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
THE ROAD TO
Little did Nadia
and I expect after our return from America in 1933 that the next few years would
be the most nerve-racking period of our lives. On the way back we spent three
months in Berlin, where I wanted to complete my research. We therefore saw
Germany immediately after Hitler's seizure of power. Nevertheless, I did not
expect that the next major crisis would involve Czechoslovakia.
The question of
some three million German speakers in Czechoslovakia, mostly in areas adjacent
to Germany, later known as the Sudetenland, became the focus of Hitler's drive
to dominate Europe. I became involved in the crisis early. I found it recounted
in a book that was smuggled out of Czechoslovakia and published in Canada, the
memoirs of my old friend Prokop Drtina, who had served in the presidential
office of T.G. Masaryk and later as Dr. Benes's secretary. In his autobiography
called "Czechoslovakia - My Fate" ["Ceskoslovensko - Muj Osud"] Drtina described
our efforts to come to terms with the leader of the German pro-Nazi movement,
Konrad Henlein. Within a few years he became spokesman for the overwhelming
majority of Germans and a very controversial figure.
Many leading Czech
politicians, including the man who was soon to become President, Dr. Benes, were
opposed to any dealings and compromises with Henlein. Others thought of possible
accommodation. To reach a decision, a small group of young politicians, to which
I belonged, decided to invite Henlein and have it out with him. Drtina in his
memoirs describes the historic meeting in some detail, naming the participants,
including me. Henlein, who was accompanied by his lieutenants, proclaimed his
devotion to democracy, accommodation with the Czechs, and loyalty to the
republic. The Czech participants disbelieved his professions, saw through his
feints, and warned the government of the danger. They proved right later. When
Henlein published his memoirs, he admitted that from the beginning he followed
Hitler's orders. He then became his Gauleiter, when the Nazis annexed first a
part and later the bulk of Czechoslovakia. I have to make a correction to a
chapter I wrote earlier: this meeting took place in the fall of 1934, not in
In 1935, President
Masaryk resigned on account of ill health and Benes replaced him. Two years
later Masaryk died. His funeral became a manifestation of devotion to the idea
of his republic and of opposition to fascism as represented by Hitler. The
situation became more and more dangerous until Hitler openly proclaimed his aim
of destroying Czechoslovakia.
In May of 1938, a
few months after Germany invaded and annexed Austria, Czech intelligence warned
Benes of German military moves in the direction of Czech borders. Germany issued
a denial, but I am sure that the warnings were correct. As an example, the names
of the German generals mentioned as commanding the three Reichswehr columns [Blaskowitz,
Reichenau, and List] were the exact generals who led the real invasion on March
15, 1939. Benes declared a partial mobilization on May 20, 1938. It was vastly
successful, but it enraged Hitler.
It so happened that
my brother-in-law, Arthur F. Scott, husband of Nadia's sister Vera, was visiting
us at that time. Through my connections with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I
arranged for the Ministry to put at my disposal an official car and driver. We
also received permission to visit the mobilized army units on the border of
Germany. Both Arthur and I were impressed by the spirit and caliber of the
regiments and the weapons we saw: heavy and field artillery, tanks, antiaircraft
guns, etc. A major, who accompanied us, also showed us part of the
fortifications along all the German borders. They were very impressive, at least
to a layman. The heavy weaponry seized by the Germans after the 1939 invasion
was said to have made the German breakthrough in France a year later.
visit proved to be very helpful to us when things got critical. After inspecting
the fortifications, Arthur was rather pessimistic and offered us help if we ever
should need it. I declined with thanks, but it happened to be vital when we had
to leave Prague in a big hurry and he arranged with the President of Reed
College in Portland for me to teach there.
tried desperately to assure French and British support in the face of the German
challenge -- even I was mobilized to go to Cliveden, the core of English
appeasement efforts in 1937. By the middle of September the situation got
desperate. After Chamberlain visited Hitler in his mountain retreat near
Berchtesgaden, France and Britain put pressure on Czechoslovakia to accept
Hitler's demands and turn over the Sudetenland to Germany. There were massive
demonstrations in Prague against the surrender and a new government headed by a
general was appointed. We of the small political group that met in the Havel
residence also opposed accepting the Franco-British plan.
once more to visit Hitler at Godesberg. He was enraged by the latter's
intransigence and recommended that Czechoslovakia mobilize for defense against
the expected aggression. Immediately a full mobilization was undertaken and the
country made ready for war. I drove Nadia and the children to Kutná Hora, since
I expected a bombing raid on Prague at any moment. I believed they would be
relatively safe in Kutná Hora, which did not seem to be a military target. I
myself returned to Prague and prepared for the bombing by blacking out the
windows in our house.
A strange episode
happened on September 29, 1938. Some time earlier I had joined the Defense Corps
of Czechoslovak Motorists. Its members offered to volunteer with the armed
forces in case of war by serving, together with their vehicles, in whatever way
would be necessary. In the afternoon of that day I received a call from the army
ordering me to report with my Skoda-Popular immediately at the barracks named
after Czech King George of Podebrad. When I reported for duty at the barracks,
which are located in the center of Prague, I was told that I would be taking two
officers to a place in the north of Bohemia, that the officers would guide me,
and that I was never to mention the trip to anybody, not even to army personnel.
It was the worst trip of my life. It was a hazy day, it soon got dark and the
only lights permitted at the time of general blackout was a blue plastic shield
covering the lights. You could barely see a few yards ahead. I drove over two
hours, practically blind and not knowing where we were. My two passengers, a
colonel and a major, did not speak at all. Finally, we stopped at a barrier
surrounded by soldiers in full field gear, supported by a machine gun. The two
officers got out, showed their identification and walked away, ordering me to
wait in the car. After several hours they came back and I drove them to Prague.
In the meantime it started raining. I still do not know how I made it. When they
got out they again warned me not to mention the trip to anyone. My guess is that
it was an attempt at a military coup against the anticipated acceptance of
surrender. Rumors of such a coup were certainly in circulation among the
The surrender came
indeed the next day. Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain, and Daladier met in Munich
and completely surrendered to Hitler's demands. One third of Czech territory was
ceded to Germany. The rest was annexed six months later. My basic pessimism
[call it realism] carries the dismal date of September 30, 1938. It was a
historic day -- a day to remember. I never will forget it.
I have never felt
more badly. My pessimism can be dated as of September 30, 1938.
books listed below provide additional background on this period of history to
help illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.