Jewish Newspapers and Franz Ferdinand’s Murder

On a lark, I decided to see what Jewish newspapers thought of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the ensuing July Crisis. I chose two newspapers: one published in Germany and the other in St. Petersburg. Both were published in Hebrew.

In contrast to the findings of Dr. Michael Neiberg, both newspapers saw the assassination as a grave threat to European security, believing as they did that the Autro-Hungarian Empire kept a lid on a serious amount of ethnic tension and unrest smack in the middle of Europe. Ergo, the story remained front page news for about a week in both.

Regarding Franz Ferdinand, both saw him as a particularly aggressive royal, and even a war-mongering one (it may be that his intolerant and angry personality helped create this image). Although they believed he was also anti-semitic, both papers were later open to the possibility that he wasn’t what he seemed and that his intentions were potentially peaceful.

Both papers expressed faith in Kaiser Franz Joseph’s friendship as well as future Kaiser Karl’s (deserved) reputation as being friendly to all minorities, including Jews, from his time spent in Austro-Hungarian Galicia. Still, the future did not seem bright for the Empire and the papers feared for the future.

Both newspapers put the blame on Serbia for the murders, describing with a great deal of accuracy the Serbian support for secret societies and revolutionary propaganda. From what I can gather, they had followed the Balkan Wars pretty closely and knew something of how politics were conducted in that region.

Of especial concern to both Jewish papers was the wave of anti-Serbian pogroms which took place after the murders in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, some of which were ironically due to an apostate Jew who had converted to Catholicism and was a known fanatic. The fear of the spread of this kind of violence was a particularly sensitive issue for Jews, who had experienced just such a wave during the 1905–6 Revolution.

Interestingly enough, both papers, including the one in Russia, commented bitterly and cynically at the cries of nationalist papers like Novoe Vremya which described in brutal detail just how much the Serbs were mistreated (likely as part of a pan-Slavic sympathy campaign). After all, these were the same papers which had encouraged and condoned the self-same pogroms against Jews.

The danger of the Note to Serbia as well as Austria-Hungary’s aggressive intentions were noted in the paper before the Note was delivered, and both papers were sympathetic, perhaps not realizing that Austria-Hungary had something more crushing than simply “punishing” Serbia.

The Russian paper was shut down once the July Crisis started, but the German paper continued to follow events, and even at the very end, hoped that somehow, someway, Europe would be pulled form the brink.

In sum, it’s striking how accurately these newspapers, with no inside information which I can glean, so accurately portrayed the events as the unfolded. It was also very interesting to get a perspective from an uninvolved yet concerned minority group which could see what many others could not, because of its own historical experiences.

Always good to learn something new.

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