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Sarajevo-a film now on Netflix About The Jew Tasked with Uncovering the Real Reason Why Archduke Ferdinand Was Shot Leading to World War 1

by Rhonda Spivak, Sept 2 2017

The very interesting film Sarajevo that has recently been added to Netflix, an Austrian feature about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, has a Jewish angle to it, and I recommend seeing it .


The murder of  the Archduke, who was the heir presumptive of the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo, the capital of the empire’s Bosnia and Herzegovina province, took place on June 28, 1914 and triggered the events that erupted into World War I a month later. Members of the Serbian extremist group “Black Hand” are believed to have carried out the fateful act that changed the world. 


Similiar to Oliver Stone's seminal film JFK,  Sarajevo‘s director and writer put forth a fascinating counter-narrative to the official version of events as to why the archduke was shot, one I have never encountered. . Immediately after Ferdinand’s slaying the authorities task the investigation of the crime to  examining magistrate Dr. Leo Pfeffer  ( a Jew who converted to Protestantism, like so many Jews of his time, who converted in order to hopefully escape antisemitism and unblock impediments to their career advancement. As an aside, the famed father of Zionism himself considered converting) . In the course of his investigation, Pfeffer, like New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison in JFK, uncovers disturbing evidence which point to a conspiracy.


As in the JFK case, the film shows there were irregularities with the archduke’s motorcade and the security  for the motorcade's passage through the streets of Sarajevo’s is particularly lax. The parade route is also revealed in advance in the press, making it particularly easy to knock off Archduke Ferdinand.A ring of Serbian co-conspirators is implicated in the archduke’s murder. However Pfeffer is pressured by higher-up Austro-Hungarian politicians, police and military men to quickly sign  a bogus report that claims the government of Serbia backed the Black Hand assassins. But Pfeffer isn't buying it, and believes it is a pretext to blame Serbia's government and start a war for reasons that the film outlines. 


There is a scene in which Pfeffer is speaking to the prisoner doctor, who suggests that Pfeffer's done well for himself in that he as  "a Jew" is being " allowed to solve the murder of the heir to the throne." When Pfeffer says  "I'm a baptized protestant," the doctor responds, "You all are-you're still Jews." When Pfeffer refuses to sign the the concocted report, his  ancestry is again thrown back at him by anti-Semitic law enforcement officials. Levels of antisemitism were very high in Austria at the time, and this film highlights this very well.


Sarajevo  is a good a political thriller, that examines most importantly not only who assasinated the Archduke but why. The podding, determined Pfeffer pursues the truth, uncovering the likely hand of Austro-Hungarian and German military intelligence services, who appear to have had reason to kill the Archduke. The film suggests that the economic/political motive behind the killing was the  development of a train route from Berlin to  oil rich Bagdad. Serbia was the only ethnic area that would be against this train's passage, and thus Austria and German power elites wanted to cause their governments to declare war on Serbia , thereby ensuring Serbia would be  unable to stop the development of the Berlin to Bagdad train route.  In order to ensure  war would be declared on Serbia, the report had ot find that the assassination was caused by the support of the Serbin government of the Black Hand.


According to the film’s conspiracy theory, the liberal-minded archduke wanted to grant the empire’s ethnic groups greater autonomy which would have resulted in the Serbs being able to block the passage of the Bagdad to Berlin trade routed, so reactionary forces eliminated him before he could ascend to the throne. The orchestrated death provided the pretext that Austro-Hungarian and German hawks needed to declare war on Serbia.  I found the anti-imperial conspiracy, which proports to be historically based, very compelling, making this well-acted, well-made film, with vivid cinematography , very worthwhile to watch.


Directed by Andreas Prochaska
2014, Austria/Germany, 2 hours






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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.