I only knew one of my grandfathers. He was called Grossvati, being my dad’s dad; in this line, family men were called Vati, not Papa. I never knew my other granddad. I never learned what kind of person he was. I did not even learn of what he died from, still in his fifties. No one talked about him, ever. One theory is that he had cancer, some horrible variety and that it was just too painful to talk about him. The other idea, once propounded as a fact by my sister-in-law, was that he drank himself to death. It is fairly certain that he was an unpleasant man – but who knows? Grossvati, I knew him. He lived in Vienna, some 200 miles away from us. I saw him at least once. He was, in my 5-year-old eyes, the kindest person alive. When I think of his round head, the eyes that seemed to smile all the time, his soft voice, his deliberated manner of speaking, his generosity, and his love for his family – that must have included me – I still get tears in my eyes. Grossvati had a car. I think it was a Steyr 50, reasonable which meant small, and solid, made in Austria. Once interrupted by the War, the manufacture of cars designed in Austria pretty much disappeared forever; the Steyr-Fiats were Italian cars partly manufactured and assembled in the old Steyr factory. One day, I was in Vienna with Mama, and maybe also Vati, and we had to go somewhere in this car. I got my hand between the door and the jamb, and when the door was slammed (at that time you really had to slam car doors), the end of my finger was gone. A small part only, but the finger never recovered its normal shape. I only remember that I screamed like crazy, nothing else. What did the grown-ups do, those who were supposed to watch me that I did not put my entire hand into the door, and those who slammed doors? Somehow I got even, though. During a later visit to the house in Vienna, I did some artwork on a fine leather fauteuil. With a knife, I cut better scratched a couple of swastikas into the leather, not quite through, but still pretty and permanently visible. Discovery of the patriotic artwork caused a holy ruckus. Yet I could not explain why I had done it. Suppose there was no paper and no crayons, so what other choice did I have? But the easy chair was lost anyway. Sometime in 1944, Omama decided to flee Anglo-American bombs and leave Vienna. She returned only after the city had been conquered by the Red Army and subsequently occupied by the Allies, split into four zones, similar to Berlin. But Granddad was dead by then. He apparently died of cancer, which did not mean that much to me. If I ever knew it, I have forgotten which variety killed him. At that time cancer was practically a death sentence. How should they have discovered it in time, how operate if it is in some inner organ? My mother must have liked Granddad a lot. She was utterly shaken when she told me the news of his death, and so was I. I felt my best friend was gone. That I would never have his help anymore. Never enjoyed his humor anymore – something I had just begun to appreciate. His benevolent round moon face would no more shine its gentle light, except in the faint memory a 5-year-old was able to conserve from the few times he had been with his granddad. It must have been during one of those visits to Vienna that we did a side trip to the grandparents’ weekend house in the Semmering area. (It may even have been the one when my finger got caught in the door of the car). The area of low mountains (Semmering pass – 965 m) was a paradise, my grandparents’ cozy house on the slope of the Kreuzberg with a wide vista of mountains and valleys. Only years later I discovered that the house models that I had sometimes played with, two-dimensional, but beautifully painted in a romantic-realist style were his work. Nothing but a piece of linden wood, joined to a base by mortise and tendon. Several houses, farm-style and other. Never had I known that Granddad was an artist. More than an artist, he had been a professional soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army and was a colonel at the end of the First World War. I believe he was courageous and did his duty with courage and dedication. At a place called Morgy, possibly in Hungary, he was severely wounded. That name came to haunt me for a while: considering his grade, and possibly his exemplary military service, Granddad was going to be knighted, for which occasion he had chosen the name of this forgotten place to be added to his name. He would have become Brunar von Morgy. However, he must have had second thoughts about the matter of becoming a nobleman. He did not support the Habsburgs for the multiple mistakes they had made and for their Catholicism. How could he accept this honor which was not an honor? So he let the thing just drag on, and was vindicated when the newborn Republic of Austria outlawed nobility together with all the titles and other prerogatives – real or imagined - it conferred on this caste. The noble class, however, managed somehow to survive by word of mouth. You were a Solms or a Wittgenstein. Conservatives would always refer to you as Graf (count) and von, no matter how outlawed and threatened by fines the use of such surnames was. So I would have been a “von”. Who could have resisted me, how would my life have turned with the subtle push the three letters conferred upon the bearer? Or maybe the title was not heritable, similar to many “Sir” given out by the Queen of England. I believe we would all have been “von Morgy” if history had gone the Double-Monarchy’s way. This would have placed the Brunar family in an ambiguous situation. Essentially, Dad did not believe in the benefits that society should confer on you because of your birth. Sort of. We were clearly imbued with an elitist conviction. But it cut a very fine distinction: we were remarkable and superior to the extent that we were part of a nation that was superior by its achievements. Within this nation, we were part of the elite to the extent that our lives were lived in a meaningful way. Work, and the endeavor to improve intellectually and morally. The elite status had little to do with how you were born, other than that your birth was a commitment. If you were born into a “better” family, your obligation was greater than had you been born as, say a worker’s son. Such an offspring would, however, be immediately recognized as a member of the elite if he had succeeded in elevating himself in the workplace, in business, intellectually, or as a leader for the right cause. This spirit permeated the Imperial and Royal Austrian armies. German-speaking officers were preferred, although the German population was a minority in the Empire. No wonder this gave rise to nationalism – or was it the other way around? Officers were courageous, and stalwart. They were to serve the Emperor, and the Empire, in that order, or were the two identical, similar to the Catholic construct of the Holy Trinity? There must have been a dichotomy between groups of officers regarding the cause they were paid to fight for, and for which they were ready to give their lives if necessary. There were probably many who, as automatic association with their Catholic faith, believed in the Monarchy led for some 600 years by the Habsburgs – unconditionally Catholic, and often called “ultramontan” which meant they were subject to Rome and outright or implicit orders from the Pope. And there were the idealists. They were ready to die, too, but the causes worth dying for were different. Basically, it was about honor. The honor was instilled in the future members of the non-monarchist elite as soon as he could understand the concept. Honor was bestowed on people who embraced its principle, and more honor accrued to those who led a life inspired by it. The greatest honor was due to those who sacrificed their lives for their honorable convictions The battlefield was also called “the field of honor”, especially when you died on it: “he fell on the field of honor”. Thus, honor was encountered at its highest level among the German-speaking officers of the KK Army. The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was the product of cunning politics, inheritance by marriage, nepotism, and a war against Turkey that lasted, with interruptions, more than 350 years. The Habsburgs had lost, by and by, all their Western possessions, from Switzerland to the Netherlands, and they clung to the crown of the Holy German Empire until it collapsed, hollowed out by the fight between Catholic and Protestant interests. The Habsburgs were always on the Catholic side. Their efforts to turn back Protestantism had caused the greatest catastrophe in German history, in relative terms: The War of Thirty Years had killed one-third of the population, and split Germany into dozens of fiefdoms, making it ungovernable as a single unit. Still, the Holy Empire persisted, and the Habsburgs had a monopoly on the crown. And they had succeeded in pushing the counter-reformation through in their lands. As in other cases, first, the protestants protested, left, or if they would not listen to the Jesuits, obstinate objectors died on torture racks, at the gallows, and under the hatchet. A generation later, the populace was converted back to believing in the Sacraments, the Saints, and the Pope. Baroque art knew a triumph, churches were built or converted to the new fashion of exuberance, golden ornaments abounded, putti flew from the walls, acres of paintings showed the holy role models with flowing garments, and the devotion of the ordinary folks, with eyes turned heavenwards and hands on their breasts. The Germans to the north and west had driven the Habsburgs back to their homelands of Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary. In Italy, where Austria still had huge holdings, Habsburg was on the defensive and could never again take the initiative against the various forces fomenting resistance there. This left only one axis for Habsburg expansionism to go: further and further down on the Balkans, taking lands from the ever-weakening Turks, war after victorious war. This brought new groups into the Monarchy until the mother tongues in the Monarchy varied from, German, to Czech, Hungarian, Croatian, Turkish(?), Romanian, Italian, and Albanian(?)………. The Brunars, who called themselves Prunar at the time, became wealthy as butchers and administrators and thoroughly melded into the Habsburg system. A few generations later, Richard, my grandfather, served the Empire as a professional officer. In 1918, Grossvati was 43 years old and had been severely wounded during the war, for nothing but honor. The Monarchy disappeared from one day to the next, breaking up into its components such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and losing chunks of land based on fraudulent claims mainly by Italy. Grossvati was out of work, in a country that felt it had no future, impoverished by war and backward in relationship to Western democracies. Help was non-existent; the former ally Germany had lost the war too, and both countries slipped into a vicious cycle of inflation and social unrest. Yet Grossvati, starting all over, studied economics and became the general manager of a chemical company called Oesterreichische Pflanzenschutzgesellschaft.



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