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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


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.

Montenegro was 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 vainglorious."


[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 to Vrba."


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


History of Montenegro; by Francis S. Stevenson. (1971)


The Falcon & the Eagle: Montenegro & Austria-Hungary, 1908-1914; John D. Treadway. (1998)


Montenegro: Its People and Their History; William Denton. (1977)


Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia; Rebecca West


Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History; Robert D. Kaplan


The Bridge on the Drina; Ivo Andric


Kosovo: A Short History by Noel Malcolm


The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers 1809-1999 by Misha Glenny



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