ON THE ITALIAN BATTLEFIELD
1917 – 1918
For the moment, we shall break the course of the Diary in order to complement it with other sources and get a fuller picture on the life of Ivan Merz on the battlefield at the beginning of 1917. The first three months of that year Ivan didn’t keep the Diary, so that we have no information from him on where he was situated and what exactly he was doing. However, this void is being filled by two other sources: his correspondence with a friend, Nikola Bilogrivić and Dr. Ljubomir Maraković and the article The Warrior from the White Mountains (in Croatian) which was published ten years after Ivan’s death, i.e. in 1938 in Hrvatska prosvjeta by his war colleague and superior officer Šime Cvitanović1. In this article the author described in detail the situation on the battlefield and how Merz coped with it. The article written by this true Croatian patriot, who was killed because of that in 1945, gives us important information on the general feelings of the Croats towards World War I in the last months under Austro-Hungarian rule. Here we also find important data about the social and political situation in which the Croats found themselves after the end of the war, about the importance of the Croatian Catholic Movement, about the striving of liberal circles to harm the Catholic Church, etc. The article is relatively long, but provides very interested reading. Of course, the central figure is Ivan Merz and his character which is portrayed very realistically, including numerous details which give us a rounded picture of Merz on the battlefield as his colleagues saw him.
The second source, a door into his spirituality in that period are his letters and postcards which he sent to the young priest in Banja Luka, Nikola Bilogrivić who was ordained by the end of 1916 and whose First Mass Merz attended when he was on leave from the army. Merz himself mentions that in his Diary entry of 28 December 1916. To this we should also add two letters to Dr. Ljubomir Maraković in which Merz gives precious data on the conception of his article New Age. It is precisely from these letters from the battlefield which were written very sincerely that we can get an even fuller picture of his spirituality, what he was experiencing and going through during these months when his Diary keeps silent. We see how he managed to stand upright, how he succeeded in overcoming the difficulties and remained in mastery of the situation especially with regard to his spiritual and religious attitudes.
We reproduce firstly the article by Šime Cvitanović “Warrior from the White Mountains”. The article was written from memory in 1938, i.e. ten years after Ivan Merz’s death and 21 years after the events on the battlefield and his meetings with Ivan.
Warrior from the White Mountains
War memories of Dr. Ivan Merz
by Šime Lukin – Cvitanović
Hrvatska prosvjeta, Zagreb, 1938, No. 7/8, pp. 331–337
“Dosso del Fine, 1917 – a terrible winter – altitude 2021 m. The offensive of the Austrian heir apparent Karl2 ended miserably – Austria didn’t get what she wanted – to conquer Italy by a thrust through the Italian lowlands. They switched the decimated Dalmatian and Bosnian battalions from Val Sugano, where they destroyed the second Italian army in the region of perennial ice and snow – Monte Zingarello, Monte Zebio, Cima Dodici. It so transpired that the headquarters of the 22nd Dalmatian regiment landed on Dosso del Fine. There is a path from Osteria del Termine to Dosso del Fine, but only up to an elevation of a thousand meters, and after that one goes through tunnels of snow, over the mountain ridges, always in a danger of avalanches. There were major changes at that time in the regiment command. Higher military authorities withdrew a good and old Viennese, Colonel Zechbauer, and sent us a court official, Colonel Wolf. This Wolf was until recently the leader of Austrian Monarchists, until Hitler put an end to that group. This malicious and incapable court official got into his hands the command of the regiment by the intercession of court ladies, and his goal was to advance his career over the blood of our battalions. At that time, I was on duty in the regiment headquarters as a communications officer – my life was hard, because I had to keep in touch with the battalions day and night and with the higher command behind us. I had to gather all the news, put them in order and submit them to Colonel Wolf. My subterranean shelter was at some distance from Colonel Wolf’s shelter, so that I could work undisturbed, especially during the night, because that malicious court moron would hole up in his cave rather early, and especially at night never ventured outside. He knew that Dalmatian infantrymen are good marksmen after all.
Just at that time some of our men defected to the Italians – we knew already at that time of the existence of our expatriate circles. Every day at 4 p.m. I was receiving on Monte Salubio direct Italian press releases via our group’s radio, and in addition I was getting news from the Thessalonian front sent to the press in London. Italian radio broadcasted all of this news, and as it was situated near our radio, we were eavesdropping on them. The court moron Wolf used to get fits of rage when some of our men defected; and as I was handling the post, I read his reports in which he called us traitors, rats, lazy animals, etc. The court ladies had to send these reports further on. The final demise of the Monarchy dragged on terribly in those days. We were in great pain knowing that our people back home suffered hunger, on the frontline we were sent to the most difficult places, and every suspicious move meant death. Those of us who inherited from our civilian life, from school, from our families a deep-seated hatred of Austria – we were crucified in our pain and there were no traces of liberation in sight. My inner turmoil was terrible. I was hiding my feelings as best as I could and was spending the nights, those terrible icy nights with a glass of rum with tea. Every now and then one of our people used to come to my shelter for a brief moment of conversation and solace. Sneaking around the regiment headquarters were Germanized Czech officers and Jews – all of them Italianized Croats from the surroundings of Trieste who savagely hated the very name “Croat” – all of them enjoyed the luxury of the shelter near the regiment administration and the headquarters. So, one day at the beginning of 1917, on a cold morning a young, thin cadet trainee called upon me.
Dosso del Fine in the Dolomites where Ivan stayed at the beginning of 1917 and where he got a poetic name “Warrior from the White Mountains”.
He wore the uniform of a Bosnian soldier with a tarboosh hat and a woolen scarf around the neck and he saluted in a strict military manner: “Lieutenant, cadet trainee Hans Merz is placing himself respectfully at your service!” I hardly glanced at him when I heard the name, and within me I murmured: again, one of them was sent to me to annoy me and eat my nerves! At that very moment the telephone from the second battalion rang with a report for the regiment headquarters. The telephone operator handed me the receiver and we started to write the telegram letter by letter. In the second battalion an adjutant was a certain Slovenian, a teacher from Ljubljana – he was far from us – and still further from Slavic love in which I myself never believed, especially looking at such Slav types of black and yellow (Austro-Hungarian) patriotism. The cadet remained at attention while I was receiving the telegram. I had almost forgotten about him, and when I raised my eyes I waved at him to stand at ease and ordered one soldier to take him to the telephone operators’ shelter to sergeant Kudrić and to give him tea with bread. I read the report about him that said that this thin cadet trainee Hans Merz is being assigned to me, and the report also said that he is an excellent skier and a good fighter on high mountains. The warrior from the white mountain – I ironized the new cadet within myself. Well, we shall see about that! – I said aloud when my soldier took him into the telephone operators’ shelter! At that time the regiment needed a lot of good skiers in the communication department because the avalanches used to break the telegraph lines, and then the news had to be delivered by the skiers.
I didn’t allow the new cadet trainee to eat in the officers’ canteen because I thought he was not one of “ours”, but one of “theirs”, and I tried to stay consistent whenever I could. Every day, early in the morning the cadet had to report to me and I used to give him assignments – these were all difficult skiing assignments – but he completed everything without complaint, and proved to be very “tight” as we used to say in our military jargon. A real warrior from the white mountains. He completed the orders with precision, obligingly and without any protest, so he started to interest me more and more and I got to liking him. He was thin, had a rather long neck, long and shallow torso, supple joints and tender skin, and very little fat on him, tender muscles. I judged him medically on the outside – physicians would call the bodies of such built asthenic, and as he was very precise I sometimes used him for the telephone jobs as well.
Ivan in the middle with white cap at the beginning of 1917. His task, as a skier, was to take troops to their positions.
Among various special maps and sketches on my table in the shelter there was a small booklet written by a Spanish Jesuit Palau: Catholic in Action. This book was adapted for Croatian readers by the Archbishop of Sarajevo Ivan Ev. Šarić, and I myself got this copy from the regiment priest, a Franciscan. He told me that this was an attempt at a modern version of The Imitation of Christ. And this Spaniard really nicely and in an interesting way guides the reader through his meditations! In moments of rest I read also Cicero’s Disputationes tusculanae, and after that, as I started reading this modern Catholic booklet I felt a different tone of life, thoughts and feelings. The new cadet one day saw this book on my table and in a proper military manner asked me if I would lend it to him. – You understand Croatian, Cadet? – Actually, very well, lieutenant! – answered the cadet trainee Hans Merz.
My eyes popped out at him. Who is this young man, where is he coming from, how did he get here?
– Where are you from?
– I completed high school in Banja Luka! Well, of course you can speak Croatian then.
I gave him the book.
That night I thought a lot about this thin cadet and smoking my pipe by the telephone made a string of wrong conclusions. He is probably the son of a high-ranking German official from Bosnia – I thought. These are the most dangerous ones – I must be on double caution. Then I continued thinking about him and finally, without my knowing why, these thoughts became an obsession. I was suspicious because of his name, that’s why I planned to assign him to the headquarters sergeant Kudrić – who was my man – and he would know how to fix the young trainee. Then, a new thought popped into my mind – I knew that somewhere in Banja Luka there is a teacher, Dr. Lj. Maraković – an amiable person among the pre-war teachers, who was one of the important ideologues of the young Croatian Catholic Students. What Dr. Maraković wrote in the Luč magazine was avidly read by the pupils at that time – including me. I will try and see if he knows our Dr. Ljubo – and if he doesn’t, I will continue to beware of him and behave accordingly. Dr. Ljubo Maraković was at that time the cornerstone of the Croatian Catholic National Student Organization because nearly all the pupils were drafted into the army, into a war that wouldn’t stop, and among the people new and important issues arose that had to be addressed, and there were no laborers. That morning when the cadet reported to me I asked him to sit and ordered a soldier to bring him tea with bread and butter from the officers’ canteen, because I wanted to test him. The cadet enjoyed officer tea and ate the bread and butter with appetite. When he was done, I asked him straightforwardly, because I wanted to be in the clear:
– So, you completed high school in Banja Luka… And do you know the teacher Maraković?
– He was my teacher from the fifth grade on!
– And have you been in closer contact with him?
– Yes – from the organization3! – he responded sincerely.
This sincerity shocked me. I immediately changed my opinion and the tone of speech.
– So, you are an organized Croatian Catholic Student?
– Yes, lieutenant!
I got up, turned towards him and shook his hand.
– So, we belong to the same organization! From now on, outside of the service we are comrades, and to be even closer to each other, we will call each other by first names. Please, outside of the service call me a comrade, as is a tradition in our organization. The young cadet was transformed; he was happy as a child. He didn’t know how to start talking to me; maybe it was too sudden for him to see the practical power of the Croatian Catholic National Student Organization.
Comrade, I said, from now on you are my guest here; admittedly, you still have no access to the officers’ canteen, but I run it in a way, and from today on, you will get officer food here in my shelter. One of my soldiers will bring it to you, and I will arrange for a bed for you here beside me. You can thank for all of that to the fact that you are an organized Croatian Catholic Student and that you know our Ljubo Maraković who introduced you into our organization. We organized students must know our duty towards one another. This is how two unknown comrades met in Dosso del Fine, two members of the Croatian Catholic National Student Organization in order to help each other and to prove that the bond of this organization was strong at that time, that it was idealistic and unselfish.
The vicious winter of 1917 in Dosso del Fine made almost every movement impossible, but for the two of us it was since that time more pleasant and bearable. When Ivan had to take a telegram to some company or another headquarters, he would vanish like an arrow down the white slopes, and he would come back to the shelter frozen but happy, to warm up with a cup of tea with toast. I ironized him now, but not maliciously as before, and I would greet him: “warrior from the white mountains, come, have a cup of tea, rightly deserved by a mountain warrior!” He would laugh and tried to raise my spirits, because due to difficult circumstances I began to be desperate.
View of Bolzano (Bozen) where Ivan used to descend from the surrounding mountains into the Franciscan church for Mass, confession and Communion.
The picture of Croatia at that time was terrible and painful… Pre-war times gave birth to liberalism and progressivism and as a reaction to that the movement of the Croatian Catholic Students was formed. Progressivism and liberalism, assisted morally and financially by the Freemasonic lodges and other subversive elements took it as their main goal to destroy Catholicism in Croatian people. We knew exactly what their key aim was, because the entire Croatian people felt the fruits of this mean labor on their bloody backs. Everything was being thrown into battle, the Croats had to be slandered as backward, ultramontanist, servants of Austria – Catholicism had to be destroyed as the last obstacle en route to this goal. Many of those people are still today fighting for the same cause albeit under a different name.
The Starčević youth at that time was watered down, receiving amongst its ranks heaps of liberal yes-men who inflicted mortal wounds upon Croatia in 1918, and later even worse. Several of us in Zadar, for example, as early as 1910 had to destroy such a Starčević youth organization and urgently establish the Croatian Catholic National Student Organization; today we have proof that we were right, because many members of that former Starčević organization are now on the other side of the barricades and swim in suspicious waters. Some of them gave orders to shoot into the live flesh of their people in 1918, and what happened later, I better not even mention.
When the Croatian Catholic National Student Organization was born and made its first steps, the picture of Croatia was sad. This organization took it upon itself to educate the characters for future work among the people, and this could be achieved in only one way – to defend the organization which the progressives and liberals tried to destroy – the Church, to be educated by Her and within Her – and to serve their people. One of the strongest ideologues of this movement was Dr. Ljubo Maraković; that’s why I wanted to hear from my new army comrade Ivan Merz everything that he had heard from that man, because the war was dragging on for too long and I lost touch with our members.
Franciscan church in Bolzano (Bozen) where Ivan used to come for confession
and Communion at the beginning of 1917.
It stands written in my notes what the late Merz spoke about Dr. Maraković:
– He introduced me into another life – opened my eyes – he took the trouble to make us good laborers on the unplowed field of our miserable condition. From the fifth grade onwards, he was my teacher and my guide.
And really, the idea of our movement in the interpretation of Dr. Maraković had a great power. The proof of that was this young man who was not a Croat by birth, neither by his parentage, nor by tradition and whom Maraković won over for his cause. He did it by means of a great and righteous idea. Merz, of course, was no national revolutionary, as some wanted to represent him; it was enough that he became a loyal member of the Croatian people and worked unselfishly for the good of that people. He learned to be a Croat, so why give him the pretensions of a national revolutionary in any form when he would be an equally good German, Frenchman or Italian, had he been raised among those peoples. As it happened, he was recruited into the Croatian Catholic National Student Organization and, under the guidance of Dr. Maraković, became an exemplary member of the movement and by that very fact, a good Croat. It was a lucky set of circumstances that he came among us, became one of us, worked for us and therefore he is ours. The bonds of ideas are stronger than blood bonds, and these bonds tied him to the Croatian people embodied in the Croatian Catholic National Student Organization.
One terrible night while the storm was moving mountains of snow around us, we were sitting in the corner of our shelter and, by the fireplace, developed our favorite topic: what should our organization specifically do now?
– Dr. Maraković was creating an organization for the education of characters – said Merz.
– And as you were in his organization, you warrior from the white mountains – what does it follow from that? – I continued with a grin!
He blushed, as he was very humble.
– Speak, speak, cadet trainee!
– Well, he wanted to instill in us the notion of what it means to have character!
– You maneuvered your way out! – I laughed at his humbleness.
But he was reading every day the booklet Catholic in Action and not only reading, but he started to discuss it with me at length. I saw that this young man was on the right track to becoming a modern practical Catholic worker.
Then, on one difficult day the warrior from the white mountains had to go to Bozen, to take some report to a higher headquarters. I supplied him with additional rations while he tightened a rifle against his back, wrapped the scarf around his neck, stepped on the skis and disappeared over the white mountains like an arrow. I didn’t note on which date this occurred, but when he came back several days later, he was elated. Contrary to that, I thought that I might have to hospitalize him.
– Why are you so happy? After such a strenuous task, I would collapse!
– Listen, in Bozen I found a Franciscan. He mentioned his name, but I didn’t note it down; I only know that he was a professor of theology.4
Ivan made friends with him and confided to me that during all those days while he was in Bozen, this Franciscan exerted a great influence on him.
– He introduced me into the secrets of systematic meditation! I hardly even understood what he meant by that!
– But please, can you do one important thing for me?
– You have the authority, let me go to him to Bozen from time to time.
– How about colonel Wolf?
– You are the section commander, find me an opportunity!
He was begging with such a persuasion, that I couldn’t refuse him. From then on I let him go to Bozen frequently, and he would come back happier every time.
– You know – he told me once – Dr. Maraković taught me to be systematic in everything; now I see the value of his words, since I established companionship with that Franciscan.
I must admit, there were times when it was hard for me to be without him, because our circumstances grew worse and worse. However, in spite of everything I always found a way to let him go to Bozen and to furnish him with food. Ivan used to go to Bozen every Sunday, and I managed to hide his absence from Colonel Wolf’s eyes. The last topic which he shared with me before my departure from the regiment was the following: a man must be thorough in his profession, whatever this profession might be.
Cloister of the Franciscan monastery in Bolzano (Bozen) where Ivan met the Croatian Franciscan priest Vjenceslav Bart who then became his spiritual director during the war.
He talked a lot about this topic with the Franciscan priest and said that that will be his favorite topic which he will practically elaborate when the war is over. He said that he will now follow the instructions of Dr. Maraković with a new zeal, because it was only then that he fully understood him, as well as the Students’ Organization through which our Dr. Ljubo Maraković tried to educate and create characters.
For me, however, circumstances in the regiment became terrible. The court moron Colonel Wolf wanted my scalp. I had to disappear from his view. They gave me a different posting. My farewell with Ivan was sorrowful. He came to love me as his brother because that is how I accepted him after learning that he belonged to the same organization as I did. Although he was not born in a peasant home as I was, he could understand to the minutest detail every political vibration of us common people, and realized that in this people the Church must be preserved at all costs. Without hesitation, he enrolled among the fighters who strived to preserve an unblemished notion of the Church, because this notion was the only guarantee of existence which Croatia had. He possessed enormous energy and a developed character. Everything he began he completed systematically.
The thin cadet, warrior from the white mountains, wanted to give me a token of his love when we parted, and gave me his dearest booklet: The Imitation of Christ. I still keep this booklet on which he wrote with his own hand: Hans Merz, Dosso del Fine, 19 February 1917, 6th Infantry Division, 3rd Corps, 11th Army. Whoever knows the late Merz, knows what this gift meant.
It was hard for us to part. He told me so many times to visit, if I ever manage, Dr. Maraković, his teacher. – I am thankful to him for everything – he used to say often – and he repeated those words also the last time when I descended from the white mountains down into the valley where he escorted me.
I became unreliable on the frontline, and therefore superfluous. They dispatched me into the Gyula Fehérvári fortress, present-day Alba Iulia, the domain of the Romanian peasants’ tribune, Dr. Maniu. They liquidated me as they wanted!
Ivan’s ski unit in a brief moment of rest. Ivan is first to the left (in the upper row).
But we are prone to forget things. So it came that people forgot that Merz was a spiritual child of Dr. Lj. Maraković, that he introduced him into the Croatian Catholic Movement and made him one of us! Why was that forgotten? For this reason, I decided to put down on paper what Merz told me, to retrieve it from oblivion. And then, when the chains were broken and the rotten Monarchy fell through, that structure built of the sighs of the miserable, we met a long time after that in Zagreb. I was miserable again, because circumstances did not work in my favor. Liberalism brought up a generation of progressivist intelligentsia, which tried to strangle both Croatia and Catholicism. Our old comrades had to get to work as best as they could – always with pure intentions! They were necessary, very necessary, and this is being forgotten today! Maybe they helped to an extent, as much as they could! None of them made a career by working for the Movement. They were never after that anyway. Servi inutiles sumus (We are useless servants)5 – they would say of themselves – but they worked as best as they could and knew. This is what Merz has been telling me and it made me glad. He took me to his mother to show her, as he then said, his benefactor. I protested at being called by such majestic name, because I only considered myself to be his comrade. We were bound together by the ties of the Croatian Catholic National Student Organization, and these ties were strong and powerful – miracles happened.
Ten years have passed since his death. I wanted to write these few lines in order to put some things in their true perspective, things which, although they seem small, are nevertheless important also today. This is primarily the fact that one humble but strong man, Dr. Lj. Maraković introduced, inspired and educated the late Merz for the Croatian Catholic Movement and that this work means a new furrow in the field of Croatian nation which bore and continues to bear fruit.
The warrior from the white mountains – as I called him – will surely be thankful for these words by his war comrade because I mentioned some forgotten details on which the entire truth about him depends, and he always respected truth above all.
* * *
with Dr. Lj. Maraković and friend N. Bilogrivić
Seewiesen, 6 February 1917
Admires the beauty of Alpine nature even on the battlefield, thinks of death
During the war, Ivan also kept a correspondence with his former teacher Dr. Maraković. A letter which he sent at the beginning of February 1917 fills a void at a time when he didn’t keep the Diary. Ivan describes the environment and circumstances of his military life:
“We are only a couple of kilometers from the frontline; deep sound of cannon is heard at intervals – dumm – duuum. We are far from people at an altitude of 2050 m, surrounded by mountains a thousand meters higher. Ragged rocks, former coral islands (The Dolomites) jut vertically from the ground. Here we climb, look into the distance, far, far away into the empire of the mountains stretching all around us. The snow is deep, and we go everywhere on skis. Imagine the moonlight at such altitude; the mountains are like apparitions, and lonely firs are black, casting their sharp shadows on the silvery snow. One ought to see these Alpine beauties. Along with all this poetry I desire to have peace and to work. (…) I read Jorgensen, and then Dante’s New Life. The problem (only the problem!) of love interested me, so now I am in the clear. I found here The Diary of a Superfluous Man (Turgenev) and I am reading it for the third time. It is strange how, at a different age, one finds something else here; interests change during reading. Now, of course, I am mostly interested in the passages about death and I am amazed at how correctly he analyzes the feelings of the dying. The mood is so permeated by deep poetry that one unwittingly utters the words: in valle lacrimarum (in the valley of tears).”
Postcards to friend Bilogrivić
With his close friend, theology student Nikola Bilogrivić who was ordained a priest by the end of 1916, Merz was in written contact during his stay on the Italian battlefield; he was also present at Nikola’s First Mass, as he mentions in his Diary of 28 December 1916. Their correspondence is preserved. From this material, we singled out several postcards6 which Ivan sent to his friend Nikola from the battlefield, describing his position and situation. The contents of these postcards complement what is lacking in Ivan’s Diary from that period and provide us with a glimpse into Ivan’s inner life, revealing the spiritual richness of his soul. They are a proof that he led an intensive spiritual life also on the battlefield and how he looked upon everything from a religious perspective, growing spiritually all the time. On the postcards Merz regularly left his address, and stated his rank “Cadet trainee, Mountain guide” and then the military postal address. Nikola Bilogrivić was at that time in the Sarajevo Seminary where he was completing his theology studies. On one postcard, which he sent to Nikola immediately after his First Mass, Merz, aware of the mortal danger in which he found himself the last few months, wrote about his eight diary notebooks which were kept at his parents’ place in Banja Luka; he asked his friend to take them in case of his death. We understand from this fact that he valued his Diary, and only today we see how right he was. If it wasn’t for his Diary we would never know many valuable details about his personality and the path which God chose to guide him toward sanctity.
Merz signed his letters and postcards with “Hans”. This is the name given to him by his parents at baptism, and this is how everyone called him in Banja Luka. After the war, he signed letters with the Croatian version of his baptismal name – Ivan.
Seewiesen, Obersteiermark, 28 December 1916.
Instructions to a friend what to do with the Diary in case of his death
Dear Nina! As many have left this place and went to Tyrol, I am asking you, should anything “happen” to me, to take my diaries which are inside my desk (from the left side, middle drawer!) and are numerated with red ink from I to VIII. So, in case something “happens”, take them as a present from me, so you can leaf through them with Marković. I believe that, along with high school stuff, your will find nice evaluations of different works and in the last (VIII) part maybe feel the breath of a new epoch in my life.
Regards for now
St. Christina, Tyrol, 26 January 1917
A deep experience of piousness in the Franciscan church
Pax+ My dear Nina! Thank you for your card. It arrived… In Bozen (Bolzano) I liked it a lot. I got some idea of what the religious life in middle Ages was. On Sunday thousands of people went into the church (Franciscan!) and out. A real dense traffic. Communion was being offered all the time. But, what impressed me the most is something I saw when, just before my leave – it was a working day – I went to the church to get rid of my sins and to receive the Greatest One who loves us weaklings so much. I never hoped to see such a scene, outside it was still dark, only here and there one could see a shrouded person hurrying somewhere. Otherwise it was silent. When I stepped into the great Baroque church, I was touched by the fact that the pews were full of people sitting motionless like ghosts; on all the altars, in front and on the sides (there are over a dozen) the friars with large tonsures celebrated masses in beautiful red mantles. Every little while on one of the altars tiny bells rang, and then at another altar the priest turned around and, spreading his arms, whispered: “Dominus vobiscum”.
Interior of the Franciscan church in Bolzano (Bozen) where Ivan went to Mass in the first months of 1917.
The church makes an indescribably deep impression when, along with the mystical glow of many, many candles this mystery of all the mysteries is being repeated at the same moment. And the people go in silence to the main altar where the priest in some black laced robe hands out the Lord’s Bread.
The feeling is one of being on an island in the middle of a stormy sea; on an island of a true and real life. From those small women who suffered and understood in their lives the sphynx of life, there shines in those great moments, when they approach the Lord’s Table, some supernatural light which fills the entire church with melodies of inaudible songs of the angels. I cannot find words to express how a religious environment has a positive effect on me!
Having said this I wish to comment on your thought about religious life in Banja Luka. You are right in saying that it is non-existent. One ought to have seen other, real religious places, in order to judge. In Banja Luka two-three women pray in the church due to old age, and that is all. Either that world didn’t suffer and therefore doesn’t understand or feel that great mystery of the transubstantiation, or maybe due to swearing – which is our biggest sin – is so bogged down that one great personality ought to come to save it.
Earlier I thought that our people were very religious, but I came to the conclusion that their religion is more a tradition inherited from our fathers. Imagine: here every town has its saint, real saints on whose intercession miracles happen; I was astonished, but it’s true. And with us? It would be difficult to find someone who is a blessed. (Many say about Eckhart that he died as a saint! – by the way!) What are our churches like? It’s a shame. I see here that even the smallest village has a church that could adorn Zagreb. Here are the artistic paintings, large organs and the rest.
Our people are probably like that due to the Turks. I am often with them; when I hear that they always have the same filthy things in their mouths, I think odi prafanum vulgus7. It’s a sin, but this pagan thought intrudes upon my mind.
I criticized others a lot, but I am eager to see what kind of a practical Catholic I am going to be in enduring these military pains. I often have death on my mind, and with all my belief in the afterlife I am overcome by fear. Pray for me, it will make it easier for me.
For the moment, it is all right with me in St. Kristina; I ride on skis a lot. I made good friends with a member of Domagoj, a friar in Bozen (Fr. Vjenceslav Barta)8. He is not a Bosnian friar. (You will understand!)
Keep these cards. Greetings Ivan
Merz Hans, Bergführer Ersatz
K.U.K. Feldpostamt 605, Bozen, Tirol
Dolomites, 28 March 1917
Celebration of White Sunday in sunny Alpine nature
+ Dear Nino,
The White Sunday dawned. The white regions of the Alps with their peaks and valleys are shining in their whiteness. Dark green pines rise majestically from the snow proud of their light-blue background. Light, light and brilliance everywhere. In the valley, there is a small chapel, covered by branches and in the front, there is a wooden cross. On the right under the rocks black from smoke, there are small barracks from which smoke emerges. In front of the chapel about twenty soldiers kneel: black, burned faces and dark raincoats…and the sun and light everywhere, brilliance, beauty, only these men are black and miserable.
They are receiving Communion. That small white Host, white and shining goes on this bright day to these dark exhausted people. They crossed their arms over their chests, lowered their heads to the ground and experience this Mystery within themselves.
All nature is wonderful, everything except man is happy and beautiful. This is what it looks like at first sight. Their soul is today cleaner and brighter than this enormous light of the Alpine Sunday; all this greatness of nature is only a symbol of the human soul. And this miserable, broken, black body doesn’t really belong here, it must perish and come into harmony with the rest of the beauty.
I am all right. Regards Ivan
K.U.K. Feldpostamt, 369, Infanteriergiment Graf von Lacy Nr. 22, Merz Hans, Bergführer
Military chaplain celebrating Mass for the soldiers on the battlefield
(Ivan sent this photo as a postcard to his father on 2 April 1917)
29 April 1917
Escorted Orthodox soldiers to receive Communion from their military priest
My dear Nina!
On a stormy lake, in a small boat the apostles feared for their lives. Jesus was with them, and they believed that He was asleep. Oh, how small was their faith! I myself, although I believe in everything and know that my present life and danger of death is that stormy lake, I still fear as if God had forgotten me and fell asleep. How small is my faith! He knows what will happen to me, and why am I still afraid of death?! It is miserable!
As there is no Catholic priest with the regiment, today I went to an Orthodox priest and took my men (Orthodox) to receive Communion. I was considering receiving Him myself, but when I saw that “atmosphere”, I decided to wait and not go with the Orthodox company. Although I approached the Orthodox priest without any Bosnian prejudices, I found many things repulsive; there is not a trace of the mystical and deep faith. “It is hard for us priests, we must always speak the truth and be sincere” (isn’t this true of everybody?). Or “If they want us to play truant, we shall play truant” and others. I don’t intend to judge the man, but it is so characteristic of our Bosnian Orthodox priests.
I cannot tell you how sorry I am that the Churches are divided; this has a catastrophic impact on mankind! And here is something about our Bosniaks! I am overwhelmed with horror when I hear their speech, their songs. Everything is decadent in the worst possible sense; they feel and think decadently. I believe this is the bad influence of the Muslims who, due to the strictness of their laws, lost all contact with religion. Precisely because they transgressed the basic laws (pork, alcohol), I believe that a nation that swears so much doesn’t deserve freedom. They ought to set up a lay order which will have as its task the suppression of swearing.
By all means, the war will not be over soon; the nations have not yet seen what life is and who is commanding up there.
Give my regards to everybody I know!
Kdt. Asp. Merz Hans, Fr. 369,bh 2 R stab, Bergführer
The origins of the article “New Age”
At the end of 1916, living on the battlefield and in constant mortal danger, Merz was experiencing the situation in which he found himself, and which was filled with suffering, pain, fear and uncertainty. This prompted him to think seriously about it, and he noted his thoughts firstly in his Diary entry of 17 December 1916. Then he copied them down, edited a little bit and sent to his teacher Dr. Ljubomir Maraković. At that time, he didn’t think that he might publish this material as an article. His very sincere cover letter sent to Dr. Maraković along with the article shows his strong inner need to share his thoughts and knowledge from the battlefield with someone, and the first was his former teacher. We are especially impressed by his words at the beginning of the letter when he said that this article is written “by his own blood”. Maraković responded with a postcard and proposed to publish this article, in other words something that Merz was not initially contemplating. However, he agreed with the suggestion and, through his friend Bilogrivić, asked that the article be returned to him, in order that he might prepare it for publication. We read about this on his postcard of 7 May 1917 sent to Bilogrivić who sent him this first draft back to the battlefield. At the end of 1917, staying in the location of Rocca in the Dolomites, as he mentions in his Diary from those days, Merz copied the article and gave the date of transcription: Rocca, 19 December 1917. Along with a copy of the manuscript Merz added a short letter to Bilogrivić which reads: “Dear Nina! I finally copied the manuscript. I am sending it to you for review and proofreading. I don’t know where I shall be tomorrow. Cordial greetings, Hans – Rocca, 19 December 1917.
While the original text of the article is lost, the copy remains preserved and is kept in the Ivan Merz Archive in Zagreb.
After the war when Merz continued his studies in Vienna, in February of 1919 he read this article as a lecture in the renewed Academic Society “Croatia” in Vienna. As his biographers stress, those who listened to him on that occasion remained under a strong impression of his thoughts. 9
The article was finally published in Luč magazine, No. 9-10, 1919, pp. 210-214. This was Merz’s first published article. We can consider it to be his programmatic article for his further life because in it he indirectly announces that he is a participant of this “New Age” which starts with the end of World War I and all the misfortunes which occurred in that war.
As this article was written on the battlefield and “with his own blood”, it should be attached to Merz’s Diary and published here. The article reveals the most intimate part of Merz’s spirituality, what he was going through and what conclusions he made face to face with suffering and death during his stay in the army. He documents his new findings which will be relevant for his further life after the war.
Comparing this manuscript with the one published in Luč in 1919, we find some small variations and additions which do not substantially alter the content of the article and its message. The version published in Luči has been published again in the 2nd volume of Collected Works of Ivan Merz, Zagreb, 2011, pp. 17-22 (in Croatian).
Before the article itself, we bring the most important parts from two of Ivan’s cover letters to Dr. Maraković connected to the article. We also added Ivan’s postcard to his friend Bilogrivić from which it is visible how much he cared that the article be preserved. At the end, we publish the article according to the manuscript preserved from 1917.
The war zone in the Dolomites (Photo: I. Merz)
Seewiesen, January 1917 – (20 years and 1 month)
An article written by his own blood
Dear Ljuba! (…)
This article which I enclose is written “in my own blood” (allow me to express myself tragically). I am aware that it is written in a dry and bad style and that this topic should be elaborated much deeper. I wanted to illustrate all this and invigorate it with Dante’s verses, because he is the only poet who fully understood the meaning of pain, but I have no books at my disposal, and such a topic requires a lot of preparatory work. I also don’t have the time for that.
I wrote this simply because I had to. I was in a kind of craziness all the time; I had to explain to myself for the thousandth time the meaning of life when I saw one soldier slip off a rock into the abyss and remain dead. Also, when I had to observe with silence how this “cultured, emancipated” age hangs people by a stick. 10
The thought that I might be sent at any moment to the frontline and suffer there, maybe even get killed, supported me in this work. I had to find my place in that world at all costs and justify to myself, or rather, prove to myself that everything is good and reasonable because it exists. The inner agitation and unconscious fear of death left me for a moment (or I imagine this to be) and I am suffering patiently and willingly everything that I am exposed to. With this article, I have made my peace with fate, for the time being.
I had lots of luck until now. Suljić already went to the field, and I slipped away from the infantry units. Some from my immediate surroundings already started going to Bozen, and of the Bosniaks there is no news yet. You see that I have all the luck I can take. I am ready to go every moment, but, thank God, nothing has been ordered yet. I was at home for Christmas. Bilogrivić had his First Mass and I spent nearly the whole day with the Trappist monks. Really, these people lead a great life. (…)
Dosso del Fine, 2 March 1917 – (20 years and 3 months)
The background of the article “New Age”
My dear teacher! Your card surprised me. I wrote that little piece firstly for my own sake, because I wanted to get straight with the life that grabbed me; I wanted to explain to myself that “everything is justified because it exists”. Only when it was written, I felt the urge to share it with someone, and naturally, this was you. If you think that it is appropriate for publication, I leave it entirely to you; if not, please keep it until I return from the battlefield. I have no duplicates.
There are no developments on the frontline; every day we witness aircraft battles. Shrapnel and bullets fly our way frequently, but there is no real danger for now.
Good bye! Ivan
Zingarella, 7 May 1917 – (20 years and 5 months)
Concern for the manuscript “New Age”
+ Dear Nikolo!11 Now that you are in Ljubo’s vicinity12, ask him to give you my article New Age, take it to Banja Luka and give it to my parents – if you find them at home – if not you keep it and pray to God that we meet as soon as possible.
Of course, I remember Horvat; when we were visiting the Trappist monks, he was brave enough and took into his hands the electricity-producing machine. I didn’t dare. (…) Otherwise, pretty bad; the people are demoralized.
Sent by: Merz Hans, Kadett-Asp. Bergführer, Feldpost 369, bh 2, Rstab
Austrian army in front of the barracks in Dolomites before going to the frontline in 1917
(Photo: I. Merz)
THE ARTICLE “NEW AGE”
(Copy of the manuscript of 19 December 1917)
Ecce in cruce totum constat
et in moriendo totum iacet.
De Im. Chr., II. 12.13
Life is terrible; pain, suffering and evil permeate it in eternal variations and give it their mark. Where pain disappears, life vanishes too – this is when doubts and sin are born. All of this is confirmed by the great epochs in the development of mankind and great works of art. They are the reflection of pain and by them we can judge how and how much the people were suffering at that time.
When mankind acquired sufficient means for a comfortable material life, and the struggle for survival subsided, the pain of the spirit was born. This, in turn, by means of thinking, arrives at a realization of the tragedy of human life: a lack of understanding and the horror of sin. The periods which represent this life view are decadent.14
Pain is always present in the world. Just like the waves of the sea caress the coast at times of silence, and when the storm comes, they flood and take apart everything, so does pain. At times of peace it affects those who are nearest to it, and when a storm hits mankind, then the pain flows all over and shakes everything, both near and far. Whoever entered in the workers’ apartments and observed a gradual dying of the living, unfortunate people is sufficiently convinced in that. And what is the situation now?
The wounded on the battlefield of World War I (Photo: I. Merz)
War rages like a storm, a hot, red blood is streaming from the wounds of living people who, in their moments of agony cry for their distant mother and try to muster the grains of faith which, in the hurry of the world, they have long forgotten. Poor people, without roof and shelter, often without a cover, brave the elements of nature: rain, snow, cold and hunger. These people on the battlefields said good-bye to this life long ago and go into the jaws of death with only a slight fear. And what to say of those who suffer hunger and remain home full of sorrow and fear for those who are in danger? How many people are there who knew only pleasure, but were shaken by this pain which gave their thoughts a completely new direction?
Pain has created and creates new generations.
All history is written by blood. The creations of the human mind, the culture, even religions which are the most important factors in the development of mankind, just like the Jewish religion and Christianity, are the products of people who suffer. Pain saved man from dullness and instilled in his heart the fear of an even greater and unknown pain. Who wants to understand the purpose of life, at least to an extent, and also understand culture, must suffer in body and soul. Theoreticians, sitting in a warm, brightly lit room at a filling meal, have everything that pleases the body but will never understand the idea of life. Religion with all its dogmas and rituals will remain a mystery to them, and they will never understand that rational beings go into dark, cold temples, and, humbling themselves to the extreme, pray kneeling on the hard, stone floor. But, let them step into the real life, the rainy nights without shelter, in a terrible darkness, hungry and thirsty. Let them climb the gorges above abysses into which they can plunge at any moment, let them see a hundred dismembered bodies which lie motionless like logs, or let them listen to the cries of the wounded from whose flesh the red blood flows, and whose eyes wonder in a daze, seeking something beyond grasp. I don’t know if they will then dare conclude that “a man is the product of necessity, an eternal music of the universe, only a monotonous rattle of a huge mill powered by the electricity of chance, a mill without his maker and miller, a real perpetuum mobile, a mill that mills by itself” (Novalis). Those who do not change their views will at least keep silent, and like in Kranjčević’s last Adam the big question mark will always hover in front of their eyes…
We should approach life naked: “Without a bag for the journey, or extra tunic or sandals or the staff” (Matthew 10:10), fight with nature as a primeval man and come out victorious. Only then will one see that life is not a philosophical system created in a library or a laboratory, but one very serious and real thing that one must get to know in person.
The life of Christ himself who went through the battle for the entire human race and the pain of the entire history shows that the meaning of life is pain: mysterium crucis. The Gospel and the development of Christianity are epic stories of pain. The lives of great individuals are only verses in this grand poem. “Whoever wants to be my disciple, must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). A little further on, there are even more touching words which stress the tragic nature of human life, the words of the man of pain: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).
How many generations have lived in the dawn of time, who felt this pain? So many people have experienced even today in themselves this part of history; they understood that this is a key chapter in the life of Christ. All history, the present life of mankind and individuals is interwoven by similar motifs like a mosaic. To live deeply means “To take up your cross daily” (Luke 9:23).
I love the people of the present generation, those who suffered and realized the seriousness of life. They practically resolved the Faustian problem. Namely, all philosophizing is useless if done in a comfortable gothic room by the moonlight; in this manner, the sphynx of life cannot be fathomed. It is easy to say:
“Habe nun ach! Philosophie, Juristerei und Medizin
Und leider auch TheologieDurchaus studiert mit heissen Bemüh’n.“
It is even easier, equipped with all the means, to enter the maelstrom of life and seduce an innocent girl. But if Faust had had to fight for his daily bread or if he had lived through the pain of war in all its phases, he would certainly have come to the result to which many unknown people came; people who carried on their shoulders all the burden of history, dying, dying anonymously.
It is not some great thing to sit in a warm room, surrounded by old skulls and without pain pass into the other world drinking poison from an antique vial; it is quite another to suffer and fight, and at the same time fight with oneself. Only then does one notice that pain is the juice of history which takes us from one epoch to another; which raises millions on their feet, creates nations, topples thrones and very effectively crushes sin. The death of Christ and the history of Christianity confirm this thought in reality and symbolically.
Ivan – officer in World War I
Today’s pain will also instill in the present generation its eternal stamp. One can already see the traces of new people who are going through the deep and great life within themselves.
The life of an individual is the source of everything. Compared to it, art and science and everything else are secondary. The art of life or wisdom as the Old ones called it is the thread that weaves its way throughout history. It created states and put its stamp in all the branches of culture. Great persons who were able to live deeply and unselfishly even in the minutest moments of life, in spite of all the contrary strivings of the body and temporality, are the inexhaustible and only workers on the building of mankind. They are the creators of positive history. Such persons exist always, they act publicly or unnoticed. All the culture, all the heritage of the human spirit is their work.
The ethical side of life is becoming actual. Esthetic questions are in the background because we are dealing with life and death, self-sacrifice, self-denial and heroism. Dante’s terrible pictures, full of reality and truth: dismembered corpses, hunger, blood and skulls filled the earth and present-day person must come to terms with all that: to understand the purpose of these horrors and integrate them into his world-view. Esthetic questions will be born as the necessary consequence of all these momentous problems; but this will not be an easy and pretty play, l’art pour l’art that was created by the artist in a splendid atelier or an ornate park, without any deeper experience. An artist is not a bird that sings when it wants, but a priest, a prophet, a superhuman being who promotes the ideas of the world and like the Arch-artist creates the microcosms, the worlds unto themselves. They are in harmony with the rest of the universe; they reveal to the non-artist the great works and their ideas. It is blood and tears which usually drive the artist into his working temple.
If we want to have a great state, great epochs and great works and fulfil our assignment in history, we need equally great persons. This was said touchingly by Varga in his Artist of the Eternal Pen, and Carlyle has similar thoughts: “Because to live in this world is a very serious matter, death is no joke for a human, life was never a toy, it was harsh reality and a very serious matter.” Aware of that, we shall understand life and we shall understand that there are people who renounce the world and life ascetically, in contemplation, and find happiness. For us too, the universe must be the monastery, workshop and temple.
It is not so terrible and devoid of color as it seems at first instance; one ought only to try to live in such a way in order to discover a life full of happiness, work and splendor. – We will be happy looking upon this visible world, the dignity of man and the supernatural beauty of pain which makes man the ruler of temporality, and we will feel happiness at its deepest diving into ourselves, into that other, broad, spiritual world, full of perspective and color which Novalis wrote about in such a beautiful way and which is the abode of the mystics. This life of the soul is truly that real, unchangeable, eternal life which doesn’t know the beginning or end. For us, ordinary humans it is too dark, we are barely aware of it, but the more ethically we live, the greater our perspectives will be.
Humans are terribly weak and can do little without somebody’s help. For that reason, He stepped from eternity into history and, having become the center of entire macrocosm, gave us Himself in order to transform us p h y s i c a l l y and spiritually. Let us not forget this immeasurable love and let us devote a greater attention to the small, white Host which waits upon us alone in cold churches. The world goes on living as if this miracle of miracles never happened, the miracle upon which with a huge yearning the whole macrocosm has been waiting for eons (Solovyov!).
Whoever lived or at least tried to live in this way surely perceived the world in a completely different light and felt clearly the terrible threads of sin into which the present-day society got entangled. We must suffer a lot of pain (pain is no joke!) in order to perfect ourselves at least up to a point; on every step a lot of tears will be shed, and a lot of blood, but without pain and toil there is no life. The German mystic Tauler says: “Remember well, you people who think, the swiftest horse which carries you to perfection is suffering.”
We must take advantage of this great epoch; we ought to educate great persons who will establish a great homeland. We must liberate our spirit from the temporality and with a clear look observe the evolution of life. This ought to be the goal of new people. Battle for perfection, asceticism must be our daily bread. It opens the inner vistas, makes us unselfish, supports in us the battle against evil and gives us strength to endure. Asceticism gives us the power to withstand pain and protects us from pessimism which unfortunately was insurmountable for many already at the first difficulty.
Due to completely new circumstances which appeared during this war, various frictions appeared in our public life. They are characteristic for transitional epochs. But we immediately felt the spirit of the new age because we really live strongly. However, some borders were crossed: instead of unconditionally necessary discussions, unnecessary quarrels were born. The spirit of weakness sneaked into our ranks; ephemeral political issues divided us. We forgot the cosmopolitism of the Church and its path through the centuries, along with its developed political program16 which is based on the teachings of Christ. National egoism sneaked into enflamed spirits as they forgot all humbleness and self-denial and began to demonstrate to the world their virtues while at the same time exposing to those whom they do not even respect the drawbacks of their closest brothers. Instead of building further, we started to demolish what we built together with great pain.
We must therefore dedicate all our attention to the education of ourselves and to the study of Catholicism which we are, unfortunately, ignorant of, like some elementary school pupils.
To create great people is the aim of the national Catholic Movement because they will be the only ones who will know how to cope with difficulty and will withstand with some inner joy the pain which is the accompaniment of every development, every epoch, every deepest artistic creation. In cruce totum constat et in moriendo totum iacet.17 Rocca, 19 December 1917
Continuation of the War Diary
Zingarella, 31 March 1917 – (20 years and 3 months)18
Bad situation on the battlefield
War cannot last long. One old man from Sinj was telling me that they wrote to him from home how in one house nine people died of hunger. Nina19 put the following note between the lines: “People are hungry here. Between Pale and Višegrad they are dying of hunger.” Along with that, some days ago, two sergeants fled to the Italians and left a letter encouraging others to follow their suit. War has dragged on for too long, and the army doesn’t see why it is fighting at all. Along with that, the news from home is lethal. Political circumstances, especially the plan of the Germans to impose German as the state language also has a bad effect on people. People are hungry here; today we didn’t even have corn bread, but only toast.
Area in the Dolomites where Ivan moved during World War I
Review and critique of the novel The Way of Love of the Czech Catholic writer I. Baar
This is the work of the Czech Catholic modern manner. Nothing especially new. The motif, idea – mysterium crucis – is great, but the elaboration is too fragmented. (…) In this age, when liberalism triumphs, the Catholic spiritual life should penetrate through this current in order to emerge clear and new, completely new and great. One should only take into one’s hands Verlaine, Huysmans, Jörgensen and others in order to see that Catholicism is an inexhaustible source of poetry, that modern Catholics – the key protagonists – are completely new people who, along with all the modern education, have a naive, deep faith which they deepen even more by studying the arts and the lives of great Christian personalities.
And what do we have here? Not a single scene of religious life, not a single prayer. All religious life is portrayed in such a conventional manner, applicable for a peasant or some indifferent Christian. (…)
For this reason, I ought to say that this is not a novel, and has no place in artistic literature, but belongs to the cultural history books from the life of the Church, illustrating one scene from the epopee of a toilsome life of a priest. The motto to this epopee could be Christ’s words: “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end, will be saved.”
I must also make a comment about the technique. The psychological analysis of pain is very successful, and this gives value to the work. Throughout the work, we feel the mystery of pain, that terrible force which documents life as a way of the cross. The pain of the mother who grew old hoping, and didn’t have one single happy moment, just like Đuro. Observing this life, we unwittingly come to the idea about the ethical necessity of another life. However, the writer should have stressed that thought from the beginning, continuing in stronger and stronger tones, until at the end it would find its culmination in the words “I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting”. This would be a crescendo that would find its finale as if in a tower, the strong culmination after which only peace and our contemplation follows. A work of art must be a building where every pillar, every move and every embellishment is art in itself, and all together it stands in harmony and expresses a single thought. (…)
(Here follows the further analysis of the work according to the criteria which he used for other works: idea, content, characters, details. Then he gives a brief content of the work and analysis of key protagonists)
Zingarella, 10 April 1917 – (20 years and 4 months)
Review and analysis of the work For Bread by Henryk Sienkiewicz
A social story with an artistic tendency, whose aim is to avert the Poles from emigrating. (…) Otherwise, very picturesque; we see his village, voyage across the sea, storm. New York harbor, Boarding House, steppe and wilderness, flood and the last scenes. Patriotism permeates the work with poetry and gives it value. Otherwise, it is not some great work. (…)
Zingarella, 15 April 1917 – (20 years and 4 months)
Disappointed with Bosniaks, prays to God for the strength for going through life
It rains and snows outside. I don’t have the real feeling for nature since I have been in the position to fight it. Along with that there is the weakness: fear to be thrown into battle as soon as the snow melts. Lately, I myself don’t know how I live. The connection with God has weakened. I was looking forward too much to the arrival of the Bosniaks Suljić, Mujagić, and I was disappointed. We were separated long in the world and our views and characters have parted. I was sad, because, God, where You are not present, there is no joy.
Strength, strength, strength!!! Whom should I fear when we are merely passengers here, and for us it is a matter of pride to fight our way through life and gather our riches for that great LIFE.
Strength and again strength, this is what I ask of You!
Zingarella, 17 April 1917 – (20 years and 4 months)
Reflections on his state of mind with which he is not satisfied, and dilemmas about the justification of war, resistance and revolution
The Italians were shooting a lot. When a cannon booms, I have the feeling that St. Francis is preaching to me: advenae et peregrini sumus.20 I see that in this army I am losing my soul. Do I have the right to resist with force the one who wants to tear my soul to pieces? Is revolution justified? “If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also!” Humility – revolution, I don’t see how they go together. I am only convinced that war is not modern, because the enmity between the nations doesn’t exist in reality, but only the enmity between the classes. Modern war is revolution.
An extensive review of the novel The Precipice by Ivan A. Goncharov21
A real Russian naturalist novel (…) Russia in the last century gave birth to a certain class of people – Russian Hamlets, or if we want to be more precise – anarchists in the best sense of the term. Anarchist men and women; people dissatisfied with the social circumstances, who analyze them and combat against every tradition and every notion of duty. These misfortunate people are typical of a modern novel. (…) Goncharov was interested in the problem of a woman named Vera. This problem can be rightly called by that name, because he was the first who artistically solved it. The problem is eternal and there will always be women who will want to break the chains of social conventions in order to arrive at the true and real notion of love, marriage and other female issues. Therefore, some kind of female Faust, a Russian female Faust, because we find also traces of theoretical nihilism. (resisting the babushka, a certain conceit in contact with older generation).
Vera – a female Russian Faust
The main protagonist in the novel is Vera and the narrator has used all his means to illustrate her. (…) Vera doesn’t live as other women do. She examines her being and all the traditional values of modern society. She is always alone with her books in an old castle and in nature, and comes to the bitter conclusion that a woman today is not free. Everybody is looking at her only physically, watching and spying, not letting her live by herself with her views. (…) The narrator has used all the power of psychological analysis to show the brutal power of passion. Passion knows no logic or sophism, doesn’t know what prejudice is, nor decency, society, upbringing, beauty of character. It is there and seeks its victim. Who would say that our dear Vera, whom we have grown to love so much, will surrender herself to a man. (…) Passion has triumphed against all logic, thoughts, etc. There occurs a reaction in Vera’s soul; without knowing why, she knows that she has sinned. She suffers spiritually, almost dies. (…) The consequence of sin seeks the victim with all its power and documents that love is not a fleeting passion, but something that involves duties as well.
The technique of the work is excellent, and typically Russian. There is the psychology of speech and responses, pre-history, and other. A vivid description of the village milieu full of old women, misers, well-meaning people, servants and other. (…)
(Here follows a very extensive account of the whole work, with numerous quotations of dialogues and analysis of the personalities in the novel)
Zingarella, 20. IV. 1917. – (20 g. i 4 mj.)
Feels the need for God and for a serious spiritual life, criticizes his own attitudes and tepidity, prays to God for strength
“Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things, come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19). These words are in the first place applicable to me. On the one hand, there was this enthusiasm for art to which I sacrificed some time ago, and largely even today, all my religious life. Whereas the latter should be the fundamental thread in our life like food, and the rest should take its rightful place. But I am too much in love with this world, not even considering that we are advenae et peregrini22 and I read excessively. From tomorrow on, I will try to help the lads carry their cross; I will go to the brigade more often.
God, God, help me for having deserted you. Give me again the strength to see you everywhere and in everything, to feel you everywhere, and not to be afraid (because we are advenae (newcomers)!)
Ivan (second on the left) in front of the military headquarters on the battlefield in Dolomites
Zingarella, 25 April 1917 – (20 years and 4 months)
Compares Goncharov with Russian and French writers
Goncharov is a great narrator, but lacks form. Everything is broad, large. La vie toute entière, toute détaillée.23 With this detailed picture of life he reminds me strongly of Zola in whom, along with the main action, the background is presented in the same detail as the main idea. Admittedly, Zola exaggerates so that one is at pains to catch the main idea, but the whole life is portrayed as if on a photograph.
In a similar way, Goncharov gives us all the long letters, all secondary images and talk, unlike Turgenev who presents everything which does not concern the main idea in a few words. Formally clumsy are also Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, whereas among the Russians Turgenev is the only real artist. Concise forms, where, as in Flaubert, not a word or simile is superfluous, because everything bends, like in architecture, towards one point.
Zingarella, 26 April 1917 – (20 years and 4 months)
The development of material and spiritual culture on the basis of Mysterium crucis
When a man finds himself in mortal danger, then he observes the entire nature from one viewpoint only: does a certain part of it increase or decrease this danger. Only when it is overcome, is it possible to observe this magnificence of nature and develop in a cultural way.
This thought is the psychological foundation for the understanding of culture. While people lived in caves and fought for their survival, they couldn’t in those moments of perennial danger philosophically and objectively understand nature and life. Spiritual culture could not have developed at that time, unlike the times when the needs of life were easily met.
A nation must be independent materially, if it wants to develop culturally. I include the mysterium crucis24 which is the source of life and progress in this thesis. It doesn’t have to be necessarily the crux materialis, but also spiritualis25 (Holy Lady!). (…)
(Here follows the final review of Goncharov’s The Precipice and a final evaluation of his characters and their personalities)
Zingarella, 4 May 1917 – (20 years and 5 months)
Plan for a novella Defectors about the causes and backgrounds of wars and dilemmas about the justification of revolution
I have a plan to write a novelette in the manner of Maupassant’s La mère sauvage. The fundamental idea is this: peoples engaged in a battle, fighting heroically, have no real patriotic feeling. They clearly feel that the Italians and other nations are no real enemies, but that the enemies are those who created this war. Why should they suffer for the sake of others; to suffer hunger for so many years and sacrifice their lives in most severe clashes? When they return home, these people will again be serfs from whom the so-called state will draw blood. Two of them will realize that and defect. It is after them that the work will bear the title Defectors.
I hold that this novelette will characterize this entire century where really there are no national tensions – except on the east between the Serbs and Germans due to Drang nach Osten (drive towards the east) – but only class differences. This war is a fabrication, the only real tension today being the one between the fed and the hungry. Today revolution is historically justified – I still do not dare talk about ethical justification, so the action of those two defectors is a revolutionary expression of their sane mind26
Zingarella, 5 May 1917 – (20 years and 5 months)
Review, analysis and critique of the novel Mother by Maxim Gorky
This is no work of art. Tendentiousness and his social-democratic convictions blind the narrator and make him lose objectivity in portraying the characters. The protagonists, socialists, are all good people in every way, in whatever circumstances they may be, while the representatives of the ruling class are slaves, fools, people out of touch with life and others. There is no higher point of observation here. Along with all that the psychology of the so-called main character, the Mother, is banal and weak. From the beginning to the end almost the same words are being repeated: she felt… The mother felt.
Her psyche is not rendered as it really is, but he projects what was going on in her soul. According to him, all psychology is flaccid; her whole enthusiasm is pale.
However, the writer’s views are plainly visible. These protagonists who fight for the progress of mankind, for the betterment of the state of the workers speak eternally and enthusiastically. It sounds so weird where so many people praise themselves and speak with such enthusiasm, and none of them has a deeper inner life. All their ideology consists in the words “fight for truth” which allows the mother to agree. These revolutionaries are of different types, especially Paul who, apart from a strong will, possesses no deeper thoughts.
From the cultural historical point of view the work is interesting because it reflects the better part of the strivings of social democracy. Who knows them in real life will see that, along with these noble persons, the majority of the workers shout: panem et circenses27. It is the workers who swear the most, go to the public houses and into cabarets. After work – entertainment; as if this life was forever. Maxim Gorky in Mother never mentioned a speck of dirt on the souls of these people.
Yes, we said that the work is interesting because we live in a century which fights against those who possess excessive property.
The literary expression of this social-democratic epoch is this work. Admittedly, this epoch is not treated deeply; because only the material struggle is presented. The workers and peasants are physically enslaved and therefore they organize themselves to topple this regime and thus arrive at a material wealth. Not a word is said about the spiritual rising, about the spiritual revolution. Those few words about the faith, the disbelief of these fighters for truth, are not elaborated in the least; actually, the religion of the mother herself is a religion of some sensitivity which consists of feelings only. What a strange thing for a mother’s Christianity to transform itself to another religion – religion of love for mankind! Terrible psychological leaps, a huge misunderstanding of Christianity! As if Christianity didn’t care for those who suffer! (…)
(Here follows a brief description of the novel Mother by Maxim Gorky)
Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary
At the end of this ninth Diary notebook Merz noted seven sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. It seems that they are not a constituent part of the Diary, but he copied them from somewhere, probably for his personal use. After that, at the end of the notebook an address is written, as is the case with all other notebooks; he did it in case they got lost, or if he is killed, to inform the finder of the author and whom they should be sent to. On one such wartime notebook he wrote the address in several languages (See the beginning of the 13th notebook of the Diary, 27 January 1918).
1. Jesus, who was sentenced for my sake.
2. Jesus, who was scourged for my sake.
3. Jesus, who was crowned with thorns for my sake.
4. Jesus, who was humiliated for my sake.
5. Jesus who was offered bile and vinegar.
6. Jesus, who was crucified on the cross like a criminal for my sake.
7. Jesus, who suffered insults in his last suffering for my sake.
Kadett – aspirant Merz Hans, c. phil, Banja Luka, Bosnien, Kolodvor30
Zingarella, 7 May 1917 – (20 years and 5 months)31
Gathers experience in behaving towards subordinates, dilemma between gentleness and strictness
What a strange world! I did a lot of good for my lads, and not even a cleaner obeys me. How strange and incomprehensible! I will be more rigorous, maybe that will help. Up until now I held that everything goes through goodness and I was deadly wrong. They obey like lambs those who beat and despise them, as a matter of fact, they respect them.
Zingarella, 9 May 1917 – (20 years and 5 months)
Critique of Maxim Gorky’s ideology and comparison with German romantics
I read Doge und Dogesse by R.T.A. Hoffmann. It is evident that German romantics are the masters of the novella. They look upon life simple-mindedly and so their works are permeated with this naive tone. (…) Romantic poetry attracts me enormously, especially as a change after the naturalist works of Gorky. Everything thrives and bubbles, all nature lives and speaks, whereas in Gorky we find only the black problems of life, wandering in the darkness and not finding what one is looking for. This life without God, ideals tied to the present moment, progress, revolution, it is all so dark and deceitful. The misery of the workers is misery and pain, there is no doubt about that, but this is not absolute misery, only a phase which confirms the great optimistic thought about the mysterium crucis (mystery of the cross) and the other life. Gorky is combatting misery as if it were some absolute evil, and the successes of his revolution are in his eyes absolute good; the actions of the mother and her joy is in his eyes the Kingdom of God. My God, what a dark Kingdom of God when everything ends with death! Why struggle for ethical thoughts when death is stronger?
Zingarella, 18 May 1917 – (20 years and 5 months)
Tries to overcome the fear of death, notices the transience of life and feels the need for self-perfecting
Our cannons were roaring nastily. The whole barracks shake when the 15 cm cannon thunders. One gets used to everything. Whether the cannons roar or not, I go my own way. As if it was nothing. The thoughts that we are newcomers do not appear that often. Up to a point I regret that I didn’t go through this war more directly. Pain, suffering, looking upon thousands of dismembered dead and exhausted people surely washes away everything temporary and suggests the meaning of life with huge energy. The little pain that I suffered, the jump to avoid cannon grenades and shrapnel (on the way to the brigade), always spoke to me the Lord’s words: “Why do you fear? Don’t you have faith?” Indeed, why fear? The One up there knows already what will happen to me. He loves me immeasurably and knows whether it is better for me to die or go on living. Why fear when He determines my path in life? We ought to live and praise Him eternally and not worry about mortal danger.
What is life after all? The other day one soldier was lying down near the cemetery. He was lying like a log. As if he never lived at all. What is then the purpose of life? To enjoy it, succumb to passion? Strange purpose when with death it is all gone.
Why do I have such a striving towards perfecting of myself, for getting near to the greatest One, why does some supernatural power always tell me to fast, not to eat too much, to be a superhuman?
War zone in the Dolomites (Photo: I. Merz)
Zingarella, 19 May 1917 – (20 years and 5 months)
Situation on the frontline, the cannons are firing
They say that tonight there will be massive firing at the Italians, to fool them so they switch their army here. Last night on the right flank the Italians captured some hill; a far cannon fire could be heard the whole night: it thunders as if there was a bowling alley there somewhere, and the dull irregular sound of balls rolling is heard.
The review of the Solovyov’s work Spiritual Foundations of Life and reflections on Christ and Antichrist
Three conversations, discussion in dramatic form in which people of different persuasions meet and discuss eternal questions. The same form was used by Moravsky in his Discussions on the Geneva Lake. The most interesting is the end – the story about the Antichrist. With it the writer wants to prove the real existence of evil and good and the absolute predominance of good.
The idea of the Antichrist in key strokes is like in Benson: the egoism of the century which finds personification in that man and as its culmination the hatred and envy towards the Galilean in whom it believes, but does not want to kneel and bow down to him. Just like Christ is a point from which rays the ideas that emanate from the Godhead, so is Antichrist his opponent, i.e. the product of an epoch of whom he is the culmination: antigod-devil-man.
This treaty with the devil is some kind of dogma in anti-Christology. Solovyov arranged historical events around it. One great central state was created under pressure from the Mongols, and it is headed by Antichrist.
The spiritual color of that world is similar to present-day world: humanism, brotherhood, social welfare. This is what this “man of the future” gives; as a matter of fact, he takes care of entertainment too. Panem et circenses (bread and games) is the motto of his state. He performs “miracles”, as is foretold in the Gospel. This miracle-worker is some Catholic ex-bishop who knows eastern mystical lore, as well as the results of contemporary scientific findings. In the eyes of the world he is a miracle-worker.
I don’t like the end. Solovyov is too tolerant of the Protestants. The age of Antichrist comes slowly, in stages. All the positive religions will be exposed to attacks, and they will unite under the pressure of these circumstances before his coming. The Protestants, studying the sources – as Solovyov presumes – must come to the conclusion about the Holy Eucharist by themselves. The age of increased desperation, resignation and summarizing of all spiritual suffering prompts people to think that God is not only outside of us, up in the Heavens, but that since Christ’s coming he lives among us always. Otherwise, Christ wouldn’t fulfil his mission if he merely came and went; with his advent and incarnation he regenerated the entire universe, all the visible nature and from that day this transformation of nature is repeating itself eternally.
Death is only an illusory phase of life, and we attach too much importance to it. We are only weak Christians. In order for us to be always aware of this transformation of nature, this real existence of the good in nature and in us, he left Himself here so we can receive him as often as we want, if possible daily, so we can always live in the mystical realization that this life is factually and not only theoretically, the Kingdom of God. (It is easy to say so; but sin is strong, and I myself fall short of this ideal). Learned Protestants must have arrived at that too. The thought that Rome plays the role of a strong cosmopolitan organization, the East the role of mystical traditionalism, and Protestants the role of a critical, reasonable religiousness is feasible. Only this influence and the regenerative power of the Russians and Germans should have manifested earlier and created a small but strong Roman Church. This is not the product of the environment and two men, Ivan and Ernst Pauli, but a consequence of long strivings.
Zingarella, 25 May 1917 – (20 years and 5 months)
“This sacrament bestows the grace of the Holy Spirit, returns chastity to a fallen soul and enlivens its primeval beauty which sin had taken away from it”
(The Imitation of Christ, IV. Book, Chapter 1, line 38)
Zingarella, 26 May1917 – (20 years and 5 months)
“This grace sometimes spreads like the ocean; and the believer, suffused with love feels that his soul, and even his weak body, is filled with unknown power” (The Imitation of Christ, IV. Book, Chapter 1, line 39)
(Here follows a brief quotation in German from Solovyov’s work Sonntags und Osterbriefe 16.)
Zingarella, 4 June 1917 – (20 years and 6 months)
Church, the pinnacle and central point of the culture and entire mankind
I was looking from Monte Kuk upon the Roan. In the valley, a town with a church can be seen. Church, my God, the pinnacle and central point of culture and entire mankind. How I marvel at mankind which builds towns and unites human work with the idea of God; like an image of Christ.
My heart is pulling me down there; I miss people and work, the color of various languages and arts; the color, colorfulness, diversity. I miss cultural institutions, various societies, the different orders active among mankind. Let the center of everything be our Lord Jesus, who consecrated all the nature and all the activity of mankind within the Church, his living body.
And as the town down there stands empty, the Church, the symbol of religion, is a memento to the generations. From above the shells are showering, and transient soldiers gloomily gaze in that direction. Everyone is against the war and no one has the power to resist and establish a normal state in nature – harmony.
Zingarella, 6 June 1917 – (20 years and 6 months)
Casualties, mines, shells, airplanes
They carry the wounded more often now. The worst of all are the mines; they explode and wound terribly. Airplanes are a true power: bullets are flying around our heads. Along with that, the Italians shoot at the road with heavy weapons.
Zingarella, Tuesday, 12 June 1917 – (20 years and 6 months)
Cannon, grenades, firing, explosions…
On Saturday night, I led two companies of the 14th regiment to Malga Cima. The lads, tired from the journey, hardly settled down when the order came to proceed to Monte Forno. I returned before dawn, but after one hour, in my sleep, I heard the shooting and the whistle of cannon grenades. The Italians started to fire; grenades were exploding beside our barracks. With my lads, I sneaked up to the Regiment Headquarters and there the explosion of the anti-aircraft cannon which shook the earth could be clearly discernible. Terrible noise, whistling, booms. All the possible tones which the devil was producing, balancing in his arrogance as if on a rubber string.
Mortal danger, surrendering to God’s will, the consequences of deserting Christ
Our lads are not really fatalists, they surrender to God’s will because they say they will live as long as He has written in his book, in other words, as long as He desires. This is how I feel too, and I am not afraid. I only pray for my sins to be forgiven. This terrible noise, the explosion of grenades, mines, then the silence, the chatter of rifle fire, in the air the sounds of airplanes, the dead and the wounded; this is all living history.
Above all of this there hovers the white and magnificent image of Christ: “I brought the sword.” Only now do I understand the full meaning of these words; if you will not follow me, if you will only think of yourselves, you will break loose from my Body and there will be discord, war in all its terrible phases. “I bring the sword”, these words echo in my mind. The medicine to all this: Revenons à l’Eglise! – Let’s get back to the Church!
The day before yesterday, as I was returning from the inspection of the guard into the Regiment Headquarters, I dashed into the barracks and found Dervišević. He was speaking in a stretched voice: “I don’t fear, brother, in the least. Let it hit me. On Soča I prayed to God which I rarely do; one cannot suffer and carry military food when there is more mud on it, than food. I feel sorry for the young ones like you. Hey, good luck, trust God and fear not!”
A review of Scheffel’s32 work The Trumpeter from Säckingen
It belongs to that category of epics which appeared in the time of Romanticism. Chiefly, the background is popular history and folk customs. Their technique also leans upon popular traditions. Therefore, it is understandable how many similarities it has with Pan Tadeusz, with Homer, Tennyson, Pushkin and others. Folk elements are the most interesting here: whereas Werner’s love for Margareta is the thread which keeps the entire work as one whole. The work possesses a freshness which proceeds from humor. It is this trait which differentiates it from all other epics of this kind. The historical background: the action takes place in the 17th century after the Thirty Years’ War, at the time of Turkish onslaughts. The main protagonists are Catholics, and their entanglements are being resolved by the Pope himself in Rome. (…)
(Here follows a lengthy presentation of the content, literary analysis of the work and its characters.)
View of the Italian battlefield where Ivan was engaged in 1917
Zingarella, 17 June 1917 – (20 years and 6 months)
Interested chiefly in the philosophy of life and ethical issues after the enthusiasm for esthetics and literature waned
Youthful enthusiasm is gradually fading away. I am falling more and more on the level of an ordinary, weak man. There was a time when I thought I would learn several languages, and now even my French has deteriorated. Generally, it is as if all these esthetic and literary thoughts ceased to exist; other, ethical issues have come to the surface. My chief interest now is the philosophy of life33; I read Solovyov (The Spiritual Foundations of Life!), the Gospel, Pellic, and I want to penetrate into the mystery of life. But, my God, how am I going to penetrate into it when my will is too weak and I constantly sin, especially in eating.
Life is really sickening; I eat every piece of bread with fear because my conscience tells me “enough!”, but I eat it nevertheless and consciously break off from the body of Christ.
The question of the relationship of animals to God; Christ saves the entire universe
Talking with Fial – an atheist – a question arose in my mind about the relationship of animals toward God and why is it so that one animal kills another. We factually feel sympathy when we kill some beast, because it is suffering in the process. And we are forced by nature to take the life of these beings, if we wish to preserve our own. It is like this in all the nature. I understand the mysterium crucis in man, but what have the animals done to suffer?
Reflecting upon this, a thought is occurring to me that before the creation of man, in nature there was some free will which broke away from God and therefore suffers. Or maybe Adam, breaking away from God, brought misfortune upon all of nature. Christ – the second Adam – saving man, saves the entire universe. Admittedly, I see nothing of it.
Zingarella, 18 June 1917 – (20 years and 6 months)
Fire and explosions obscured the sun
There was a great fire and it obscured the sun. The cannon thunder on Monte Zebio, the window is quivering. A bright day became dark. Through the Strassenperze valley a mist is gathering slowly, covering all. 7 o’clock, due to shooting and rain…
Zingarella, 20 June 1917 – (20 years and 6 months)
Dramatic description of the battle, the earth shakes, terrible noise
From an elevated position – above the Regiment Headquarters, I watched the cannon fire on Monte Zebio. The earth shook, along the road spurts of smoke shot into the air, white, black, red. Constantly, these spurts of smoke were jutting into the air. Then a grenade came whistling and fell behind the lines, rousing a black cloud. Terrible noise: in different nuances. The glass on my window is shattered.
The airplanes came like a navy, dignified, ordered like squares on a chess board. They separated just above us and dropped white bombs. One of them fell a hundred feet from us, shook the earth and raised an enormous cloud of black smoke. – C’est la vie; c’est l’histoire. (This is life, this is history)
Zingarella, 22 June 1917 – (20 years and 6 months)
Encounter with death, a motivation and call to ascetic life
I looked at a dozen corpses, men that died in these last battles. They lie covered, but the bodies are clearly recognizable: some without a leg, some without a head. One leg was sticking out with skin wrinkled like parchment. There, that is life. I don’t want to be sentimental, because that would mean weakness, but what I am looking at is stark reality which shouts: “Don’t give up! Triumph over death!” Christ is hovering above it all: “Who will believe in me, will not know death.” Asceticism, observation of life and work only in that direction, without any concessions to “this” earth is the only real gesture in life. And who is living like that today? Even here people live instinctively, like in the background. When shooting starts, they hide in a grotto, and when it’s over, they quarrel between themselves – who feared the most, who stayed in the grotto the longest, etc. I am no better. How much we all differ from real Christians!
Yearning for the Eucharist
I would like to receive the Lord who loves me more than anyone else and who is dearest to my heart in this whole world. The only question is – am I worthy of him, and I fear I am too weak to sacrifice myself to the Most Holy Host without ulterior thoughts. Rightly says Kempis, we are prepared to enjoy the Host, but when we ought to bear the cross with gladness, we despair.
Review and analysis of Shakespeare’s work Henry IV
The good old Shakespeare. What an elevated opinion about man he has! What kind of people are Coriolanus, Hamlet, Henry IV? Only, each of them has his mistakes and perishes due to them. Yes, tragedy is the necessary consequence of guilt. In this disentanglement of guilt consists almost the entire plot of all of Shakespeare’s works.
Henry IV kills Richard II out of vainglory. For this he has to pay a price: “It is a difficult burden for the skin upon which a crown presses down” (II/III/1); finally, due to this he dies. This tragic guilt drags on through all the royal dramas and in a hereditary manner punishes the carriers of the crown. (…)
(Here follows a brief summary and critique of this work and its characters)
Zingarella, 26 June 1917 – (20 years and 6 months)
Description of the battlefield, visit by the Emperor Karl von Habsburg
Yesterday around 4 p.m. I went from here to Campo Verde. From above, the Italian battle lines were visible, as well as the white smoke of grenades which exploded around them. In the Division Headquarters, I took the silver medals, to take them to Blaitle, 3rd Corps, because the Emperor34 is coming there and will honor the lads in person. Everything was swarming around the Division; cars, horses, carriages, cannon munition, wounded Italians still in helmets (from Porto Lepozze). Torn and bloody. Some are rascals, other beautiful, cultured men, with well shaven black beards. Mysterium crucis…
From the elevation point at 1949 m, a beautiful view opens down into the valley 800 m below us; spruce and beech forest, grass, flowers and all kinds of leaves. One shudders with delight at seeing such beauty after a long time. We descended into the Asse valley and then to Blaitle. We came back at 10 a.m. over Ghartel (the entire town) and the elevation of 981m, through the Galinar’s “House”.
Karl von Habsburg, the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor and Croatian King, visited the battlefield in Tyrol in 1917. Ivan sent the postcard with his picture to his father from the battlefield on 12 May 1917
Zingarella, 27 June 1917 – (20 years and 6 months)
Disagreements with mother due to reading of books
“Don’t read such books as Jörgensen’s Pilgerbuch, this is completely abnormal stuff.” This is what mother writes me, so how can I look forward to coming home for leave! Happiness doesn’t consist in good food and clean clothes only, not even in paternal love. I want them to understand me, and not judge blindly. It is strange that war had no effect on her, and in front of her eyes there is still the image of a nicely dressed “proper” boy.
Review and analysis of the work Lettres de Mon Moulin by A. Daudet
(…) In these stories, which Daudet writes in the solitude of a Provencal milieu, the subject-matter is the introduction of the steam mill and its consequences, the pastoral and small-town love, a priest who narrates his dreams from the pulpit and thus wins the attention of people, legends, castles and hunting, Africa and Paris. All the stories are permeated with freshness and this string of small pictures portray a large part of the Provence, Paris, the sea, Algiers, legends and morale of the people. One could call this work a gallery of miniature pictures from an ordinary life of the French.
The end of the review of Shakespeare’s work Henry IV
Hein lives in friendship with Falstaff and is approachable to everybody, but when he takes on the crown, he renounces Falstaff and becomes a traditional king. The leap is too great, although there have been such cases in history. Shakespeare was interested in the ordinary life of the people, and he looked upon it without judging its moral consistency, although we conclude that he was above it.
He illustrates the present situation of the Croatian people with Kranjčević’s verses:
If the cock would only sing,
As everyone believes:
At that very moment everyone would resurrect,
Even those who didn’t even die!
But the lazy cock keeps silent
Dozing at the dunghill:
While the giants and heroes
All return to their graves.
(S. S. Kranjčević, The Uskok Elegies, 2, the sit-together)
Leave me in my solitude;
Only God knows
What my heart feels
At the moment when there is no hope!
(S. S. Kranjčević, The Uskok Elegies, 9, royal palace in Baška)
This is the foundation of the entire of Kranjčević’s philosophy. Because really, looking at our people as they lose morale day by day, he ought to have become a patriotic pessimist.
Nobody knew him and where he came from,
They didn’t know where the secret stranger went.
He came out of nowhere and into nowhere he vanished,
Like a meteor, that lights up for a moment the dark night.
They looked after his bright trace, speaking under their breath:
This is Christ who came from the cross, this was he who was with us!
(S. S. Kranjčević, Resurrectio)
The leaders of the French revolution never even considered that the idea of “brotherhood, equality and freedom” is actually Christ’s idea. People had only a dark intuition of it, but He was the first to say it apocalyptically.
Let a string make a sound
Like a whole people that cries
(S. S. Kranjčević, The Uskok Elegies, 8. The Trsat shadow)
Let us dig a grave for us, a great one
From one end of the homeland to another;
And let us lie in it silently
Embraced like brothers.
So we shall sleep together
You king Dmitar Zvonimir.
(S. S. Kranjčević, The Uskok Elegies, 9. royal palace in Baška)
Zingarella, 5 July 1917 – (20 years and 7 months)
Great writers in their works interpret the world and the relation between God and nature
Only those books are great and eternal that can be read always. A man who really lives, searches for those great minds which understand the idea of the world and life and interpret it in their works. That’s why Kempis is so deep. Because he interprets every moment of life, knows every striving within himself. Solovyov is just like that. He is surely among the first who brought into harmony that cruel question of God and nature, and he interprets the meaning of this relationship. Reading this I feel as if liberated, because the enmity between the soul and the creatures was not clear to me, but it comes out into the open in ascetic philosophers. This enmity is directed only at evil within ourselves and in nature, but not at that harmony and beauty which they do not resist. Only the eastern ascetics can resist because they hold that God is outside of the world and that this whole nature has no positive meaning. For us, western Christians this world is like a small homeland, because God is in it and acts in it; only we are still not completely aware of it. But, as with time the Kingdom of God will rise in our hearts, we will be more and more aware that it must manifest in nature as well, that the entire nature must be regenerated and transformed.
The area in the Dolomites where Ivan was engaged during World War I. In the middle, a soldier with a mountain horse (Photo: I. Merz)
The artists in their works present the truth about life
For the same reason, I love Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev. They perceive the world in a special way and indirectly interpret it. For this reason, every art is educational; because the artist, presenting his theme and looking at it interprets it in his way. Or, when I think of the many representations of Christ, nearly in every picture the Christian world view is expressed. In Mona Lisa, however, we feel that vague element in a woman which factually exists in her soul, but we are not aware of it. For Leonardo da Vinci, it was a fact. And the Ninth Symphony (Beethoven) claims that the universal harmony is deeper than the battle, but it cannot be reached except through a battle.
Tolstoy’s Kreutzer’s Sonata looks in its own way into the soul of the modern society and comes to the conclusion that it is rotten and that it departed from its goal. Reading it, we are glad, because not everyone has been given the privilege to objectively realize the truth in life.
Review and analysis of Kuprin’s work Duel and comparison with other writers
Like Tolstoy, Kuprin wanted to illuminate with the fire of truth one aspect of Russian life – the officers’ class. The realistic description of these people and their actions is admittedly very lively and palpable and this rendering of a topic with historic, naturalistic objectivity has an educational impact. Absolute objectivity is not possible in the arts; Zola and all the French naturalists can claim that their works are “a fragment cut out from life” or a “photography” of life (Maupassant), but we must be in the clear that this “fragment” or photograph is only a photographic negative in their soul. (…) Looking at a work of art in a usual way, we do not experience pleasure due to the educational tone only, but we enjoy it for the sake of art itself. This is some l’art pour l’artism which really exists because Keats’s thought A little beauty is a joy forever is an axiom of the soul.
Let’s get back to Kuprin! Like other Russian realists he is able to vividly portray the society. I repeat, only the society – people. He is not interested as Balzac and Turgenev are, in the entire realistic milieu; for him it is only secondary; he looks at it with the eyes of an ordinary man, without interest and love. The naturalistic technique serves him to picture the animal, instinctive officer life. (…)
(Here follows an extensive presentation of Kuprin’s work, contents, analysis and judgement of the characters and a critical valorization of the negativity and behavior in the life of Russian officers.)
Zingarella, 6 July 1917 – (20 years and 7 months)
Review and analysis of the work Novel by Kielland
Zingarella, 19 July 1917 – (20 years and 7 months)
Bulwer’s novel The Last Days of Pompeii
The historical novel which, like Quo vadis, takes place during early Christianity. In a nice and picturesque way, the life of Romans-Pompeiians is shown during the time of the blossoming of their culture. The intrigue is completely romantic, and, like in Quo vadis, embedded in that milieu. It is clearly visible that this is a romantic novel on the way of becoming realistic. (…)
(Here follows a review, brief content, analysis and comment of the work and its characters.)
Zingarella, 22 July 1917 – (20years and 7 months)35
“And unless you exert force upon yourself, you will not win over your shortcomings” (The Imitation of Christ, Book I, Chapter 22, v. 26)
Feldpost 369, Bh 2, Stab, Fhnr. near Asiago,
25 August 1917 – (20 years and 8 months)
Merz’s thoughts on the call for peace issued by the Pope Benedict XV
During August of 1917 Merz made no entries into his Diary. From his correspondence with the parents we realize that he had to change his location often. Usually this was in the vicinity of the town of Asiago. It is from here that he sent to his father a very interesting letter – a comment of the current political situation. Namely, Pope Benedict XV sent to all the warring states and their governments on 14 August 1917 an appeal to end the war and conclude peace. In his appeal, he gave the basic guidelines of how to arrive at that peace. In his letter to his father of 25 August 1917 Merz comments on this papal appeal. The reader might be a little bit surprised at this comment, but we ought to bear in mind that Merz was only 21 at the time of its writing, and didn’t have the attitude towards the Pope and papacy as he will have upon the completion of his studies and his spiritual-intellectual formation. However, what he said in his comment is objectively true, and we can only marvel at a youth of that age and his mature and broad thoughts about the social and political situation which engulfed Europe during World War I.
Dear dad! The Pope’s appeal for peace will surely fail, because he lacks authority over the nations. At one time, it was completely different, when the Pope was distributing royal crowns, established rulers and made alliances between states. At that time, naturally, he could have established peace because the nations, due to their common religion, trusted him. The behavior of the present Pope is along the lines of tradition because he is above the nations and wishes to achieve the honorable rights of every nation; but his words must fall on unfruitful ground because now every state is pursuing its own interest and doesn’t want to hear a word about common cultural strivings. Today all the states are so demoralized that only power can bring peace, and not great thoughts. Just now we see the necessity that the Pope, in order to be operational on a world level must, unconditionally, have access to the sea and the free state36, otherwise the just interests of entire nations will be decimated by overly nationalistic Italian censorship. Today there are only two possibilities to achieve peace: by force, i.e. that one side will be forced to accept peace because in the current moral conditions prevalent among the states only the expansionist-nationalist interests matter. The other option is peace proposals based on ideas or an international peace conference; but this is utopia. (The Stockholm Conference!) I am fine. Ivan.
Monte Rasta, 9 September 1917 – (20 years and 9 months)37
Demolished town of Asiago
Circumstances got worse. We ought to go on patrol more often. Otherwise, the view of Asiago is beautiful, but also sad because most of the houses are damaged or destroyed. It is sad to look at a dead town; where once the train was whistling, horses were running with carriages, and the bells of two churches rang Hail Mary in the evening, now the only thing that can be heard is the rushing of cars, the banging of pickaxes, the yelling of corporals. I am not afraid to go on patrol, but why expose my life due to the whims of some captain. At my home, mother is crying because the mail didn’t come for one week, and what would she feel if she knew my real position here?
Self-criticism concerning his relationship towards superior officers
My superiors cannot stand me. I addressed one colonel as “General, Sir” and stuttered in saying so. Along with that I got a reprimand because during a “march” I watched without reaction the excesses of the drunken Medić and others like him. Captain Jasbec hates me because I speak too much. He is right in this, because I wasn’t humble and shouldn’t have justified myself. In the future, I will strive to be humble and not defend myself if someone criticizes me without reason.
Regrets that there is no Mass, asks himself where are the military chaplains, prays to God
There is no Eucharist. I live here like a pagan or some beast. As if Agnus38 is not any more in the center of the universe, as if He doesn’t exist anymore. Oh God, the giver of solace, come and permeate my nature with atoms of eternity so I can understand the course of life similarly to Yourself. The modern state takes care that we have rum, and the Holy Eucharist is a side matter! Where are the military chaplains? Why do they desert their flock precisely when it needs them most?!
“My son, let it not be hard for you if someone thinks evil of you or says something you would rather not hear. You should think of yourself even worse and not consider anyone worse than you.” (The Imitation of Christ, Book III, Chapter 28, v. 1-2)
Monte Rasta, 17 September 1917 – (20 years and 9 months)
“My soul is sometimes sad to the point of tears; sometimes restless due to passions which threaten her.” (The Imitation of Christ, Book III, Chapter 50, v. 5)
Inner void, dissatisfaction, absence of the Holy Spirit, loss of the connection with the Original Source
Jörgensen says that a poet in those moments takes his pen and throws it away, and the painter tears his painting apart. These are the horrible moments when one doesn’t see why we live, why all this effort. What is the purpose of art, profession, everything one likes so much? Are the studies worth the trouble, likewise the reading of literature, or is there something more valuable than it all?
The moments when one loses touch with the universe are terrible indeed, moments when one’s work is like a traveler lost in the desert without a notion of the connection of his suffering with the striving of all of society. Terrible indeed are the moments when the Holy Spirit withdraws somewhere and darkness reigns in the soul. These are the moments over which Faust and modern society despairs because they have lost touch with the Original Source. It goes without saying that philosophy, law, medicine and theology cannot be a purpose unto themselves and do not lead to the truth. And this instinctive life (Faust!) is likewise unsuccessful, hard. That is why Faust at the end gets closer to the Truth doing good deeds as a practical man.
Discussion with Goethe and the destiny of his Faust; observes Goethe’s shortcomings
They criticize Goethe because Faust chose a practical profession not finding pleasure in art. Psychologically this is equally untenable. Goethe didn’t arrive at the notion of the Godhead, he was a kind of pantheist. As such he couldn’t have been satisfied with science, because it lacks a logical connection with the pantheistic Deity. In other words: what is the last “Why” with respect to science? A pantheist is unable to answer that. To imitate nature, see through it or understand it?! But this is still not the last “Why” because, as Faust himself proves, this cannot be a purpose unto itself. The same is with art. Can art be a purpose unto itself? Isn’t a consequential painter going to throw away his brush asking why he paints, maybe to give the blood of his inner life, why should he represent all that? He cannot do it for the sake of pleasure only, because ultimately this pleasure flees from him.
Faust logically couldn’t become an artist, although his nature is artistic because Goethe did not arrive at knowing God. In these circumstances, Faust found satisfaction in practical work, in good deeds. This leads us to God, but it is instinctive, like the feelings of a mother who, although she doesn’t believe or is even evil, nevertheless loves her children. Likewise, noble people, irrespective of their world views. Absolute pleasure lies only in God, and if Goethe had developed further and arrived at the knowledge of God, then Faust could have been happy with art after all. It is only then that it would gain its real value; only then would Faust understand why philosophy, law, art: ad maximam Dei gloriam39! If Faust had become a Benedictine monk where sacral art is cultivated, or if he had become a religious artist or a lover of arts living in the world because it is an antechamber to the heavens where everything is extraordinarily beautiful, then Faust part III would represent the true solution which would satisfy us even on the literary level.
Monte Rasta, 17 September 1917 – (20 years and 9 months)
Review and critique of the novel Polaniecki Family by Henrik Sienkiewicz
Sienkiewicz’s mission in life was to contribute something to the Polish state. This work shows that the basis of the state is the family. The first part is not what the poet really thought. I didn’t read the second part because I know that he will elaborate on family happiness in all its phases: children, birth, customs, illness and others. Conversations about love are too commonplace, boring. The whole evolution of love, although very real, is presented too photographically. There is no artistic concision which eliminates everything but the most characteristic. In addition to that, the key protagonist is too colorless; at least his exterior is not as impressive as hers. The reason for this is that the key protagonist is the poet’s self-portrait.
Along with all its extensiveness and focus on daily life, the work contains feelings and some very beautiful features. It doesn’t have a particular artistic value and doesn’t resolve any of the major issues of life. It is an ordinary love novel which makes pleasant reading, but when you close the book, you forget about it. The second part is surely more interesting because it elaborates the family itself. In addition, as I believe, the character of Plawicky will develop and he will become a practical Christian. I hold that this problem will be executed rather poorly because Sienkiewicz is more an esthetic Christian than a real one. Also in the novel Quo vadis there are Christian effects which are real, but we have no hint of any battle which is essential for every convert. (…) When I read the second part, I will focus on some characters.
(Here follows a short description of the contents of the novel)
Ivan (first to the left) in the barracks of the military headquarters on the Italian battlefield in the Dolomites in 1917
Review and critique of three Molière’s comedies
The old man Molière! How strongly he presents human vices. Naturally, he leads them to the point of absurdity. The very spirit of the epoch was absurd – romantic: the age of knights, beautiful coquettes, misers and other human curiosities. But, the value of the work lies in the portrayal of human passions, in characters which are eternal. Technically, the execution is not the best. He is too much attached to old traditions. The case of Deus ex machina still plays too great a role. It is a satire on physicians who are loaded with unintelligible phrases and kill people – without responsibility, of course. (…)
Review and analysis of Molière’s comedies Le médecin malgré lui, Le Sicilien ou l’Amour peintre and Le Mariage forcé (…)
In Molière the characters are always the same. These works are still under the influence of classical comedy, but a strong spirit is already being felt which observes and presents the weaknesses of his time. His works are satire without any maliciousness. He laid the foundations of modern French drama which also presents contemporary social circumstances, but without the romantic attire. Technically, the works are unique.
Monte Rasta, 20 September 1917 – (20 years and 9 months)
Night alert in the camp
On 18 September in the morning Italian artillery started firing. We were in the cavern for four hours. Several of the barracks were destroyed. This night there were shouts: “Alert, Italians! They are already here!” It was a general mess, and in my imagination, I already saw them swarming over the bulwark. They will come any moment. I fled outside, and the lads were lined up and waiting. I asked what it was all about and the guard told me “A lamp lit up, some of the men lied down, and the others rushed forward.” I looked, fired the rockets for illumination. The patrol returned from the field and told us there was nothing. They say that one of these days we are going to Soča!
Plane crash in the middle of the town, death and pain
A little while ago I was observing one of our airplanes go down. First there was smoke, then a yellow fire, and then it rushed down vertically leaving a white trace behind it. It fell in the middle of Asiago, near the smaller church and the smoke was going up long after the crash. Some said they saw men in the air “as if a tarboosh hat was falling”. Soon after that dust was raised on two masked roads leading to Asiago. The cars rushed into the town. These were two strong images, two small excerpts from the world war. A burning airplane and a man “falling like a tarboosh hat”. Death and pain!
Monte Rasta, 5 October 1917 – (20 years and 10 months)
Sad memory of the first love after Greta’s death40
Dear Greta! It’s a rainy day. I sit in my darkened room and am overcome by sadness. I took the pencil and tried to write Your name, which I haven’t written for years. Greta Teschner! God, how much content lies in this name! How many memories tear the heart apart upon hearing the melody of these words! Your blond hair and Your face, so full of life and health appears again in front of my soul.
We didn’t know what love was. This word never passed across our lips. But when I abstrusely found out that You were gravely ill, I spent the night in prayer. I prayed to God for your life, but the next day I found out you were already dead. Dead! Let the tears flow into eternity, let my soul wail, let the eyes burn –little Greta is dead. She lies motionless on the bed. My fiancée. Then they took her to the cemetery. When, after a period of time, I came there too, I saw the sorrowful and terrible words written on the cross: Greta Teschner. You hover above the worlds and my eyes still ache from a multitude of tears. All my inner being is lifted up to meet with You. The harmony of my soul wishes to merge with Yours. You are not here anymore, and my old age is approaching. My life too will pass and disappear. New generations will come and go, and no trace will be left of our love, as if it never existed. And so, I linger on. I am propelled by desires, undermined by battles and instability.
When shall we see the resurrected Lamb and the splendor of his eternally beautiful Mother?
When will the time finally come when there will be no revulsion, no night and no sin? When will the time come filled by eternal glory, eternal brilliance? When shall we see the resurrected Lamb and the splendor of his eternally beautiful Mother, which stretches above all the worlds? When, o when shall we be united with the singing of heavenly choirs, when shall we be absorbed in the eternal Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, enveloped by divine light?
Fasting and Communion – means for subduing the law of the body which works against the law of the spirit
When will the time come when we shall not need to eat, neither fight for even the smallest good deed. O Adam, you didn’t think what you were doing. In our bodies, there is a law completely different from the one in our soul. All nature is corrupt, everything is evil and our soul lapses into darkness. When shall we be aware of ourselves, when will our soul understand itself, when shall we truly feel our alliance with God? Abstinence and Eucharist are the paths that lead there. Fasting and Communion, two opposites. Fasting means pain and renunciation of pleasure; whereas, Communion gives us immeasurable pleasure and transforms our body into the divine one.
Thoughts before the offensive, possibility of being killed, desire for life in a monastery
Strange are the paths of men. Who knows whether I will remain alive? We will go to Carinthia, and there the offensive will begin. God is commander of the destiny of nations; he knows what is best for me. I will be satisfied with everything and will receive with thankfulness everything he decides to give me. If it will bring sorrow upon my parents, even this pain will pass. After all, this “valley of tears” is not our homeland! I think how happy the people in the monastery are. They can always devote themselves to prayer and good deeds, having surrendered their free will and doing as others order them to. Abnegatio sui ipsius41 and the merging of the soul with everything, so that it forgets itself.
Just don’t force me to kill people, you people without a soul!42
Homec, 27 October 1917 – (20 years and 10 months)43
Passing through captured areas
On 24 October, we were in Smojar and on the 25th we were passing over Krn. Moonlight was shining on snow-covered mountains. The Italians left Krn in a rush, leaving behind them warehouses full of food, clothes, shoes; in the safes, there was photographic equipment and other valuable things. We spent the night under the blankets. The next day we went out. On our way, we found cannon, machine guns, champagne, chicken, coffee, all of which are a rarity among us. Along the way from Krn into the valley everywhere we found things which the Italians left as they fled. On the way to Drežnice, and then on to Karfreit there was an entire fleet of deserted cars, bicycles, rifles, command archives, telephones. Our lads ate the whole time, changed into new clothes, filled their backpacks with food. They sang. We put our backpacks on captured carriages, so we walked unburdened.
Tarcento, 30 October 1917 – (20 years and 10 months)
Condemns looting by the army in captured areas
The way on was hard. Rain was pouring down, and the bridges were destroyed, so we had to tread during the night through a quagmire. In those moments despair descends upon the soul. Soldiers stepped from one mishap into another. We spent the night in Pascolo.
We were surprised at finding rice. Yesterday we stayed in Molmento. This is a nice little town. Lots of food and other things. More than we have in peacetime. All the inhabitants fled, and our army looted without mercy. They burst into houses, turned over the closets and searched all around. The officers loitered in pharmacies in search of alcohol. It was terrible to see white underwear thrown all over, black trousers, sewing machines. I thought of my parents; what a disaster it would be if they had to flee from their home and leave behind all those little things that became dear at the mercy of soldiers who, at the moment of victory think only of themselves like animals. Terrible pictures!
5 November 1917 – (20 years and 11 months)
Description of the battle on Tagliamento
On 3 November at night there was a battle on Tagliamento. On the eastern side of the river our command had dinner under the moonlight. Rifle fire could be heard, the growling of machine guns, explosions of hand grenades. At one point the order came, and we had to cross the bridge under the moonlight. We stopped on the island and were met by shrapnel which peppered us along with loud explosions and flashes. A lot of men were wounded. We lied down beside the bulwark but couldn’t sleep because those cannons from the left side were too precise. The fourth captured the other part of the bridge. We hurried after them. 44
Military action on the Italian battlefield.
Feldre, 13 November 1917 – (20 years and 11 months)
Description of the movement on the battlefield, condemns looting of a deserted town
I lost my notes and must write the most important things all over again. On 25 October at night by the moonlight we passed over Krn which was covered with snow. A splendid landscape. Deserted trenches full of food: bread, tins, wine. In the officers’ canteen, we found champagne and other valuable things. We spent the night on Krn and descended into Karfreit. The inhabitants were drunk with happiness, an old lady teacher sang. The Germans were bursting into a house and behaved like barbarians. Over Komec, Bergogna, Pascolo, Molmento, we arrived in Torcento. Our army looted the deserted town without mercy. The officers loitered in pharmacies. Enormously rich land. Cheese, coffee, oil, rice in abundance.
Santa Maria 18 November 1917 – (20 years and 11 months)
Description of a dramatic battle on Cornella and savage behavior of soldiers
The day before yesterday the battle was on at Cornella. I was watching from an elevation of 1093 m as our artillery shelled the mountain. Italian cannon returned fire, destroying one battery. It was then that Captain Huber was killed. The world thinks of medals, the honor of the regiment and other stupidities. Italians that wanted to surrender were all killed. I don’t know any more what patriotism and honor are. I despise killing and torturing and now, looking at all this, all abstract notions fade away. I love mankind, the small, unknown people who carry on their backs the entire burden of history. A nation without religion belongs in zoology. Not thinking about death, it loots and eats. When pressed down by pain, it is dispirited and threatens God.
Suffering, blood, death contribute to his spiritual transformation and bring him closer to God
I also lost touch with Him. Tagliamento was a period of spiritual renewal. Looking at the dead Kunc, a Herzegovinian who was killed during an onslaught, and the wounded Italians who moan: “O, mia mamma” while blood drains from their wounds, I became all the better seeing that life is nothing, that the whole meaning lies in spirituality. Thoughts from the monastery, striving towards monastic life where one lives with God who is unchangeable and real… Glory, medals, “patriotism”, these are all nonsense. Humbleness, self-denial, silence and good deeds are the only reality now and after death.
Virgo Maria adiuva nos!45
Rocca, 17 December 1917 – (21 years) 4 p.m.
Situation on the frontline and in the background, regiment at rest, he learns Italian
Two 30 cm cannons have been firing the whole afternoon, on Monte Gruppa, as they say. The whole village is shaking, and when fire bursts from the barrel, the sight is terrible. The offensive on Italy was due to begin last night, but snow prevented it. They say it will start tonight. Our regiment has been on leave for almost a month. We were in Villa Pajera in Carara alle Stalle, Rasain, Artena, Cana, Pedavena, Foncaso. I spent my nights on the hay, in cold rooms and learnt Italian as much as I could. The thought of peace – there is truce with Russia – is holding us up. The prisoners are not any more as cheerful and carefree as they were at the beginning. The inhabitants in these western regions are much prouder than those around Toppo where they greeted us with wine and apples shouting: “a Roma”.46
Rocca, 18 December 1917 – (21 years)
Description of the offensive, prisoners, casualties, killed by their own artillery
The night was silent. Around six in the morning, a 30-cm cannon boomed and the firing started. Everything was echoing. I went to Cismone to put up the postal relay. One small Italian grenade fell some 80 feet from us. It was on the bridge where Cismone flows into the Brenta. Cismone is completely destroyed. The valleys were echoing, and high up in the air more than a thousand dogs were barking; 30-cm cannons were firing from afar. The prisoners came, some 800 of them; thin men, soiled with yellow mud, very depressed. Our wounded soldiers were in the same state; they dragged on behind the prisoners. They say that we penetrated the frontline, but lost a lot of men; mostly due to our own artillery!
Incin, 25 December 1917 – (21 years)
A pagan Christmas away from home
This was the first Christmas which I spent away from home. The nature had that mood so characteristic of Christmas Eve. The sky was covered with mist which, illuminated by the moon, reflected that light on the mountains partially covered by snow. On the hill opposite me, on the other side of the Cismona, the camp fires were burning.
I greeted Christmas, this holiday of the children, in a pagan way. I didn’t even catch the opportunity to repent for my sins and start a stronger spiritual life. There was meat for dinner, so I ate… which means even the food was not in harmony with great Christianity which on that day is one even in the bodily sense. 47
Difficult situation on the frontlines in the mountains, thankful for the prayers which helped him escape danger
And how are the people up there on Monte Tossolone surviving?! The road up there is peppered day and night with shells. It is steep and slippery. To spend the nights without roof, suffer hunger and be under constant fire. They tell me they haven’t seen anything like that yet. I stayed down in the valley; I myself don’t know how it happened. It could be due to favoritism! Or maybe the prayers of my parents, friends? I am sorry that I do not suffer together with the rest, but enjoy my time here. I will not venture to go up there on my own, because I have nothing to do there. 48
Military action on the Italian battlefield.
St. Gregorio, 27 January 1918 – (21 years and 1 month)49
Inscription at the beginning of the 13th Diary notebook
Owner: (Besitzer, possesore): Merz Ivo, Kolodvor Banja Luka (Bosnien, Bosnia)
Falls es verloren geht bitte hinzusenden.
Se si perdesse questo quaderno si prega di mandarlo a l’indirizzo scritto la sù.
S’il se perdait ce cahier, ayez la bonté de l’envoyer à l’adresse marquée dehaut.
In case this notebook is lost, please send it to the above address.
St. Gregorio, 27 January 1918 – (21 years and 1 month)
Criticizes himself and starts to live an ascetic life
Life is hard; I strive for abstinence, but it isn’t easy. I am trying to skip breakfast and eating in the afternoon. For several days, I have been sleeping on the ground and I will try to get up earlier than usual (at least around 6 a.m.), so I can spend more time with God. I speak too much. I am too much in the company of others. I am weak in suffering. When our regiment goes up to take our position, I will volunteer to go with them to get used to the arrival of death.
Help me, Lord!50
Fonzaso, 2 February 1918 – (21 years and 2 months)
Enjoys beautiful singing of Italian girls and comments on the contents of the songs
This is the third time that I am in this town among cheerful girls. They sing about love, about the knights, about their fiancés who are in the war, about death and topics common to all folk songs and these melodies along with all their southern color are full of melancholy, sadness. These girls live only for love and laughter. They love music and play; love is stronger than anything else, including parental feelings. There is something chivalrous in it; they are prepared to flee, cheat their parents only to please their sweethearts.
And they really sing nicely: sopranos and altos are always in harmony. They sing for the first time together; in my home country, even after long schooling, girls couldn’t sing as precisely. I wrote down two of the songs. The first is similar in content to our operetta texts, but their melody oozes with joy and melancholy which are so characteristically blended in Italian art. (…) The other song is real Romance one; a chivalry motif in the background, characteristic of Spanish folk songs. (…)
(Here follow the texts of both songs in the Italian language)
Fonzaso, 5 February 1918 – (21 years and 2 months)
The first serious program for the spiritual life according to the principles of newly recognized Catholicism which he intends to implement after the war
A decree has been proclaimed according to which I could get a three-month leave for the continuation of my studies. This I fear. I fear hunger and I believe that I won’t be able to dedicate myself fully to the studies. I will strive to humbly fulfill God’s will, not to be too eager for knowledge and to work as much as I can. Science must not be an end in itself, it must, along with all the beauty hidden in it, contribute to the Kingdom of God on earth. I, therefore, think that, along with all the love for one’s profession every person must live socially, live in the world and support those who suffer. Because science is a product of suffering: technology wants to ease man’s material grievances, and art observes the painstaking life of the people and draws conceptual consequences. Life is everything…
As a student, I intend to work in the Society of St. Vincent – international religious background – and in “Croatia”51 (national-religious background). I ought to strive to eat only twice a day, in such a way I am materially free. As a matter of principle one shouldn’t eat at other times, even if offered.
I shouldn’t forget to restrain the body. Hard bunk, get up early, occasionally apply a rigorous fast so that at every moment I can do with my body according to my will.
The cultivation of health and bodily beauty is also important. Priests, nuns and other good people who neglect their appearance and exhibit an un-aesthetic mark, etc. make a horrible impression. The new generation must be healthy, cheerful and beautiful. What is ugly is the consequence of sin. Therefore, man must control himself and hold the cultivation of health and beauty as a means to conquer oneself and strengthen the will.
One should never forget God! One should unceasingly strive to be united to him. Every day – best at dawn – should be used for contemplation, prayer, if at all possible in the vicinity of the Eucharist or during holy Mass. This hour must be the source of the day, in that hour one must forget the entire world, lose all the worries of the world, all the nervousness of life, be still as in a cradle. In that hour, the plans should be created for the coming day, here one contemplates one’s mistakes and prays for grace to overcome all weakness.
It would be terrible if this war didn’t have any spiritual benefits for me! I mustn’t live the way I lived before the war. I must begin a new, regenerated life in the spirit of newly recognized Catholicism. May our only Lord help me, because a man can do naught by oneself!
Facsimile of the diary entry of 5 February 1918 in which Ivan lays out his religious-moral program of life compiled on the basis of the war experience which he went through. He actually implemented these decisions for a more perfect Christian life after
Casara Bolzano, 14 February 1918 – (21 years and 2 months)
Company, brandy, wine, smoke, this is not for me. My God, just now that allegedly Yugoslavs stage a celebration, the Slovenians, Serbians, Bosnian Muslims are stitching together their future roof.
God, help me to gain mastery over myself.
On the Italian battlefield in the Dolomites. Up in the snow soldiers on the frontline
(Photo: I. Merz)
Casara Bolzano, 20 February 1918 – (21 years and 2 months)
Fights against gluttony
It is disgusting to look at a voracious man, one that would eat the whole day if he could! I must be on guard regarding gluttony, because this is my great weakness. It should be enough to eat once a day! I will try, on the first available occasion. I remember a Trappist monk who ate very little. This was on Christmas 1916; Nina was celebrating his First Mass. Being a volunteer, and having come home from Seewiesen on a three-day leave, I was invited to the table! I had good appetite and ate a lot. The old Trappist monk took only a little bit of everything. I was wondering. I didn’t understand him. But now I do!
Only the one who works has the right to eat. The type of work is secondary! I read Arbeiter Zeitung. There is a lot of truth in it. The class which is suffering thinks most realistically.
The position is desperate. Germans are like Machiavelli; if a nation persists in its arrogance, it will perish.
Banja Luka, 4 March 1918 – (21 years and 3 months)
A very interesting review, comment and critique of the work Lazarine by Paul Bourget, from a religious perspective
Bourget’s way of writing consists in the elaboration of one philosophical idea. This idea in most of his works is the same – conversion. In his works, he leads his protagonists into various phases of life and at the end concludes that a man must become a Catholic, if he draws all the logical consequences from life. It is as if Bourget has taken this task upon himself! In the process, however, his works become monotonous. Bourget has lived through this process of conversion once and his first work is surely the most elementary. One would expect the other works to be even more Catholic, ethical, where many things will be taken for granted. Admittedly, there is nothing contrary to ethics, as a matter of fact in some places quotations from the Bible are very apt, but the religious life of Lazarine is too simple, conventional. When I think how brilliantly Bourget analyzed the psychology of a murder! How come then, that he never tried to analyze prayer?! If he is not deep enough to know everything that a prayer contains from his own experience – this mystical conversation with the Absolute Being – at least he should have studied a bit more the mystical writers in order to reconstruct the spiritual feelings of a soul so permeated with religion as Lazarine is.
The unraveling of the plot, the way in which the chief protagonist is converted is too unnatural, un-psychological. Graffetteau, the chief protagonist who has been through thick and thin in the war, never thought of life after death. Strange! One sees that Bourget has never been in war. To die for France is a very beautiful thought by itself; but this thought evaporates under the impact of the fear of death, as it is not real in the least. The hero who fights for his homeland either suppresses into the background all new thoughts which may occur and with an enormous willpower fights on saying to himself that he must not betray his intention52, while another who allows thoughts that occur in those moments unconditionally arrives at belief in God, in the afterlife and at belief in Christ. It is obvious that the work was written by an artist; but this artist knows better the psychology of sin than the psychology of Grace. (…) Bourget ascribes the conversion of Graffetteau to Grace which has come upon him due to the prayers of Lazarine. But, why didn’t he attempt to analyze this action of grace? This is where the greatness of a new Catholic writer lies. Logically it is not difficult to prove: Lazarine is good and pious, her devoutness has real effects; therefore, it must be that devoutness is not only fiction, but a very real thing, etc.
For the moment, the historical milieu is very interesting. Along with many virtues, especially the portrayal of the background with all its sins, the work is lacking a description of the frontlines, life on the front, dying, corpses, blood, conversion. I hold that the poet himself must go through the pains which the people are going through, if he wants to remain modern. Yes, for this reason I hold that the work has the smell of peacetime age when people didn’t feel what war really is; yes, war that disturbs everything and creates new people.
There is something else which I find odd. Do the French really think, as in 1870 that this is a battle for France, that the Germans are enemies, etc.? Isn’t there even a bit of the social spirit among the people, the Christian spirit which ought to observe suffering mankind irrespective of nationality?! Maybe these thoughts occur in the background where the men draw all the ideology from life. The soldiers who bear all the difficulties surely think differently. (…)
Truly, it is heroism to expose oneself to danger and be killed, but not in this present-day war where the nations are fighting against their will. The bloody patriotism which knows only nations that have nothing in common has gone bankrupt today. One ought to consider that the front is not only defensive, where the hardships are endured, but also where your neighbor is being killed. It is as if this was felt by Bourget himself, and he doesn’t portray Graffetteau dying during an onslaught, but when saving a wounded comrade. (…)
(Here follows a detailed account, comment and critique of the characters in the novel).
Banja Luka, 14 March 1918 – (21 years and 3 months)
Review and critique of Goethe’s novel Kindred by Choice
A hugely extensive novel written in the manner of other similar works of the same century. A novel which reflects the relatively un-religious period, in which there were no newspapers (in present-day meaning), telegrams, trains. An idyllic life in a village, in a castle, reflections about oneself, that is all. Really, at that time people had a lot of time on their hands; because such a detailed description of the minutest events and passions is almost unthinkable today. We do not have the same perceptions nowadays. The work is outdated. (…)
Campo, 25 March 1918 – (21 years and 3 months)
Conception and sketch of a three-part novel that he would write on the basis of his war and religious experience
When I was sitting with my father in the Korzo coffee room in Zagreb, looking at the crowd, I thought: there, the cultured, modern man arranged a truly comfortable life for himself. He lives above the body and sensuality by simply having at his disposal in the simplest manner everything his body needs. His mind, liberated from worries about bodily and material affairs, is more clearly profiled and thereby the modern man becomes spiritually very refined. It suffices to think of Dorian Grey and many other esthetically refined modern men (Huysmans). In this life, the drive of the soul to free itself from slavery is true indeed…
There, these people sit in the coffee room. They read the papers, indulging their curiosity, killing an inborn boredom. (Everything apart from God creates boredom, and therefore, one removes it from one’s life by artificial means: drink, newspapers, cinema, high street, novels.). When darkness comes, the lights are switched on; he has an itch in the throat, the waiter comes as if on wings and brings him coffee. If he is bored he gets up, sits in the tram and in a moment, he is at his home. The minutest need of the body is fulfilled so that his spirit can roam freely, unfettered by bodily needs. This is the image of the coffee room. The first part of a three-part novel.
Ivan with his father during leave from the army in 1918
Second part: let us assume that such a man, a young student or a judge or similar, who indulged in a coffee room life, goes to war. What a contrast! Before that he didn’t even know he had a body, and now the rain is pouring and he goes up one hill, and soaking wet carries his back-pack. This pulls him to the ground, his shoulders ache, his legs shiver, and his feet are full of blisters.
The company marches on and he stops, sits on a rock, then gets up again to continue his way of the cross. And he hasn’t eaten for a long time. Emptiness in the stomach squeezes him, and tired to the extreme he can barely move. He feels factually that he lives: he has a neck which is stiff, shoulders which burn, arms that are heavy, a back which aches, a stomach which squeezes, legs which barely move due to tiredness. And his skin is all wet: the water drips from under his uniform. And this man goes on, the man who used to get depressed at hearing a funeral orchestra; he now steps over disfigured corpses, looks at the heads, torsos, legs, dried blood and asks himself – why all this? Then the shooting starts, and he looks as the others beside him fall down, how they weep, moan, the blood flows, all is red. And he will follow in that fashion. When, where? What is life? Only death is real. What are our ideas, yearnings, plans, passions? Only death is the true thing. And he will lie there dead, yellow, motionless like a log. And the Earth will go on turning, and the sun will shine and people will live as if it never happened, as if he never lived at all. Then why live if everything remains unchanged? Is it all without meaning, merely chance…? No, it cannot be. Why should he then be afraid of that? Of death? He is not the only one. There are thousands who were killed, who are being killed now, but he doesn’t care. Why then does he care if he is killed? Is he somebody apart from the rest? What then is the meaning of life? Surely it is not in this life…because with death everything stops. Does he have a Christian idea in his mind? Drawing the same conclusions, he arrives at Christianity. He survives war and returns home. End of part two.
So, what is the result that he reached? He cannot waste a part of his life in a coffee room. The picture of mankind suffering is always in front of his eyes, and he cannot live here comfortably knowing that so many people lack everything, that they have a body… so what is the correct way to live? In accordance with the idea from part one that spirituality requires independence from the body, the first part resolves this issue by giving him everything that the body needs. But this idea is not in harmony with suffering mankind in part two. There ought to be a compromise. Only asceticism can practically solve this contradiction. By asceticism a man becomes the master of temporality. He uses only the most necessary things, lives most humbly as if he were the greatest pauper. This is for the material life. For the spiritual one, there ought to be an evolution toward Christianity, the collision in the soul of this man should be brought to the point of absurdity: this man saw very well that asceticism leads to perfection, but he cannot do anything by himself. Desperation, where, how?
He is a representative of the entire human race which waits upon the Messiah. By reflecting, observing, looking at history he arrives at the center of everything: nature, the universe and life after death in concentric circles: The Host. The novel ends with the Revelation by John; I don’t remember the exact words, but the meaning implied is that the Lamb (sacrifice) is the center of the universe.
Novels are the best mirrors of life. This is an introduction into an observation of the current war. This is the subject-matter for a novel; we should also weave in the problem of death and the spiritual atmosphere of the current age that would be drafted in main outline.
Contemporary post-war problems of life and their reflection in literature
This life finds reflection in literature. However, there is no mention of it among the Germans, and in Bosnia even less because the Yugoslavs are too much worried about their existence: they are still fighting. The French are spiritually the most agile. Bourget’s Lazarine already touches upon these new problems, and the novel The Meaning of Death resolves them in a similar way. But, Bourget lapsed into a certain template. He produces works in which the end is conversion to Catholicism. His characteristic is to study the evolution of life which leads to Christianity. He seeks numerous variations by which a person reaches this point in life. In Guilt a physician converts, I think in order to repent for the guilt of his parents, and in Lazarine it is prayer which converts, and here the death of a young fighter converts…
Review, analysis and comment of the novel The Meaning of Death by Paul Bourget, comparison with Jörgensen
Bourget lays out the psychology of conversion in dialogues. The key persons speak and discuss after the event has happened and we find out about their evolution from their speech. But, these conversions do not make a deeply suggestive impression, precisely because they happen in dialogues. Images, more images! An artist should, even if it means going to the point of absurdity, picture the images of pain, images like in Dante, real, brutal images. There should be contrast between the two. (…) Jörgensen with his contrast is a hundred times more spontaneous. That scene in the silent chapel, far from the hurry of the world, its noise and passions, is spontaneous and suggestive. Bourget is too plain. His proofs are true, but lack the depth as in Jörgensen; the latter experienced conversion only once, whereas Bourget became Catholic already before the war so he knew what the fruit of these great events will be. He tried to imagine the evolution of others, without going through it himself once again. Therefore, this paleness! (…) A great work will be written by someone who really converted and who felt on his own skin all the horrors of this war. This is where we expect a great work to come from. This author will be the prophet of the new age and will give us the character of a new modern man, because modern literature still deals with this topic. (…)
(Here follows a detailed account of the content of the work and its characters)
Campo, Good Friday, 28 March 1918 – (21 years and 3 months)
Problems of military cohabitation
In this room, there is a machine which emits smoke the whole day so the entire room is in a kind of fog. Even the sunrays hardly penetrate this smoke. This smoke factory is called Musmin eff. Harambašić, a Muslim priest from Novi, here in the role of administrator.
Vienna, 8 April 1918 – (21 years and 4 months)
Reflections after the return from the theatre
I just came back from Burgtheater. Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler was on. As if I had lived in some pagan world and I was sorry for these people living without meaning and purpose, without religion; they construct some ideals for themselves, which have no real foundation. With death, everything vanishes. If that is so, why is it a “good deed” when someone commits suicide rather than being a slave? Why does free will have its value when everything ends with death?
Vienna, 9 April 1918 – (21 years and 4 months)
Review and critique of Ibsen’s drama Hedda Gabler, analysis from the point of view of religious and moral criteria
(…) Hedda is a product of a modern milieu which is unable to say anything about the great ideas of the present century, about the idea of religion. She is the daughter of a general. This says a lot about her. Taking into account that she lived exclusively in a noble, comfortable environment, knowing of pain and death only from conversations, we admire her striving for strength and freedom. She needs a husband who would break her (she never says so) and not finding him, tries to break men with some demonic power (battle of the sexes!) Really, we ought to feel sorry for Hedda who, along with all her noble spirit lives so miserably and dies miserably. Objectively looking at her deeds and her life, everything is abominable. She is satiated and bored to death. She doesn’t know the elementary pain to which the millions are exposed. She wants a servant, a horse and other things. She is not doing anything. However, the poet might answer like this: the distinctiveness of Hedda’s character (it truly is distinctive) is that she hasn’t found the right husband who would be stronger than her and direct her activities on the right way. She didn’t find a companion for her life and took the wrong road marrying the one whom she doesn’t love (and like Coriolanus, cannot go back). Due to that she must come to grief. The promised faithfulness is sacred for her and therefore she is heading for disaster. And what remains after her death? The idea of the given word. It sanctifies the deed. Because she could have saved herself.53 (…) I think that Ibsen himself never thought of that. Suicide is by itself an evil, a fruit of a concealed and unknown sin. Here, it is a necessary evil because it proceeds from the ignorance of a fundamental law of life: the purpose of this life. (…) Hedda is a demonic woman who breaks others in her way, and finally she breaks herself. She killed Löugard and Mrs. Elosted and destroyed her child – Löugard’s manuscript which was created under her influence. That original instinct of envy, the unconquered and great instinct is presented almost naturalistically. Seeing that her loved one created a great work with the help of another woman fills her with rage, and she throws the manuscript into the fire thus destroying the existence of two people. (…) Hedda is a specific literary character whom we meet often both in life and in literature. It is a rich and beautiful character whom the poet extracted from a historical range of personalities; she is corrupt in her primeval beauty by original sin (not knowing of God’s revelation) and placed, so beautiful and terrible (due to sin), in her brutal reality on the pedestal of art. This is an artistic character and must never become a model for life; because the sin gives this beauty a special color, but this color bites, devastates, produces negativity. The beauty of her good features due to the sin in the background comes out more strongly into the forefront and increases the tragedy of Hedda’s character to enormous heights. From the technical viewpoint, the work is classical. It corresponds to old Greek classical drama. (…)
(Here follows the review of the content of the work and a detailed analysis of its characters)
Critique of his own state of mind, need for a deeper spiritual life, admires the beauty of a Christian family
Life is everything… and I am threatened by the danger of entering again into the grey theoretical life of books. Tomorrow I will receive Holy Communion in order to get strength for the battle. I have been very lax these last days. I was half lazy, ate disorderly, prayed only a little, didn’t suffer at all, had bursts of anger and I was stingy… for all these reasons I lost touch with That One.
There is nothing greater than a Christian family. The spirit that rules among the members, the sincerity, simplicity in self-sacrifice, it is all permeated with indescribable spirituality. I often think of Jović’s family.54
Reflects seriously about his future and his calling in life, considers marrying
And what am I going to be? This is a difficult question which has been troubling me for a long time. I am interested in literature and art, although I do not enjoy them as much as I used to. I lost the youthful enthusiasm for something… because we are only transient beings in this world… a moment later we are not here any longer, and this life has meaning only if it is a preparation for the other one (it is so with the life of nations and mankind, too). If I graduate in philosophy and become a teacher, I am going to marry; because I hold that if someone chooses to remain single, let him take holy orders and be active in an absolutely mystical life. Those who didn’t study, let him enter a monastery. I will strive for sanctity, for union with God our Lord and I will ask him to give me resilient strength in the battle of life and energy for creation.
It is easy to say so, but will I be able as a teacher with a wife and home to be active outside of my family? I fear not, because the position of a teacher is very dependent and material worries could break the most beautiful of dreams. And we do not need pale theoreticians, run-down teachers; there are too many such individuals around. We need healthy, practical people, and I see myself that in our country the teacher is the greatest theoretician, because he is too constrained by the absolutist system. Mother is right in fearing this profession. And what could I choose now, when so many years have passed and nothing interests me as much as art and literature do. I grew up in such a milieu where every new publication is eagerly awaited, where every magazine is being read, a newly printed artistic postcard bought, and it is hard for a man now to get rid of this illness and take up something completely new. It is true, literature is not all; literature, art in general, these are only details in that great work – the Kingdom of God. The ploughman and the shoe-maker and butcher and lawyer and guard, all of them are laborers in this great building. The question is not so much what your job is, but how do you fulfil it. All professions have equal value with God; you only have to work according to His will. And still, I would love so much to study literature and art! But, if sacrifice is necessary in order to bring my mother to conversion, I will take it. This is much more important than all the sciences of the world – because it is a terrible thought that she, whom I love so much, would be separated from Him suffering eternal torment (what a terrible thought!) – so why wouldn’t I suppress myself, take up my cross and contribute this sacrifice for my mother. It is easy to be theoretical about Christianity and be enthusiastic about God when He doesn’t ask anything of us; to be a practicing Catholic ought to be my purpose.
My God, enlighten me to come to a firm decision soon. Let Your will be done everywhere, because we are only provisional beings here, and in my real homeland no one will ask if I was a teacher or a bricklayer. But one should be something!
Vienna, 11 April 1918 – (21 years and 4 months)
Condemnation of the sin of lewdness of which he was an indirect witness
Tonight, I was a witness of one terrible thing. I was already in my bed when a man in the adjacent room brought with him a prostitute. (…) My blood was terribly agitated – I was curious (sin!!!) and I must admit that I am far from being mortificatus55. But, this excitement was cut short when from their conversation, I felt the terrible position in which the prostitute found herself when she said that she must live off something. (…) I felt that spiritual emptiness present in that room, something alien to life, a separation, a blackness, a colorlessness. I cannot describe this completely new feeling for me, but I find it easiest to say that I felt a horror where a gigantic human tragedy is happening in reality, in real life (not on the stage), destroying the existence of the spiritual man, a tragedy which throws him with titanic force from an immense height of human dignity into mindlessness – where a new concept is created that has nothing to do with man. I would have been the happiest if I could have called the girl to me, to help her in some way. Somebody told me that here a great sense of nature is being played out, that that is love, a great principle of life or similar! This is spiritual poverty, emptiness, sin! An extramarital relation is in reality not at all similar to the marital one. In the first of the two, all spirituality is lacking, as the symptoms show and the latter proves. A man becomes only a beast.
Vienna, 17 April 1918 – (21 years and 4 months)
Yesterday I spoke with Dr. Korošec.56
(On the same day, 17 April, when Merz mentions in his Diary the meeting with Dr. Korošec, he wrote to his father about this meeting and added the following sentence in his letter: “I saw Dr. Korošec and something will happen.” It is obvious that they talked about the future of Yugoslav countries after the break-up of Austria-Hungary, a project on which Dr. Korošec, a pronounced Slovenian politician of pro-Yugoslav leaning, was especially engaged)
Review and critique of the comedy As You Like It by W. Shakespeare
(…) The historical background is for us Croatians particularly interesting. The fame about our pirates came all the way to England and surely the travelers were telling many stories about them. It is visible what the English of that time thought about Croats whom they called Illyrians. There is mention of ancient towns like Solin, Split. (…) The English held that the Littoral (Primorje) was further down, still unexplored. Along the coast there are the old towns whose historical monuments are known everywhere. They are a nation of great pirates, but these pirates are not only looters and murderers, but among them there are many who engage in piracy from other, higher motives. These people are deeply honest and go even into death easily. This is the historical background and it was appropriate for him to weave into it the ancient motif of changing of clothes. (…) The English folk motif is the most valuable. The intrigue is transplanted on Illyrian soil, but the characters are English persons of that time and the whole value of the play lies in their imaging. (…)
(Here he lists quotations from the comedy which illustrate a connection with Croatian territories, followed by a review of the content and analysis of characters)
Review of the work Prince by the Countess of Zapolska
This is a presentation of the moral life in the Russian imperial court where in a very skilled manner the circumstances of the court are exposed, the weak people who decide the fate of the people and the miserable state in which they find themselves. The old Emperor wanders around the house like a ghost. The prince does everything he is ordered to do. He doesn’t have the power to extricate himself from the claws of his tutors. The Emperor’s uncle, a militarist, despises diplomacy. The Prime Minister is a prototype of a diplomat who bases everything on cunning and lies and firmly believes in his tactics. (…) The works such as this one also have their justification. These are pictures from a life which have a moralizing effect. Compared to these works Ibsen is classical, just like Sophocles compared to Euripides or Goethe compared to Lessing.
Vienna, 18 April 1918 – (21 years and 4 months)
Made acquaintance with Fr. Božo Milanović and talks with him about asceticism
I talked with some members of the Danica (in the club)57. These are religious people. Yesterday I met Božo Milanović58. Mato Filipović59 and I talked with him about asceticism. I also saw Pavešić. Tonight I am going back to my regiment.
Close to Feltre Villago, 25 April 1918 – (21 years and 4 months)
Political situation in the warring states
I was nominated Security officer with the II Military district. It is hard to raise oneself above this world. But, reading Italian illustrated magazines the whole tragedy of this war becomes apparent. After all, the mentality of Europe is united. The states are relatively well separated from one another, but when we look at Austrian, German or Italian papers we see that the virtues and mistakes are practically equal. They only wear different suits. The Italians write how they are advancing on all the fronts, how their military performs heroic acts, how it suffers. They always emphasize the weakness of the enemy; not a word about objective criticism. Just like here in Austria. (And these men of the same mentality are fighting.) In every Italian paper, there is some material about the royal family. Advertisement for the heir apparent? This is how it seems to me. There, the dynastic idea became a “sin”. Emanuele wants to secure a respectable position for his son. It is the same here.
Immorality on the battlefield
Italian women! I didn’t see anything directly, but I sense, and by the talk of others I gather that they are not very choosy. When the Italians are here, it seems that “it” is customary. They are all the same… All our officers also speak about that and do not refrain to behave in that manner with wives, mothers. But these women are no better, although they are relatively beautiful, healthy and strong. I don’t know what future this nation has. In Austria, the type of an honest, incorrupt girl is still preserved. We should strive by all means to keep this character inviolate.
Political reflections and forecasts about the future of nations after the war
In any case, we need the Yugoslav state60, but I hold that we should remain in alliance with other nations with whom we have historical ties. Habsburg is in the best position to formally hold together this union of nations, but every nation should have absolute equality, including the right to dethrone the ruler by vote, if he would pursue dynastic goals. Such a state should be a new type of the future Europe and the whole world. I hold that a complete separation from Austria is not correct, although I admit it is not pleasant to listen to orders from degenerate and immoral bureaucrats. The new government should be constituted by elections, and not nomination or rank.
Trench on the frontline where Ivan spent a certain period of time.
Monte Fontanel, 7 May 1918 – (21 years and 5 months)
Heartless killing of the enemy
The month of the Queen of May.
Up there the rain is pouring, and I am busy with tactical analysis as never before. Slavery… These are beautiful mountains, but furrowed everywhere. Here is one picture. We look through 15-fold binoculars at a group of eight Italians who are leisurely putting up the wire. The lieutenant, artillery commander, full of joy, immediately releases a salvo of grenades and kills one Italian. As it hit him, the lieutenant laughed with joy and wouldn’t stop. He was happy that his artillery was precise. This is war, for someone it is a sport, for others making money, and for many, death!
Monte Fontanel, 10 May 1918 – (21 years and 5 months)
The Italians are shooting
On the way to the fifth company (Calcinohang) Italians are shooting at our lads as if they were rabbits. They flee down the slope, but the Italians keep shooting, like shooting at game, until they hit the target. Sport! They fire with different calibers into the Cinespa valley. Our observation point is destroyed.
Monte Fontanel, 16 May 1918 – (21 years and 5 months)
War operations, admits his spiritual weakness
There was a lot of shooting with mines. Fleger is on Spinucia. With what means we make war! Here is the Propaganda office and our task is to spread revolutionary ideas among the Italians and sow discord and mutual hatred among the Entente. (…)
I live sinfully. The will is weak. I am too much devoted to food.
Croatian soldiers on the Italian battlefield to whom Ivan was a superior officer (Photo: I. Merz)
Monte Fontanel, 20 May 1918 – (21 years and 5 months)
New positions on the battlefield, shooting, a wounded soldier, his physical and mental state
In front of the window the paramedics carried on a stretcher a cook covered in blood; his face was red, red, red – blood, blood, blood so that the facial features could not be recognized. He is a cook with one company. The whole afternoon there was shooting with 15 cm grenades into the Cinespa valley and on Fontanel.
Mysterium vitae – a man covered in blood. From Adam until today millions have suffered the same and they will suffer until Judgement Day.
I was on Fontana Secca to see our new positions. It is beautiful up there. As if on a holiday. The wire comes all the way to the command. The view of the snow-covered Dolomites, Meleta, Pasubio is magnificent. One can see Seren and Campo and the road to the elevation 433. On the other side the view opens on Tomba, the Piave valley and the lowlands. On a clear day – so they say – one can see the sea, St. Mark’s Church (Venice) and the steamboats.
Pentecost. I am ill. Stomach catarrh. Spiritually, I am down due to this illness.
Fontana Secca, 28 May 1918 – (21 years and 5 months)
Feels a spiritual malaise, tries to live ascetically even on the battlefield, prays
I am weak. I decided not to drink water – and I took it. I am falling from day to day. I am a weakling. I read The Saint by Fogazzaro. It interests me. I look upon the furrowed Grappa, Mt. Meate, Solarol and other mountains. On all sides, huge caverns gape. New ditches appear, new cannons are firing. The observers look through spyglasses. Everything is alive with work. Positions are being masked, food is brought up, material is carried around, soldiers dig and work day and night.
Thick wires are visible everywhere; this is electricity which powers machines and fills the trenches. On Grappa, there is some monument. The Italians invested enormous energies into these mountains. In these several months, they drilled them through; they did a magnificent work for the defense of their homeland.
They say that the offensive will start around 15 June. Our people are hungry.
God, help me! Give me the grace to become an unconditional master of my body! It is better to die than be a weakling, the game of passions.
May the Queen of May forgive me for thinking of Her so rarely!
God, God – more of the mystical world!
War zone in the Dolomites (Photo: I. Merz)
Fontana Secca, 1 June 1918 – (21 years and 6 months)
Preparations for the big offensive
It is interesting to observe through spyglasses the activity in the Italian mountains. On Mt. Meate, at the elevation of 1489 m, they dig and work unceasingly. On Pyramiden-Kuppe and Solarol I saw them dragging something through the trench, working and digging further. Their guards are always at the same place; a head with a helmet peeps small like a walnut. Enormous quantities of munition arrive. Our artillery shoots on different positions; preparation for the real thing. The day before yesterday I was looking at Venice. The sea could be seen and St. Mark’s Church in the mist, also one bridge and boats which sail like black shadows.
Fontana Secca, 8 June 1918 – (21 years and 6 months)
Situation on the battlefield among the soldiers on the eve of the offensive
This morning again, like a fireball our airplane fell (in the direction of Giarone). The view from elevation 1611 is magnificent. Many hundred Italians are working on the road which leads by serpentines to Grappa. The caverns open up on all sides. Near the small church (Bassano) they gather in the morning and slowly go to work. On Schiavero they emerge slowly from their shelters and take shortcuts to different locations. One can see horses, cannon, the laying of mines. Yes, yes, in the defense of their homeland! Around 11 June – so they say – a big offensive will start from the regions of Frenzella, Cima, Ecker, Col del Rosso. The Austrians are armed to the teeth; it is impossible to count the 42 cm and 30.5 cm cannon in Val Frenzella. Numerous infantry divisions are ready for the strike.
They say that the Italians are in a terrible fear. They fear combat gases (of course they do!). They are expecting the offensive any day now, always at the ready.
In our quarters, everybody is trying to catch the rabbit in the forest. The captain wants gold and money, as well as linen and stockings for his wife; others lie in wait for cloth, and the hungry lads, suffering hunger for many days now, already see the Italian tins and bread flying into their mouths!
God, if the breakthrough succeeds, protect me from any avarice, give me your Grace, the health to my parents and myself, and we shall be the richest people in the world.
Ivan beside the military headquarters building during a brief rest before the offensive
Fontana Secca, 10 June 1918 – (21 years and 6 months)
Tries to keep fast even on the battlefield; God’s grace is helping him
Yesterday I fasted the whole day, because the day before yesterday I was too addicted to food (coffee and other things). It was pretty hard; a man is too much the slave of the body. I was in a bad mood due to lack of food. But, in the evening God’s Grace helped me. When I thought of myself as being the loneliest man in the world, I heard one guy reading folk poems. I took the book, started to read, spoke with them a little, and they were so enthused, as if by some secret power. I ascribe this to the action of Grace. A man can talk and explain away until the end of the world, but when he is not a man à la bonheur, these are barren words. Our generation lacks the strength of will.
One only ought to observe the photographs of present-day celebrities (comedians and other) and see the fat and swollen faces (all that pork that they ate is seen in their faces), the stomachs, the inflated old faces…
Fontana Secca, 12 June 1918 – (21 years and 6 months)
Review and critique of Jókarov’s novel Traurige Tage
Romantic – historical novel with a strong realistic punch-line, with the world-view of people living in that novel. It suffices to read one work of this writer, written for the common folk, and one sees that it cannot by far satisfy a refined artistic taste. He describes the mutiny of the peasants during the European plague around 1830. (…)
(Here follow the contents of the novel and analysis of its characters)
Fontana Secca, 13 June 1918 – (21 years and 6 months)
Everything is ready for the offensive
The offensive starts tomorrow. An immense army is here. The men of the Seventh, our first battalion and others. Tomorrow for two hours I am going to the 110th brigade to line them up. In the night machine gun-fire will start, and at noon they hope to be at Monte Meata.
Soldiers in the trenches on the Italian battlefield
Fontana Secca, 19 June 1918 – (21 years and 6 months)
Dramatic description of the offensive
On 15th June at 3 a.m. our machine gun-fire started. I was up at the peak of Fontana Secca and sat in the electrically illuminated cavern with division commander Le Beau, his deputy and others. They played cards using all the French words like coeur and others. Not a word about the events that were about to follow, about the dead. They played non-stop until 2 o’clock and 59 minutes. Then they stopped; outside, the cannons were rolled into position. We got out. The earth and the sky were all as if hit by lightning, and a whole orchestra of low and high tones accompanied this magnificent lightning of the clouds, mountains and valleys. I climbed up and observed the lightning of grenades that were exploding on Italian mountains. From different sides fireworks were shooting up from Italian trenches and the whole surrounding was in light. This lasted until 7 a.m. The Italians responded with various calibers; we didn’t expect that, we thought they would be poisoned by gas and gas grenades. We had to use masks for gas. At 7:40 a.m. the firing stopped and at 7:50 the news arrived that Solarol, Porte di Sallon is in our hands. Half an hour later the news arrived that Borojević crossed the Piave River. They began to advance and our battalion followed. The first casualties started coming our way, Italians, officers and lads. We heard that many of our troops had died, that the Italians defended themselves well…
Criticizes the command which sacrifices people without reason, helps a wounded Italian
The artillery did not kill the Italians, didn’t hit the trenches at all. Our assault patrols (Kovač and Greger) took Solarol (Pyramiden-Kuppe) taking about 70 men prisoner, along with 4 machine guns. The waves of infantry didn’t arrive, and the remaining 20 lads defended themselves against the 4th Italian company which swarmed all over our positions once they realized they didn’t have to retreat. This is how our command sacrifices people mindlessly. In the most important moments they play cards, uncaring about the most elementary principles of attack.
Under fire we arrived to where we are now, the former officer front-guard positions and went to sleep in the caverns. The sergeants who led the assault patrols came, beautiful men, brave and ready to die without fear. Our people are wonderful, if only there was someone to guide them!
Lying on the floor was a severely wounded Italian officer. His thigh was cut apart like prosciutto, and he was moaning in pain. “Quanto male Manfredi”, he repeated in a series of 20-odd times like a machine. He was moaning like that for more than an hour. I had him taken back to the elevation 1580 where a small medical emergency post was situated. I will never forget his thankful look, the squeeze of his bloody hand. He was a wonderful young man. To do an act of love to a man who suffers is the greatest thing in this world. This is the foundation of all spiritual life.
The offensive was brought to a halt. They said, for political reasons. Characteristic of disorder ruling in Austria. The Italian trenches were full of our dead men. Terrible pictures. Terrible stench. Their trenches were deep, badly made and disorderly. The caverns were damp and badly constructed. They said that Krndelj was buried in Rasai. Terrible! That bright face, full of idealism and life, left us in a brief moment! God, have mercy on him!
At the foot of Mt. Solarol, 21 June 1918 – (21 years and 6 months)
Here Merz quotes a poem about a Bosniak soldier written by an anonymous author. The poem was composed on the battlefield and gives the picture of a gloomy state of mind among the soldiers.
100 steps below elevation 1672 on Mt. Solarol, 25 June 1918 – (21 years and 6 months)
Difficult situation on the battlefield, breakdown of the Austrian system
We are leading a sad life. We spend the nights in a dark and damp Italian cavern. Here is our command headquarters. I took over the position of adjutant and I am so busy, I can hardly find the time to recollect and say my prayers. There is terrible shooting here. Yesterday twelve lads died. The trenches are bloody; lads are ill due to moisture and bad weather. It is a huge cross for the people. I thank God for having remained healthy in this dampness. The fog and cold are against us.
They say that our army retreated from Montello. Our leadership explains it brilliantly; in other words, the incompetence of the Austrian system. The finger of God is also visible in this. Everywhere a small group of Austrian soldiers overcame the Italian supremacy; and now the supremacy of Austria (material and in manpower) cannot overcome this lousy Italian army. Yes, they thought the wealth of the Italian lowlands was up for grabs! Sin is the cause of the greatest catastrophes of mankind.
The meaning of life is mysterium crucis; I must therefore be happy with my present state. But it is hard to be a slave in a system which is so deeply indifferent of our lives and ideas. But where? Where to? On the other side of the trenches it is no better! One ought to use cunning and flee from this system.
Vilaga, 5 July 1918 – (21 years and 7 months)
Overcame illness, hopes for recovery
I was a little bit ill and came down here to recover. Everything is green. I contracted rheumatism, and besides, my health is not as it used to be. I lost a lot of my moral strength, but I gather that in a week’s time my health will recover to the previous level.
Vilaga, 6 July 1918 – (21 years and 7 months)
Review and analysis of Strindberg’s novel Son of a Servant, critique of pietism
The book is interesting, compared to other works from Nordic literature. Otherwise, it is not of some great value, it is loaded with all kinds of stuff, and the poet has no consistent world-view except doubt; and doubt can never be the foundation for a work of art which must be something whole, harmonic, measured, natural. (…) Strindberg’s works are a cry of an unhappy modern man who sees pain, dirt and misfortune everywhere, without a trace of hope that this might be changed over time. But Christianity which Strindberg got to know from Patristics, Protestant pastors and Kierkegaard is a far cry from that great Christianity which remains strong always. But Strindberg was never acquainted with it, and we feel sorry for this lost energy, just as we feel sorry for that entire misfortunate company which constitutes Strindberg’s background and which still exists. (…)
The whole work is permeated by the analysis of a religious battle. It is, however, of little interest for us because it does not represent any of the eternal movements in a religious battle which will always be there, until all the people become Catholics (it exists also later, but with a completely different character). This is a provincial, Scandinavian battle. It mainly consists of the emancipation of people from pietism. This religious life of pietists is strange indeed. We shrink from the very thought that a poet could identify that with religious life; moreover, the writer allows himself the freedom to extend these observations of pietism to entire Christianity. This pietism is no religion at all; all the unhealthy pietist asceticism, these prayers, the attitude towards the problem of sexuality, all of that is so miserable that we are sorry for Strindberg or this young man Ivo to have gotten to know Christianity in these degenerates or in the Christianity of Kierkegaard. It seems that Strindberg never even heard about real Christianity, or some strong, optimistic world-view. It is true that the social circumstances which he describes and in which he grew up are bad to the extreme, but this doesn’t imply that we should doubt in good or ask ourselves whether there is good in the world at all. The good which he pictures as some relative value (the life of the wealthy in their country houses and other) is not good, because this is a care-free life which leans on the backs of the oppressed. (…)
(Here follows a short overview of the content of the work and a final assessment about the nature of the work which cannot be considered a novel due to various constraints in portraying life.)
Solarol (cavern), 11 July 1918 – (21 years and 7 months)
A dog’s life on the battlefield, he got used to mortal danger
A dog’s life. I don’t sleep any more in a damp cavern. My bed is in an open barracks between lousy lads. I myself am full of lice, dirty and I live like an animal. I don’t think at all. The brighter moments are when food comes. I’ve gotten used to shooting; after all, I’m a beast. Mines and grenades roar and whistle around us, flying over our heads, and we barely care to bend to protect our heads from shrapnel. When one is at the frontline for any length of time, mortal danger becomes an everyday affair and one really doesn’t think much about the meaning of life. Admittedly, this is when you don’t see the dead, or look at pain face to face. The explosions of mines become like thunder and nothing more. I would be afraid of an onslaught; I think I would be courageous if this war had a foundation in an idea. In that case I would even practice heroism. But like this, I am indifferent and place my destiny into the hands of God who knows best what is good for me; why should I then be afraid?
Solarol (in the cavern), 13 July 1918 – (21 years and 7 months)
Closely escapes death, thankful for the prayers of his mother and friends, prays to God to be able to live a saintly life
A grenade hit our barracks directly; Šime’s head was torn off, Šobrt and others gravely wounded, and one young lad was lifted into the air and thrown several meters. I looked at an active captain, a 40-year old, cry at having lost a man. All the others were in a shock, too.
I thank the prayers of my mother and my golden friends for being alive, because I myself – although I think of God a lot – actually pray very little. I lie in the cavern the whole day long, eat something, write a bit, and cannot recollect myself and dive into the huge mystical sea. The other day I saw a priest; I would have liked to kiss the hands which held Christ. Should I hope for better days when I myself will follow in Šime’s footsteps?
O God, it would be the best if I was already with you! Burn with the fire of your mercy all the parasites of sin which sneaked into my soul, so that I step before you good and holy; or at least to be inspired in my life with holy joy and superhuman will.
It is easy to write, but difficult to live saintly.
Solarol (cavern), 16 July 1918 – (21 years and 7 months)
Description of a new onslaught and battle
Yesterday we lived through a great onslaught. The Italians were already on the top, and I was seriously contemplating fleeing. Our people are really heroes; they are joyful in battle as if they enjoy showing off their bravery. It is only a pity that they are not enlightened.
For several days, the Italians were shooting with heavy artillery and destroyed the trenches, broke the wires. At 4:30 the onslaught began. Assault patrols were on the top in an instant, the flame-throwers began to fire, they dragged away the tautscher61 which was situated in front of the cavern. They were throwing hand grenades and started shooting from the top with machine guns. Our lads, each for himself, were pushing away the Italians, took many of them prisoner. Many remained dead. The onslaught was attempted twice more, but they didn’t reach the top.
Transcription of a touching farewell letter of a killed Italian soldier
This letter62 was found along with postcards and photographs with caporal maggiore Luigino Odorico who was killed in front of our wire in the morning of 15 July 1918, during an onslaught on elevation 1672 Mt. Solarol. From the documents and photographs it appears that he was born in 1899 and brought up in a wealthy home. There were photographs of him as a civilian and a soldier with a cape, playing tennis with girls in a cheerful company. There is a silhouette of a girl at a window at dusk, his father and small sister in front of the house with a large door with lattice, renaissance columns with a verandah.
War area, in July 1918
My dearest parents,
I am writing this letter expecting to go on an onslaught, not because I might have a foreboding of my death, but because I have seen it coming and taking us in its vortex when one expects it the least. I therefore want you to know my most intimate thoughts. When I was called to arms, I responded cheerfully, following more the sense of duty than patriotism (which I also possess to a large degree). Both virtues were instilled into my soul more with your example than words. Before the war, my ideas were neutral, but only because I foresaw that the war will drag on for too long, reducing both the victor and the vanquished into a most miserable state. Now, the reality justifies my thoughts. When the war started, I immediately realized that the only means to extricate from it as soon as possible was to assist the war effort with deeds without many words and that we all should fulfil our duty. It is up to others to judge whether this was done or not. On my part this conviction was my guiding idea.
But I have strayed from what I wanted to tell you.
I want to talk about us. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for striving always to give us a good and deep upbringing and for wanting to offer us a peaceful and happy life. I know that this goal which you have placed in front of yourselves cost you many worries and hard thoughts, but this only makes your merit greater. I am sorry for not being able to return to you all the good which you did for us, but I hope that Pietrino and Federico will fulfil this task and make your life beautiful and happy after the war. I can tell you that, if I had a very happy childhood, this was possible only because there was a deep peace that reigned in our family. This we must thank to You, dear father, who never liked too much knowledge and connections and had an eagle’s eye so that persons with dishonest feelings could not have sneaked among us. If I had had the luck to save myself, I would have followed in your footsteps: a healthy and honest enjoyment, without exaggeration and in proper time; allowing access into our family to a small number of persons, but only those who deserve it. I am sorry for one thing, and this is that due to a bad set of circumstances I couldn’t become an officer, so I had to be subjected to persons just like me, but rough and arrogant.
I hope I will die worthy of my beautiful homeland thinking of You, dear parents. Not everyone is worthy of our sacrifice, but I choose to ignore them. I think only that I am fighting for You, for my sisters, for my house, for our Italy.
Good bye to all !
Dead Italian soldier on the frontline
Italians are fighting for their freedom and their homeland
It is apparent that Italians are now fighting for their freedom and their country, not for the ideas for which they fought at the beginning of war. And here I must fight against the people who are fighting for their homeland?! I must extricate myself from this misfortune, because Austria cannot say that she is defending herself, neither can Germany, because the troops of the Entente63 are everywhere on the defensive and are only defending “their sisters, their houses, their homeland”64 from the assault of the adversary whose aim is to loot and enslave everything.65
Solarol (cavern), 26 July 1918 – (21 years and 7 months)
Criticizes those who caused the war, complains of meaningless life on the battlefield, considers fleeing, criticizes military chaplains
War! – Slaves – slaves – slaves! White slaves! So many millions are slaves of the few. It is worse than in ancient Greece, Egypt; because today the notions of equality are an axiom, and at that time it was only a premonition.
Today people do not only work for their masters, but go into death and kill others… And the priests of the Church which is timeless come here and are blind at the fact that millions are living like slaves, but in their blindness, remind people of meaningless oaths, as if that empty word, forced upon them was more valuable that human life, the life of the temple of God.
If everyone thought like our priests do, evolution, battle, history wouldn’t exist at all. Fiat voluntas Tua66 means work, act by yourself to realize the Kingdom of God. On this earth, nothing is achieved without blood. Some are killing millions for an unjust cause, for the realization of the kingdom of Satan: don’t the millions have the right to liberate themselves from under the yoke, moreover, in dire necessity to kill them. I gather from this viewpoint that the revolution, war for liberation is allowed… It is terrible, but the meaning of life is terrible.
The living dead. I lie the whole day in my trench and imagine myself being in some kind of tomb. No freedom, no light. The lamp is burning: captain G. reads Dorian Gray, and I receive the reports, put them in metal cases and wait for the food. Really, this is a life below any human dignity. If it weren’t for my parents and my homeland, because I trust that this will soon be over, I wouldn’t be here one second more. I would seek a different existence for myself.
(between Fonte Secco and Mt. Solarol)
31 July 1918 – (21 years and 7 months)
Remembering the late Fr. Ivo Kuvačić, a great opponent of Yugoslavia
I read in the papers that Fr. Ivo Kuvačić67 has died. He was a holy soul. He was undergoing inner battles and arrived at a considerable level of asceticism. He was a philosopher ex professo; we liked him most when he would speak about this. He wanted to reveal the sphynx of his people and was fighting until the very end. He was a great opponent of Yugoslavia, and I spoke to him about this problem even on his death bed. We tried to spare him. He would call Šimrak a Byzantine hypocrite and was stigmatizing this whole movement. He was brought up in an Austro-Hungarian spirit and he liked Kralik. Federative Austria as the carrier of Catholicism was his ideal; he never imagined Croatia outside of the complex of Catholic nations. His death was something of a symbol of a bankrupt idea, the so-called Austrian idea. With him one of its noble proponents is gone. The new concept of Yugoslavia will surely be the right one, only I wonder if it possesses such noble proponents.
I am a great sinner; I live like a beast, I devour my rations and live like a slave.
Offz. F. W., Solarol, 2 August 1918 – (21 years and 8 months)
Attitude towards women on Java
Yesterday I spoke with a civilian, a young Dutch painter (Fabritius). He works well. He talked a lot about the island of Java. It is interesting there; especially the attitude towards women is sacred. Dance is prohibited, and one is not allowed to touch a girl. To kiss a girl in front of others is scandalous…
Offz. F. W., Solarol, 3 August 1918 – (21 years and 8 months)
Finds support for his ascetic life in the booklet The Imitation of Christ
This is the only important current issue for me: “We should use force frequently and confront the bodily strivings. And not pay attention to what the body wants, but turn our attention so the body – even against its will – is subjected to the soul. And the body should be subjugated for so long, and forced to be obedient to the spirit, until it is prepared for all, until it learns to be happy with just a little and is glad with simple things, without complaining during difficulties.” (Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book III, Chapter XI, v. 10-11)68
What magnificent, strong words! As if the body were a completely different person with which the spirit does as he pleases. If I could only attain that strength I wouldn’t have to torture myself with my body so much.
Offz. F. W., Solarol, Sunday, 4 August 1918 – (21 years and 8 months)
Respects and loves parents and wants them to be good Christians
My father is a noble man; when one is away from home for a longer time, everything can be seen in a much more objective perspective. The position in the surroundings, everything becomes more precise. This is really odd. He is a free man, but with a strong paternal feeling which ties him to me… only he will not reveal it directly, but between the lines and an occasional word, his love for me is so plainly clear that he would be prepared to sacrifice his life for me. May God return this love to him!
And my good mother? She is always in the second place, below the father. She loves only my father and me. She would sacrifice everything for me, disregarding any ethical concerns. She was brought up in a Jewish merchant house and did not absorb any spiritual ideas as a child. My happiest day would be if mother and father became good Christians, if our family would become a Catholic family; because the family is the holiest thing in the world. A lot can be done by prayer. Father is susceptible to logical arguments, and I should only be convincing in proving to him that he was brought up in a prejudiced way, especially when he says that “clericalism” is a prejudice. And with mother, it will be her love which will be the driving force. She should only be brought into a tight corner and she will convert.
In the trenches on the frontline
Roalte near Bellun, 23 August 1918 – (21 years and 8 months)
After the battles, came back into normal life circumstances, remembers the horrors he lived through on the battlefield
It is beautiful here. The first days I couldn’t even orient myself. Fragrant flowers on the table, gleaming in different colors, whiteness of the day and fresh summer nature seemed all like a dream. Or rather, I have a feeling that I had a bad, bad dream about some life in a dark, damp cavern, about the stony nature untouched by the sun, plants or the blessing of God. As if the phantoms of cold have their abode up there, and they chase each other violently, roaring, whistling and flashing. This ugly dream is gone, and I thank God that after a long painful time my parents will be at peace.
Continues the battle against his passions and asks God to help him subdue them
You, man in love: bacon, fresh bread, eat like a horse, drink the juice, let it trickle down the throat and fill the belly! Life? The meaning of everything? You want to be good, to shine wherever you pass, and you are a slave of your eternally hungry stomach which is constantly asking – asking something juicy and strong.
Tomorrow you will die, man! Die! Yes, and the bacon and everything else will still be here lying on the table, but you will be gone, along with your stomach, as if you hadn’t eaten anything. You coward, knowing that you are going to die, at least try to liberate your spirit, break the spell of the stomach, you coward!
God, give me that horrendous force to gather all my passions in a fist, to grab them with my right hand and smash them against a rock, to see them crushed like glass and flying away in pieces.
God, God, when will I be able to do that, when will I trod on this earth purified? Help me, God, because it is better not to live at all, than to live in such a way.
Memento mori – the bacon is lurking from the corner. Whoever says that fasting is a stupidity knows absolutely nothing. There is no real spiritual life without fasting; because without it there is no mastery over oneself. And this authority is the most important. God, give me this strong will, even if I have to be naked and barefooted, because if I am alone in this world, it matters little whether I have a star under my neck or whether my elbows stick out from my shirt. The most important is the big “I”, the freedom of the spirit which is not afraid of death, everything else is secondary. (I lost 12 kg!)69
Banja Luka, 20 September 1918 – (21 years and 9 months)
Review and analysis of Fogazzaro’s novel The Saint
Although the novel is formally unrefined, it deserves to be read. It could serve as a model for our contemporary narrators, as well as older ones who often touch upon the problems of a religious man. As a matter of fact, they dare present an exemplary priest, and actually they don’t know what is happening in the soul of a truly religious person. This is the first work of this kind that I have read. I am only sorry that the writer in The Saint didn’t portray an active Christian who works in the world; a great Christian artist (Raphael, Leonardo) or some other great figure (St. Francis of Assisi) who excelled in the field of reforms. If it is not a historical personality, then the whole work is rather illusory. This is the drawback of The Saint because the story takes place in our time, in our cities, and we have never heard of this saint.
But still, the work is very interesting. The writer gives an analysis of the religious life of a modern apostle. And this religious life is pictured rather well. Only it is not the religious life of a saint in the literal meaning of the word. Piero Maironi is a saint because the folk call him that, he is not an objective saint. In order to show the spiritual life of a real, proclaimed saint, he should study mysticism a lot. It is only in these mystical works that we glean the inner vistas that God opens to chosen souls and how He acts through them, bringing about those great historical turnabouts that occurred in history.
The idea of the work is religious although the poet’s real thought does not come out strongly. He wanted to show that spiritual life, real and deep prayer, is the only source of faith and work because God really lives in us. (…)
(Here follows an account of the content of the work and a detailed analysis of its characters)
Banja Luka, 23 September 1918 – (21 years and 9 months)
Review and critique of Voltaire’s tragedy Mahomet
(…) To exploit the historical personality of Mohammad is too much. (…) Voltaire forged history and wrote a tragedy which is of little value because the key protagonist is evil and remains alive, whereas the secondary personalities are the victims of fanaticism and they perish. (…) Voltaire exploited such a great name only to suggest an idea. That’s why this work is forgotten today (…)
(Here follows a detailed account of the contents of the tragedy and a critical analysis of its characters)
Banja Luka 24 September 1918 – (21 years and 9 months)
Review and critique of Voltaire’s Fable Ce qui plaît aux dames
Here follows a brief content and a retelling of the fable and its characters with copious quotations in French. Merz gives the following judgement of the work: A rather frivolous fable without artistic value.70
Banja Luka, 25 September 1918 – (21 years and 9 months)71
Review of the content, analysis and critique of Voltaire’s Satire and Les trois manières
Banja Luka, 29 September 1918 – (21 years and 9 months)
Visit to a mine in Ljubija
I was in Ljubija and made a tour of the mine. The work is simple. The amount of iron ore is such that the whole mountain is being torn down by mines and driven away. Everything is very modern; the workers are mostly Italian. This mine will pay off for many hundreds of years. It would be good if industry was introduced in other places as well.
Cidalchis (near Tolmezzo), 4 October 1918 – (21 years and 10 months)
Review, analysis and critique of Voltaire’s tragedy Tancred
This tragedy possesses a greater artistic value than Mahomet. Historical background with the motif of “love until death”. The protagonists suffer because of a misunderstanding which is also Tancred’s tragic mistake for having believed the gossip of the world. The acts of heroes – supermen – always interest us. Our nature yearns for something great and beautiful, and it is always pleasant to watch how great persons behave in different situations.
The problem of the relationship of the inner life with external great acts
For me it is an unresolved problem how these people manage to perform great acts irrespective of their inner life, and the exclamations like “God!” and similar are merely a manner of speaking. But I hold that drama, with the exception of those plays whose entire foundation is psychological analysis (Sophocles), must show the external acts of these heroes, presuming that the interior action which is the motivation for external ones happened behind the stage. (…)
(Here follows a review and retelling of the contents of the tragedy, along with a comment and analysis of the characters).
Cidalchis, 5 October 1918 – (21 years and 10 months)
Review of the content, analysis and critique of Voltaire’s tragedy The Death of Caesar
Cidalchis, 7 October 1918 – (21 years and 10 months)
Review of the content, analysis and critique of Rodenbach’s work Oak at the Crossroads
Love is being elaborated which, due to the arrival of foreigners ends with infidelity (she), that is, suicide (he)… This happened on a Dutch island which, untouched by civilization, preserved its virginity and its customs. (…) The foreigners began arriving there to build the railway and brought with them envy, alcohol and immorality. The golden age faded away. (…) The work portrays a passage between two epochs. The golden age of virginity and equality in touch with civilization, which triumphs in the end destroying all that is good. (…)
(In the continuation, there follows an extensive review of the content of the work and analysis of the characters)
Cidalchis, 10 October 1918 – (21 years and 10 months)
The meaning of self-sacrifice and the value of suffering which strengthens the energies of life
There must be an order in everything. Suffering is the foundation of life. If I eat only what is most necessary, the body is asking for more (food), but I do not eat and I suffer. Thoughts of temptation harass me, e.g. “you are incapable of working; therefore, eat as much as you can and you will be able to work well.” This is a contradiction, because abstinence is the way to God, and suffering which is generated due to this must strengthen the energies of life – and make us into strong people, not only in the ethical sense, but people fully equipped for life: scientists, workers, etc.
Abstinence isn’t an obstacle to scientific work, but moreover, must be its foundation. Today I have such a strong will to translate these views into practice – because, really, I detest myself due to my unconquered passions.
Military action on the Italian battlefield in World War I
Cidalchis, Sunday, 13 October 1918 – (21 years and 10 months)
Review and analysis of Rodenbach’s novella The Vocation
A very good novella; it is as if Rodenbach raised the novella again on the plateau where it belongs. The Flemish color – folk background – which plays an important role with the writer, gives these novellas (The Oak at the Crossroads) lasting value. (…) A boy who feels the priestly vocation within himself is being averted from this by his mother, who gives him the opportunity of committing an impure sin with the maid, in order not to leave her alone. With this, he proved to be unworthy of his vocation. (…) The mother’s dream is fulfilled. With this, ethically, this work is completed: it is a sin to oppose the vocation and the mother must repent for this sin because her son is unhappy his whole life. (…)
This novella (people in it) has no pretensions of life. Rodenbach doesn’t say whether this solution is good or evil in life… Turgenev would somehow heal his protagonist by social work; we would direct him to practical Catholicism, to the great mission of joint world Christianity, and the writer of the dead city of Brügge, the poet of a nation which lives only in memories, beside which events pass unnoticed, lets these people end their life fruitlessly. These people have no pretensions on life, and they are only interesting “portraits” which live their life hardly touching one another, and in their solitude, they grow pale. These are the people of the dead city of Brügge and this work is magnificent insofar as it is a symbol of dying; similarly, in the first novella “The Oak at the Crossroads” he paints the process of the dying of a nation, only with a completely different background. (…)
These people who could have done something in life and could have become “portraits” surrounded by some secret mist which evokes the curiosity of those who don’t know their story (because merely to give alms, go to church and living for oneself is no life at all). Ethically, this could have ended differently, but as I said, Rodenbach is the poet of the dead city of Brügge, the poet of the people who have no pretensions on life, and it is logical that these people must end up fruitlessly; otherwise, Rodenbach wouldn’t be Rodenbach. (…)
(In the continuation, there follows an extensive review of the content of this novella, analysis of the characters, comment, assessment and analysis of the immoral sin due to which the young man renounces his priestly vocation, unhappiness of the mother who, due to her selfish love destroys the life of her son, etc.)
Cidalchis, on the day of St. Teresa,
15 October 1918 – (21 years and 10 months)
Review and critique of Voltaire’s epic Henoiade
A heroic epic of very little value. It is loaded with history and interesting only insofar as it contains interesting historical details. A good epic must be the fruit of a consolidated life view because otherwise the epic collapses by itself. The main protagonist must be an ethical personality and due to that he must behave in accordance with ethical principles which, in the author’s view, are correct. (…) The lack of this ruins the whole work. In the whole work, there is not a single noble priest. (…) Along with that, we know that Voltaire himself doesn’t believe in Catholicism; moreover, he is its bitter enemy (Ecrasez l’infame!72). The work, therefore, doesn’t contain a shred of naivete and enthusiasm (Homer, Tasso) which are the main preconditions for an epic. It is obvious that Voltaire is a very learned man, and that this work is the fruit of books, not of life. (…) Along with interesting historical details, one feels that history is intentionally interpreted in a malicious way, everything is tendentious and twisted. (…) The action of this heroic epic which contains many historical events is placed in the period from 1572 until 1590.
The war is over! By the end of 1918 surviving soldiers return to their homes. Ivan is among them.
THREE BLESSEDS FROM WORLD WAR I
Emperor Karl von Habsburg, the last Croatian king, beatified in 2004.
Alojzije Stepinac, a soldier. Beatified in 1998.
Ivan Merz, a soldier. Beatified in 2003. Picture by General Ante Gotovina in The Hague, 2009.
On these pictures, we see three participants in World War I. The first is Karl von Habsburg, the last Austro-Hungarian emperor and Croatian king who, having succeeded Emperor Francis Joseph on the throne, was the chief commander of the Austro-Hungarian army until the end of the war. The second is Alojzije Stepinac, and the third Ivan Merz.
All three of them have lived through the war, each in his own way, without staining their conscience. When Karl von Habsburg ascended to the throne in 1916 he did everything in his might to stop the war as soon as possible. Ivan Merz after the war took the path of newly realized Catholicism as an engaged Catholic layman and apostle of youth. Alojzije Stepinac went to study theology, became a priest, and later on the Archbishop of Zagreb and a cardinal.
All the three of them were declared blesseds of the Catholic Church by pope John Paul II: firstly, Cardinal Stepinac in Marija Bistrica in 1998, then Ivan Merz in Banja Luka in 2003, and finally their commander-in-chief from World War I, Karl von Habsburg in Rome in 2004. These three blesseds show that one can use even the most adverse circumstances of life for one’s own sanctification.
1 Dr. Šime CVITANOVIĆ, born in Sumartin on Brač Island in 1891, completed high school in Zagreb in 1912, studied medicine in Innsbruck and Graz, and specialized surgery in Zagreb. He as a member of the Croatian Catholic Movement and the Croatian People’s Party. Until 1939 he worked as a physician and hospital directory in Glina, whereupon he was transferred to become hospital director in Gospić. In 1940, as a pronounced Croatian patriot he was imprisoned in Lepoglava and interned in Krušćica near Travnik. In April 1941, he returned to Zagreb where he served as director of the Rebro Hospital between 1942 and 1945. Before the occupation of Zagreb by communist-partisan forces, he escorted as a physician, on 7th May 1945, the train with wounded soldiers that were retreating. He was captured near Maribor. In July 1945, the communist regime sentenced him to death and he was shot in Zagreb on 10 November 1945. His grave remains unknown.
2 Karl von Habsburg – the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor and legal king of Croatia who ascended to the throne during the war and after the death of Emperor Franz Joseph. He did all in his powers to bring peace to war-torn Europe. He died in exile on Madeira in 1922. Pope John Paul II proclaimed him a Blessed in 2004.
3 Under the term “organization” Merz meant the Croatian Catholic National Student Organization, which was a part of a larger Croatian Catholic Movement initiated in 1903 by the bishop from Krk Antun Mahnić.
4 This was Fr. Vjenceslav BARTA, OFM. Merz mentions him in another place in his Diary.
5 Luke 17:10
6 From the battlefield, the soldiers were not allowed to send closed letters but only postcards which everyone could read. Therefore, Merz often used two or three postcards and sent them one after another in order to relate to his friend a broader content which could not be written on one card only.
7 Odi profanum vulgus –a famous Latin saying of the Roman poet Horace with which he begins the third book of his Odes (III, 1,1). Translated literally it means “I hate the profane mob“. The poet wanted to say that he despises uneducated folk which is incapable of understanding and enjoying the beauties of poetry.
8 Franciscan Fr. Vjenceslav BARTA, OFM, was a member of the North Croatian Franciscan Province of SS. Cyril and Methodius. During the war, he served as a military chaplain for Croatian soldiers on the Italian battlefield. He was staying during that time in the Franciscan Monastery in Bozen (Bolzano). He was a member of the Catholic Society Domagoj in Zagreb.
9 Avelin Ćepulić, From the Student Days of Ivan Merz (in Croatian), Orlovska misao, No. 5, 1929.
10 In his Diary of 23 July 1916 Merz mentions a case of a Russian prisoner whom the superior officers punished for some reason and he was hanged with his arms tied on a stick. Merz was on guard duty in that building, saw it, but couldn’t help the prisoner. The only thing he did was a strong disapproval of this method, as he mentions in the Diary, and it is probable that he comforted the Russian with a word of solace, as is visible from his Diary entry from that date.
11 Nikola Bilogrović
12 Nikola Bilogrivić was at that time in Sarajevo, completing his theology studies, and Dr. Ljubomir Maraković (Ljuba) was also in Sarajevo, assigned to a government office.
13 The Imitation of Christ: Everything is in the cross and everything rests in dying (Book II., Ch. 12, line 15)
14 In the Christian sense
15 “Ah! I’ve done Philosophy, I’ve finished Law and Medicine, and sadly even Theology: taken fierce pains from end to end…” W. Goethe, Faust, 1st Part, verses 354 ff.
16 Cf. The discussion in “Čas”: Respublica christiana. XI. letnik, Zvezak 4–5 (in Slovenian).
17 Cf. Footnote at the beginning of this text
18 Here begins the 9th notebook of Ivan Merz’s Diary covering a period from 31 March until 5 May 1917.
19 “Nina” is the nickname by which Merz called his friend, Fr. Nikola Bilogrivić.
20 Latin: we are newcomers and passengers (thought from The Imitation of Christ).
21 It is interesting to note that Merz wrote an extensive review of this novel in his Diary using the Cyrillic script. Probably he read it in a Serbian translation. This is the only entry in the entire Diary written in this script. He had to know it because he learnt it in the school in Banja Luka.
22 Latin.: newcomers and travelers
23 French: Life in its fullness, with all the details.
24 Latin.: mystery of the cross
25 Latin: material and spiritual cross
26 Merz never managed to write this novelette. But from this brief sketch we can clearly conclude on the social and political situation which Merz encountered on the battlefield and on the circumstances in which he lived. Namely, in the Austrian army there were a lot of cases, particularly of Croatian soldiers, who deserted the army and defected to the Italians, something that Merz mentions on several places in his Diary. In one situation, he even contemplated doing the same himself, being aware of the nonsense of that war.
27 Latin: Bread and games.
28 Dr. Janez Ev. KREK (1865–1917), Slovenian priest, professor of theology, sociologist, writer and publicist. Known for his promotion of the Christian social movements and organizing Christian social courses. His ideas and activities had a great influence on Croatian Catholics too, especially the younger ones organized in the Croatian Catholic Movement.
29 This is the end of the 9th notebook of Ivan Merz’s Diary covering a period from 31 March until 5 May 1917.
30 Cadet trainee Merz Hans, student of the Philosophical Faculty, Banja Luka, Bosnia, Railway Station
31 This is the beginning of the 10th notebook of Ivan Merz’s Diary, covering a period from 7 May until 22 July 1917.
32 It is interesting to note, as is seen here and in other entries in his war Diary, that Merz has such a composure of mind to find the time, in spite of the situation on the battlefield, to read and analyze the literary works. It is obvious that he is inwardly completely at peace, surrendered into God’s will with respect to mortal danger and the future so he continues with the work that interests him whenever circumstances allow.
33 Underlined by Ivan Merz.
34 The Emperor Karl von Habsburg, The last Emperor of Austria-Hungary and the legal Croatian king. Pope John Paul II proclaimed him Blessed in 2004, just like Ivan Merz one year earlier! When the Emperor Francis Joseph died in 1916 and the young Emperor Karl ascended to the throne, he undertook all in his might to end the war and establish peace.
35 This is the end of the 10th notebook of Ivan Merz’s Diary, covering a period from 7 May until 22 July 1917.
36. At that time, Pope was still “A Vatican prisoner”. In 1870 when the papal state was occupied by force and abolished by Garibaldi and his troops and the movement for the unification of Italy, the Pope retired within the walls of the Vatican and never ventured outside. He cancelled even the appearances on the ledges of the Basilica. This was a protest against the injustice inflicted upon the Holy See and papacy as early as 1870. Only in 1929 during the reign of the Pope Pius XI the Holy See and Italy were reconciled and a normal state established which lasts to this day. On 11th February 1929, the Lateran Agreements were signed which regulate the relations between the Holy See and the state of Italy according to which the current state of the Vatican– Stato della Citta di Vaticano has been established as a subject in international law. The same agreements resolved the numerous property problems which dated from 1870 and the forceful occupation of Rome when the property of the Church was confiscated, a matter which burdened the relations between the Vatican and Italy for full 60 years. In the preparation and conclusion of the Lateran Agreements a positive role was played by the then Prime Minister of the Italian Government Benito Mussolini – During Merz’s lifetime this issue was still not resolved and we can find in his writings frequent references of what was then called questione romana (The Roman question) and the desire for its solution as soon as possible. This was achieved, however, only a year after his death.
37 Here begins the 11th notebook of Ivan Merz’s Diary, covering a period from 9 September until 5 October 1917.
38 Latin: Lamb (Christ)
39 Latin: To the greatest glory of God.
40 This entry, dedicated to the memory of Greta, Merz wrote in German. This is the only text about Greta in Merz’s Diary written in German.
41 Latin: Renunciation of oneself.
42 Here ends the 11th notebook of Ivan Merz’s Diary, covering the period from 9 September until 5 October 1917.
43 This is the beginning of the 12th notebook of Ivan Merz’s Diary, covering the period from 27 October until 25 December 1917.
44 Merz noted the events of 27 October, 30 October and 5 November 1917 on papers which he lost, as he notes on 13 November. However, later he found them and we placed them chronologically before that date.
45 Virgin Mary, help us!
46 To Rome!
47 At that time on Christmas Eve, including dinner, a strict fasting and abstinence from meat was the rule.
48 Here ends the 12th notebook of Ivan Merz’s Diary covering the period from 27 October until 25 December 1917.
49 This is the beginning of the 13th notebook of Ivan Merz’s Diary, covering the period from 27 January until 24 September 1918.
50 From this entry, it is visible how Merz during his stay on the battlefield begins a serious ascetic life, although he still feels his human weakness. He will formulate his decisions and put them into the Diary in a still clearer form in a couple of days, on 5 February 1918.
51 “Croatia” – Society of Croatian Catholic students in Vienna, established in 1903
52 I.e. die for France
53 In the drama Hedda ends her life with suicide.
54 The Jović family– a numerous Croatian Catholic family in Banja Luka whom Ivan knew and with whose children he made friends in Banja Luka. Two sons from this family, Matija and Dragan, became Jesuits.
55 Latin: mortified
56 Anton KOROŠEC (1872–1940), Slovenian Catholic priest, a high-ranking politician in the Slovenian People’s Party. As its deputy, in 1917 he became the president of the Yugoslav club in the Parliament in Vienna. On 30 May 1917 Korošec with several of his colleagues issued a declaration inviting the unification of “all countries in the Monarchy inhabited by Slovenians, Croats and Serbs.” In August 1918 when it became clear that Austria is losing the war, he again gathered around himself the politicians who established a National Council with the purpose of “uniting of the Yugoslav peoples into an independent state”. On 29 October 1918 he became president of the National Council, and after unification with the Kingdom of Serbia on 1 December 1918, he became the vice-president of the first government of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians.. Between 1920 and 1940 he was a minister in most governments of monarchic Yugoslavia (traffic, police, foreign affairs, education) as well as the Prime Minister and the president of the Senate. By the end of his life he openly acted against the freemasonry and communism. He also organized an anti-communist organization Straža v viharju. He died in Belgrade in 1940.
57 Danica – Slovenian Students’ Society in Vienna
58 Božo MILANOVIĆ (1890–1980), Croatian Catholic priest and politician from Istria, prominent public religious and cultural figure of his time, engaged in the preservation of the Croatian language and people in Istria. During Italian fascist rule in Istria he was one of the rare figures who by their political activity promoted the rights of non-Italian population against the Italian assimilation. His most important role was as a representative of Istria on the Peace Conference in Paris in 1946 on which the destiny of Istria after the World War II was decided. The data collected by mons. Božo Milanović and other Croatian priests were among the key arguments on the basis of which Istria became part of Croatia within the then communist Yugoslavia. In November 1946, he moved from Trieste where he had lived until then, to Pazin and took over the position of director of the Seminary high school. He was also head of the High Theological School in Pazin, and author of several textbooks. He also wrote several historical books about the recent history of Istria. He was the head of the Istrian literary society of SS. Cyril and Methodius in Pazin, received several state medals and an honorary title of prelate of His Holiness and an honorary doctorate of the Theological Faculty in Zagreb.
59 Mato FILIPOVIĆ, 1890.-1960., a Jesuit, at that time the student of philosophy in Vienna. Merz was later in close friendship with him. Their correspondence is preserved.
60 Merz, just like many Croats of his time, during World War I, was convinced in the usefulness of forming a Yugoslav state. At that time, there was no hint that the Serbs would try to use it in their favor. When unification was established, Merz was critical of the founding of the new state, and later, as a student in Paris, denounced the persecution of Croatian Catholics. A description of all these events is left in his Diary.
61 Austrian military slang. Probably some kind of cannon
62 Apparently touched by its contents, Merz copied the entire letter into his Diary in Italian as it was written.
63 Entente is an alliance created before World War I between Russia, France and Great Britain, with Italy joining in 1915, as a counterweight to the central powers Austro-Hungary and Germany.
64 Allusion at the end of the letter of Luigino Odorico in which he says he is fighting “for his sisters, his house, for Italy”.
65 “adversary” – Austria and Germany
66 Latin: Thy will be done
67 Fr. Ivan KUVAČIĆ (1885–1918). Priest in the Split-Makarska Diocese. From 1912 studied history at the University in Vienna because he was due to become a teacher on the archiepiscopal high school in Split. Merz met him in 1915 during his studies in Vienna, and visited him again two months before his death while attending a course on combat gases in Vienna. Fr. Ivan died on 20 July 1918 in Vienna.
68 This quotation in his Diary Merz wrote in Latin. From other quotations in other places, it is visible that Merz read the booklet The Imitation of Christ in three languages: Latin, French and German. If he found an interesting quotation, he would note it down in the language in which he read it. He gave to his friend Šime Cvitanović the Latin copy of the booklet, as Cvitanović himself attests in his article Warrior from the White Mountains. The German copy is lost. Only the French copy is preserved and it is kept in the Ivan Merz’s Archive in Zagreb.
69 This note shows us that the desire for food which Ivan complains about and which he tried to conquer was not a disorderly greed, but a natural need of a weakened organism, a consequence of losing weight due to suffering and stress at the battlefield.
70 This is the end of the 13th notebook of Ivan Merz’s Diary, covering a period from 27 January 1918 until 24 September 1918
71 This is the beginning of the 14th notebook of Ivan Merz’s Diary, covering a period from 25 September until 21 November 1918.
72 French: “Crush the infamous thing”. It is a well-known Voltaire’s saying with which he expresses his Satanic hatred of the Catholic Church.