Often appearing in early spy novels, such as the works of John Buchan, Dornford Yates and Somerset Maugham, the Black Hand was actually a Serbian secret society – Ujedinjenje ili Smrt – which does not mean a black hand at all, but ‘unity and Death’.
Far from being communist or even fascist, the Black Hand was formed mostly by young over-enthusiastic army officers with the aim of unifying the Serbs living within Austrian and Turkish territories, and encouraging them to fight for the Serbian cause. It all started with a bunch of these nationalists meeting regularly in Belgrade, in 1911.
Quite soon the Black Hand was exerting an influence over Serbian policies in the never-ending Balkan Wars, but the boys disagreed with their Serbian government over administration of new lands won from the Turks.
The leader was one Colonel Dimitrievic who enlarged the force by encouraging young Bosnians to join in proper terrorist activity. Col. D. thought it might be a good idea to send the Bosnians back into Bosnia to kill the heir to the Austrian Empire, along with his wife, in Sarejevo (q.v.) on 28 June, 1914, thus releasing the dogs of war (First World War 1914 – 18 q.v.).
During the First War the Serbian government went into exile, but that did not stop the terrorist activities of the Black Hand. Col. D. was arrested along with his chief associates and accused of plotting the murder of the Serbian Prince Regent – highly unlikely since it was thought possible that the Prince Regent was a member of the group himself! Following an irregular, illegal and badly-managed ‘trial’ at Salonica the leaders of the group were shot, and the society broken up.
But that was not the end of the band of the Black Hand: in 1953 the original verdict of the Salonica Trial was quashed by the Serbian Supreme Court in an attempt by the then Yugoslav Government to whiten the name and reputation of the Black Handers. The attempt did not meet with outstanding success.
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