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
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© Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families
RETURNING TO PRAGUE
On January 31,
1946, I was back in the Prague I had left almost seven years earlier as a
penniless refugee. I was returning as Chief Economic Adviser representing the
United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.
itself more or less as a result of a popular uprising even before the war
officially ended. In those early days in May 1945 thousands in Prague fought the
Wehrmacht in the streets of the capital. One of them was Nadia's brother,
Vladimir, who put on his old lieutenant's uniform to contact the American army
that was racing from the West, but was stopped by President Roosevelt's decision
one hour's drive from Prague.
For me it was an
emotional moment. With Hitler defeated, the allies victorious, and President
Benes already back as head of state in the Hrad castle overlooking Prague,
everything looked more or less normal. But it was a different normality. Almost
3 million German-speaking citizens already expelled, the ethnic structure of
Czechoslovakia was completely altered. President Havel much later apologized for
this drastic measure, but the great majority still thinks it was a just
retribution for the German atrocities committed during the war.
There was another
fundamental difference from prewar Czechoslovakia. The new government was un
unstable coalition of Communists and democrats. The Soviet armies, like the U.S.
army, had evacuated Czechoslovakia more than a month before my return, but the
Communist party was rapidly increasing its influence and power by means fair or
foul, always propelled by a victorious Soviet Union.
But let me first
explain how I got there. During the latter part of 1945 the Training Center at
College Park, Maryland, was gradually running out of steam, with the bulk of
training completed. Most of the missions were already operating in their
respective countries. It was clear that additional recruits would have to be
sent after much less preparation or recruited locally. The administration began
looking for a different assignment for me. It was decided that I would be most
useful as an economist.
I had already been
sent on several trips throughout the U.S. and Canada to give talks about UNRRA
and postwar reconstruction in order to gain support for its mission. I had, of
course, also given speeches to practically any important forum in Washington
itself. I cannot list all my destinations, but I remember vividly the talks I
gave in Seattle and Portland. There I addressed the League of Women Voters, a
public meeting in Central Library hall, and the City Club. Interestingly enough,
I talked not only about UNRRA, but about the postwar in general. Quoting the
Oregon Journal of September 12, 1945, I said: "Portland and other West Coast
cities will be the back doors to the United States no more.....The first
industrial revolution centered around the Atlantic, the next will be around the
November of 1945 it was decided that I should go as Chief Economic Adviser to
Poland. Everything was ready, I already was issued warm clothing for Poland's
hard winters, when my appointment had to be canceled. The reason: the Polish
government refused to accept me, stating in a secret cable they would not
confirm any Czech citizen in that position. [We became American citizens only in
discussion it was decided that I could be most helpful in the same function in
Czechoslovakia. The Czech government immediately accepted. The only objection
was voiced by the newly appointed chief of mission, a Russian, Pyotr Ivanovich
Alexejev. He had come to Washington just at that time in order to look and be
looked at. Only two of the mission chiefs were Russians, Alexejev in Prague and
Michail O. Sergeychich in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Both were appointed purely for
reasons of international politics, in order to remove Soviet objections to UNRRA
missions and to placate Stalin. I might add that one of the Deputy Directors
General was also a Russian, a rather congenial one, Michail A. Menshikov.
Alexejev objected to a Czechoslovak in such an important post in the mission.
However, after I met him at a party at the Mayflower Hotel and subsequently in
private, he changed his mind and agreed to my nomination. I had reasonably good
relations with him while in Prague.
That was only the
beginning of problems. As the Communists were gaining strength by increasingly
infiltrating the mechanism of the Czech state, they did everything to make the
work of UNRRA more difficult, in spite of the fact that Czechoslovakia largely
depended on UNRRA supplies. As an example, the contact man of the Czech
government in dealings with UNRRA, E. Loebl, insisted in an article that UNRRA
does not give supplies free of charge, but that they have to be paid for, which
was patently untrue. Loebl was, of course, a member of the Communist party and
took his instructions from the party. More seriously, they insisted that any
markings indicating U.S. origin of the supplies, would have to be removed before
combated this propaganda, delivering many speeches, mostly in Czech, but
occasionally in English, by numerous interviews in the newly free Czech press,
and by addresses on the Czech radio, there being, of course, no television.
In the meantime, I
was busy talking to my friends in the government, old and new. One of the old
ones was Hubert Ripka, the Minister for Foreign Trade, who was pressing me to
remain in Czechoslovakia and who had already found a niche--or two--for me. I
was also in touch with other leading people, one of whom was Benes's former
Secretary and currently Minister of Justice, Prokop Drtina, who was later to end
tragically. I saw President Benes, who also said that I was needed, and strongly
recommended that I should finish my assignment with UNRRA and then return. I saw
him again shortly before leaving Prague.
I did not neglect
the Communists either. I thought that in the worsening international climate,
with signs of the coming Cold War in the air, UNRRA should try to steer a steady
course of cooperation whenever possible. With that in mind I paid a visit to
Antonín Zápotocky, the head of the Central of Labor Unions [URO], one of the
most influential men in the KSC [Communist Party of Czechoslovakia]. Zápotocky
became Gottwald's successor as Prime Minister when Gottwald was elected
President in 1948 and succeeded him as President on Gottwald's death a few years
later. I had a generally favorable impression of Zápotocky: he seemed
reasonable, no fire eater, and on the whole well informed. He surprised me by
also suggesting that I come back, even though he must have known my background.
With all the above
in mind, I decided that I wanted to return to Prague for good. I informed Nadia,
who was staying in College Park all this time where the children were attending
school. Nadia was willing, whether enthusiastically or with reservations I still
do not know. UNRRA cooperated by making all the arrangements with the State
Department and the military for their travel. She also bought and had crated for
transportation a number of household appliances, including a refrigerator, a
washing machine, and other things.
One element in my
decision was that our house on Baba, built as part of an exhibition of modern
housing construction in 1932, was returned to us. It had been confiscated by the
Germans after our departure. I did not even have to apply for its return. One
day an employee of the City of Prague simply brought me the deed, I suppose
mostly because of my association with UNRRA. UNRRA happened to be extremely
popular, in spite of all the Communist propaganda. People remember it even today
after all these years. [I am writing these memoirs in 1992.]
The final element
in my decision to return was undoubtedly the fact that I could look forward to a
promising and stable career. In America I had taught at two prestigious schools,
Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and the University of California in Berkeley.
However, both of these were temporary appointments and I had no guarantee of
permanence. While in Prague I received two permanent appointments, and I still
possess the documents appointing me full professor of the newly reorganized
University School of Political Science and another one appointing me Deputy
General Director of the entire nationalized chemical industry, one of the
largest industries in Czechoslovakia.
I owed this
appointment to my friend Minister Ripka, although, I assume, it must have
received the approval of the government. The reason ostensibly was my former
work on economic planning, but I never could fathom why it was to be the
chemical industry--my last and only connection was a chemistry course in high
school. Interestingly enough this double job was like an echo of my previous
two-lane approach to life--one theoretical, the other practical.
Around the middle
of April the mission received a wire from the European Regional Office in
London, headed by Sir Frederick Leith-Ross, asking if I would be willing to
exchange my post in Prague for one in Vienna, Austria. Evidently they needed
somebody who could speak Russian and was fully conversant with problems of
East-Central Europe. I was not eager to leave Prague at that moment, but I tried
to be a good soldier and I accepted. They wanted me in Vienna as soon as
Before leaving I
went to see President Benes once more. It happened to be my last encounter with
him. Benes was in a very optimistic mood. He said that he had his doubts
occasionally on whether democracy in Czechoslovakia would survive Communist and
Soviet pressure, but that he now felt pretty satisfied that the coming elections
to parliament, scheduled for May 26, 1946, would bring a democratic majority.
When I expressed my doubts about continuing compromises and concessions to the
Left, Benes looked at me and said: "Dr. Munk [pane doktore], don't forget we are
not in Western Europe, but have to live between Russia and Germany." I could not
but agree. He seemed very glad when I told him of my decision to return "home,"
probably in September, and of my plans. He wished me success. I never saw him
As a postscript,
the elections of May 26 gave 40.17% of the vote to the Communists, 23.66% to
national socialists [my old party], 20.23% to the Catholic party and 15.59% to
the social democrats. The democratic parties did receive a majority, but it
would be too small to overcome the pull of the KSC. The struggle continued until
the Communists staged a coup, under threat of Soviet military intervention, in
February of 1948. Benes resigned and died shortly thereafter, and Czechoslovakia
became a full-fledged Soviet satellite until 1989.
books listed below provide additional background on this period of history to
help illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.