ON THE MILITARY ACADEMY
in Wiener Neustadt
After graduating from the Technical high school, following the desire of his parents, Ivan enrolled at the Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt. His life in the Academy was marked by dissatisfaction and intense internal struggles, which found their way into his Diary. An especially great suffering was caused by the immense gap between the spiritual and cultural values which were his “second nature” and the rough military environment which surrounded him. In the Military Academy Ivan was exposed to a great inner trial. It was easy for him to study, exercise and keep order. However, he bore with great difficulty the roughness and lack of morals which he confronted there and which daily insulted his faith and honesty. He couldn’t reconcile himself with the thought that he would have to pass his entire life in a job for which he had no zest. He confided his pain and doubts first of all to the Diary, followed by his former teacher Dr. Maraković and finally, his parents. As he had no desire for the military profession, with the consent of his parents, after three months, just before Christmas 1914 he quit his studies at the Academy.
21 September 1914 – 23 December 1914
Wiener Neustadt, 21 September 1914 – (17 years and 9 months)
Initial impressions of the stay at the Academy
I have already made the leap in the life. Having entered the Military Academy means I must become a good soldier. But it is all different with me. I never had the will for the military service, but to make life easier for my parents, I came over here. Having done this I chose two duties which I will pursue unconditionally: my further literary and artistic education and the discharge of military duties. I don’t mind being a soldier, but there are no real soldiers here. Their ideal is not some unreachable thing, but life for the Emperor. If the Emperor would do wrong, they would be his instruments, they don’t have God as their ideal. Actually, they despise religion and this is a natural choice for them because they don’t know religion. They are mainly pupils of the technical high schools1 who have had no moral upbringing. True, there are some among them who say it is not nice to go to coffee rooms, that an officer must have a side profession, but they don’t know why it is so, they don’t think of transience, of the Creator of these beautiful laws of nature.
Ivan Merz – student at the Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt
Lack of spiritual life, his faith wanes
I have been writing a lot and some cards are filled with hatred toward this. I now see the terrible side of this, but I am not going to put my teeth into all of it. My faith looks feeble, and the thoughts about the beautiful and religious life in general seem to be dying away. This is because I have no one with whom I could share the higher things. Confession which I would like so much, as well as the Communion, I cannot receive. The priest here is shallow, too. In the church, he says that for a soldier there are three things that matter: virtue, diligence and religion. As if the soldier was a different species of man. Religion contains all the virtues. One of my colleagues here committed suicide. It’s a wonder only one of them did so. Their ideal is to be a soldier, but why, how, nobody spares a thought on that. And when this ideal is gone, not knowing the purpose of life, he doesn’t wish to live any longer. Life is not pleasure, but sacrifice.
Wiener Neustadt, 14 October 1914 – (17 years and 10 months)
Disappointment over moral corruption
I haven’t been writing for a long time. Already 14 days have passed and I got the first notions of life here. I had never hoped to have to meet such people. At first I was shocked at everything; actually, I even cried.
Wiener Neustadt, 15 October 1914 – (17 years and 10 months)
Confronting lack of culture
Yes, just yesterday as I was writing, they intruded upon me with terrible irony and attacks, rather skillfully crafted, so that at times I couldn’t extricate myself. Today I wonder at that, because the attacks were very shallow. Actually, when I spoke, believing that they know the fundamentals of cultural history, that our ideals should be égalité, fratérnité, liberté,2 they jumped at me saying the fruit of that is revolution. They do not accept any side in the revolution. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t prove anything to them. Even the most stupid of them look at me with pity when I say that war is a beastly thing and that I am against the war. When I mentioned Berta Suttner3, none of them has heard of her. A high military school and they know so little! But even if they are in favor of the war and against Faith, one would again say that it is a dispute about cultural issues and that they, just as myself, strive towards the good. But, “the tree will be known by its fruits”.
Corruption among the Academy students
In the most solemn moments, the baseness of men shows itself best. We had the medical.4 Officers swore that they will sacrifice everything for God, the Emperor and the homeland, and all the colleagues got drunk like animals. They cursed God in Croatian, spoke obscenities, vomited and spat on the floors. Several of them sat on the floor and drank champagne from the bottle. Yes, these were the same ones who mocked me yesterday for studying Latin, for striving towards the immaterial. I cannot even describe what it is here like. If I had been able to keep my diary regularly, it would have been obvious how I suffered at the beginning and cried for all this immorality. The greatest evil is negligence. In order for them to dig themselves out of these vices, I would force them to work incessantly. Work is necessary.
He nevertheless manages to read some literature
Alma Mater Teresiana, said Belmont in a speech. Here there is only evil. It is the heart of corruption and decline of Austria. I don’t think that people will get better. In order to preserve those grains of nobility that still exist, one ought to create strong clerical organizations. Nothing can be achieved without them. During this period that I have been here, I did quite a lot. Tired after the exercises, I completed a part of the analysis of Smoke, read Turgenev’s King Lear of the Steppes, something from Brunetier’s Balsac and something from Langenscheidt. I wrote to Ljuba and he sent me excerpts from Turgenev that were translated at the graduation exam, as well as The Art of Prayer. I keep an orderly correspondence with other colleagues. My dear Ante has been accepted into the army. When I only think what a good and noble man he is, compared to my present colleagues. Plach, Köhler and Kratena were at the border in Schulzenpan. König is coming here on Sunday…
Visit to the grave of Zrinski and Frankopan
After this disgusting environment, it was a pleasant and warm experience visiting the grave of Zrinski and Frankopan together with Kovačić. We passed through an alley of lime-trees, and perpendicular to it were alleys of cypresses with graves between them. The inscriptions on the gravestones read “Here lies the family… Peace be unto them….” I asked the grave-digger for Zrinski and Frankopan, and he started to ramble in a dialect about some Artillery Major. “For Heaven’s sake man, they are Croatian heroes, where do they lie?”
“What, what?” “Frankopan”, I responded. “Oh yes, Frantischpan”, and he took us there. The grave is at the end of the alley, almost at the wall and an airplane was flying overhead. The grave has a memorial plate with inscription in Latin: “Ossa of Zrinski, the governor of Croatia, and Frankopan5. The entire text is in Latin, and on the grave a withered wreath on which the traces of the Croatian flag could still be seen. Remembrance that good people were here and showed respect to their heroes, respect that can be given to the bones. These bones lie below the lime-trees and cypresses under the red evening sky mixed with the blackness of smoke. Glory to you, honest Croats, even a heart of stone will wail when it sees how honest people perish! No, they didn’t perish, they still live in the memory of honest Croats: from their blood flowers and roses have blossomed and will continue to blossom. We stood at some distance from the grave: Kovačić saluted and suggested we pray one “Our Father” for these heroes. As we were leaving the cemetery, it was already getting dark, and Kovačić suggested we enter an old church. A reddish evening light was blinking: in the faint light, we could only make out the parallel shadows, the tops of the pews. Behind the church, we met one Croat, and Kovačić, who a little while ago suggested we pray “Our Father”, took pleasure in the scandalous anecdotes that this Croat was saying.
It is my mom’s birthday. My good mom and my good dad. They love me, and I also love them and I sincerely gave them an account of my position; they make no mention of pulling me out from here. I will flee myself. With God – enough for today.
Wiener Neustadt, 24 October 1914 – (17 years and 10 months)6
Here I am in prison. Some captain scolded me for having said that I am allowed here to learn languages and he confiscated my Smoke, Lohengrin and Brunetière which I took with me to read here. Still, I managed to smuggle in my trousers The Art of Prayer7 and some chocolate. This is not a two days’ work. To pray and unite with God, this is the work of a lifetime. I had company in prison. Shortly after me a soldier from the 16th Regiment entered, and we felt an immediate closeness. He told me that he had been in prison several times on account of this captain (…)
The benefits of prison
I feel wonderful in this prison, only I am a little bit sad when I think that König is now riding in the train and will soon be in Wiener Neustadt, the city of blood, and I will not be at the station to greet him. He sent me a telegram – on my instructions, of course: “I am coming on Saturday evening due to some urgent family problems.” And these gentlemen here don’t have so much of a heart to let me go and get some fresh news from home. The books that König is carrying for me he will have to carry back, and mom and dad who can hardly wait to hear about me from a witness, shall remain betrayed. All the same, I will suffer a little, and in spite of pressure from my superiors, I will remain cheerful in my heart.
Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt in which Merz spent three months.
A critical analysis of his behavior
I am only sad and it lies heavily on my heart when I commit something evil. Somebody drives me mad and in a fit of anger I throw a chair at him, I myself don’t know how, and call him a swine. Help me God, not to do this anymore! I once lied having said to captain Slusarez that I didn’t know we were supposed to go to a battalion inspection, whereas in reality it was boring for me; this won’t and must never happen again! There were many other things and I feel I ought to go to confession to clean myself of the burden of sins; a desire, a burning desire pulls me toward the One who is so good and just, so dear, and to receive him in Communion. But where, and how; when I reach the university – help me God to make it to there – I will be able to go to confession with our pupils. This will be my company, good and noble, guided by a single thought, not wallowing like animals in the mire, ignoring all that is great – the nation, state and mankind. And I am sitting here because of these people, but still I feel gladness in my heart because I am distanced from them and I know that I am suffering for a noble cause.
Army, patriotism, immorality
But yes, I am in the army. What is an army? It should be the guardian of patriotism!? And who is the guardian of patriotism?! Surely, not someone who cannot overcome his passions! My dear and male Austria: if such people continue to be the guardians of patriotism, we are following in the footsteps of the Romans. France is already a long way in following the Romans. What a pity, such a nation and because of such disgusting individuals it is bound to perish. Germans are following in their steps too. They are winning in this war, they reached a culmination. The power of the people is still strong, but the deeds? Help us God, may everything turn out good!
The moral situation in his beloved Croatia and her mission
And what is my beloved Croatia doing? I watch and watch with regret. World history doesn’t teach us to look pessimistically, although in world history I can see only one religious combat motive: the fight for justice and truth. The fight for and against God, the battle of good and evil elements, as the mythologies say. The peoples of Croatia, as well as Bosnia are still not corrupt. We hope for the best for them. Good and honest people. Beautiful folklore. Folk songs – No. 1 in the world. But the cities of Croatia and Bosnia are terribly corrupt. Many evils come from Europe. Croatian art itself is infested with the erotic, the sick, modern currents; even Meštrović8. True, there is a lot of good coming in: Turgenev, Nelson, Lermontov, Manet, Courbet, Corot. Many useful things for the exploitation of land come from Germany. The corruption will descend from the cities into the villages and good-bye Croatia! No, if we knit a flaming cross into the red-white-blue flag, which will destroy all evil, and shed light upon the good, then Croatia will fulfil its role in world history. God help us!
We are at war with Russians. Oh you, great nation, when the Empire collapses with a huge thunder, the days of light will come upon you. You make war and drown in blood for the sake of your tyrants.
Wiener Neustadt, Sunday, 25 October 1914 – (17 years and 10 months)
An overview of prison life
I have been in prison for 24 hours. I laugh at myself. This prison is intended to straighten me up, but I am better off here than outside of it. I never got as much food since coming into the Academy. The soldiers brought so much for me, I couldn’t eat all of it; the Croatian soldier who is fond of me brought me a bread roll at four P.M., and after that another. These Croats are really good; they like to please everyone. With him I discussed about the Parliament, the deputies, the Hungarians. His thinking is the same as with all the Croats, he tells me that there are quite a number of Croats here at the Academy; of course, he knows them all, because they were all in prison!
I slept on the bench relatively well. For one hour, I took a walk under the captain’s supervision. In private, he apologized and said he didn’t intend to disgrace languages and literature, but that they served a soldier only for amusement. Therefore, he sent me a heap of military books. I put them all in the closet. Until I receive a positive response from my parents, I won’t bother with them. I had a good sleep in the afternoon. I left my lasting mark on the door with my poems, I composed them, scribbled, and talked with the imprisoned Oberrealschüler (technical high school pupil). Most of the time I read The Art of Prayer. I am reading this book for the second time now. Initially, it didn’t seem like much, but the more I studied it, I realized the subtleness of the logic and the writer’s religious feeling.
A soldier just came in and interrupted my writing. I asked him if he could write. He went to school for four years and now he took a pencil and wrote something in a telegraphic form. A perfect telegraphist. As a matter of fact, his sister sends him whole pages by telegraph. How crafty, these Croats! An ordinary peasant, but with such clear thinking. In this Croat, as Đalski says in The Old Cop I see the fate of Croatia. He told me: “If I had stayed with the regiment, I would be a corporal, but I don’t want to give orders, I prefer to obey.”
Again, he entered and brought a bread roll with ham and when I persuaded him that I was full, he said: “And I thought you were hungry.” What good people; they would give everything to those who lack. The 20th century should look upon these people as its model. Revenons à la nature.1 It is from the peasants that we expect the renaissance of society. They just sang a serenade2 for a second course Academy student who is in prison.
How miserable this body is. I haven’t moved from these four walls and I experienced so much. My spirit travelled on the wings of freedom to touch the Immeasurable.
Let me get back to the booklet The Art of Prayer. But what can I do, the Croat came again telling me how he travelled from Trieste to Germany, how he worked 14 days for a black Englishman on a boat and got 5 crowns plus food for each day. Then, he went by foot without any food for 3 days to reach Tyrol. Rocks all around, and he feared the wolves and the bears. With the black guy, he communicated half in Czech, half in Italian.
Thoughts about transience
Now we will reflect a little, though I am not as fresh as I was a little while ago. I was doing physical exercises and am tired. Transience is something terrible. Yesterday at this time I got here, and now everything is entirely different. I remember when I was riding in the train going to Opatija, I felt that these bright moments will pass and I will only be able to remember them. The same will be tomorrow at this time outside when I will think of this moment which seemed odd to me at first. The greatest suffering is presented in our memory as something light. Everything passes and “the sky and the stars shall pass, but My words shall not pass”. This is something which I now feel with all my soul. Any moment in the future can bring me a nasty thought: the battle of body and soul. Our entire life is such a battle between these two elements and it is by this battle that we strive towards the Ideal of our life – the Almighty.
God, Holy Spirit, give me strength to pray, to speak with my Creator, with the Creator of the wonderful laws of nature, with the lord of immeasurable twinkling stars, with eternal Truth!
Striving for God, union with God in prayer
Prayer is religion.3 I believe in God our Lord the Almighty; I believe that He is a perfect spirit in freedom of will and in greatness. I am a tiny human being. I possess the freedom of will, albeit a limited one. My Spirit is limited. But the little Promethean spark, the particle of the particle of the Almighty pulls me toward This One and confirms his existence.
Just like a man whose feet are not completely drowned in mud wishes to converse with someone wiser than him, the spirit with all its might strives towards the perfect, towards the great Spirit. He speaks with Him in prayer and He responds in such a mysterious, refined way which makes one think one is breathing the air from on high, as Banon says. This conversation with the Almighty, this connection, acknowledging the Almighty is religion. Religion without prayer is dead.
Prayer is not being measured by length and it doesn’t need to be read from books; speaking from one’s heart, contemplating the Scripture and intents of the Almighty – this is prayer. God is a spiritual Being, and as we are bodily creatures, the thought of Him is both bodily and spiritual. In order for us to understand him, he became Emmanuel, similar to us, and we can pray to Jesus, and prayer to him is much easier because Jesus is closer to us.
Wiener Neustadt, Monday, 26 October 1914 – (17 years and 10 months)
Prison is coming to an end
It is four in the afternoon. The stupidity – prison – will be over in three days and I will emerge from it “corrected”. I slept like a log, only this morning I was hungry; no wonder, yesterday and today we had beans for lunch and I didn’t eat. So, yesterday and today I left half of my lunch. I have finished The Art of Prayer. A beautiful book. Full of inspiring thoughts. The second time, if I ever end up here again, I will take with me some stories, chocolate, bread, sugar, etc. and with such a supply I will be able to enjoy it more. My feet are a bit cold, but in the future I will know how to help myself. Today a soldier gave me his soap and towel, winter kilims. He used to be a night bird, as he says of himself. (…)4
Wiener Neustadt, 7 December 19145
Critical of himself and his weaknesses
In my thoughts, I analyzed others a lot, and for a long time I lived arrogantly, thinking I am the only good one here, whereas I behaved rather egoistically towards them. If I received a parcel from home, I would hide it in order not to be asked to share something. I cannot logically develop everything, because there is noise all around me.
Visit to Vienna and the Academic Society “Croatia”
Yesterday I was in Vienna. I went there the day before yesterday with the intent to see Demetrius in the theatre. Due to my laziness and ineptness I didn’t manage to see it. I should have made the entire plan of how to use my time in Vienna in advance. I will do so in the future. However, I cannot say that my stay in Vienna remained fruitless. I met with the members of “Croatia”6 and I grasped the tie which binds all of them together. It is such a pleasure to come from a society in which the only identification is with the erotic, in which the purpose of life is erotic, into another one, among men and women who work for only one thought only and who live honestly and nobly. Yes, I don’t even have to mention the greatness and beauty of Christian life!
Ivan (first to the left) with colleagues Plach and König in Vienna on 6 December 1914.
I stayed overnight at Plach’s place and we went to visit König. Then we went to have our picture taken. Yes, it will be a nice memory.7 We should immortalize our first meeting in the students’ dorm. May God grant us good fruit. Then we went to the Maria Hilfe church where I wanted to buy artistic postcards. Regrettably, the shop was closed. Then we went to the Croatian church. I couldn’t collect my thoughts properly. Szetlik and Lastavica were here. After that we went to the canteen. Plach was invited for lunch. Pelz also came with us to the canteen. With him and another guy we went into the Slovenian library. Pelz is a librarian with Rešetar.8 (…) We then went to “Croatia”.9 König and Plach came. A beautiful Franciscan Slavist and chaplain Fleger came, along with Kranel, Crni and others. Some girls, students, were also there; one lady doctor was “Santa Claus” who came and distributed presents. Everything was so beautiful; naturally, political jokes were on the menu, too. They played tamburitza (König) and we all sang. One beautiful miss, with chestnut brown hair, in a green and blue shirt, of fair complexion, sat facing me. She was truly beautiful. A spiritual beauty, a virgin’s pride and gentleness emanated from her every glance.
God, how come I am here10 among people without a heart, for whom girls are only beasts?!
Wiener Neustadt, 8 December 1914 – (18 years)
Critical review of the sermon and behavior of the soldiers at mass
Today is the Immaculate Conception. I was in the church in the morning. Again, the sermon was for the Catholics, and not for non-believers. Naturally, they mock the priest when he speaks about the Holy Spirit who begot… To him who doesn’t believe this seems an absurdity. He spoke about the war without any depth, instead of pointing out that wars are a consequence of the fight for truth, that the destinies of nations are not decided on the battlefields, but on the fields of the spiritual, moral life of a nation. On the basis of history and everything that is beautiful even today he ought to show them in an indirect way that they are wallowing in the mire, that they are disgusting and arrogant, that they don’t know what love and gentleness is.
Rudeness toward the priest is massive. When he reads from the Gospel they cough and make noise, forcing him to stop reading until they quiet down. If they don’t, he admonishes them by saying that in every decent society while one speaks the others keep silence. On another occasion, he came to a student asking him why he always laughs in the church. The student denied it, etc…
After the mass, I went to town to an optician and ordered glasses. My eyes are terribly weak. Astigmatism of the right eye is so great that even with my present glasses the images do not fall upon each other.
Learning Latin and comparisons with Roman history
My mom and my grandpa wrote to me. Yes, I can hardly wait to go home. Ante has had enough of life. Life is a sacrifice. Šandor is having a difficult time. Today I studied Latin for about four hours.11 I just translated and memorized the entire text of the fourth file. It is an excerpt from Roman history from the Consulate until the time when one of the Consuls was elected from the plebeian class. Yes, the Roman State was something great. The democratic consciousness four hundred years ago was just as strong as the constitutional consciousness of the French during the Revolution. The Romans (French) banished their king (Tarquin – Louis XVI) and the people wanted to rule. The exiled Tarquin (Louis XVI) appealed to a Monarch: Parssena (Friedrich Wilhelm), asking him to restore his royal prerogatives, as there was a danger that the republican movement might spill over into other countries.
An overview of daily events and concern about the continuing stay in the Academy
Yes, I read the Gral12. This issue is beautiful and I will read it all once again, as there are so many new and beautiful thoughts inside which I must process.
I noticed that one sins less when there is more to do. I would like to compose anthems to work, bodily and mechanical work, because one doesn’t think of evil; but one doesn’t think of eternity either. All our work must be a Faustian perfecting, the striving for comprehension. The little bit that we do mechanically must be a means towards the work which perfects us.
My remaining here is an impossible mission. I want to be free, I want to get at the depth of things, not to learn what the lecturers know only superficially. While learning the technical sciences, I must admire the greatness of the Creator who crafted such marvelous, precise laws, and not merely study something that we are going to use to kill millions of dear and unspoiled people who will regenerate the world. Responsible for this whole war are tyrants who subjugate the peoples, who subjugate faith and one would become a nihilist if one didn’t know that so many millions among the intelligentsia are equally tyrants, egoists to whom “I” is everything, and others are nothing. For this reason, peaceful work, education of one’s self, is the motto of a man.
Today we had a free day. Many went to a public house…13
Let me say a word or two about Kovačić. Černy told him today that he is not worthy of his homeland. He took this joke seriously, and his anger turned to crying. To be told that he is not worthy of his country which is the holiest thing for him in the world?! He is theatrical. Otherwise, of a good heart and instinct, but it doesn’t prevent him from using disgusting expressions.
Wiener Neustadt, 9 December 1914 – (18 years)
Contents from literature
This morning I was the first on the firing range. I am a bad marksman. I learnt some Latin and read Livius. I just came to Coriolanus. He was truly a hero, but weaker than the one in Shakespeare. I think Shakespeare drew his inspiration from Livius. (…)
(Here follows a short account of Coriolanus’ biography and his destiny)
I sense here14 that something smells of homosexuality. There is some strange talk about it. I know of it only superficially.
When will the time come for perfecting myself?!
Wiener Neustadt, 10 December 1914 – (18 years)
Critical account of his colleagues and professors at the Academy
Yesterday we had one hour, and today only two hours of lectures. We study a lot. We have only four days of holidays. God granting, for me it will be forever. I have been studying Latin a lot, but due to difficult matter I progressed only a little. I am learning to turn adverbs into adjectives and gerundive. Latin is a miraculously precise language. For one Latin form, other languages must use two-three forms. Kobler, Pajić, Victoria, as well as my mom wrote to me.
Yes, it was precisely Baumm – an animal unworthy of living – who found himself insulted for being called to account by a major.
They were just commenting how Dr. Malan snatched a lover from an Academy student. Yes, this man knows a lot about medicine. “He calls it Reason, but only uses it to be more a beast than any beast as yet”.15 Yes, this knowledge serves him to devise various means for immoral acts. (…)
The only man whom I got to know here who is worthy of living is surely Klein. He is of short build, this dark Italian, but he keeps himself upright. He reads history books the whole day and is especially interested in Egyptian history. I could attest that he knows a lot. But, there is a lot of Italian in him (…). Otherwise, he lacks the moral heights – his spiritual education is bad. Having read some books, he thinks of Jesus as a man belonging to some sect, and still he marvels at the old prophecies. But he doesn’t delve deeper. He didn’t notice the brilliant course of history – the magnificent struggle for Truth. He commends historical facts, the polity (Cato was the greatest Roman for him) and he is interested in that. No one has turned his attention to the elevated, the only existing one. He plans to go to the university. Maybe someday his eyes will be opened.
Yes, yes, Baumm is really despicable. Healthy in body, full of life energy – no, animal energy – the whole day he speaks, thinks and does the same.
Wiener Neustadt, 11 December 1914 – (18 years)
Remembrance of Greta and the first love, critical towards her parents
My mind is agitated with emotions. Remembrance of Greta, chasing each other in the park, the first dance, the first date. Our jokes and all the rest. Hiking in the hills and reading Schiller. Dinner at their house, the scene by the piano, the first kiss, golden-brown hair…
What was nasty is over. Only the memories live on, she was 16, and so was I. Yes, on December 18th she would have been 18. I also contributed to her death. I was an animal. This will be a deeper cause why she poisoned herself.16 It was due to bad upbringing and because they were only looking for the animal in her, whereas she had many beautiful features and a lot of intelligence. She surprised me with her knowledge of history and literature. Once when she came to Banja Luka, we met in front of Božić’s house. Pajić was there too. She had just told me that she read Frühlingsfluten. I think this was our last conversation. Death – a terrible death – took her away.
Please, great God, Almighty, let this sinner who suffered enough in this world, who was a victim of corruption in society, see at least a glimpse of Your beauty! Leave her not without hope.
Yes, I will write to her parents and her good, evil mother, a woman, who has esprit17 as one gentleman said about her, but without a moral foundation. She was beautiful once, and still is, does not worry too much over anything, and, though seriously ill, manages to be always cheerful. Yes, she is mostly to blame for this death, and seeing her terrible evil traits, I am still drawn to her: I would like to bow to her, kiss her hand. She is Greta’s mother. She knew her daughter best. And the father, a German giant, but weak. The wife does with him as she pleases. He is suffering more and more and is looking for solace – thus I have heard – in wine.
In 1913 when, during an excursion I passed through Travnik, I wanted to throw my cap into their garden. Yes, Greta was there no more. I slept in the wagon. At once, someone said: the Teschners are outside. Still sleeping, I rushed out and saw Greta’s parents for the first time after her death. Her mother picked flowers for her grave. Good night, little Greta!
A decree was read to us that one is no longer allowed to go to Bosnia. I must come home for Christmas come what may. I met some Croats from the Technical high school. Yes, met, but not have had a chance to study them deeper; they also entertain a liberal outlook on life, that’s a fact.
Wiener Neustadt, 13 December 1914 – (18 years)
Complaining of his weak eyes
Yesterday I saw a physician due to so-called nervousness. Namely, I wanted to get a leave. Dr. Mahan whom I mentioned the other day, wasn’t interested at all, he only said – to frighten me – that he will submit me to a rectal intervention. Thank you. He took a pill of bromide and I – a healthy man – had to take medicine. Due to that I was drowsy yesterday, and my eyes were weak too, so I didn’t do anything. Today I bought the glasses prescribed by Dr. Fröhlich. I threw 10 crowns into the air. I don’t see a thing with these glasses. My eyes are very, very weak. If I only had some kind of prism so my image from the right eye would overlap with the left one.
It is already dark. My dear and kind parents again sent me food. Mom added some money as well. It will be hard for them to hear that maybe I won’t be coming home for Christmas. Captain Vojnović and lieutenant Stipić were killed. A pity for the former one. He was an intelligent and honest officer. A rarity.
Criticism of the immoral environment in which he is forced to live
I remember my first days here. It was very hard for me. Sitting at the table with those from the second course I was forced to listen to things I never even thought about. As they were throwing bread around, they talked all the time about the price of this woman and the other, about terrible obscenities. I left the table with a terrible anger and cried for being forced to live in such company. It was under this feeling that I wrote letters of despair home and to my friends. Yes, I have gotten used to all this. I am much less offended when I hear them cursing God, when they talk obscenities; although it upsets me terribly, I keep a cool reason, and I figure out the root of this whole evil: upbringing.
Critical analysis of himself and his bodily weakness
To be fair, I criticize others a lot, though I must admit that nature was not too kind towards me. I am terribly clumsy and mentally feeble. They order us to do something, I listen but I don’t hear. When another is shown something, he immediately sees and does it, whereas I cannot grasp it. I am unable to do the simplest physical exercises. And with all of that, my eyes are weak. Everybody asks me why I am sleeping. In fact, I cannot look at one object: I cannot focus both of my eyes on it. If I only had good glasses, maybe I would understand everything better. (…)
Philosophical reflections about morale, truth, goodness and beauty, and a comparison between Mary, Diana and Venus
I heard a characteristic song. He seduced her and sang: “You remain a whore, only I remain a man.”18 Therefore, a man has the privilege to be lecherous, and a woman hasn’t. A woman is therefore an animal?! Regretfully, this is how it is in the world.
However, in the worst of people there still exists a lot of good. From these tiny specks of goodness in people we can always reach the conclusion about the quintessence of one Truth. Venus is the ideal of earthly beauty. She is a beauty created by nature (from the froth). Mary possesses this ideal of natural beauty. But, Venus is a moral outcast. The ancient Greek spirit, the striving present within it, wanted something morally pure. This is Diana. Diana is the ideal of a moral woman. Mary has these features. Mary has reason. Of Pallas Athena. It transpires from this that in people there is that spark which is the evidence of the one Truth. Greek mythology is a chaos of contrasts; therefore, it cannot be a religion. But maybe they felt everything which is right, i.e. the Truth within themselves, but weren’t capable of perceiving its uniqueness, its indivisibility. Everything that was good, which tallies with unique Christian names, has remained. But in Christianity, this is something indivisible. Beauty, Truth, Goodness cannot be separated one from another, but we glorify all of this that we find among the pagans. We abhor the immorality of Venus, but enjoy the nature of her beauty. Zeus is not great for throwing his father down from the throne. Yet, we see in him the wise ruler of the universe. If the cult of Zeus had not risen to such heights, he couldn’t be revered by the people. Who will venerate the murderer of his father? But who will not adore a gentle and a wise ruler?
Wiener Neustadt, 14 December 1914 – (18 years)
Soldiers’ teasing and his reactions, self-criticism
Yes, yes, my hands are stained with blood. Thought, speech and action are all different in me. Yesterday I explicated my world views to the likes of Černy, Sondraček, and today, woe, it all collapsed into dust. This is how it was.
In the afternoon, I slept in my bed. They threw me down and scattered everything from my bed around the room. I laughed. It was a joke. I lay down again, when Černy started flying around my bed trying to throw me out. I asked him to stop. He didn’t. I promised him a slap on the face, jumped out and slapped him, merely as a joke. Of course, he returned to me two. He wasn’t mad at me, nor was I at him, but I was upset for having behaved like that. I lay down again. One of them slapped me, then another, then the third and so on, all in jest. I got about 10 slaps. More as a joke, I pulled the knife from my bed. When Palik slapped me, I jumped from the bed and, just as he hid behind the stove, I threw the knife after him. I only wanted to scare him.
But this act stained me. They didn’t get the joke. They think I was about to injure him and God knows what. They were right. At once Vodraček came and asked me if I intended to be an honest officer. Namely, just yesterday I was telling him about moral principles. God, God, I committed something evil. Let them mock me, let them do whatever they like, I myself am to blame. God, let me change myself; let my acts be as my words are. I will continue talking about yesterday’s incident until I am able to clear my name.
My good Mother, the greatest of all, please fill my soul with beautiful feelings, noble thoughts, always mark the right way for me, however hard it may be to follow it!
Wiener Neustadt, 15 December 1914 – (18 years)
Immoral behavior of colleagues at the Academy
Latin is still swirling in my head. I think I learned the entire passive voice. (…)19
Yesterday’s incident was nothing. They are so weak they had forgotten it already. At the first moment, they were scandalized and looked at me as somebody evil, then started teasing again. Yes, Černy and Palik were drunk like animals yesterday. Others were in the public house and were telling horrible things about the female animals there. I made notes about some of the conversations. This morning we had exercise. Mom got frightened when I said I wouldn’t be allowed to go to Bosnia. Good luck.20 Tomorrow is my birthday. I am done for today. We will continue tomorrow.
Wiener Neustadt, birthday, 16 December 1914 – (18 years)
More about immorality at the Academy, celebration of his 18th birthday
Yesterday one of them (Palik) wanted to stick a con…21 on my nose. Today they brought me a picture of a naked student which was in the possession of some waitress. I tore it up. They called me a priest. Today four students (Rosa de Paoli, Battai, etc) held orgies with the whores. One of them spent six months in the hospital due to severe venereal disease. The other one is “in love” with another (this is what he says). These female animals are only making money being with them. I am merely listing the facts. I do not draw the consequences. Europe is a whore. The temple of Europe is small, but magnificent.
This morning we also had exercise, and in the afternoon a dance. I love to dance. The rhythm is so beautiful. I studied Latin quite a lot. Birthday greeting card from home hasn’t arrived yet. Only Ante wrote, wishing me happy birthday in advance. By chance, it arrived precisely on my birthday. König will probably come tomorrow.
Wiener Neustadt, 19 December 1914 – (18 years)
Remembering Greta’s birthday, struggling for chastity and trying to keep the image of our Lady in his mind’s eye
Yes, yesterday was her birthday. She would have been 18. A girl in the brilliance of her beauty. Peace be unto her ashes!
König was here the day before yesterday. He studied Latin. We will not get a leave any time soon. God willing, the animal life will soon come to an end.
Yes, when I hear obscene talk, and when ugly images want to creep into my soul, I always keep the image of our Lady with the child in front of my mind’s eye – that beautiful, majestic and mild expression and the quintessence of all that is noble.
Wiener Neustadt, 22 December 1914 – (18 years)
The final critical overview of the stay at the Academy, made only one friendship there
I conclude my diary in the Academy. I listened to what the children were doing and still do in the lower technical school. They do horrible things. The parents commit a crime if they send children to such schools where the teacher only lectures, and when he leaves the class forgets that he is a teacher. This is truly terrible.
Pepino got to liking me a lot. He suffered much and was in pains until he crystallized himself from the mire which surrounds him. Though, he still lacks the depth which observes everything from its own viewpoint. He is interested in Egyptian history with all his heart, knows the hieroglyphs and wants to become an Egyptologist. Failing that, he will try to get into the general headquarters and specialize in war history. I told him to study a lot, graduate Latin and try to enroll at the university. If he is capable, he will succeed in what he wants. He is very emotional. He knows Lohengrin wery well. He says his heredity is burdened. His father died in a psychiatric asylum. His younger brother is a somnambulist. All of them are very nervous.
I can leave the Academy with pleasure. At least one of them saw the greatness of the idea towards which I strive. Although he still doesn’t know that this is Catholicism, he will see it with the time. He was glad, and so was I, that he was able to express his feelings to somebody. He confided to me his fears that he might be abnormal, because others laugh at him and because his world views are contrary to those of the others, although he has been among them for so long. I promised him we would keep correspondence, talk to each other through letters.
He asks the Almighty to show him the right way
I am putting the final touch to my diary, and I hope, I pray to the Almighty who determined the path for the sun and the stars, for every blade of grass and every ant, to show me henceforth the path to Chastity, to the great Art, to all that is Elevated and Eternal. May Faust wake up again and again; he seems to have fallen asleep here.
Concerns, grave concerns. Will I be with my dear parents for Christmas? The greatest of celebrations, the most beautiful memories awaken in a child when it smells the pine-tree and candles. Good bye.
Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt – view from the other side.
1 German: Oberrealschüler
2 French: equality, brotherhood, freedom
3 Bertha von SUTTNER (1843 –1914), Austrian writer. She advocated peace in the world and got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.
4 German: Ausmusterung – military medical check-up, a precondition for acceptance into the Arm
5 Ossa (Latin) – bones of Zrinski, the Governor of Croatia and the Count of Frankopan
6This is the beginning of 1A notebook of the Diary of the bl. I. Merz which covers a brief period from 24th to 26th October 1914. At that time Merz was in prison at the Military Academy and he wrote his diary notes in a special small notebook which was later named A1, but its contents are part of the first notebook of his Diary which he continued to write after getting out from prison.
7 M. J. SCHEEBEN, German original: Die Kunst zu beten. This book was recommended to him by his former teacher Dr. Lj. Maraković and Merz acquired it and studied it to his great spiritual benefit during his stay at the Military Academy.
8 Ivan MEŠTROVIĆ (1883–1962), world famous Croatian sculptor
9 French: Let’s get back to nature.
10 German: Ständchen
11 German: Das Gebet ist Religion
12 This is the end of the notebook 1A of the Bl. I. Merz’s Diary which covers a brief period from the 24th until 26th December 1914, i.e. the period while Merz was three days in prison.
13 This is the beginning of the 2nd notebook of the Bl. I. Merz’s Diary which covers the period from 7th December 1914 until 16th March 1915.
14 Croatia – The Academic Society of Croats in Vienna
15 This photograph has been preserved and is kept in the Museum of Ivan Merz
16 Prof. Milan REŠETAR (Dubrovnik, 1860 – Florence, 1942), Slavist, historian of art, collector.
17 The Society of Croatian Catholic students, founded in Vienna by the priest Ivan Butković on 12 May 1903 lay the foundation of the Croatian Catholic Movement founded by the bishop Antun Mahnić.
18 In the Military Academy
19 In the Banja Luka high school, which was a technical school, Merz didn’t learn Latin. As he planned to enroll at the Vienna University, he had to learn it by himself, and he passed the Latin exam in Sarajevo in 1915. In his Diary from 1914 and 1915 he often refers to learning Latin.
20 Gral – a German literary Catholic periodical
21 Some students at the Academy, when they had a free day, frequented a public house. Merz knew this and criticized such immoral behavior of future Austro-Hungarian officers.
22 At the Academy
23 In the original, this text is in German: Er nennt’s Vernunft und braucht’s allein. Nur tierischer als jedes Tier zu sein. – These are the words of Mephistophelesa from Goethe’s Faust, the Prologue in Heaven, where Mephisto criticizes God saying how his creation – man, corrupted his mind and became the greatest animal among the creatures. It is obvious that Merz applies this text to the current situation in which he found himself in relation to Dr. Malan’s immorality.
24 Merz, with his sensitive conscience, believed that he had “contributed” to her death, which is not true. Greta, a Protestant of lax moral principles, poisoned herself after allowing to be seduced by a Muslim. When he left her, and there was also talk that she remained pregnant, in despair she committed suicide.
25 esprit (French) – spirit
26 German: Du bleibst eine Hure, nur Ich bleib ein Mann.
27 Here Merz quotes a German saying about a mill stone which is in his head, illustrating his state after strenuous learning.
28 German: Glück auf!