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
request: if you reference this material in any way, please send us email at
firstname.lastname@example.org 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
TALE OF TWO CITIES
I left Prague on
April 23, 1946, in the company of Tom Morrell, an English journalist who was
also being reassigned to Vienna, having hitched a ride in his car. We traveled
by way of Kutná Hora, Jihlava, and Znojmo. It took us some time to get through
the Soviet checkpoint on the border of Austria, even though we both had special
passes issued by the Soviet military government.
The situation in
Austria differed substantially from that of Czechoslovakia. The latter was
regarded as an ally who was liberated. Both the American and Soviet armies had
left Czechoslovakia some four months earlier. Austria, on the contrary, was
still occupied by the armies of the United States, Britain, France, and the
Soviet Union. Indeed it continued to be occupied until the conclusion of the
Austrian State Treaty, which neutralized Austria in 1955.
Vienna also was
very different from Prague. In spite of the threatening attitudes of the
Communist party, the atmosphere in Prague was one of moderate optimism, as
illustrated by the comments of President Benes to me. In addition, Prague did
not suffer much physically from the war: there was some bombing during the war,
but compared to most of Europe it was not serious. There was only limited damage
from the last few days of the conflict. Vienna, on the other hand, was badly
damaged, although the damage differed greatly from one quarter to another.
mission of UNRRA had its offices, and also housed its staff, in the Astoria
Hotel, a stone's throw from the Kärntner strasse in the center of Vienna. At the
time of my arrival it was filled with rubble, no single building was standing
intact and there were only a few dilapidated stores. When I last visited Vienna
a few years ago, I barely was able to recognize the surroundings. Kärntner
strasse today is one of the most sparkling streets, selling everything luxurious
But the biggest
difference was psychological. Austria looked like someone who was once wealthy,
but had hit on bad times and was now an impoverished relative living on charity.
That was not very far from the truth and UNRRA was the biggest charity. There
was also something else that struck me rather forcefully: I had visited Vienna
briefly in 1938 a few days after Anschluss, meaning the annexation of
Austria by Germany. I was impressed by the enthusiasm that greeted Hitler.
Indeed Austrians were among the most devout followers of Nazism.
Now, in the spring
of 1946, and all through my stay in Vienna, I was not able to find anyone who
was a Nazi. They all professed that they opposed Nazism all the time. A very
strange transformation! Even the official position of Austria was somewhat
shadowy. Under the UNRRA statute, it could only provide relief to countries
which were victims of fascism and nazism. Somehow Austria slipped through:
instead of being treated like Germany, it was classified as a victim and
therefore eligible to receive UNRRA aid. There was no doubt it was needed.
Vienna, with its two million inhabitants, was in dire need of food and
completely dependent on UNRRA. The problems were compounded by the fact that the
only open life line was the single railway line from Trieste to Vienna, routed
through difficult Alpine terrain.
One of my main jobs
in Vienna was to serve on the Economic Committee for Austria, as well as on a
committee that met regularly at the office of the Austrian Prime Minister to
consider relief problems. The former committee probably was the most important,
because real power was exercised by the military governments of the four
occupying powers, with the Austrians pretty much in the background. The Economic
Committee for Austria was in turn composed of one representative each of the
United States, Britain, France, and the USSR, and one representative of UNRRA.
The Committee met
regularly. Its decisions were pretty much law to the Austrian government. Many
of the problems were caused or aggravated by the attitudes and actions of the
Soviets, who were in occupation of the three Easternmost provinces of Austria,
Lower Austria, Upper Austria, and Burgenland. I should have said four provinces,
because Vienna was also a province. It, in turn, was divided into four sectors,
one for each of the occupiers. Only the center of town, known as Vienna I, was
under joint occupation, symbolized by the four military policemen in jeeps, made
famous by the "Three Men" movie.
I was soon put to
the test. One day I was called by the Minister of Interior to inform me he had
received reports by the Gendarmerie [rural police] that the Soviets were
confiscating wheat and other foods from the supplies stored in the Burgenland.
This was the province consisting of the fertile flatlands along the borders of
Hungary, the only part of Austria with a surplus of food. This was a most
serious matter because it was in direct contradiction of allied agreements and
endangered UNRRA commitments to Vienna. I immediately contacted Washington and
got a call from the new Director General, Fiorello LaGuardia, who had succeeded
Governor Lehman. His instruction could not have been more direct: "Give 'em
At the next meeting
of the Economic Committee, I addressed the Soviet representative, Colonel
Olchovsky, and told him that I was instructed to inform him of the following:
unless the Soviet military immediately stops the illegal confiscation of food
supplies in the Burgenland, UNRRA will stop furnishing food to Vienna, and will
do this without further notice. Colonel Olchovsky defended the practice by
saying the Red army badly needs these supplies for their own troops of
occupation, but promised he would pass on the report to his government. Nothing
more was heard about the matter, but after about two weeks the Minister called
me again to say he had a new report from the Gendarmerie commander to the effect
that all food confiscations had stopped.
The UNRRA mission
chief, a Britisher, Brigadier Parminter told me I must be one of the few people
who ever gave an ultimatum to Stalin and got away with it. In spite of
occasional clashes, I got rather well acquainted with Col. Olchovsky. He
sometimes invited me to the Soviet officers club for dinner. The Americans set
up their officers club in the former building of the Austrian National Bank. The
Soviets needed more proletarian surroundings--they took over the Hofburg,
the former Palace of the Austrian emperors. I must say their food was better.
After the dinner they usually showed movies--all invariably evocations of
Tsarist and Great Russian victories, like one about Alexander Nevsky, the
conqueror of the Teutonic Order.
Col. Olchovsky was destined to play a major role in my life. One evening after
the inevitable vodkas he suddenly said: "Gospodin Moonk, I hear you have decided
to return to Czechoslovakia after you are through with UNRRA.....I suppose you
are a party member." I just mumbled. Olchovsky again: "You know, if I were in
your shoes, I would not hesitate about joining the party. We cannot tolerate
indefinitely this regime that is kind of sitting between stools, half socialist,
half capitalist. We must have one that openly shows it color." Nothing more was
said, but his comments stuck in my mind.
Next morning, when
I came to my office, my secretary said there was a call waiting for me from some
place called Portland. I asked her to put me through. The call was from Peter
Odegard, President of Reed College, telling me that Professor G. Bernard Noble
had decided to stay with the State Department in Washington. He said he was
calling me to ask if I would be interested in returning to Reed. He could offer
me a professorship in the political science department on a permanent basis. I
am not sure what my reply would have been had he called a day earlier. However,
having digested my brief conversation with the Russian, I did not hesitate and
said I accepted his offer and would be on hand next September.
Next, I sent a wire
to Nadia, telling her I changed my mind and decided to go back to America. I
also asked her to sell all the things she already had bought for Europe,
including the refrigerator and the washing machine. We would be back in Portland
the coming September. It was as simple as that.
Later I kept musing
I must have a personal Guardian Angel: for the second time an unknown appeared
to save me. Had I returned to Prague, I would have been one of the first to be
liquidated after the Communist putsch in February 1948.
The Austrians can
be very charming when they want to be or have to be. I was invited to many
parties, some at Schonbrunn, some at Ballhausplatz, the Foreign
Affairs Ministry, another survivor of past diplomacy. I could always just call
any Ministry and they would jump. I would not be human if I said that I did not
enjoy this brief brush with power.
But my stay in
Vienna was slowly coming to an end. Since I had a car and driver at my disposal,
I drove several times to Prague and once or twice to Bratislava, less than an
hour from Vienna, and previously almost its suburb. Early in September the time
had come. From Vienna I returned to Prague, to say goodbye to my friends and to
tell them about my decision to go back to the New World. Most of them
understood; Communist pressure was getting heavier and heavier.
I arrived in
Portland on September 19, 1946. At 8 o'clock the next morning I was facing a
class of eager and critical students at Reed College. My days of glory were
books listed below provide additional background on this period of history to
help illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.