian part of the empire. Since he did not come to power, what his
actual policies would have been are not known.
Franz Ferdinand and his wife attended army maneuvers in Bosnia and Herzegovina in
June 1914. Their visit to Sarajevo during that trip was highly publicized, and Franz
Ferdinand was targeted for assassination by members of the Black Hand organization, a
terrorist group composed of radical Serb nationalists. Black Hand members—led by Col.
Dragutin Dimitrijevic, also known as Apis—were pledged to destabilize the AustroHungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire in order to incorporate their Serb population
into a greater Serbia. Members had brutally murdered the reigning king of Serbia in 1903.
Franz Ferdinand posed a threat to the Black Hand, since his goal of strengthening the
Austro-Hungarian Empire was contrary to the Serbs' desires. An international crisis
would also help Apis in his battle against the existing Serbian government for control of
A group of youthful revolutionaries from Bosnia were armed and trained by the Black
Hand and then sent to Sarajevo. They lined the parade route used by Franz Ferdinand and
his wife. On the morning of June 28, 1914, one conspirator threw his bomb at their car,
but it bounced off and exploded near another car. The motorcade continued to city hall,
where the group had lunch. During the return trip, Franz Ferdinand wanted to visit the
wounded in the hospital, but the drivers were confused about the route. When the
archduke's car turned the wrong way, it was right in front of Gavrilo Princip, another
conspirator. He shot Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, and they both died soon afterward.
The Austrian government used the death of Franz Ferdinand as an excuse to send an
ultimatum to Serbia, designed to cripple that state's ability to cause trouble. When the
Serbs refused to comply, Austria declared war. Both countries called on their allies for
help, which led to the outbreak of World War I as Russia intervened on behalf on Serbia
and Germany assisted Austria. Eventually, most of the world's major powers became
embroiled in the war due to further webs of alliance. Princip was captured and
imprisoned during the war, and the Black Hand was destroyed when Dimitrijevic was
shot on trumped-up charges.
Further Reading
Brook-Shepherd, Gordon. Archduke of Sarajevo: The Romance and Tragedy of Franz Ferdinand of
Austria. Boston: Little, Brown, 1984; Cassels, Lavender. The Archduke and the Assassin: Sarajevo, June
28th 1914. New York: Stein and Day, 1985; Feuerlicht, Roberta Strauss. The Desperate Act: The
Assassination of Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.
Select Citation Style:
"Sarajevo assassination." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 13
Mar. 2011.
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