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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

AMERICA 1931-1933

In May of 1931, I received a letter that changed my life. It was from the Paris office of the Rockefeller Foundation and read as follows: "I am authorized to offer you a Research Fellowship for study in the United States for a period beginning approximately October 1st, 1931. The Fellowship entitles you to a monthly stipend of $150 per month, an allowance of $50 per month for your dependents, and, in addition, necessary travel and tuition expenses insofar as they are specifically authorized in advance."

The letter was a surprise. I recalled that my former Professor, Josef Macek, had asked me some time ago if I would like to go to the USA, but I did not give any thought to his enquiry. I accepted the offer right away, in spite of knowing that it would stop, or at least delay, what looked like a very promising career.

I had just been named a fellow of the Masaryk Academy and head of its Institute of Business Research. I was named a member of the Social Research Institute of the Ministry of Welfare and a lecturer at the School of Political Science. I was serving on the Permanent Committee on Economic Planning and one of the editors of "Sociálni Problémy" (a journal of the social sciences) as well as "Hospodárská Politika" (Economic Policy). Much of this followed the 1928 publication, by a government-owned publishing company, of my book, "The New Economy -- a Study of the Second Industrial Revolution." I knew the fellowship would interfere with all these activities, but I thought it would be worth it. It also interfered with some other plans: I was one of the people who planned the construction of a modern settlement on the outskirts of Prague called Baba which was an exhibition of Bauhaus-style housing. The construction of our own house began just about when we were to leave.

Nadia was just then working as secretary to the daughter of President Masaryk, Alice Masaryk, herself President of the Czechoslovak Red Cross. Nadia's job was to assist in her social welfare activities. Alice Masaryk was kind enough to get free passage to America for Nadia by having her appointed as inspector of emigration, to check the facilities provided by the shipping line to immigrants going to the United States.

We crossed the ocean on M.S. Saint Louis of the Hamburg-Amerika Line. We boarded at Hamburg on September 22, 1931, arriving in New York on September 30. This was of course the time of the Great Depression and the world economy was in a sorry state. We got a taste of it as the ship docked in Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland. The headlines read England Abandons Gold Standard. It was a symbol of England's economic decline just as the present decline of the dollar (I am writing in 1992) symbolizes the decline of our economic power.

We met some other Rockefeller Fellows on board the Saint Louis: two Poles, Zenon Wachlowski and Jose Chalasinski and their wives, Baer, a Hungarian, and Max Ascoli and wife, from Italy. They all returned to Europe except Ascoli, who divorced his redheaded Italian wife, married an American heiress, and became a wealthy publisher of magazines. I happily kept my Czech wife.

New York impressed me more than it now impresses me. I believe it was much more livable at that time. I was impressed by its modernity, its standard of living, its advanced technology, but also negatively by the contrast between wealth and poverty. The streets were full of people selling apples and all kinds of other things, or simply begging. Unemployment stood at about 25 per cent, and President Hoover was very unpopular. So was prohibition. It was proof of self-respect, and of good connections, to serve hard liquor whenever you had visitors at home--a custom I thoroughly disliked since I was not accustomed to alcohol (and still am not).

We only stayed long enough in New York to get oriented and to plan my project. This I did by conferring with Dr. Meredith Givens at the Social Science Research Center, as advised by the Rockefeller Foundation. I originally wanted to stay in New York. However, Dr. Givens suggested I stay one year at Harvard. I had of course heard of Harvard before coming, but I had only a faint idea of its stature, so I asked Givens if it would be worthwhile to study at an institution so far out in the countryside. He assured me that Harvard was not second rate. I reluctantly accepted his suggestion and we left for Cambridge.

In Cambridge, we found a room at a house in 50 Wendell Street, owned by a relative of the then American Ambassador to Germany. Most of my classes were at the recently completed Graduate School of Business Administration, across Charles River from the main campus, where I also was given office space. I was very surprised when I attended my first class that instruction at the school was based primarily on the case method instead of general lectures. I had never encountered anything similar in Europe. It occurred to me that it must be an extension of teaching at law schools, based on Anglo-Saxon common law as distinct from Roman Law, in use all over continental Europe, and, of course, also in Quebec. I must confess, Roman Law still impresses me as clearer and cleaner.

Fortunately we knew some people in Boston. I had met Edward Filene, owner of the famous department store, in Prague when he was visiting the Prague International Fair, of which I was one of the directors. I took him around Prague and spent much time with him at the request of the American Commercial Attaché and found him very agreeable and knowledgeable. He not only invited us to his home (he was single), but also introduced us to some prominent Bostonians, including the widow of a governor of Massachusetts. To us these glimpses of upper-class New Englanders were a real revelation.

However, our first visit after arriving in Cambridge was not to historic Boston, but to lonely Walden Pond, described so lovingly by Thoreau. We met many people in the towns surrounding Boston and I became very fond of New England and New Englanders. At the end of the academic year the Rockefeller Foundation encouraged us to see more of the United States. I spent much of the summer session at the University of Chicago. I knew some of the people at the University from Europe, especially Professor Louis Brownlow, Director of the Public Administration Clearing House, with whom I reestablished relations after my second coming to the United States.

Nadia left in the middle of summer for Houston to help her sister Vera Scott, who expected her first child. I used the time to see something of the West, which always attracted me. I took the train to Denver, and then hitchhiked all over Colorado, especially over its Rockies. I found the mountains fascinating, both the high peaks with snow and glaciers and the abandoned mining towns, now mere ghosts of themselves. I even tried my hand at gold panning. The creeks above Boulder, Colorado, were full of unemployed men panning gold from the creek beds. Gold certainly was there, I saw it in their pans, so I stayed for several days in their camp, ate their food, and enjoyed myself. Then back to Chicago on the luxury train, the Columbine.

I also took other trips from the Windy City. I ought to call it the Hot City, on some days the only place to be was up to the neck in Lake Michigan. One of my trips was to Kenosha, Wisconsin, specifically to meet the liberal Governor, Philip La Follette.

We spent the rest of the summer at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. We made the trip as far as San Francisco in the car of our Polish friends, the Wachlowskis, I mostly in the car's rumble seat, eating the ever-present sand. It was however a most interesting trip, across the Bad Lands of South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and across the Sierra Nevada to the Bay Area--with me still in the rumble seat. From San Francisco we went with one of the many people who made a lean living by taking people in their old cars, with them living and sleeping in the car. Such was life during the Depression. When we got to L.A., we got a nice apartment in Santa Monica, only to have to give it up when I learned that I was due at USC and not, as I assumed, at UCLA.

Los Angeles in 1932 was idyllic compared to what it is today, the streets bordered by palms with the charm of the missions still visible. I bought a second-hand car, my first, learned driving, and before the onset of autumn we set out to drive East. Everything went fine until we got close to San Antonio, Texas. We had an accident and ended up in the ditch. I was unhurt, but Nadia had a bad cut on her leg. We were taken to Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, where they kept us for a couple of days. the local Czech community learned about the accident from the papers and came to visit us at the hospital. A woman said: "Oh, you are doing so well; we were planning to give you a nice funeral." She seemed truly disappointed.

We stayed for a while in Houston with Arthur and Vera Scott and then left by train for New York. The Rockefeller Foundation had extended my fellowship for another year and I spent it mainly at Columbia University. My attendance was more irregular than at Harvard. I was very eager to talk to many academic and practical experts and also spent some time in Washington, D.C.

While in Washington, I made an effort to get better acquainted with the U.S. government. I visited many departments and individuals and was fortunate enough to get guidance, and use working space, at the Brookings Institution. Unfortunately all my notes got lost in Prague during the war. One conversation I vividly remember was with Justice Louis Brandeis at the Supreme Court. His family came originally from Czechoslovakia.

The Depression reached its nadir in the spring of 1933, just as we were about to return to Europe. A day after our ship departed from New York President Roosevelt closed all banks to avoid a general run on them, and the New Deal started in earnest.

We did not go directly back to Prague, the Rockefeller Foundation having extended my grant for three more months so I could complete my research in Berlin. It was an extraordinary time in Germany, coming only about two months after Hitler assumed total power (or seized it) in the Reich. Berlin was plastered with posters proclaiming "Give me five years and you will not recognize Germany" -- a prediction that was ultimately fulfilled, but not the way it was intended.

I went to Germany mainly to consult Professor Julius Hirsch at the Handelshochschule in order to complete my work on the cost of distribution. It was published in book form under the title "Problem of Distribution and Distribution Costs" (in Czech) in Prague in 1935. It served as the dissertation for my doctorate in 1936. Professor Hirsch was just about to leave Germany, like so many other prominent Jews, and to start teaching in Denmark. The contrast between the sophisticated intellectual and artistic life of Berlin and the sound of marching S.A. and S.S. detachments of the Nazi party could not have been more dramatic. Berlin was still a great metropolis, but there were signs of impending Armageddon everywhere. I must say I should have seen them more clearly than I did, believing that it still was a long way from Berlin to Prague. I was wrong.

Anyway, we returned home in late spring and moved directly into our newly finished villa on the hill called Baba. Prague looked very normal and peaceful after Berlin.



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