My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
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
firstname.lastname@example.org 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
June 28 is a
special day in all of former Yugoslavia. It is, of course, the day that will go
down in world history as the beginning of a set of world wars. But for
Yugoslavia it is Vidovdan, the day of Saint Vitus. "It had been a day of holy
mourning for the Serbian people....when they had confronted their disgrace and
vowed to redeem it, until the year 1912, when Serbia's victory over the Turks at
Kumanovo wiped it out." Thus Rebecca West.
By disgrace they
mean, of course, the defeat of the armies of Tsar Lazar of Greater Serbia by the
Turkish hosts on Kosovo Polje in 1389. Our story begins right there. Four
brothers, who had taken part in the battle, decided they could not live under
the Turk. Rather than face conversion to Islam, they would flee. So they left
and walked for weeks, perhaps months, until they could not go any farther--they
had reached the sea.
Six hundred years
later Brooks and Suzie Ragen together with Nadia and me were scanning the
dilapidated books of a Serbian Orthodox monastery called Praskvica Monastir near
Milocer in today's Montenegro. And we found references and the names of the
progeny of the four brothers. Their name was Radenovic (pronounced Rajenovich)
and that was also the name of Brooks' father and grandfather, who came to the
United States late in the 19th century. Later, as we drove ever higher into the
mountains above Milocer, we found first one and then many other families of the
same name. I remember stopping at a lonely farm and asking a woman who was doing
her washing outside if she knew anybody named Radenovic. "Yes," she answered, "I
am a Radenovic."
How did we find the
trail? First, among the students who came with me to Zagreb in 1967 there was a
girl whose family had originally come from Montenegro, and who knew that there
were two major clans in that part of the country, the Radenovices and the
Mitrovices. Secondly, Suzie had used her detective talent in pursuing the
antecedents of Brooks' family. Thirdly, I had previously visited Sveti Stefan,
an island converted entirely into a luxury hotel off the coast of
Montenegro--one of the most charming places I know. It is located exactly
opposite the towering mountains which are the home of the Radenovic clan.
I assumed naturally
they were all Montenegrins. To my surprise, when I put the question to them,
they all said that they were, of course, citizens of Montenegro (Crna Gora in
Serbo-Croatian), but they were Serbs. They had kept their ethnic identity from
the Battle of Kosovo to the computer age!
They had evidently
kept not only their identity, but also their wits: the Montenegro Riviera is
full of big hotels, a real tourist paradise. All of the hotels are state owned
and normally full most of the year. What we found was that practically every one
was being managed by a Radenovic, all the way down to the maitre d'hotel.
On second thought I
understood better why they were regarding themselves as Serbs rather than
Montenegrins. This part of the coast was incorporated into Montenegro only after
the breakdown of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. For most of history it was
either Roman or, later, part of the Venetian Republic, although it was
frequently contested by the Ottoman Empire. Napoleon made it part of the
short-lived Illyrian Republic. It was in effect the Southern extension of
Dalamatia, and when Dalamatia was incorporated by Austria in 1814 this part
became an outpost of the Habsburg Empire. It was an important outpost because it
included the Bay of Kotor, the main naval base of Austria. Kotor, by the way,
had a great reputation as home of some of the most capable mariners. When Peter
the Great of Russia decided to build a navy, he went to Holland for the
shipbuilders, but he sent his young nobles to Kotor to learn seamanship and
navigation. So, when Brooks' grandfather arrived in America, he was classified
correctly as Austrian by the Immigration Office and later by the U.S. Census.
historically limited to the mountains. When I was a young boy, I thought every
Montenegrin was a hero, and I was not very far from the truth. Literally the
Montenegrins fought for centuries for their independence. They were the only
ones who succeeded in spite of continuous incursions and attacks. It was not
only the mountains (the name means Black Mountain in the Venetian dialect of
Italian), but perhaps also the fact that they were so poor it did not pay to
bother much with them. At any rate, Rebecca West sees them as "like the people
of Homer as any race now living: they are brave, and beautiful, and
[Note: The details provided in
this chapter are documented
separately by my mother in her letter to our extended family titled "Finding
Ragenovich" and by my father in his paper titled "Return
books listed below provide additional background on Montenegro to help
illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.