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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


Ever since the time of Woodrow Wilson and the founding of the League of Nations my preference would have been to join the League or a specialized agency of the League. At that time there were only two: the International Labor Office and the Institute of Intellectual Cooperation. Some time in the twenties the ILO started a competition to recruit a Czechoslovak citizen for one of its jobs. I participated, together with several hundred other people. Two finalists were selected: My friend Dr. Jaroslav Kose and I. Kose got the post.

The next opportunity arose in 1944 while I was teaching at the University of California in Berkeley. This time the post was offered to me. Dr. Harry Cassidy, who knew me at the University, telephoned from Washington to ask if I would be interested in becoming Director of Training for the newly created United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, known as UNRRA.

I accepted with enthusiasm. A leave of absence was granted by U.C. in a hurry and in a few days I was on the plane to Washington. The family followed shortly by car. I arrived while UNRRA was in the first stages of organization and I was one of the first recruits. When I reported to the headquarters on Dupont Circle the whole staff could sit around a large table, and did. There was the Director General, Herbert Lehman, former Governor of New York, Commander Jackson, the Deputy D.G. [a Britisher], Sir Arthur Salter, a prominent British economist whom I had known in London and with whom I was quite friendly, and a few others. I was very kindly received and told that the training of UNRRA staff was one of the first priorities. For the first time during the war there was a feeling that it would not go on indefinitely, there was a distant whiff of victory and a growing realization of tremendously difficult postwar problems.

My first job was to visualize the general approach to training personnel, especially for relief work in the war-ravaged countries abroad. I presented an outline, which was immediately approved, and I set out to find a suitable locale. The one we chose was on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. It had decent facilities, including dorms, was only a few miles away from the District of Columbia, and easily reached from UNRRA headquarters. Yet it had a pleasant, country-like atmosphere. As a result, my family also settled in College Park and I started the training.

Perhaps the best way of describing the UNRRA Training Center, of which I was the head, is to include an article by Benjamin Fine in the "New York Times" of May 21, 1944. I was at the same time the center's administrator and one of the faculty. All my previous experiences came together here and I think it was a successful and in many ways a pioneering venture. For the first time an international staff was organized and trained, which ultimately grew to almost ten thousand people, recruited around the globe and operating around the globe, since it also operated in China.


UNRRA School Is Training Workers for the
Grim Job of Relief in War-Stricken Countries*

By Benjamin Fine

The New York Times
May 21, 1944, Page E-11.

In what is probably the only school of its kind in the world, a group of carefully selected men and women have returned to the classroom for a concentrated eight weeks' program dealing with the salvaging of human lives. The school, located on the peaceful University of Maryland campus, is the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Training Center. From early morning until far in the evening, these men and women--there are fifty of them on the campus now, and they are called "members" rather than students--sit in classrooms, listen to lectures, pore over maps and books, and tackle "homework."

Operated by UNRRA, under the immediate supervision of Dr. Frank Munk, a Czech refugee who has been a lecturer in economics at the University of California since 1941, the training center has been in operation since May 1. A continuous flow of members is expected, as UNRRA will need many hundreds of field workers in devastated countries of the world before the full job of rehabilitation is completed. The Maryland project can accommodate as many as two or three hundred at any one time.

This is not an academic institution in the accepted sense of the term. The "students" are all employes of UNRRA or of the voluntary agencies collaborating with it. At present, the center is emphasizing the "Balkan Mission." Following their training the men and women will go to Cairo, there to get practical experience in dealing with refugees. Several camps are located in Egypt. When the time is ripe they will take their posts in Greece, in Yugoslavia, and wherever else they may be needed.

Curriculum of Five Parts

Although the course of studies is rather flexible, the curriculum can be divided into five major headings: a study of regions, languages, instrumentalities, people and operational programs. The students learn about the region to which they are to be assigned--the economic, political, social or cultural background. They study the languages of this region; each member of the training center is required to select one language for extensive study. Instrumentalities of services--such as the agencies that are to operate in the field, especially the functioning of UNRRA itself--are stressed.

A typical week's work may include such topics as "People in Need," "What UNRRA Expects From Its Representatives in the Field," "Simple Living," "Balkan Mission," "Displaced Persons in the United States of America," "How to Get Along in Greece," "Work of Division of Industrial Rehabilitation," "Impact of Nazism" and "Allied Military Government in Sicily and Italy." Each student gets two hours of language daily.

In a sense, the training school is a point of embarkation. Even before their eight weeks are up, many of the members are "alerted" and then called into active service. They know that they may be sent abroad on twenty-four hours' notice. While at the school they live in dormitories, eat in the cafeteria "army style," take toughening exercises, and follow a semi-military discipline.

"You are going to see things that will be awfully hard on you physically and emotionally," their lecturers warn. "You will need strong stomachs; it will not be an easy job. You'll have to learn to take it."

"Greeks" or "Yugoslavs"

All is not grim and solemn. A spirit of fun and friendship has developed among the members. In the evening, before they return to their rooms to study, they go to the athletic field, play baseball, volley ball and sit around an improvised camp fire. Last week the "Greeks" beat the "Yugoslavs" by a 28-3 score. They greet each other with "Zdravo" (hello) and sing out "Zbogom" (God be with you) when they turn in for the night.

Last week Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt paid an unexpected visit to the school. She sat with the members in the Serb-Croatian class, listening to the students respond as the instructor, Steve Boljanich, asked questions in this language. Intent on his instruction, he did not hesitate a moment, but asked Mrs. Roosevelt a question when it came her turn to recite.

"I can't keep track of my students!" he blurted out.

Mrs. Roosevelt joined the class in the laughter that followed. Later she observed, "I wish I could learn the language."

Many top leaders in their fields are attending the training center. As UNRRA field workers or administrators they will receive from $4,000 to $5,000 yearly.

Waitstill Hastings Sharp, a Unitarian minister of Boston, resigned from his church to work for UNRRA. He and his wife spent several years in Czechoslovakia helping to save refugees made homeless when Hitler invaded that land. He has had considerable experience in helping others, and has been chosen as director of the displaced persons bureau in the Greek mission. At 42, he is anxious to help UNRRA succeed.

"This is the first earnest step toward one world, and I want to be in on it," he said.

Girl Scout Lessons

Then there is Miss Catherine T. Hammett of Newport, R.I., a professional Girl Scout. She and five other Girl Scout executives are in the class, loaned to UNRRA by their organizations. They will be the camp, recreation, education or community leaders when they go abroad. Being a Girl Scout can be of value. Miss Hammett has found. Last week she gave the rest of the members a demonstration in how to utilize simple things about you when you are alone in a tent, far away from help. Simple items, such as making a fire without matches, making a tin can serve as a cooking utensil, or creating a coat-hanger out of a newspaper, were demonstrated.

Before entering the training center, Robert B. Filbert, 52, was assistant vice president of the Federal Land Bank in Baltimore. With a son in the Navy, Mr. Filbert felt that he "should do something more constructive than making loans to farmers." He is eager to go across, to "alleviate the suffering of humanity." Already Mr. Filbert has been "alerted" and probably by this time is in Cairo, where he is to be assigned to the Supplies and Coordination Bureau.

"I was in the first World War," he explained. "It's my hope to do something that will prevent another war. Maybe this is one way."

Dr. Munk summed up the purpose and objectives of this unique school in these words: "I'm trying to make them understand the country that they are going to, the people that they will work with, the purpose of UNRRA and their particular place in it."


Many personalities came to College Park to lecture to the Center. I met others at luncheon or dinner meetings of various organizations to which I was invited. At many of these events I lectured about UNRRA and the problems of postwar relief. Above all, it was extremely rousing to be part of the concerted drive of a great nation fighting a major war. However much one opposed the sacrifice of so many human lives, one could not but be impressed by the tremendous power of solidarity, devotion, drive, and patriotism.

We also lived a very active social life, made many new friends, and were forever commuting between Washington and rural Maryland. Our contacts were particularly numerous with the Czechoslovak Embassy, the Benes government-in-exile having been recognized early in the war by the Roosevelt administration. Speaking of the Roosevelt administration, Eleanor Roosevelt was a special supporter of UNRRA, and helpful in many ways. Several times both she and I were speakers before the same meetings. I particularly remember one such occasion, when both of us gave addresses before the Potomac Cooperative Federation, both stressing the need for large-scale humanitarian relief.


Dr. Frank Munk, Director of Training, UNRRA, made the following speech before the Potomac Cooperative Federation, Washington, D.C., on February 27, 1945. Other speakers at the meeting were Mrs. Roosevelt, Congressman Voorhis and Mr. P. Taft of the State Department.

A few weeks ago I stood in the middle of a village in Greece. That village was burned by the Germans not once but twice. At the approach of the Nazis, the population took to the high mountains surrounding it. Those who were not fast enough were killed by the Germans, and their bodies, as well as those of dead animals, were thrown into the wells to make the place uninhabitable in the future. No sooner had the German armies left Greece than the people of the village began coming back again. Of their homes only the stone walls remained. I visited this village, Domvrena by name, some two months later. The people of Domvrena were already helping themselves. There was no timber in the village. Men and women climbed the mountainside, felled the sturdy pines and brought the logs down on their backs - eight hours up and five hours down. They brought one log after another until they could build a little shelter - a kind of lean-to, in a corner of two charred walls. Roofing was a problem because the mud would be washed away by every rain but they hoped that some kind of roofing material would finally find its way to Domvrena. They did more than just repair their flimsy shelters. First the whole village started to rebuild its Church, dynamited by the Germans.

When we came, services were already being held in the Church, although the Priest was still living in the morgue. The school was started again; it still had no roof, no windows, no doors, no furniture and no equipment with the exception of one book and a map cut out of newspapers. Yet the children were able to read from that precious book - small children in the morning and older children in the afternoon except when it was raining too hard or when the winter storms came down from the mountains. The third thing the whole village tackled as a whole and got going, was the mainstay of their livelihood, the major economic support - the village cooperative that ran the olive press. Everything depended on it because the only thing that was left alive after the Germans slaughtered and drove away all the animals was the olive grove in the beautiful valley overshadowed by the Halikon mountain range. But the olive grove was of no use until the oil was pressed.

For four weeks the village neglected its own shelters and families, living in caves and under the boulders in order to repair the building and machinery of the olive press. It was a great day when the make-shift installation was complete and a thin streak of smoke rose over the village like a flag, celebrating victory over death and destruction. The press rattled and smelled but, the co-op was working again. They knew that they could exchange oil for wheat and together with the small relief rations they were getting from time to time, it assured them they would survive the hard winter. They still are ill; 75% of them have malaria, 26% dysentery, the children have scabies and trachoma, but they have some kind of food and some kind of shelter.

The experience of this village is on a small scale compared with the experience of most countries in Europe. They hope they will get some help from their friends abroad. They could use more food, medicines, clothing, roofing paper and expert assistance, but they are not waiting with hands folded. They have suffered more than any human being should be made to suffer but their determination to live is unbroken. I have found many examples of a highly developed community spirit. The Yugoslav refugees in the UNRRA camps, the Greeks in their mountain villages, some parts of France have shown what group spirit and group solidarity can perform. Everywhere from France to Greece cooperatives have been among the first institutions to be reestablished after liberation. First, locally, then by region and finally by state. Cooperatives are finding their feet again. They are the first cells in the economic body to heal and they are in many places the nuclei of recuperation. As a happy medium between complete regimentation by governments and complete lack of social cohesion, cooperatives are the "middle way" to which many of the nations of Europe look ahead. They grow from the grass roots and wherever they have taken hold, they have survived the storm of war and occupation and can now be utilized as instruments of rehabilitation.

But even the strongest spirit and the sturdiest heart do not help where resources don't suffice. This is the hardest winter Europe had to go through. Millions of people go without food without shelter and without adequate clothing. The meager resources of these people must be supplemented, they must be shared by those of us who are so much happier and so much safer. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration has been set up to supplement local effort and local resources. It is the most daring cooperative experiment to date and a test of the will to cooperate between all members of the United Nations, large and small. As the Director General of UNRRA, Governor Lehmann recently has emphasized: "UNRRA is not a super-state. It is a creature of the governments which created it. Its resources and its powers are derived exclusively from governments." Unless the great supplying countries and their governments allocate to UNRRA the necessary supplies to alleviate suffering, and the necessary shipping to get it over, UNRRA is unable to do its share.

But the same is true, in reverse, of the countries in need. They too must be willing to put trust in an international organization of which they are members. I am happy to say that the first full-fledged agreement between UNRRA and a member government has just been signed between the representatives of the Administration and the government of Czechoslovakia. It is, perhaps, symbolic that the signature of the UNRRA agreement constituted the last act of the Czechoslovak Government before its return to the home country.

Yet even governments will be powerless unless backed by a strong public opinion. Cooperation must be put on a firm basis of mutual knowledge and understanding. Nothing will further it more than close contact between such popular organizations like the cooperatives the world over and nothing will better strengthen the bonds of friendship and of freedom than such actions as the Freedom Fund of Cooperatives. If we can utilize, further, fructify and implement the spirit that I have seen among the common people of Europe, if we can solidify existing international organizations and build new ones, then rehabilitation will become reality and war will become a bad dream only.

o o o o O o o o o

Mrs. Roosevelt left before the end of the meeting when she was given a message. The message was that President Roosevelt had just returned from the conference at Jalta.


Our friends at the Czech Embassy included the Czech Ambassador, Vladimír Hurban, a member of a historically prominent Slovak family, and his wife. But there were many others. I remember an incident at one of the Embassy parties: After a few pleasant hours of socializing, I discovered that I had locked myself out of my car. So there was nothing to be done in a hurry but to smash a little triangular window. As soon as the deed was one, I realized the car was an identical model, but not mine. It belonged to the Commercial Attache of the Embassy, and I had to eat humble pie.

About five months after it was inaugurated I had to leave the center to my second in command, Harold Snyder, to undertake the first of my trips to wartime Europe. By that time it was clear that UNRRA, which was a cooperative effort of 44 nations, would have to recruit personnel in Europe as well as in the USA. On June 6, 1944, General Eisenhower opened the second front with the invasion of Normandy. By October, when I left for Europe, much of France was liberated. It was high time to start training in Europe.

I remember my first trip. Travel in wartime was very different than it is now. In the first place, the only planes that crossed the Atlantic were military planes. The Travel Section of UNRRA had close connections with the War Department and made all arrangements. Secondly, travel was shrouded in secrecy. You were told about the time and route of the trip only at the last moment and were not supposed to reveal it to anybody. I was instructed to report to a certain office on October 8 and, naturally, to wait. I still did not know where we would be flying until I boarded a plane and was told we would stay overnight at Dorval airport near Montreal. Next morning I boarded a "Liberator" bomber, clearly not equipped for the luxury trade. It had no seats, we sat or lay on the metal floor. All the other passengers were military personnel of various services and ranks. Food was K-rations distributed before takeoff. Another thing that was distributed was parachutes. Soon after we gained altitude the Air Force sergeant showed us how to use one. It sounded reassuring. I do not remember now how long the flight lasted, but I recall rather vividly the moment the sergeant returned from the cockpit to tell us we were nearing the northwest coast of Ireland and that we ought to put on the parachutes because there was a warning of enemy planes in that area. However, we soon saw the rocky coast of Ireland and some British fighter planes beneath us. I was lucky that there was no need to jump. Evidently I would have made a slight mistake: had I pulled the string which I thought would open the parachute, I would have instead severed my connection with the parachute. One should never overestimate one's intelligence. We landed in Prestwick in Scotland, where we left the bomber and transferred to a plane which seemed luxurious to us. It had real seats.

I settled in London in a room provided by friends at 5, Robert Adam St., W 1. It was a funny place, all kinds of young people having all kinds of relationships which I never figured out. In the meantime I was very busy. The instructions I received before leaving Washington were to organize and coordinate training centers which were just being opened, or soon to open, in Europe and to do so in cooperation with the European Regional Office in London. That sounded clear enough, but it was not. The minute I met the head of the ERO, Sir Frederic Leith-Ross, and the director of training, Professor Fulton, I learned my first lesson.

It was immediately made clear to me that the United States was welcome to supply the bulk of relief, but that the use and distribution should be left to Great Britain on account of its greater experience in Europe, knowledge of local conditions, and for a number of other reasons. It was indicated to me that I was welcome in England, but that Fulton would continue to do things in his own way. I was glad I was not entirely a stranger to the craft [or craftiness] of diplomacy. Next I was taken to the Training Center which already was in operation in a former girls' school in Reading. I revisited Reading several times to give lectures, but for most of my stay I worked in London.

After about a month and a half, I left for the Continent. In addition to the Center in Reading, England, there was already a training operation active in Cairo, Egypt, and soon one was to be started in Granville, France. There was still a lot of fighting in France and Italy, as well as on the Eastern front, and naturally I again had to rely on either the U.S. or the Royal Air Force for transportation. I should also mention that I later wore a U.S. officer uniform with the red UNRRA insignia on its shoulders and that I carried an I.D. card giving my assimilated army colonel rank. This was necessary because I could have been shot as a spy in case we had to land or were shot down in enemy-held territory.

We flew across France and spent the first night in Air Force barracks at Istres near Marignane on the Etang de Berre, not far from Marseille, from which the Germans were recently eliminated. The next day a Royal Air Force plane took us over the Island of Elba to Rome and then to Naples. On the fourth day we finally made it to my destination, which was Bari on the Adriatic Coast of Italy across from Yugoslavia. I had to spend some time there because of the presence of an UNRRA mission destined to go to that country. Actually the mission was cooling its feet in a place close to Bari, normally a summer resort, called Santo Spirito.

The reason for the delay was political. Marshal Tito, who had by that time practically won the guerilla war against the German and Italian armies occupying Yugoslavia as well as against the pro-royal Chetniks, balked at permitting an UNRRA mission on Yugoslav soil. He believed, perhaps not entirely without reason, that the British government would use it against his wishes. I was asked to visit the mission in order to raise its morale, which was not improved by long weeks of waiting under the rainy clouds of wintertime Italy. Winter there is not exactly a tourist paradise even in peacetime, and this was a particularly dreary winter. The mission members perked up when I visited Santo Spirito, most of them being graduates of College Park.

It also helped me to reevaluate our training in the framework of a complete mission and its various specialties. In addition, I was very interested in the political problem, most of the negotiations with Tito having been held on the Island of Vis, not far from Bari. On my return to Washington I did support the idea that the entry problem could be solved by the appointment of a Russian as head of mission, which was approved at the highest level in Washington, possibly over Churchill's objections. Subsequently, a Russian was also appointed as head of the mission in Czechoslovakia, unexpectedly producing a certain problem for me personally.

From Bari, I flew to Cairo by way of Malta and Benghazi in Libya. I disliked Cairo, dusty and dirty, especially after the war in North Africa. Staying at famous Shepheards Hotel I found time to visit the pyramids, but my business was with a small and mostly British UNRRA contingent in Cairo and its suburb, Maadi. In Maadi, I was also issued an English uniform to facilitate my contacts. One of my tasks was to help in the takeover of camps for refugees from Greece and Yugoslavia. These camps, housing about 30,000, were administered by the British army and were being transferred to UNRRA. I visited both of the camps, both on the Sinai Peninsula, one at El Shatt, the other at Moses Wells. My main impression was one of a rocky, inhospitable desert. Soon afterwards all of the refugees were returned to their homelands.

I spent another week in Athens. Ever since I took part in the teaching of the Humanities course at Reed College, I was enamored with classical Greece, especially with the works of Plato and Aristotle. It was, therefore, a very emotional moment for me when I trotted in their footsteps on the Agora and the Acropolis. It was all the more telling because Athens at that time, shortly after liberation, was completely bereft of tourists.

My main attention was naturally centered on relief needs. A representative of the Greek government took me around rural Attica. I later recounted my experiences upon returning to Washington in a speech which was reproduced in many magazines, including the "Reader's Digest" and which follows this report.

I returned to London around the middle of October 1944. There was a surprise in wait for me when I got to the apartment where I had my room. There was only a big hole in the ground where the house once stood. A V-1 had struck next to it destroying several houses and burning the rest. All through my previous stay there was the periodic sound of exploding V-1s. The air alarm became a steady accompaniment of daily life. Now, after my return, another sound could be and was expected at any moment: explosions of the V-2s. Whereas the V-1 was a pilotless plane, the V-2 was the first of real rockets, rearing high into space and then hitting the earth with real vengeance. Not without reason did the Germans call all these new weapons "Vergeltungswaffen" [Revenge weapons]. One of the first V-2s killed one of my oldest friends from Kutná Hora, Karel Kríz, the one who suggested I invite Nadia Prásilová to that fateful dinner. He was then the Press Chief of the Czech government in London.

As I said, the steady boom of explosions, and of racing ambulances and fire engines, was a regular part of daily living. Sometimes I got a real taste of what London had to go through. One night I was a dinner guest at the home of Ivison Macadam, my old friend from student days, and of his wife, born Carolyn Corbett in Portland, Oregon. As soon as we sat down, the sirens let loose. The sound of explosions seemed to come closer and closer. Ivison got up and into his old clothes, topped by a fire warden's helmet. Before I knew it, I was standing with him on the roof of the building. Large and small pieces of incendiary bombs and material seemed to be raining down, and we were busy dousing them as fast as we could. It seemed to me we spent much of the night on the roof with a good view of the fires all around us, but perhaps it was only an hour or so. There did not remain much of the evening.

I might add that my stay in London also enabled me to take up new and old contacts with the Czech government-in-exile headed by President Benes. I had very interesting conversations with the Foreign Minister, Jan Masaryk, who was later either killed by the Communists or committed suicide, with my old friend, Hubert Ripka, who will later reappear in this saga, with Dr. Feierabend, who had visited us in Berkeley and showed us the newly designed bank notes, and many others. They all urged me to return to my old country after the war.

One other memory comes back to me: On the last day of my stay in Athens, I heard occasional shooting in the streets. It marked the beginning of the vicious Greek civil war, with the Communists trying to seize power with the help of Tito and Stalin. The Greek civil war triggered Truman's call for aid to Greece and Turkey, which in turn led to the creation of NATO, and that was, of course, the beginning of the Cold War, which in turn.....

I soon left London to report my findings to headquarters. It turned out to be quite a trip. I naturally thought I would be flown back by about the same route as the previous one. It was winter by then and seemed a smart thing to be dressed for cold weather. So I wore my British uniform because it was made of wool. I could not have made a worse mistake. The first day we ended up at Shannon airport in Ireland. I even had time to pay a fleeting visit to Limerick. Our next day took me to Lisbon, Portugal. We took off in the morning, but had to turn back because of an engine failure. We started again the next day to make it as far as Dakar, Senegal, in Africa. On the day afterwards we crossed the Atlantic without incident and landed in Natal, Brazil. The plane made further stops in Fortaleza and Sao Luis de Maranhao, before arriving in Belém on the Amazon River. The heat was inhuman, especially in my rough woolen uniform. I do not know what kind of plane it was, but it surely was a local, stopping at Cayenne, Paramaribo, Georgetown, Port of Spain, Saint Lucia, Antigua, San Juan [Puerto Rico], Ciudad Trujillo, Port-au-Prince, Camaguey, and finally Miami. On the eighth day I deplaned in Washington completely exhausted, but just in time for Christmas with the family. College Park never looked better.


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


Managing Displacement: Refugees and the Politics of Humanitarianism; Jennifer Hyndman



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