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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


I met regularly with a group of young politicians, economists, managers, and lawyers at the home of Václav Havel, father of the future (and last) President of Czechoslovakia. The future president was only a minor nuisance then, together with his brother. They were respectively two to three years old. We met about once a week in the patrician house built by the president's grandfather on the quay of the Vltava, with a magnificent view of the Hradcany Castle, the seat of emperors and presidents.

The group's membership varied, but it included some of the contemporary leading lights among intellectuals. Many of them were close to Dr. Benes, who became President after the abdication of President Masaryk, who died in 1937. Theirs was to be a tragic fate: some became members of the brief government which tried to govern with Communists from 1945 until the putsch of 1948. Some joined President Hácha, who became the figurehead of the so-called Protectorate under Hitler. Still others collaborated openly with the Nazis and disappeared in the outer darkness after the allied victory.

When they learned that I was about to leave for the United States, they asked me to meet with Benes and deliver a number of recommendations. I also carried messages, without, of course, a single piece of paper, from other groups and grouplets, future cells of a growing underground. President Benes himself had abdicated shortly after the Munich surrender to become Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago. He left home sometime in October.

As a result, my first stop after our arrival in America on June 26, 1939, and a few days in New York was Chicago. The Czech Ambassador in London, Jan Masaryk, had already advised Benes of my arrival and Benes arranged with the university a series of lectures that I was to give. Incidentally, they provided more than enough money for my ticket to Portland, my first gainful employment in the New World.

I spent several days with President Benes, sometimes just the two of us, sometimes at a conference organized by the Harris Foundation and at other times at a session with leaders of Czech and Slovak organizations in the USA, as well as editors of Czech and Slovak newspapers. For me, the private conversations were the most exciting. Benes had two main themes: he defended his decision to accept the Dictate of Munich and to give up the borderlands in Bohemia and Moravia without a fight. I must say this was not accepted by the group that met at Havels and we had made that clear to Benes at the time. We, and I think the majority of the Czechs, wanted to stand up to Hitler and fight. Benes, it seemed to me, felt guilty for having surrendered, and till the end of his life he tried to explain his decision to himself and to the Czech people.

His explanation was that we could not have defended ourselves in case of war, that we could not have resisted the German army for more than three weeks, and that it would not only have devastated the country, but the Germans would have totally annihilated the Czech people.

However, the thing that made the biggest impression on me, and remained embedded in my memory, was his scenario for the future. He said in so many words that he expected the war to start soon, that in the beginning England and France would stand alone, and that the war would go badly for them, but that at least England would hold, and that it would finally be won by the Soviet Union. The last point sticks in my mind, because Benes, while severely criticizing the French and British government, expressed great confidence in the Soviets and their decisive part in the war. I was rather surprised to hear him say that, but he repeated it several times.

One of the messages I had brought from Prague was that he ought to leave Chicago, return to Europe, and start organizing a government-in-exile. He said he already had decided to do so, that he was only waiting to see President Roosevelt (he had already spoken to Secretary of State Cordell Hull), and that he would settle in London. There are some historians who believe that the main reasons for his haste were not only my messages, but also the fear that the Czech Minister in Paris, Osusky, might try to do the same thing in Paris.

In addition to Benes, I also met other prominent Czechs, among them the President's nephew, Bohus Benes, whom I later got to know very intimately. He became Czechoslovak Consul in San Francisco while I was teaching at the University of California in Berkeley.


[Note: In 1994, my grandfather published an addendum to this chapter that offers additional insights on these meetings.]

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


Czechoslovakia Between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard Benes in the 1930s; Igor Lukes


The Life of Edvard Benes 1884-1948: Czechoslovakia in Peace and War; Z. A. B. Zeman, Antonin Klimek


My War Memoirs; Edvard Benes



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