World War I, The German White Book

The German White Book



Berlin, August, 1914

On June 28th the Austro-Hungarian successor to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated by a member of a band of Serbian conspirators. The investigation of the crime through the Austro-Hungarian authorities has yielded the fact that the conspiracy against the life of the Archduke and successor to the throne was prepared and abetted in Belgrade with the cooperation of Serbian officials, and executed with arms from the Serbian State arsenal. This crime must have opened the eyes of the entire civilised world, not only in regard to the aims of the Serbian policies directed against the conservation and integrity of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, but also concerning the criminal means which the pan-Serb propaganda in Serbia had no hesitation in employing for the achievement of these aims.

The goal of these policies was the gradual revolutionizing and final separation of the southeasterly districts from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and their union with Serbia. This direction of Serbia's policy has not been altered in the least in spite of the repeated and solemn declarations of Serbia in which it vouchsafed a change in these policies towards Austria-Hungary as well as the cultivation of good and neighbourly relations.

In this manner for the third time in the course of the last six years Serbia has led Europe to the brink of a world war.

It could only do this because it believed itself supported in its intentions by Russia.

Russia, soon after the events brought about by the Turkish revolution of 1908, endeavoured to found a union of the Balkan states under Russian patronage and directed against the existence of Turkey. This union which succeeded in 1911 in driving out Turkey from a greater part of her European possessions, collapsed over the question of the distribution of spoils. The Russian policies were not dismayed over this failure. According to the idea of the Russian statesmen, a new Balkan union under Russian patronage should be called into existence, headed no longer against Turkey, now dislodged from the Balkan, but against the existence of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. It was the idea that Serbia should cede to Bulgaria those parts of Macedonia which it had received during the last Balkan war, in exchange for Bosnia and the Herzegovina, which were to be taken from Austria. To oblige Bulgaria to fall in with this plan it was to be isolated, Roumania attached to Russia with the aid of French propaganda, and Serbia promised Bosnia and the Herzegovina.

Under these circumstances it was clear to Austria that it was not compatible with the dignity and the spirit of self-preservation of the monarchy to view idly any longer this agitation across the border. The Imperial and Royal Government appraised Germany of this conception and asked for our opinion. With all our heart we were able to agree with our ally's estimate of the situation, and assure him that any action considered necessary to end the movement in Serbia directed against the conservation of the monarchy would meet with our approval.

We were perfectly aware that a possible warlike attitude of Austria-Hungary against Serbia might bring Russia upon the field, and that it might therefore involve us in a war, in accordance with our duty as allies. We could not, however, in these vital interests of Austria-Hungary, which were at stake, advise our ally to take a yielding attitude not compatible with his dignity, nor deny him our assistance in these trying days. We could do this all the less as our own interests were menaced through the continued Serb agitation. If the Serbs continued with the aid of Russia and France to menace the existence of Austria-Hungary, the gradual collapse of Austria and the subjection of all the Slavs under one Russian sceptre would be the consequence, thus making untenable the position of the Teutonic race in Central Europe. A morally weakened Austria under the pressure of Russian pan-slavism would be no longer an ally on whom we could count and in whom we could have confidence, as we must be able to have, in view of the ever more menacing attitude of our easterly and westerly neighbours. We, therefore, permitted Austria a completely free hand in her action towards Serbia, but have not participated in her preparations.

Austria chose the method of presenting to the Serbian Government a note, in which the direct connection between the murder at Sarajevo and the pan-Serb movement, as not only countenanced but actively supported by the Serbian Government, was explained, and in which a complete cessation of this agitation, as well as a punishment of the guilty, was requested. At the same time Austria-Hungary demanded as necessary guarantee for the accomplishment of her desire the participation of some Austrian officials in the preliminary examination on Serbian territory and the final dissolution of the pan-Serb societies agitating against Austria-Hungary. The Imperial and Royal Government gave a period of 48 hours for the unconditional acceptance of its demands.

The Serbian Government started the mobilisation of its army one day after the transmission of the Austro-Hungarian note.

As after the stipulated date the Serbian Government rendered a reply which, though complying in some points with the conditions of Austria-Hungary, yet showed in all essentials the endeavour through procrastination and new negotiations to escape from the just demands of the monarchy, the latter discontinued her diplomatic relations with Serbia without indulging in further negotiations or accepting further Serbian assurances, whose value, to its loss, she had sufficiently experienced.

From this moment Austria was in fact in a state of war with Serbia, which it proclaimed officially on the 28th of July by declaring war.

From the beginning of the conflict we assumed the position that there were here concerned the affairs of Austria alone, which it would have to settle with Serbia. We therefore directed our efforts toward the localising of the war, and toward convincing the other powers that Austria-Hungary had to appeal to arms in justifiable self-defense, forced upon her by the conditions. We emphatically took the position that no civilised country possessed the right to stay the arm of Austria in this struggle with barbarism and political crime, and to shield the Serbians against their just punishment. In this sense we instructed our representatives with the foreign powers....

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Last Updated: February 21, 1996.