On 28 June 1914, the heir to the Austro Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo. This assassination triggered the July Crisis which ultimately led to the outbreak of the First World War. The German Ambassador in Vienna sent a report on the assassination to Berlin on which Kaiser Wilhelm II wrote handwritten comments. Today this document is to be found in the Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office.
Shortly after a meeting with the German Kaiser, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie arrived in the Bosnian capital to observe the conclusion of a manoeuvre by the Austrian armed forces in Bosnia. While being driven through the centre of Sarajevo, an assassin shot the Archduke and his wife, who died from the wounds they sustained.
Ambassador warns against “hasty steps”
Austria was outraged by the heir to the throne’s assassination. On 30 June 1914, the German Ambassador in Vienna, Heinrich von Tschirschky und Bögendorff, wrote to the Chancellor.
The Ambassador reported that everything seemed to indicate that “the threads of the conspiracy (...) could be traced back to Belgrade”: Serbia was believed to be responsible for recruiting and arming those who carried out the assassination. Von Tschirschky said that he had heard the Austrians expressing the wish that the Serbs now be “dealt with severely”. However, he himself warned “calmly but earnestly and very emphatically” against “hasty steps”. Kaiser Wilhelm II obviously did not agree with the Ambassador’s assessment and wrote in the margins: “That is very stupid! (...) The Serbs have to be crushed.”
Trigger of the July Crisis
And so: the assassination in Sarajevo triggered the July Crisis in Europe. The Austrian military urged a retaliatory strike against Serbia. The German Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, assured Germany’s ally Austria that it had his country’s full backing. This amounted to a licence to wage war against Serbia. What then followed was a series of ultimatums and declarations of war which ultimately led to the First World War – the “seminal catastrophe of the 20th century”.
The German Ambassador’s report is still in the Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office and bears witness to the fateful events and decisions of the summer of 1914.