Gavrilo Princip’s sandwich

Gavrilo Princip is arrested for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife–Sarajevo, June 28, 1914.
Gavrilo Princip is arrested for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife–Sarajevo, June 28, 1914.

It was the great flash point of the 20th century, an act that set off a chain reaction of calamity: two World Wars, 80 million deaths, the Russian Revolution, the rise of Hitler, the atomic bomb. Yet it might never have happened–we’re now told– had Gavrilo Princip not got hungry for a sandwich.

We’re talking the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, of course—the murder that set the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire on a collision course with Serbia, and Europe down the slippery slope that led to the outbreak of the First World War a month after Princip pulled the trigger on June 28, 1914. More specifically, though, we’re talking the version of events that’s being taught in many schools today. It’s an account that, while respectful of the significance of Franz Ferdinand’s death, hooks pupils’ attention by stressing a tiny, awe-inspiring detail: that if Princip had not stopped to eat a sandwich where he did, he would never have been in the right place to spot his target. No sandwich, no shooting. No shooting, no war.

It’s a compelling story, and one that is told in serious books and on multiple websites. For the most part, it goes something like this:

It is the summer of 1914, and Bosnia has just become part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. A handful of young Bosnian-born Serbs decide to strike a blow for the integration of their people into a homeland for southern Slavs by assassinating the heir to the Austrian throne. Their opportunity comes when it is announced that Franz Ferdinand will be making a state visit to the provincial capital, Sarajevo.

Princip at around age 16

Armed with bombs and pistols supplied by Serbian military intelligence, seven conspirators position themselves at intervals along the archduke’s route. The first to strike is Nedeljko Cabrinovic, who lobs a hand grenade toward Franz Ferdinand’s open touring car. But the grenade is an old one, with a 10-second fuse. It bounces off the limo and into the road, where it explodes under the next vehicle in the motorcade.

Although several officers in that car are hurt, Franz Ferdinand remains uninjured. To avoid capture, Cabrinovic drains a vial of cyanide and throws himself into a nearby river—but his suicide bid fails. The cyanide is past its sell-by date, and the river is just four inches deep. The bombing throws the rest of the day’s plans into disarray. The motorcade is abandoned. Franz Ferdinand is hurried off to the town hall, where he is due to meet with state officials.

Disconsolate, the remaining assassins disperse, their chance apparently gone. One of them, Gavrilo Princip, heads for Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen, on Franz Joseph Street. It’s one of Sarajevo’s smartest shopping destinations, just a few yards from the bustling through road known as Appel Quay.

As Princip queues to buy a sandwich, Franz Ferdinand is leaving the town hall. When the heir gets back into his limousine, though, he decides on a change of plan—he’ll call at the hospital to visit the men injured in the grenade blast. There’s just one problem: the archduke’s chauffeur, a stranger to Sarajevo, gets lost. He swings off Appel Quay and into crowded Franz Joseph Street, then drifts to a stop right in front of Schiller’s. Princip looks up from his lunch to find his target sitting just a few feet away. He pulls his gun.

Two shots ring out, and the first kills Franz Ferdinand’s wife, Sophie. The second hits the heir in the neck, severing his jugular vein. The archduke slumps back, mortally wounded. His security men hustle Princip away. Inside Schiller’s deli, the most important sandwich in the history of the world lies half-eaten on a table.

Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen on Franz Joseph Street, Sarajevo, shortly after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The “X” marks the spot where Princip stood to fire into the Archduke’s open limo.

As I say, the story of Gavrilo Princip’s sandwich seems to be everywhere today—run an internet search for the phrase and you’ll see what I mean. There’s the teacher who has asked his class, for extra credit, to find out what sort of sandwich the killer ordered. (Consensus answer: cheese.) There’s the linguist’s deconstruction. There’s the art project—famous assassins’ faces paired with their victims’ on opposite sides of a sculpted toastie. And I first heard the tale from my daughter, who came home from school one day bursting to tell me the incredible new fact she’d just been taught in history class.

I was astonished by the story, too, though not because of the strangeness of the coincidence. It bothered me, because the details are new (you’ll struggle to find a telling of the tale that dates to before 2003), and because it simply doesn’t ring true. That’s not because the modern version isn’t broadly faithful to the facts; it’s not even utterly implausible that Princip might have stopped off at Schiller’s for a bite to eat. No, the problem is that the story is suspiciously neat–and that the sandwich is a quintessentially Anglo-American convenience food. The dish was named in the 1760s for John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who was in the habit of requesting his meat placed between two slices of toast so he could lunch at his desk. And even though it had more than 150 years to cross the channel, there is no evidence that sandwiches featured on Bosnian menus as early as 1914.

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich: a hard-working naval administrator and inventor of the convenience food that bears his name.

Certainly there is nothing in the main books on the assassination to suggest that Princip was eating anything when Franz Ferdinand appeared. Joachim Remak, writing in 1959, says the assassin waited outside Schiller’s, where he spoke to a friend, but makes no mention of him lunching there. Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht, writing nine years later, makes the separate point that Schiller’s delicatessen stood on the original route planned for Franz Ferdinand’s motorcade; indeed, the chauffeur’s fatal uncertainty was caused by the local governor, Oskar Potiorek, shouting at him from the passenger seat that he had should have stayed on Appel Quay. In other words, Princip was standing in precisely the right place to assassinate the archduke if Franz Ferdinand had stuck to his plans, and so could hardly be said to be the beneficiary of some outlandish coincidence. And David James Smith, author of One Morning in Sarajevo, June 28 1914 (2008), the most recent book-length study of the assassination, notes that the murder took place at around 10.55 a.m.—rather early for lunch. Not one of these authors mentions Princip eating; none even seems to be aware of the version of the story being taught today.

We can take the investigation further than those printed sources, too, because when I first took an interest in this problem, Gaius Trifkovic—a Bosnian First World War expert and member of the staff at the Axis History Forum—was kind enough to go back to the original transcripts of Princip’s trial for me. These were published in Serbo-Croat by Vojislav Bogicevic in 1954 as Sarajevski atentat: stenogram glavne rasprave protiv Gavrila Principa i drugova, odrzane u Sarajevu 1914. Trifkovic reports that

Princip merely said he was present in the vicinity of the “Latin bridge” when the car came along (p.60). A certain Mihajlo Pusara who was talking to Princip just moments prior to the assassination also doesn’t mention Princip eating (p. 258); the same with Smail Spahovic, [the] guard who threw himself at Princip before he could fire the third shot (pp.277-8). Especially interesting for us is the affidavit of a certain Milan Drnic, who was at the time standing at Schiller’s door (Schiller offered his wife a seat); he was standing “some 6 paces” from Princip and clearly saw him holding his Browning before emptying it at the archduke and duchess (p. 300). No sandwich here either.

It seems clear, then, that Princip didn’t mention eating a sandwich June 28, 1914, and neither did any witness. Indeed, eating sandwiches is not a local custom in Sarajevo; a Serbian reader of the Axis History Forum chipped in to inform me that “this ‘sandwich’ theory is not plausible—even today, with sandwiches available in every street bakery, few Serbs would go for such option. It’s either burek or pljeskavica.” So where on earth did the idea come from?

My daughter provided the next lead. She had picked up her information from a TV documentary on the assassination made by Lion TV, a British production company, for a series known as “Days that Shook the World.” I tracked down a copy of the program, and, sure enough, in following Princip and Cabrinovic from the hatching of their plot to their deaths in prison of tuberculosis, the script states (at 5:15): “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.”

The writer and director of the “Days That Shook the World” documentary was Richard Bond, an experienced maker of quality historical programs. In an email, he recalled that while the research for the program was “incredibly meticulous” and involved consulting a variety of sources in several languages–”contemporaneous newspaper articles, original documents and out-of-print books containing eyewitness interviews”–he could no longer remember how he sourced the vital bit of information. “It’s possible that ‘sandwich’ was a colloquial translation that appeared in these sources,” he wrote.

“Gavrilo Princip has just eaten a sandwich and is now standing outside Schiller’s Delicatessen…” Still from the BBC documentary series Days That Shook The World

So is “Days That Shook the World” the source of the sandwich story? Probably. The documentary has circulated widely–it has been broadcast repeatedly ever since it was first shown in 2003, not only by the BBC in the U.K., but also by BBC America. It is also available for sale on DVD, which has helped to make it popular in schools. And every telling of the tale I could find in print or online appeared after the original broadcast date.

As of last week, that’s where the story rested. Let’s note that Bond’s documentary places less stress on Princip’s sandwich than do later retellings, in which the element of coincidence has been stretched, then stretched again. And I can see that my own obsession with getting to the bottom of the story may seem like nitpicking to some. After all, who cares why Princip came to be standing outside Schiller’s deli, when all that matters is that he was in the right place at the right time to pull his gun?

Yet in one vital sense, the problem really is important. Amazing as it may seem, the sandwich story is in danger of becoming the accepted version of events in both the U.S. and the U.K. And by portraying the assassination of Franz Ferdinand as a piece of outrageous coincidence, the story of Gavrilo Princip’s sandwich makes it seem far less important to think deeply about the killer and his companions, and about their motives and determination. Certainly no one who depends solely on the “Days That Shook the World” documentary will come away from it with a deeply nuanced understanding of what Slav nationalists believed in 1914, or exactly why they thought the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was desirable or justifiable. But that knowledge is precisely what students need to understand the origins of the First World War.


Jo Soares's 12 Fingers, the earliest source found, to date, that mentions Gavrilo Princip's sandwich.
Jô Soares’s 12 Fingers, the earliest source found, to date, that mentions Gavrilo Princip’s sandwich.

Ever since I started working on this story, I’ve been frustrated by my inability to trace it to a source that appeared before “Days That Shook The World” was first broadcast in 2003. Last week, however, I finally unearthed an earlier version. The source, if it is the source, is appropriately farcical, because it is not a work of history but a novel–indeed, not so much a novel as a burlesque. Titled Twelve Fingers, it was written by a Brazilian TV host named Jô Soares; its hero is born to “a Brazilian contortionist mother and a fanatically nationalist Serbian linotypist father” and blessed with an extra finger on each hand. These make him particularly dextrous, and so he trains as an assassin and finds himself sucked, Zelig-style, into many of the most important events of the last century.

The book was such a success in the original Portuguese that it was translated into English and published in both the U.S. and the U.K. in 2001—predating the “Days That Shook the World” documentary by enough for the idea to have begun to leach into popular consciousness as the book was reviewed, read and discussed. On page 31, Dimitri, the hapless hero of Twelve Fingers, encounters his friend Princip near the Appel Quay. Then, for the first time ever, we glimpse the Bosnian assassin in refueling mode:

When he arrives at the corner of the quay, across from Schiller’s market, he bumps into a youth coming out of the market eating a sandwich. He recognizes him immediately. It’s Gavrilo Princip. Feigning surprise, he says, “Gavrilo! It’s been such a long time! What’re you doing here?” “I’m eating a sandwich.” “I can tell that. Don’t treat me like a child.” They fall silent, while Gavrilo finishes his sandwich and takes a grimy kerchief from his pocket to wipe his hands. When he opens his coat to put away the kerchief, Dimitri sees a Browning pistol tucked into the waistband…. The two go their separate ways, walking in opposite directions. Dimitri Borja Korozec returns to his ambush spot in the alley, waiting for Franz Ferdinand to continue with the rest of his schedule, and Gavrilo Princip goes to meet his destiny.

Sources ‘Gavrilo Princip’s sandwich.’ On Axis History Forum, May 10-July 15, 2010, accessed September 9, 2011; ‘The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand‘, in “Days That Shook the World,” Series 1, Episode 5, 2003. Lion Television documentary series; Joachim Remak, Sarajevo: the Story of a Political Murder. New York: Criterion Books, 1959; N.A.M. Rodger. The Insatiable Earl: A Life of John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, 1718-1792. London: HarperCollins, 1993; John Simpson. Unreliable Sources: How the Twentieth Century was Reported. London: Macmillan, 2010; David James Smith. One Morning in Sarajevo, 28 June 1914. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008; Jô Soares. Twelve Fingers. Biography of an Anarchist. New York: Knopf, 2001; Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht, The Desperate Act: The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo. New York: McGraw Hill, 1968; Stephen Weir. ‘Gavrilo Princip’s deli sandwich.’ In History’s Worst Decisions: An Encyclopedia Idiotica. London: New Holland Publishers, 2006.

75 thoughts on “Gavrilo Princip’s sandwich

  1. Just of note, I had heard something close to the ‘sandwich theory’ long prior to 2003, from memory it would have been about 1983, although the food item was not really mentioned and the important final timing was different. It may have no greater accuracy than the sandwich idea, but might explain where it originated from.

    The version I was told had all the usual details up to the car passing Princip after Cabrinovic’s attempt. Between this and the return by the car, quite some time passed and it was at this point that Princip was supposed to have eaten something which was described to me as a snack. Later, when the car returned Princip may have been outside Schiller’s, and then the rest is pretty well documented.

    It is possible that the sandwich idea derives from much the same thing, as the idea of Princip doing something between the two car journeys is hardly unreasonable. Eating at moments like this would strike some as being a strange thing anyhow, but then so is standing there doing absolutely nothing at all – I am sure any of us who have ever been to an event where something will pass first one way and then another will admit we did something inbetween, even if it is not memorable or even important enough to be mentioned in the usual recounting of tales. It would also account for it not being mentioned in the many reports too. It is quite possible that it is a myth still, people do like to believe that monumental things can arise from even the most mundane things, but it is far older than just the last eight years, and iirc gets a mention in The First World War series that is derived from the book of that name by Hew Strachan.

    • Indeed. Europe was a powder keg. Princip was just the spark that ignited it. Colonialism and the arms race that resulted because of “the need to defend territories”, Germany’s eyeing of the Middle-East – a little too close to Britain’s interests. And then you have nationalism rampant within A-H and the Balkans, not to mention all the other industrialized nations involved.

      Europe was so horny for war it’s likely another sandwich would have happened somewhere else.

      • While there is no doubt that France had grievances against Germany, the two countries had had differences over colonial interests in Morocco in the decade before 1914 that were regarded as major diplomatic crises. Yet they managed to resolve them without going to war and dragging the rest of Europe with them. So while once the shooting actually started the French were quick to propagandize the new conflict as vengeance for 1870, I don’t think that Alsace-Lorraine alone was sufficient to cause war to break out.

  2. I think the point is that, WW1 and the rest of the 20th century would have been VERY different, had Princip not gotten hungry for a sandwich. We could have seen a completely different 20th century with different major powers arising…

  3. So, forget about the sandwich– was Princip surprised to see the archduke, or did he think everything was going according to plan?

    • The plan was to kill him during the motorcade. When that failed, I understand Princip just wandered about the crowd when FF pretty much fell onto his lap.

  4. Hi all,

    Not sure about 1914 but sandwiches were definitely not unheard-of some two decades later. 😉 An ad can be found on page 62 of Sarajevo’s “Yellow pages” from 1937. It reads:

    “Buffet Restaurant Prijakovic (Aleksandar’s street 87) offers various sandwiches for patron saint’s feast days and weddings at affordable prices. Telephone: 29-73”.



  5. […] The politics that led to World War I are important, but difficult to teach in American schools because the events are distant in both time and place. To capture the interest of students, teachers often tell the story of how assassin Gavrilo Princip would not have been in shooting range of Franz Ferdinand that fateful day in 1914 if he hadn’t stopped to buy a sandwich about the time the Archduke coincidentally passed by. Mike Dash first heard the story from his history-student daughter, and decided to investigate […]

  6. I am reasonably sure I was taught the sandwich theory as fact in middle school history class circa 1996. Makes me so grateful for my expensive private school education – I heard the apocrypha first.

  7. Pingback: The Assassins, The Lovers, The Monuments « Shrine of Dreams

  8. Princip ignited it? I hardly think so. Had the Archduke not insulted Serbia, there’d have not been an assasination…not then anyway. The day of assasination was St. Vitus’s Day, the anniversary of Kosovo, the festivities that day would have been the first marked with jubilation, with victory. The Balkan Wars had just ended, Ottoman rule was over. As Rebecca West asks in her magnum opus, maybe the best nonfiction book ever written, in English, How could Franz Ferdinand NOT have known that a parade in Sarajevo, so close the Serbian frontier, on this holy day, after all the Serbs had experienced, with the rise and increasing popularity of Yugoslavism—how on earth did he NOT know that this was a suicidal act? It is well known that he was “not right”, that he was “unstable”. Conrad von Hotzendorf attempted to start a “preventive” war with Serbia, from 1912 to the attentat, twenty-three times. The Habsburg Empire, the Dual Monarchy is to blame.

  9. War between Serbia and AH was inevitable: with a Chief of Staff who must be the man responsible for WW1, who was hell bent to instigate war with Serbia, Hungary was itching for a fight over Voivodina.Hew Strachan paints Conrad von Hotzendorf as a man who was rabidly trying to start a war with Serbia. He underestimated the fighting prowess of the Serbs and AH paid dearly for Conrads racist and imperialistic bravado.

  10. […] This amazing-coincidence version of the story caught on, has been published, and is being told as truth by at least one history teacher. Mike Dash, who writes for the Smithsonian, heard it from his school aged daughter. He then went on to debunk this sandwich myth using Princip’s own testimony, and even tracked down the likely source of this last minute addition to the assassination story – a novel. It’s great detective-like research, and worth a read! […]

  11. I wasn’t at all sure how I felt about this. It seemed to trivialise a truly earth-shattering event, and I couldn’t understand why people felt the need to focus on the coincidence of the Archduke’s car happening to stop where Princip was having his lunch.

    Last night, I mentioned this to my wife, and she came up with what seems like a very plausible theory. People have difficulty relating to the event, because they have nothing in common with Princip. People find it hard to empathise with a murderer, and the fact that the act had such incredible consequences makes it even harder to relate. Everyone, however, can relate to eating a sandwich. It’s something we all do, so it gives people something in common with Princip, some tiny little thing that they can relate to, and that makes the whole story easier to take in.

    The sandwich is a minor detail, and perhaps it doesn’t matter if such minor wrong details are taught. If the sandwich was just an interesting aside, maybe it wouldn’t matter. The problem is that it takes on a great deal of importance when the story is told in such a way that suggests that Princip’s mythical sandwich led to him being in the right place at the right time to fire the fateful shot. If the wider context which meant that a war was likely sooner or later is ignored, and the assassination is held to be the sole event that led to the First World War, then the problem is confounded. Suddenly a major war (and all the events that can be said to have happened as a result of that war) happens just because one man ate a sandwich. If that were true, all well and good, but it isn’t, and so many people get a completely wrong understanding of the events that led to a major war where millions died.

  12. Thanks for the well researched information! I am a History teacher and was fact checking a student’s essay that talks about the sandwich being a main factor that lead to Princip’s “lucky” timing for the assiassination. Since I have never even heard of the sandwich theory and had not taught anything close to that, I did a quick google check and happened upon your posting! I will be sure to print off your information to “enlighten” my student to be careful when using the internet as a primary source for research. Thanks again.

  13. I think it is Dedijer’s highly respected book “The Road To Sarajevo”, published in 1969, which says that Princip had stopped at Schiller’s deli to buy a coffee. A coffee is not out of the question, as it was about 11 in the morning or slightly before. Coffee was very popular back then, so it would not surprise me in the least.

    The sandwich story could still be true because it’s possible that a nervous Princip, seeking a way to get rid of his weapons in case he got caught, was hungry. We already know for a fact that, at around 8 in the morning of that fateful day, Princip and his co-conspirators met at a cake/pastry shop where the consumption of a morning croissant would not be out of the question.

    Can we change it to “the croissant that changed history”?

    • Jason Smedley’s comment of December 2013 bears consideration. Here on the brink of the centennial of the Archduke’s assassination, I find it interesting that only 9,000 people worldwide have reviewed this video concerning an incident that set off one of the most defining and catastrophic events of the 20th century. Regardless, Smedley’s observation that Serbian scholar Dedijer wrote in the 1960’s that Princip bought a coffee at Schiller’s before he shot Archduke Ferdinand is highly relevant to this discussion. Dedijer published his book in the mid-’60s in Yugoslavia, and it was republished in English later. The New York Times Book Review published a review of Dedijer’s “The Road to Sarajevo” by noted British historian A.J. Taylor, in which Taylor gave Dedijer high praise for providing new insight into the assassination. Taylor noted that almost all scholarship on the incident had been produced in the West and that Dedijer was providing the first Serbian sourced perspective. Mr. Dash makes no reference to Dedijer’s book, which is still in circulation. It seems likely that “getting a sandwich” was a recently concocted embellishment, but Dedijer’s report that Princip went to Schiller’s for a coffee, after learning of the utter failure of his co-conspirators to kill the Archduke before his visit to Sarajevo’s City Hall, is logical. The fanatical Princip, discouraged by his compatriots’ failure, could have taken the natural human recourse of “taking a break” to consider his options while the Archduke remained in town only a few blocks away. Schillers was on the corner Princip was to be stationed for the Archduke’s return trip to the station. If Princip was to have any chance to shoot him before he left Sarajevo, sticking to the original plan was perhaps the only logical recourse, the possible futility of which could have been soothed by the prospect of a coffee at the same site. It was Princip’s good luck, and the Archduke’s bad, that the Archduke’s driver mistakenly followed the original route, that the Archduke’s escort had the driver stop in front of Schiller’s (and Princip) in order to change course to the new “secure” route. Surely, those circumstances are full of enough elements of happenstance and coincidence to render the assassination that shook the world a truly amazing event.

    • Actually, not only does Dedijer’s book make no mention of a sandwich, it doesn’t mention Princip stopping for coffee at Schiller’s either.

      There’s only one mention of the word “coffee” in the book, and this is it.

  14. Thank you! I show that video as well and have had the same reaction from students to the sandwich. It’s a bit sad that this useless detail isn’t even true. 

  15. Pingback: Sarajevo, 28 June 1914 « Slugger O'Toole

  16. Interestingly, upon the centenary of the assassination, popular US travel writer Rick Steves published a column which recounted his meeting with a witness to the assassination in Austria in 1969, while Steves was a teenager. Steves recounted that he clearly remembered the witness (an unidentified old man known to his neighbors to be a surviving witness and probably a Hapsburg functionary of some sort) explaining that Princip “came out of a shop” and was amazed to see his “mark”, the Archduke stalled in the touring car in front of him. The witness stated that having been demoralized by this compatriot’s failed attempts at assassination earlier in the day, Princip went into this “shop” to get a “schnapps”. The column can be found here,–tms–travelrsctnri-a20140624-20140624,0,340957.column This story clearly predates the South American novel written twenty years later on which historian Dash bases his thesis. If indeed Princip went into this :”shop” for refreshment, it was probably Schiller’s Delicatessan, which was the closest storefront to the location of the assassination and the only logical position from which Princip could act so quickly. While a “schnapps” is hardly a sandwich, this account clearly supports the account that Princip went into Schiller’s with the object of purchasing something to consume, thus giving him the opportunity to set the assassination plan back on track when the Archduke’s car took a wrong turn. The “Princip was having refreshment at Schiller’s” giving him the opportunity to fire the shot which changed history storyline should not be entirely discounted.

  17. well i guess your right here, im from bosna and believe me to have a sandwhich is a rare thing, theres burek, cevapi,sarma the list goes on. so its quite true what your saying here. good job man! 

  18. I am actually gutted the sandwich story isn’ true!!! I bloggedabout it a couple of years ago! Google histatic! That’s my history blog.

  19. Not only did I believe it, I spread it. Volcano have mercy on my soul.
    What other badhistories have I consumed and propagated over the years? What ones do I still believe, leftovers from a more ignorant self?
    I need to go soul searching for a while. Probably like fifteen minutes. I should find something shiny by then.

  20. What amazes me is not just that this myth has become so widespread, but that it feels so entrenched. I could swear I’ve known about the sandwich idea forever but it’s barely ten years old! Did I really first hear it in college? I must have.

    • I suspect it feels like it’s been around for a long time (and it has spread so easily) because it’s an extraneous detail that slots neatly into the facts without really over-writing anything else. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that memory is fairly plastic, and that every time we recall a memory we are also changing it somewhat; having heard one story (‘Princip was standing outside a cafe…’) and then hearing a supplementary story later (‘Princip was standing outside a cafe eating a sandwich…’) it’s quite easy to go back and insert that extra detail into your memory of hearing the first version.

  21. Ugh, I just had a flash of a nightmarish world in which companies would look forward to advertise their products by inserting them into the pages of history.
    Really insidious, like a corporate backer perhaps covering some of the printing fees if the sandwich between the fingers of Princip was replaced by a Burger Place 1/2 pounder True Angus Beef Handmade Burgertm.

    • They’ll put it in their ads.
      “On July 12, 1914 following a failed assassination attempt, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his motorcade took a mistaken turn off of Franz Joseph street. When Governor Potiorek told the driver to reverse, and return to the main street, they stopped directly in front of Black Hand member Gavrilo Princip, who was armed with a .380 caliber pistol. Princip dreamed of a Slavic nation, and, along with his fellow Black Hand members, planned the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to further that goal. The stage was set for tragedy.
      Fortunately for Archduke Ferdinand, rather than the next door Schiller’s, Princip was sitting outside of Burger Place, and was unable to resist the allure of our flame broiled Angus Burgers for only $3.29. Forced to choose between Independence for Serbia, and our fresh lettuce and delicious sauces, there was only one option. Archduke Ferdinand was able to escape, never knowing the danger he was in.
      Burger Place.
      It’s that good.”

      • Archduke Ferdinand was killed by a drone strike, incidentally it was because he had checked-in on Foursquare while looking up Yelp reviews for gluten free sandwiches.
        People claim that he also had taken a selfie which shows the drone in the background, but that’s just a myth.

  22. I just don’t think that I would have much of an appetite if I had spent all morning plotting to assassinate a major leader and turn the tide for my country. Like, I gotta think an hour or two of soul searching is in order, or at least reconvene with my Black Hand brothers…and this guy immediately gets a bite to eat?

  23. I think I can shed some light on this, being from Sarajevo. I can confirm he did not eat a sandwich in a deli.

    A dish of turkish origin called ćevapi (cheh-vapi) in ex-yugoslavai, are eaten and considered part of traditional cuisine. Been there for as long as the Ottomans!

    They are basically case-less sausages made up of ground lamb, beef and veal (sometimes pork in Serbia, etc). They are served with a specific bun called a ‘somun” which is cut open and 5-10 ćevapi are placed inside with diced onion and a cream cheese like spread. They are most often eaten for lunch or dinner, but no one would blink an eye if you bit into one before noon.

    I think the picture will show the why this dish was translated as sandwich to the masses who have not visited the balkans.

    So sandwich is not totally incorrect, just slightly inaccurate. Same goes for deli. ćevapi are often served in restaurants that have a variety of dishes, but “ćevabdznice” are restaurants that specialize in them and other ground meat dishes, much like how a deli is known for sandwiches.

    • Now I’m imagining Princep having a big complicated lunch requiring many plates and served over half an hour. And while he’s sitting there spooning at the fourth course, Franz, et al, drive by, and Princep curses all things because he can’t extricate himself in time to assassinate him.

  24. I have here “Age of Assassins” by Michael Newton from 2012 in my hands and it does also mention the sandwich bit. So since it has 120 odd pages of notes and sources, I decided to do a bit of exploring to figure out where the sandwich elevenses story originated and if Newton picked it up from an untrustworthy source.
    Source 1: court transcript – no mention of Princip going into a shop for anything to eat. He was assigned that spot in advance and all he did was move to the other side of the road to stand in front of the delicatessen shop.
    Source 2: Pappenheim’s interviews with Princip in his cell – no mentions of how the assassination was executed, Pappenheim was more interested in what motivated Princip and how he felt about the War.
    And his final main source is Luigi Albertini’s “The Origins of the War of 1914” which I don’t recall mentioning the sandwich story either, but I don’t have a copy, and it sits behind a paywall.
    So there is something to the fear that this is now turning into the established version of the story. At least Newton didn’t say that the location was random luck, but did he gobble up the sandwich myth like a bad BLT. Especially bad if you consider it’s one of the few unsourced sections on that page.

  25. He was waiting there intentionally, because it was on the planned route out of the city.

    The only reason I know this is that the last time I was looking at this myth (almost a year ago) I came across text of Princip’s testimony at his trial, which included a mention of waiting there for the return trip.

    The Sarajevo Trial by Owings should probably have this, but I’m not sure.

    Edit: got it! near the bottom of the page

    I went to the Latin Bridge and then I heard that the assassination had not succeeded. Then I took thought as to where to stand, because I knew where he would pass from having read it in the Bosanska Posta (Bosnian Post) and the Tagblatt.

    Unfortunately at this point his seems to be skipping over a lot of details and focusing on minor ones. It seems like the prosecutor was just letting him blab, because he was incriminating himself? That’s what it looks like to me anyways. Compare to other questions in which the prosecutor only lets him give a one sentence answer. He also seems to be getting things out of order which is a little confusing. According to his statement, the vehicles pass by (we shall call this 1), then the above quote about thinking where to stand, then the vehicles pass by and he briefly sees a woman sitting (we shall call this 2), and then he talks to a guy that he thinks is a spy and so is sweating bullets, and then the archduke drives up (we shall call this 3) and he shoots him. The vehicles only passed by him twice, so somewhere he is getting things out of order. I guess that 1 and 2 are the same event?

    • Not only did I believe it, I spread it. Volcano have mercy on my soul.
      What other badhistories have I consumed and propagated over the years? What ones do I still believe, leftovers from a more ignorant self?
      I need to go soul searching for a while. Probably like fifteen minutes. I should find something shiny by then.

      • New bad history in 100 years. Ferdinand was assassinated because his assassin stopped to get a sushi roll at a deli.

      • In a thousand it years, it will be a drone strike by Princip, when Ferdinand gave his position away on his iPhone while looking up a deli online.

  26. Excellent article. As a history buff who has stood on the site in Sarajevo, I very much appreciated the fact-checking. One myth persists in the article, however. Princip was a Serb, and he was a nationalist, but he was not a Serb nationalist. Rather, he and his cohorts were pan-South (“Yugo-“) Slav nationalists. Their cause was to unite the Serbian/Croatian speakers then scattered in Serbia, Austria-Hungary, Italy and the Ottoman Empire into their own land.

  27. I remember watching a half hour program on the History Channel about 10 years ago. In the early mornings (6-7am) back then the History Chanel would televise little half hour shows which weren’t originally aired by the History Channel. I watched one of these half hour shorts on the assassination. The whole episode was in cartoon mode with a narrator. The episode was old, probably from the 80’s. In it they describe and show Princip sitting at a table drinking coffee then looking up and seeing the Archduke. I had never heard the sandwich story until the last few years.

  28. I love that this drove you to do such thorough research! I show the “Days That Shook The World” doc to my classes every year too and the sandwich detail seems to add a little comic relief (but not as much as the 4-inch river …) so I think the writers of the programme were just getting a bit creative with the story.

  29. I think I can shed some light on this, being from Sarajevo. I can confirm he did not eat a sandwich in a deli.
    A dish of turkish origin called ćevapi (cheh-vapi) in ex-yugoslavai, are eaten and considered part of traditional cuisine. Been there for as long as the Ottomans!
    They are basically case-less sausages made up of ground lamb, beef and veal (sometimes pork in Serbia, etc). They are served with a specific bun called a ‘somun” which is cut open and 5-10 ćevapi are placed inside with diced onion and a cream cheese like spread. They are most often eaten for lunch or dinner, but no one would blink an eye if you bit into one before noon.
    I think the picture will show the why this dish was translated as sandwich to the masses who have not visited the balkans.
    So sandwich is not totally incorrect, just slightly inaccurate. Same goes for deli. ćevapi are often served in restaurants that have a variety of dishes, but “ćevabdznice” are restaurants that specialize in them and other ground meat dishes, much like how a deli is known for sandwiches.

  30. Still a bite in his mouth, he points the sandwich at the Archduke and mumbles “thish ish for Cherbia”, crumbles flying everywhere. Under roaring laughter from the crowd, he realises his mistake, raises the pistol in his other hand instead and shoots.

    The bullet ricochets off of the car door and hits Sophie in the abdomen. Franz Ferdinand turns to her in horror. She looks at him and with her last breath mutters “I’d have preferred the sandwich”.

  31. What a relief to find this! I was going to tell my class this story tomorrow, and include the sandwich part. That’s what I had read or heard at some point in the past, and so I believed it…

  32. Good article but I take issue with one small part.
    ““ Serbian reader of the Axis History Forum chipped in to inform me that “this ‘sandwich’ theory is not plausible—even today, with sandwiches available in every street bakery, few Serbs would go for such option. It’s either burek or pljeskavica.” So where on earth did the idea come from?””

    This person is either full of shit or doesn’t live in Serbia or Bosnia, modern day Serbs eat sandwiches through out the day, they are available everywhere, cheap and convenient for people on work or students .

  33. I balk at the claim that the sandwich is typically anglo-american, for one thing the most famous sandwich is named after a german city and for another you can’t even get decent bread in the U.K.!

  34. No, this article is just not true! 😦 I saw that amazing Extra Credits series about WWI and it was so good with that sandwich.. I just keep believing it, whatever you say! 😦

  35. Well, sandwich may be dubious, but still there is a lot of coincidence in the assasination – the old grenade, the failed suicide and the chauffeur that wasn’t prepare to drive through Sarajevo when the plans changed.

    Sure that the young Bosnians were very determined but even without the sandwich that day seems like a series of small things leading to a great war.

  36. Discussing the debunked myth of Princip’s sandwich, a friend pointed out an older similar micromyth: Princips’s coffee. “The driver stopped and backed laboriously on to the quay, close to the café in which sat Gavrilo Princip, sipping his coffee. He heard the grinding of gears. He looked up to see the Archduke in his car whichc had come to a halt not more than six feet away.” – Rupert Furneaux, Great Dramatic Stories of the Twentieth Century (Odhams 1966), s 46 Someone mentions it in the comments of your (excellent) article. But it never got off like the sandwich. The idea of the would-be assassin scrambling out from the café is hard to swallow; the sandwich permits him to stand on the street outside, where all agree he stood when shooting the Archduke. Additionally, Furneaux doesn’t appear to be the most reliable of authors.

  37. Dear Mike

    Just a brief note to salute you for blogging so carefully and convincingly on the issue of Gavrilo’s supposed sandwich on the morning of 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo. I was watching a Fargo last night and the sandwich story resurfaces, presented, of course, as fact. As you point out, the sandwich eating story was the work of a documentary writer/producer padding out a reconstruction. In the absence of other sourced details, this imagined titbit has entered lore.

    Having spent a long time researching Gavrilo and the Attentat I wanted to mention one additional thing. The Schiller delicatessen, run by Austrian colonialists who came to Bosnia after the territory was added to the AH empire in the 1870s, was not the sort of place GP would eat. He and his Young Bosnia (Mlada Bosna) friends used to attack cafes such as Schillers in a very genteel act of revolt. They would rub out the Gothic script, a graffiti gesture against the occupier. That does not prove either way whether GP went into the cafe that morning it does add a feather to the scales suggesting he did not. The timeline, the eyewitnesses, his own testimony, all suggest he had taken up a position in the crowd outside the delicatessen on the corner where the imperial car was slated to turn.

    Cheers from a fellow traveller


  38. Excellent article. While this newspaper clipping from 1969 doesn’t mention a sandwich, it does say that Princip sat at a nearby cafe to get coffee and think rather than deliberately positioning himself
    there.,7786824&dq=cvjetko+popovic&hl=en 2nd column – last paragraph “The conspirators dissolved…” Sid PS – the BBC 37 days drama repeats the above myth unfortunately 😐

  39. Thank you for debunking this. Too much absolute garbage and too many outright lies are being passed off as “history” lately, and seemingly not many people are willing to question them.

  40. Should all the blame of WW I be laid on the shoulders Gavrilo Princip ? He believed he had reason to do what he did. How did this mess come about that morning ? Franz Ferdinand let it be known that he
    wanted to visit the hospital out of concern for those who were injured, which included the Captain of
    Transport. Potoriak was the main man for the visit and called the shots. The Captain of Transport took
    any and all instructions from him, in an era when class distinction and wholesale snobbery was rampant.
    So to whom was Potoriak to turn to when there was a change of plan ? He shouted to the driver when
    the car was turning into Franz Joseph Street, following the other two cars of the cavalcade: “your’e
    going the wrong way, turn back” But all the drivers were on the correct course, returning to the train station, because so far as they were concerned that was their itinerary and were told nothing about the
    change of plan. Why were these men not addressed and informed of the change of itinerary ? In a word,
    snobbery and class distinction and only when he had to, did he speak to his own driver in a panic.
    At the point Potoriak gave Princip his opportunity and he took it. Frans Joseph was such a prick that he wanted Frans Ferdinand’s children to pay for the funeral. Sophie, their mother suffered.
    discrimination because she wasn’t of their caste. As regards Princip and the nonsense of the sandwich,
    he was committed in the knowledge that the cavalcade would be coming back down from city hall once more, so he remained on the pavement and struck when the opportunity presented itself.
    Did this murderous act justify a world war ? All those who took the trouble to write in reply to Mr Mike
    Dash will know the answer to that question.

    Regards to you all

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