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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


When we returned to Portland in 1946, I thought it was for the long haul -- and it assuredly was. I was quite busy the next few years solidifying my home base, which in effect was the whole West Coast, and, of course, Reed College. But before long I began missing my participation in the Big World and its travail. I therefore eagerly accepted a proposition made to me by Columbia University to lead a study tour to Europe, which would investigate the major political and economic stirrings.

Columbia University had set up a department called World Study Tours, chaired by professor Goodwin Watson, for the purpose of organizing a limited number of summer tours to enable students to learn firsthand about the outstanding issues of politics, economics, and social life abroad. Each tour was to be led by a member of the Columbia University faculty or by another scholar whom they would select for this particular program.

I was gratified to be invited in the fall of 1948 and began work immediately to develop the project, with a view of leading the tour in 1949. My interest was focused at the time on the reconstruction of Europe after the war, a continuation of my wartime work with UNRRA. Since that time important progress had been made and major changes had occurred. In Western Europe, new hope had been created by adoption of the Marshall Plan and its subsequent implementation. In Eastern Europe momentous changes seemed to cement Soviet domination and the introduction of Soviet-type economic systems centered on economic planning on the Soviet model. This was particularly true of Czechoslovakia after the Communist coup and takeover in February 1948.

As a central theme of the tour I picked "National and Supranational Economic Reconstruction Plans." In particular, I wanted to focus on the administration of the Marshall Plan, the work of the Economic Committee for Europe of the United Nations and, in Eastern Europe, on the first Five Year Plan in Czechoslovakia--admittedly a challenge for 6 to 8 weeks of study and travel.

After a good deal of correspondence with institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, the group sailed from New York on June 15, 1949. Our first destination was Paris. The administration of the Marshall Plan was in the hands of two bodies. The guiding principle of the Marshall Plan was that the United States would aid Europe only if it could present a coordinated, common approach to reconstruction. This was done by the establishment of the Organization of European Economic Cooperation (OEEC): The American counterpart was the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) with headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the main European office in the Palais Talleyrand in Paris. Heading the office as the Special Representative of President Truman was W. Averell Harriman. We were not able to see Harriman, but were briefed extensively by his Executive Assistant, Mr. Bellows.

The people at Palais Talleyrand did a very good job preparing interviews for our group: in addition to meeting a close associate of Mr. Harriman, we also talked to the heads of various divisions, including the General Counsel, Labor, Industry, Trade and Payments, Information, Food and Agriculture, and East-West Trade. They also scheduled our visit to OEEC, where we met their European counterparts. One had the impression that the Marshall Plan was in good hands, as I think in retrospect that it was. The reconstruction of Western Europe was one of the great achievements of American foreign policy after the war. There would be no European Community today had it not been for American aid then, and if it had not been administered as a cooperative venture of both former allies and former enemies.

In addition to Paris, we also had a glance at provincial France during a brief stay in Lyons. While there we had a session with André Philip, who represented the region in Parliament. After returning to Paris we met with another important deputy from the North of France, Maurice Schumann, who played an important role in bringing France into the Common Market, precursor of the European Community.

Our next stop was Geneva, where we were expected at the Palais des Nations, the former world HQ of the League of Nations, and now the European headquarters of the United Nations. We had meetings with the Economic Commission of the UN, which proved to be much less effective than the institutions we studied in Paris. We also met representatives of voluntary organizations accredited at the UN, including my old friend Bertram Pickard, and visited the World Health Organization (WHO).

Our final major destination was Czechoslovakia. I had asked Mrs. Friedlová-Capková of the American Institute in Prague, whom I knew, to organize our visit. This was particularly important, because I wanted the group to get factual and, if possible, impartial information about a recently communized economy and political system, but I wanted them to be impervious to Communist propaganda. And I wanted the same for my own sake. I am not sure we fully succeeded in this, but I think we did not do too badly.

We had a long session at the State Planning Office (equivalent to the Soviet Gosplan), at the Association of Czechoslovak Industries (by now completely nationalized), at Skoda Works (now in 1992 acquired by Volkswagen), at Tatra Works (another car maker), at the Trade Union Council (known as URO), and with other institutions. I ought to mention a presentation made at the Social Insurance Administration by Nadia's brother, Dr. Vladimír Prásil, about social insurance in the country. He was a well-known expert in the field and one of the authors of its legislation. We spent almost three weeks in Czechoslovakia which included considerable travel. We visited the famous international spas in Western Bohemia, Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad), and Mariánské Lázne (Marienbad), and had a very enjoyable week in Slovakia, which included a few days in the Tatra Mountains.

The political atmosphere in Czechoslovakia was not as bad in 1949 as it became soon afterwards. By that time the inner-party conflict between the Moscow faction and the domestic communists erupted in a bloody purge of the former, many of whom were Jews, and ended in the execution of the party general secretary Slánsky and many others. Not all of its victims belonged to the category listed above. One of the people who were condemned by the show trials was my old friend from student days, the Slovak, Vlado Clementis.

Our group received a mixed official reception. On the whole we were welcomed; one of the pictures of the group shows the Lord Mayor of Prague receiving us at the old historic City Hall. Strangely enough it also shows the secret police agent who was trailing us--he wanted to be in the picture. Speaking of secret police: I had to return one morning to the Hotel Paríz, where we were staying, to pick up something I had left behind. When I entered my room there were two men rummaging through my suitcase. They identified themselves as officials of the StB (State Security). We conversed politely for awhile, they asked me about how things were in the U.S., then I asked them to put things back again and to lock the suitcase, which they did.

From Prague, our group went to Germany and flew back home, while I traveled to Southern France to spend some time with my mother, then living with my sister Anca in Nice.

Several years passed before I organized another study tour. Columbia University urged me repeatedly to do so, but I needed more money, and regularly taught a summer session, sometimes at the University of Washington. Reed College always enjoyed a high reputation, at least among academics, but unfortunately it did not translate into salaries.

The next venture occurred in 1955 and it was another study tour to Western Europe. This time I did not target economic recovery, since it was by that time well on its way. My main interest then was the domestic political situation in a number of countries. We started in England, visiting Oxford, and had discussions with some of the people I knew, and then proceeded to London. We had a briefing at the Foreign Office, and then in Westminster, first with members of the Conservative Party, and second with the Labour Party. It also included a meeting with Sir Henry Bunbury, whom I had known for many years as head of PEP (Political and Economic Planning). Among others we met Nancy Balfour and Peter Self. In Paris we started at the Quai d'Orsay, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Parliament. This time we also made stops in Italy and in Yugoslavia, in which I always was interested. Unfortunately our time was limited, and we had to confine our stay to Slovenia and Western Croatia. It was my first visit to the country under Tito. The rest of the tour included Austria and Germany. Again, I left the tour in Wiesbaden and visited my mother in St. Etienne de Tinée.

By 1956 the Cold War was in full swing and world politics clearly depended on relations between the two superpowers. So I decided my next project would be a tour to the Soviet Union. At that time it was not simply a matter of travel arrangements, but a political question which required careful handling. I first wrote to the State Department and received the following letter from the Officer in Charge of USSR Affairs:

"At the meeting of Foreign Ministers now being held in Geneva the West and the Soviet Union have agreed that there is a need for greater contacts between the West and the East and that one of the by encouraging tourism between both areas. To demonstrate this Government's sincere desire to have restrictions on tourism and other visits removed, Secretary Dulles announced....that U.S. passports will henceforth not require special validation for travel to the Soviet Union and certain other European Soviet bloc countries."

He added that it is hoped that as a result of detailed discussions in Geneva the Department will be able to define the role of study groups. He suggested that we communicate with the Department on this matter when the results of the work of these experts become clear.

That left us about where we were before, but I decided to go ahead. To facilitate things further, I got Reed College and the Oregon Journal to co-sponsor the tour and invited the Journal's Editor, Arden X. Pangborn, to join me as co-leader. This was all the more necessary because Columbia University had in the meantime created a separate entity, the Association for Academic Study Abroad, to be in charge of tours.

Our next problem was transportation. What would now require only a few telephone calls, was then a complex matter. Since there were no regularly scheduled flights to the Soviet Union, ATA had chosen a charter line, the Flying Tigers, for the trip, which also was co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Oregon. This required approval by the Civil Aeronautics Board. As a matter of fact, this was exceedingly difficult, and we would not have received it if we did not have the direct support of Senators Richard Neuberger and Wayne Morse and of Congresswoman Edith Green.

We finally took off on July 4, 1956. The program was in two parts. The first part was the Amsterdam Forum, which I put together and which I moderated. It was planned as a seminar on the subject of "Europe Looks behind the Iron Curtain" and it brought together a number of European experts in the field. The second part was the tour itself. We planned the discussion before coming to Russia because we knew we could not talk freely while there.

We spent a couple of days in Finland before entering the USSR. From Helsinki we arrived by train at Finland Station (like Lenin in his time) in Leningrad. The only way to plan a trip in the Soviet was by using the services of Intourist, the Soviet travel organization. Anyone who has had to depend on Intourist will tell you of its unreliability, slowness, and bureaucratic rigidity. As a matter of fact, after experiencing the general lack of flexibility in the Russian system, you don't blame Intourist for not being more efficient. We were in effect unable to make them assist us in our programming by arranging meaningful meetings for our group. In general, the only people who understood the meaning of a study tour were officials of the American Embassy in Moscow. They even arranged for us to have a session with Ambassador Charles E. Bohlen, an old Moscow hand well informed on all aspects of the Soviet system. We told him about our difficulty in obtaining Soviet visas for our group. He was not surprised to hear that we were waiting for months and only got the visas after the Oregon Journal sent a wire to the new Soviet Foreign Minister, Shepilov, just after he had replaced Viacheslav Molotov.

In spite of these limitations, the tour proved to be very interesting, if only by confirming what one knew about the Soviet Union from long periods of study and research. Nevertheless, everything assumes a new dimension after you have seen the real thing. I liked Leningrad, its historical buildings rebuilt after wartime destruction, its canals, its literary reminiscences, and the people--tough, resilient and, I thought, more Western than in Moscow, which I did not like.

Next we visited Minsk, the capital of Bielorussia (now Belarus). The only interesting visit was one to a huge collective farm--Kolchoz Cerveny Partizan (Red Partizan). I have always wondered why Russian collective farms were, and are, so inefficient. Elsewhere, especially in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, they turned out to be quite successful, especially when the heavy hand of the party was removed.

Traveling by train we next went to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, at that time more Russian than Ukrainian, from there to Odesa and then by ship to Yalta, known here mostly because of the wartime Yalta Agreement. We also visited Pionerski Lager Livadia, summer camp of the youth organization, known as the usual first step towards the nomenklatura, the Communist party hierarchy. From Yalta we went again by boat, the Rossyia, to Novorosijsk and then by train to the capital of Georgia (in Russian called Gruzia), Tbilisi. Our first visit in Tbilisi was to the offices of the local paper, Zarja Vostoka (Dawn of the East), published in two editions, Russian and Georgian. We met the Editor, Mr. Chikvishvili, and were surprised when he opened our conference by pointing to the statue of an old Georgian poet outside the building and saying: "The first thing you have to understand is that we Georgians are an historic, cultured people, unlike the Russians. We were Christians hundreds and hundreds of years before them, we had our own alphabet when they were chasing bears in their forests--and we have the best football team now." I was truly amazed at this exhibit of nationalism, and it gives me an insight into present problems after the implosion of the Soviet Union.

From Tbilisi we flew directly to Moscow, where we stayed for some time and were shown all the usual sights. I found Red Square quite impressive, including Lenin in his Mausoleum, with the massive Kremlin behind the Mausoleum and the cupolas and domes of the Cathedral of Saint Vasilyj Blazhenyj on the other sides--somehow essentially Russian. We spent considerable time at Moscow University on the Lenin Hills, almost exactly at the point of farthest penetration by the German army in its drive towards Moscow, when reinforcements by the Soviet army were rushed to the front by streetcars. The University was more impressive with its Stalin architecture and its size than by any obvious intellectual vigor. We were not able to organize a meaningful debate--not that I blamed them. We also visited the Gorodski Soviet (City Soviet) and even had time to go down the Moscow-Volga Canal.

From Moscow we flew to Prague on an Aeroflot plane. We only had three days in Prague. The political climate had obviously worsened since our visit in 1949. We had difficulty seeing many people and had to limit contacts by and large to a single session at the Alcron Hotel.

As to the Soviet Union, now the former Soviet Union, things could not be more different. We now meet many Russians on their visits to the United States, and we find them for the most part very open, very eager to engage in intellectual free-for-alls and anything but secretive. It would be so much easier to do now what we tried to achieve some 35 years ago.


As a boy I was an avid reader of the books by Jules Verne, the French author of adventure and science fiction books a hundred years ago. One of the books I vividly recall was "Around the World in 80 Days." Today you evidently can do it in one day, more or less, and all you need is a telephone call. It was not quite that fast in 1957 when the spirit moved me and I led a study tour around the globe in a little less than 80 days.

In 1957, we left on a Greek liner, the S.S. Queen Frederica. Its master was Captain Konstantinos Condoyannis, otherwise an Admiral of the Greek Navy. Its destination was Athens by way of Gibraltar, Malaga, Palermo, Naples, the Ionian Sea, landing in Piraeus. I welcomed the long sea voyage because it gave me the opportunity to prepare the trip with daily lectures and discussions with the group and with occasional guests. This time I did not wish to tread on familiar ground. Instead I had planned to delve primarily into Asia and Asia's role in world politics.

However, I could not neglect essential sight-seeing and we spent some interesting time in Greece. Everybody has to visit the Acropolis and the Agora at least once in one's life--and I have done so several times, but every time it leaves me with a deep impression. And I had to take the group to my favorite place--Cape Sounion, the easternmost point of Attica and to my mind one of the most beautiful spots on earth. However, we found time to talk about Greek-Turkish relations at the Greek-American Cultural Institute.

We spent two days in Istanbul, but our serious business began in Beirut. Lebanon in 1957 was not yet the battleground which it has become since. Beirut was an elegant city, the playground of the Middle East, with a French flair and beautiful beaches. We met with members of the Lebanese government, all of them Christians. But my most lasting memories were those of Palestinian refugee camps, dirty, dilapidated, evil smelling. I could not help thinking back to the day when Israel achieved its statehood (I happened to be in San Francisco) and of my sympathies for the first Jewish state since antiquity, but I was appalled by the fate of the refugees. I still cannot believe that there can be a lasting peace between Israel and the Arabs. During our visit to the camps we were accompanied by staff members of the United Nations Refugee and Works Administration (UNRWA), some of whom I knew in UNRRA. We also visited Baalbek, which has since become one of the centers of radical terrorist organizations and spent some time at American University, since then frequently a target of hostage taking.

From Beirut we drove by bus across the desert to Damascus for meetings with members of the Syrian government, and thence to Baghdad in a terrific sandstorm. We did not stay very long, in contrast to Tehran. The Iranian government headed by the Shah-in-Shah was at that time in the midst of an ambitious program of land reform, buying land from the feudal land owners and from the religious Islamic establishment, and distributing it to peasants. It was this program which led to its demise and the revolution of the ayatolahs, who opposed the reforms and, in a general way, to modernization, for the sake of religious purity and fanaticism. We had meetings at the Iranian Foreign Ministry and also met with members of the American Embassy.

We visited Karachi, the port city, and Lahore in Pakistan and were given our fill of the iniquities of Indian rule in divided Kashmir. We had a good illustration of the bad relations between India and Pakistan when we tried to cross their border. We went by bus to the river dividing the two. At that point there were numerous porters awaiting us. They took our baggage and carried it to the middle of the bridge. They put our baggage down and returned to the Pakistani side. The baggage was taken up by Indian porters, carried to the other side, and loaded on another bus to take us to Amritsar.

Amritsar is the holy city of the Sikhs, a religion originating about 1500 A.D. as a reconciliation of Islam and Hinduism, but by now a threat to the unity of India. That unity was one of the subjects we discussed at one of our next stops, the capital of New Delhi. We were lucky to be able to arrange a meeting with India's Prime Minister and founder of modern India, Jawaharlal Nehru. I confess I was very impressed by him. He was highly educated (in England). To me he looked like a happy fusion of Western and Indian culture, and above all as a man of wisdom. His family came originally from Kashmir and belonged to the highest Brahmin caste, but he was trying to improve the lot of the lowest castes. He was succeeded by his daughter, Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated by Sikh nationalists--a good example of the deep fissures dividing India, which is a continent rather than a country.

A most pleasant interlude on our trip were the few days we spent on a houseboat on the lake at Srinagar in Kashmir. We had to sit up on hard seats on the night train to Pathankot and then to fly on a small plane across high mountains and through valleys barely wide enough for its wings, but it was worth it. It would be much more difficult now: the Moslems are engaged in a violent struggle against Indian domination. Yet I like to think back of idyllic Srinagar.

We saw Jaipur Agra and the masses bathing in the Ganga (Ganges) River at Varanasi (Benares), but learned more about India in the metropolis of Calcutta, especially from Bismal Sinha, West Bengal's Minister of Land Revenue. I have to admit that I did not like India much: the heat, the dirt, the smell, the masses, the cows in the streets, the impudent monkeys--and just too many people. However, I respect the fact that India is still a democracy, even though a creaking one.

We took a steamer from Calcutta, down the Hooghly River to the Indian Ocean, with stops at Penang and Singapore. I used to love the colorful stamps of the Straits Settlements in my boyhood, when I was an avid and expert stamp collector. Now Penang was part of a newly formed independent Malaysia, but there was still something of the colonial atmosphere about it. I have been twice in Singapore since then and every time there are more skyscrapers and banks and stores, but I liked it best that first time, when there still was old Raffles Hotel and a whiff of Britain. By now it is homogenized, but also "exhibit A" of a paternal and socially minded dictatorship. We had long discussions with its Minister of Education, Chew Swee Lee, of Chinese origin like the whole ruling class, and his colleagues, but I still am not sure how I feel about it. Anyway, Singapore is a great success story if you believe in modernization.

And, yes, I left out Burma. Rangoon fascinated me. It looked rather exotic, and I was quite impressed by our meeting with U Nu, the Prime Minister. I thought him intelligent and well informed, but, unfortunately, shortly after our visit he had to hand over the government to the head of the army, General Ne Win, and it has been a nasty military dictatorship ever since.

Yokohama and Tokyo were our last stops and I presume we were rather tired by then. Anyway we did not have enough time to explore Japan in depth. It would require a special study tour and probably more than one. I admire Japan and the Japanese: their intelligence, their discipline, their art, but I am not sure I trust them. I certainly do not believe that they will forever live under a democratic government and that they will stay peaceful. History has a way of surfacing when you least expect it.

We returned home on the last ship that was still carrying passengers to America, the S.S. Hikawa Maru. It was essentially a freighter and it felt like it. We were glad to disembark in Seattle.


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


Tales From Hungary; Agnes Vadas



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