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
THE SILVER BELL REVISITED
Now that my 93 years exact their dues and I
am not perfectly mobile, I revisit the silver bell most easily in my
imagination. My roots are in Kutna Hora, that historical town in the heart of
Bohemia -- perhaps more so now than during my active life. I can still recall
every nook and cranny of the town and these recollections have recently been
rekindled by a book, sent us by friends born in the same place, as well as by
The book is called Tales from Kutna
Hora (Kutnohorske povesti). It was recently published in Kutna Hora and
represents a most enjoyable collection of stories passed down through the
centuries, starting around 1100 A.D., as told and retold by successive
generations. Those who have read my “Memoirs” may recall that I began them with
my earliest recollection: the silver bell ringing during the dark of night. I
mentioned there the popular belief that the bell was made of silver. As I grew
up I knew, of course, that it must be nonsense. Well, it now seems that it was
not so far off the mark.
In the year 1300 A.D., the Bohemian king
Vaclav II founded the royal mint and invited experts from Florence to launch the
minting of silver coins, called grose (groschen). The mint was located in the
king's palace, which is still called the Italian Court (Vlassky dvur) across the
square from our family's house. Very soon local artisans took over from the
Italians. Among them, according to the story, was a man named Semernik. He soon
found a way to get rich by putting aside and secretly taking home some of the
silver ore. The supervision must have been very shoddy and nobody suspected him.
However, on his deathbed, he was struck by contrition and as repentance for past
sins he left his entire property to Saint Jacob's Church to be used for the
making of a special bell. It was to be made from the silver he had stolen over
the decades. There is a historical fact: the bell was recast in 1835,
according to records, and part of the old silver was mixed with the new
material. The book also reveals something I was not aware of as a child -- the
bell called the miners to work at 3am, but only on workdays, not on Sundays and
holy days. It still does.
A second event which rekindled my nostalgia
for Kutna Hora was a cultural festival sponsored by the city and by the Friends
of Kutna Hora, to commemorate a famous Czech poet, named Jiri Orten, one of two
brothers born in Kutna Hora to a Jewish family we knew well -- the Ohrensteins.
He changed his name to be able to publish after the Nazi occupation in 1939. He
was killed by a German tank in 1941.
I was supposed to be present as one of the
Honorary Chairmen of the festival, together with the Czech Minister of Culture,
who was present at the festival, the former head of President Havel's
Chancellery, and other dignitaries. I was the only one living abroad. I was very
sorry to excuse myself for health reasons. The festival, according to press
reports, was a great success. It consisted of a number of literary, musical, and
theatrical events, all having to do with the work of Jiri Orten. A concert in
Saint Barbara Church, patron saint of miners, was attended by more than a
Since I mentioned my health, I was in very
good shape until late in 1993. Then a number of misfortunes hit: my diabetes and
my electrolytes went out of control and I suffered from a collapsed vertebra --
among other problems. Then, in July of 1994, I had a cardiac attack, which
fortunately proved to be rather mild. I surmounted all of these incidents, but
now have to limit my natural exuberance and confine my walks mostly to a few
blocks around our hilltop home -- not a bad place to be confined.
In the meantime, I have been able to find a
substitute for my world travels. Until last year, Nadia and I went on one or
more cruises a year all over the globe. We were able to visit what is now the
Czech Republic even under the Communist regime (last in 1992) and, in general,
to live it up. Now, I have to learn to live it down. It is very fortunate that I
found another way to roam around the world -- in some ways even more freely than
before. In 1991, I got a computer and I have enjoyed it ever since, learning and
learning. Now, I am deeply into e-mail and the Internet, communicating with the
world and replacing the so-called real world with cyberspace.
Future generations of my offspring will find it difficult to
believe that there was a time when there were no computers and, in fact, no
cars, no planes, no phones, no refrigerators, no shopping malls, no jazz or
rock, and when a family consisted of a woman, a man, and children. Much as I am
into computers, I am not sure if technology has made life better or worse --
except my own life. Maybe I will discuss the outlook for the next millennium if
and when the bug bites me again.
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