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My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
Memoirs, 1993
Postscript, 1994

Frank Munk, my grandfather, wrote this autobiography to record his memories from 1901 onwards. This history and its postscript are available on our family website in his memory as they tell a complete story of the 20th century. These memoirs may be referenced as long as proper attribution is made; our family retains ownership and copyright. We have one request: if you reference this material in any way, please send us email at and a copy of the paper, if possible, as we would like to know when this material is of interest and we are curious as to how it is being used. We'd like to hear from you.
© Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families


Contrary to what you might expect, I did not do much studying while a student in Prague. I had more important things to do.

When I got to Prague in the fall of 1919, I found all institutions of higher education in a state of disorganization. Nobody had expected a sudden influx of thousands upon thousands of students, all flushed with a sense of freedom and new, unlimited horizons. The result was a sudden shortage of classroom space. When I first came to class, I found the hall already crammed, so we had to stand outside and listen to the lecture through open windows. The students protested but to no avail.

So a colleague of mine, Josef Hlinomaz from Moravia, and I decided that something had to be done. We called a student strike. The response was sudden and overwhelming. I was the main speaker and the experience of speaking to hundreds, and soon thousands, of students did something to me which I never forgot.

The authorities did not like it at all and they struck back: Hlinomaz and I were called before the Rector of the university who read us the riot act with the admonition that we must call off the strike without delay, or face exclusion from all institutions of the country. We said No, and called another mass meeting.

Next morning we were told to immediately see the top official, the Minister of Education, Gustav Habermann, an old Social Democrat, who had called workers' strikes in the past himself. We thought we would be arrested on the spot. Instead the Minister informed us that the Council of Ministers discussed the strike, the first in the short history of Czechoslovakia, decided that our demands were reasonable, and that he had already given the necessary orders. Specifically, a large new building, originally destined for the German university, would be assigned to the Czech university. We went back to the mass meeting and I have never been the same: I will never forget the triumphal reception we received.

I was something of an immediate celebrity among students. Before I knew it, I was elected to the executive committee of the newly organized Central Union of Czechoslovak Students and shortly thereafter I was head of its Foreign Department. That launched me into a veritable career. I spent much of my time after that in my office of the former Strakova Akademie, later and presently the seat of the Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia.

I must remind you that students in Czechoslovakia always played an important political role, unlike students in the United States. Their interest was always politics, not sports. Suffice it to mention that the Velvet Revolution, which led to the overthrow of Communism in 1989, was almost entirely the work of students.

Before long I spent much of my time traveling throughout Europe attending congresses, giving lectures and meeting leading political figures. Soon after that I was elected Secretary General of the International Confederation of Students, with Prague its headquarters. One reason for my advancement was that I could speak German, French, and English in addition to my native Czech. I was also propelled into continuous contact with government officials and politicians.

I was especially in daily touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, located close to Prague Castle, and occasionally with the Foreign Minister, then and for many more years Dr. Edvard Benes. His twin strategies consisted of a close alliance with France as well as the so-called Little Entente (CSR, Yugoslavia, Romania), and of strengthening the League of Nations, with headquarters in Geneva. I travelled frequently to Geneva, sometimes as a delegate to some committee of the League.

My relations with the government were frequent and close. Whenever I wanted to go to some meeting abroad, all I had to do was to call Dr. Hyka at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Dr. Praus at the Ministry of Education, and he would immediately authorize the disbursement of the necessary funds.

In fact, the government made use of my services whenever it was felt that a mission had to be undertaken by someone not directly connected with the government. I vividly remember one example, although it happened much later. Some time in 1937, as the Sudeten crisis was coming to the boil, the Ministry asked me, if they could get me an invitation to Cliveden, the famous home of Lord and Lady (Nancy) Astor in England. It was our Ambassador to Great Britain, Jan Masaryk, who was behind the invitation. I was duly invited for a weekend at Cliveden and I went. It is not one of my most pleasant memories. The so-called Cliveden set was then, and is now, regarded as a nest of Nazi sympathizers.

I forgot the names of the other people invited by the Astors, but I remember I was told the German ambassador, Herr Ribbentrop, was at Cliveden the week before. At a magnificent dinner I sat opposite Mr. Garvin, editor of the "Observer," next to me was a well-known British society painter, Mr. Lászlo, born in Hungary. When he learned I was Czech, he started quite a tirade, that Slovakia should be returned to Hungary. I did not fare much better with my hosts and the other guests when it came to the question of Hitler's plans for Czechoslovakia. I must say it should have served as a warning to me and to the Czech government, but I am afraid neither of us read the leaves correctly at the time. The year was 1937.

One of the international meetings I remember well was the Congress of Slav Students in 1922. Slavism (or as it is usually, if incorrectly, called Pan-slavism in this country) was an ideology that was very current at the time among the Slavic peoples, viz. the Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Croat, Bulgarians, to a lesser extent the Poles, but above all the Czechs. The suggestion came from Dr. Benes. There were at the time many animosities among the Slavs, which made the holding of the congress difficult, the most dangerous one being the old enmity between Serbs and Bulgars, primarily over Macedonia.

I was delegated to bring the Bulgarians and the Serbs together so they both would attend the Congress, soon to be held in Prague. My most vivid memory relates to my first visit to Belgrade, capital of the recently formed Yugoslav Kingdom. I happened to have an uncle, who was a businessman in Belgrade since long before the war and for all practical purposes a Serb, he had excellent connections to the former Serbian army. The day I arrived, he had an invitation to a party organized by the Chief of Staff of the new Yugoslav army. The party took place on a steamer that plied the Sava and the Danube. It was summer, the sun shone brightly, a military band played and all the officers wore resplendent white uniforms. Everything looked great.

From Belgrade I went to the capital of Macedonia, Skoplje (now Skopje, formerly Uskub in Turkish). I was asked by the Chief of Police to see him and the first thing he told me was not to venture outside at night, because the hills surrounding the city were full of guerillas and there was lots of shooting. the guerillas were remnants of the old pro-Bulgarian Revolutionary Macedonian Organization. At any rate, the Congress was held. For a while the animosities were forgotten, but not for long, Dr. Benes was the main speaker. I should have mentioned that from Skoplje I went to the Bulgarian capital Sofia and brought the two groups together, briefly.

I confess to having participated in student events long after I finished my studies. I was not an outstanding student, but I got my degree at the proper time. My main concentration was in economics and I happened to attract the attention of Dr. Josef Macek, who influenced decisively my future career.

During my days and years as a "student diplomat" I made many friends all over Europe, like the President of the International Confederation, Jean Gérard, a Frenchman, Jean Baugniet, a Belgian, (later Sir) Ivison Macadam, who became head of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, and many others. They proved helpful in my activities later. I am afraid they are all dead now.

Let me add one other thought: Most of my immediate friends at home were naturally Czechs or Slovaks. I would never have believed they would separate. Some of the Slovaks who were close to me were L'udovit Ruhmann, Karol Zibrin and especially Vlado Clementis, who later became Minister of Foreign Affairs under the Communists and who was still later executed by the same Communists. So were many of my early associates, including my successor as head of the Foreign Department, Josef Holyy, who was also executed by the Nazis. This, my century, turned out to be very bloody -- and it has not ended yet!


The books listed below provide additional background on this period of history to help illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.


The Spirit of Thomas G. Masaryk 1850-1937: An Anthology; George J. Kovtun


Tomas Masaryk: President of Czechoslovakia; Gavin Lewis


Talks With T.G. Masaryk; T. G. Masaryk, et al


Defender of Democracy: Masaryk of Czechoslovakia; T. G. Masaryk, Emil Ludwig


The Ideals of Humanity and How to Work; Thomas Masaryk



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