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