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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


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 another event.

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 thousand people.

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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