Saturday, June 26, 2004

Sometimes I glance at a Czech newspaper, and with confidence in my command of the Czech language always shaky, I see a headline that makes me think, "That doesn't say what I think it does, does it?" So I'm on riding tram #9 the other day, when I look over a person's shoulder and catch sight of a newspaper headline that appears to says, "The Jesuits found Gavril Princip's gun."

Naturally I wasn't about to ask the person if I could borrow that section of their paper to read the article, and even if I had, there would have been too many words that I didn't understand to capture the real nuances of the story, if indeed the headline really said what I thought it said.

Turns out it's true: The pistol that triggered World War I has been found "gathering dust in a Jesuit community house" in Styria, southern Austria. Well, not exactly "found." It had been gathering dust in somebody's closet and plenty of people had just forgotten about it.

Shortly after the assassination (the heir to the Austrian empire was killed as they rode through downtown Sarajevo on June 28, 1914), the Bosnian government gave a number of objects from the crime scene to one Father Anton Puntigam, the Jesuit priest that performed that last rites on Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his dying or dead wife, Sophie. Puntigam had declared his intention of building a museum dedicated to the couple, but he died within a decade, never seeing the plan through due to the chaos of the ensuring war. Along with the gun, there is also

petals from a rose attached to Sophie's belt, the cover of the cushion on which the fatally wounded archduke rested his head and the bombs and pistols used by Princip's accomplices.

On the priest's death in 1926, the objects were offered to the archduke's family, which declined to take them. They remained out of sight until recent publicity about the 90th anniversary of the assassination reminded the Jesuits of their importance.
This received more play in Czech papers than in the rest of the world, since the Czech lands were part of the Austrian empire and Franz Ferdinard's murder led to a war that in turn led to eventual independence for Czechoslovakia.

Regardless, it's a good story: An imperial couple dying in a pool of their own blood, rose petals, a priest with a dream, a pistol, and the Jesuits. In Styria.


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