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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


You may think we left Prague because of my Jewish background, but you would be wrong. The reason was much more pressing. The anti-Jewish drive by the Nazi occupiers had not yet begun, everything still seemed more or less normal. I was, of course, foolish not to have tried to leave earlier when it would have been easier, but I believed, wrongly as it turned out, that I could weather the storm on account of my "Aryan" wife.

One day in May a man came to my office in Jungmannova 32. After closing the door carefully, he showed me the I.D. card of the former Czechoslovak secret service. I was flabbergasted: this was two months after the German invasion and to identify oneself this way was out of the question. The man then said, and I quote: "I am to show you a little paper." And he showed me an order by the Gestapo to arrest all members of the Economic Committee of the Socialist Party. My name was on top since I had served as its chairman. He then left, but I did not have to be told anything more.

We worked feverishly to get out, but it was almost impossible. No one was permitted to leave the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia without a permit from the Gestapo secret police and that was given only very exceptionally. After the debacle of Munich, with hundreds of thousands of refugees, mostly German Social Democrats, leaving the so-called Sudetenland, a mass relief had to be organized in what remained of Czechoslovakia. The need was overwhelming and a group of Canadian Quakers helped by sending Beatrice Wellington to Prague.

Nadia helped her greatly by mobilizing her acquaintances at the Ministry of Social Welfare, at Prague City Hall, and in the various welfare agencies. We became good friends. Miss Wellington proved most helpful in this dangerous situation. In the course of her work, and because she was Canadian, she inveigled the Gestapo to issue departure permits to a group of young children who were trapped in Prague when their parents had to leave Czechoslovakia prior to the invasion on March 15.

She simply put the names of Frank, Nadezda, Michael, and Zuzanka Munk on the list she submitted to the Gestapo and the Gestapo issued the permits, along with all the others. But that was only part of the problem. We also had to obtain American and British visas, but that was simple. We had good friends at the two legations and they gave us the visas immediately.

We now had to take the plunge. We left Prague on May 20, 1939. The day was a Saturday. We told our maid and our cook that we were going away for the weekend and took a taxi to what was then [and is now again] called Wilson Station. The train reached the border between the Protectorate and Germany proper in some 30 minutes. Instead of regular border guards, the border was policed by the dreaded SS, in their black uniforms with the skull and bones emblem on their caps.

The train stopped and by that time we were almost its only passengers. Two SS men came and demanded our documents. My spirits sank to the lowest level ever. I turned over our passports, our Gestapo permits, and also our tickets. The man said: "How did you get the exit permit." I knew we would be lost if I seemed worried. So I answered very businesslike: "If you have any questions, why don't you call your headquarters in Prague. They will tell you." All of this in German, of course.

The two did not say a word, simply collected the documents and left. I saw them walk straight to the station building. I was never so scared in my life. I knew they could take us off the train and that would be the last of us. In fact, they turned back before reaching the station and came right to our wagon. I was sure they would arrest us right then.

Instead they came in, returned our documents and said: "Heil Hitler. Wir wunschen Ihnen angenehme Reise" [We wish you a pleasant trip]. I just mumbled and they left. The train started immediately and an hour later we were in Germany. Evidently my reply made them think. We might get into trouble, they thought, the signature on the permit was that of the Head of the Gestapo in the Protectorate and it was genuine. Fortunately, the Germans have a proper respect for their superiors and for discipline.

Now I come back to why I had been so frightened: I knew that the original list submitted by Miss Wellington listed Frank Munk as six years old, and Nadia as five years old. Had the two telephoned to Prague, our age would have been revealed and we would have been trapped. It was our salvation that the grey card issued by the Gestapo did not give the age -- only the name and number of passport. But it was a very narrow escape.

I was still apprehensive. By now it was early afternoon. We had to travel all across Germany throughout the night. They could still arrest us since they knew our itinerary from the railroad tickets. I was relieved when the train arrived in Leipzig, Germany, towards evening: There on the quai was standing a man in the brown uniform of the Nazi SA, the stormtroopers, waving at us!

That is another story. Some time in 1934 a German lawyer named Thiersch from Leipzig, with whom I had some business relations, came to Prague to ask me if I would keep some funds for him in case he needed them. The reason that he wanted some money outside Germany was that he mistrusted Hitler and thought he would bring about disaster. Czechoslovakia then seemed safer to him. After the invasion he came again and I returned his money. He then said if we ever needed help to send him a wire saying: "Aunt Mary arriving at ...." and he would be at the station.

Indeed he was. He had brought oranges for the children, which were appreciated, since we had no money, only the food we had brought along. What I did say was that he wore the brown uniform of the SA, the Nazi storm troopers. Evidently, he had seen the light in the meantime. The German conductor, who had seen him welcome us, was very polite to us after that.

We crossed the border of Holland in the morning and my wife practically kissed the Dutch conductor when he came in. But there was a problem: we were not permitted to take any money out and I was afraid to try smuggling. Unknown to me, Nadia had taken one single $20 bill. She concealed it behind the picture of a German town in the car. Once across the Dutch border, she tried to take it out, but, alas, the bill had disappeared somewhere behind the wall. We were thus penniless, but happy.

The train disgorged us in Hook van Holland and we took the ferry to Harwich, England, where Tom Bonner expected us. He was on a Guggenheim Fellowship in Cambridge that year. As a last greeting to the Continent, I guess, as the ferry was entering Harwich harbor, Suzie suddenly took Michael's new cap and threw it into the sea. We were in England.


[Note: My father presented a paper titled Leaving Prague: A History Of The Munks’ Family Departure From Prague In 1938-1939 at the Monday Club in Seattle that details this escape in more detail.]

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



Chamberlain and Appeasement: British Policy and the Coming of the Second World War; Robert Alexander Clark Parker


Czechoslovakia Between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard Benes in the 1930s. A history by Igor Lukes.


Letters from Prague: 1939-1941; Raya Czerner Shapiro and Helga Czerner Weinberg


A Thousand Kisses: A Grandmother's Holocaust Letters; Henriette Pollatschek, Renata Polt (Editor)


To Save a Life: Stories of Holocaust Rescue; Ellen Land-Weber


From Prague After Munich: Diplomatic Papers, 1938-1940; George F. Kennan [Out of Print]




A Stricken Field; Martha Gellhorn. [Out of print. Other compilations of her reporting are available in The Face of War and The View from the Ground.]


Life With a Star; Jiri Weil


Mendelssohn Is on the Roof; Jiri Weil



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