Friday, May 29, 2015

​Isaac Patch: "A True Cold War Warrior"

Isaac Patch, former Radio Liberty Director of Special Projects & chief of Bedford Publishing book distribution project

Isaac "Ike" Patch, whose courageous work in association with Radio Liberty during the 1950's and 1960's introduced hundreds of thousands of Russians and other Soviet citizens to banned literature and other books published in the West, died on May 31, 2014. Patch was 101 years old.

Patch served as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service during World War II in Moscow, and in Manchuria and Czechoslovakia during the early years of the Cold War. Unfortunately, Patch only lived in Prague for a few short months in 1949, before being told to leave the country within 24 hours on spurious charges of committing "espionage" by Czechoslovakia's Communist-led government.

Patch then joined Radio Liberty's oversight board, AMCOMLIB (later known as the Radio Liberty Committee), where he helped recruit staff for Radio Liberty's broadcasting desks. In 1956, Patch became AMCOMLIB's New York-based Director of Special Projects, where he published a biweekly newsletter and a quarterly journal for the Soviet émigré community -- and created Bedford Publishing, the vehicle for Radio Liberty's book publishing and distribution efforts.

In his memoir "Closing the Circle," Patch wrote that the private venture, set up as part of AMCOMLIB but separate from Radio Liberty, sought "to communicate Western ideas to Soviet citizens by providing them with books--on politics, economics, philosophy, art, and technology--not available in the Soviet Union." Bedford and its successor groups were able, according to former State Department and USIA official Yale Richmond, to print and distribute more than a million copies of banned and hard-to-get Western publications into the Soviet Union.

As described by Patch's niece, Patricia Patch Critchlow, "Bedford Publishing operated from a head office in New York and branches in London, Paris, Munich and Rome.  In addition to Western works in the original language, Patch’s outfit commissioned translations into Russian of some works that were considered especially important, such as George Orwells’s Animal Farm, James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or Saul Padover’s biography of Thomas Jefferson.  Russian-language works published in the West that were banned in the Soviet Union, like Boris Pasternak’s Nobel-winning Dr. Zhivago, were also delivered to Soviet citizens in a special compact format."

Isaac PatchIsaac Patch
Isaac Patch
Isaac Patch

Of course, publishing the books was easy. The challenge lay in how to get the books behind the Iron Curtain. Patch accomplished this by making the books available for free to all Soviet visitors who contacted Bedford Publishing's offices, by offering them without charge to Westerners traveling to the Soviet Union who were willing to bring the books with them in their luggage, and by employing a number of people who would wait at European gateway airports to greet people stepping off of flights from the Soviet Union and offer them the books to read during their stay in the West.

Within the Soviet Union, Patch established a network of intermediaries who helped make sure that books brought into the country reached their intended recipients. Among the Soviet recipients of Bedford-produced books, according to Patch, was Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, who told Patch when she met him following her defection in 1967, "I know your name from a Russian friend who sends books via your book program." Writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn also received books through Bedford, according to his wife Natasha who told Patch that, prior to his exile, they regularly "received Western books through an intermediary who was supplied by us."

Former RFE/RL Vice President Michael Marchetti recalled Patch as a quiet, unassuming and very well-liked figure at Radio Liberty, able to work smoothly with the strong personalities that were in great abundance at the Radios. "Ike Patch was a true Cold War warrior," Marchetti says, "as much as anyone who ever worked for the Radios or served in the military," Marchetti said. "The Bedford Publishing operation was an important part of AMCOMLIB in the early days."

According to "The Washington Post," after Patch retired to Vermont in the early 1970's the Bedford Publishing operation was folded into the International Literary Center, a CIA-funded organization that continued the book distribution efforts of both Radio Free Europe (via its Free Europe Press) and Radio Liberty until 1991.

According to Marchetti, Patch was a big baseball fan who rooted passionately for his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. The "Washington Post" related an anecdote from Patch's tour as a diplomat in Moscow, where he tried (unsuccessfully) to teach the sport to locals. In his memoir, Patch wrote that the Russians "ran the bases the wrong way, picked up the bases when we told them to steal, and swung the bat in the manner of a cricket player. The villagers crowded around the field and cheered every play, whether good or bad."

To learn more about the book publishing efforts of Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, visit Richard Cummings' "Cold War Radio Broadcasting" blog, or read Alfred Reisch's "Hot Books in the Cold War: The CIA-Funded Secret Western Book Distribution Program Behind the Iron Curtain."

-- Martins Zvaners

Tags:rfe/rl, In Memoriam, radio liberty, isaac patch, bedford publishing, U.S.S.R., books

Monsignor Karel Fořt and Petr Přibík

Monsignor Karel Fořt and Petr Přibík

RFE/RL remembers two colleagues who passed away in January this year.

Monsignor Karel Fořt was a broadcaster with RFE/RL’s Czechoslovak Service, producing religious programs and airing church services banned under the communist regime.

Fořt broadcast under the name Otec Karel, or Father Karel, to prevent harassment and threats against his family.

Olga Kopecká, a colleague of Fořt's at RFE/RL, recalled collaborating with him on "a program for young people where Father Fořt explained all sorts of aspects about baptism, marriage and more -- because this knowledge was lacking in Czechoslovakia. He talked in a way that everyone could understand.”

Born in central Bohemia on November 8, 1921, Fořt was ordained as a priest in 1948.
Monsignor Karel Fort was a broadcaster for RFE/RL's Czechoslovak Service. ( Karel Fort was a broadcaster for RFE/RL's Czechoslovak Service. (
Monsignor Karel Fort was a broadcaster for RFE/RL's Czechoslovak Service. (
Monsignor Karel Fort was a broadcaster for RFE/RL's Czechoslovak Service. (
During the war he was arrested by the Gestapo for possesion of anti-Nazi pamphlets, an experience to which he attributed his decision to become a priest. He was later sent as a forced laborer to a steelworks in Linz, Austria.

After the communist coup d’etat in 1948, he became known for helping people escape acrross the Czechoslovak border. When he was warned of his own imminent arrest he himself escaped, eventually ending up in Algeria, where he ministered to local communities of French, Italian and Spanish Christians.

Monsignor Fořt was honored by Czech President Vaclav Klaus with the Order of T.G. Masaryk for the development of democracy, humanity, and human rights.

He died at the age of 92 in České Budějovice on January 21.

Petr Přibík worked for RFE/RL’s Czechoslovak Service for more than 28 years.

Born in Prague in 1937, Přibík emigrated to Germany in 1965, where he worked for RFE/RL’s Czechoslovak Service reporting on political and foreign policy issues during the Cold War. He was known as a staunch anti-communist and an ardent defender of freedom and democracy.

Přibík used the pen name Petr Langer for his broadcasts to protect his identity and safeguard his family.
Petr Přibik worked for RFE/RL's Czechoslovak Service for over 28 years. ( Přibik worked for RFE/RL's Czechoslovak Service for over 28 years. (
Petr Přibik worked for RFE/RL's Czechoslovak Service for over 28 years. (
Petr Přibik worked for RFE/RL's Czechoslovak Service for over 28 years. (
He returned to Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and later worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 1996 to 1999 he was the Czech Republic's charge d'affaires in Cuba. He served as ambassador to Pakistan and Afghanistan, afterward appearing frequently on Czech radio and television as an expert on these regions.

Kopecká remembers Přibík as an outgoing type. “He liked to go on adventurous holidays and when I heard he joined the Czech diplomatic corps I wasn’t surprised,” she said.
He enjoyed traveling the world, especially with his sons.

Přibík died at the age of 76 on January 3.

- Anna Barbara Mazel

Tags:Monsignor Karel Fort, Petr Pribik

Milan Schulz: Czechoslovak Service Icon

Milan Schulz, broadcaster for RFE/RL’s Czechoslovak Service.

The name Milan Schulz is known to every Czech and Slovak who listened to the “forbidden station” from Munich in communist Czechoslovakia. A broadcaster for RFE/RL’s Czechoslovak Service, Schulz was famous for his commentary on Czechoslovak politics, delivered in a slow, distinctive voice with irony and humor.

He died of pneumonia at a Munich hospital on January 20 at the age of 83.

Schulz was born in Prague on April 6, 1930. His father was a Jew, his mother a gentile. His parents divorced at the beginning of the Second World War believing that this would help their son, but Schulz, who was reportedly unaware that his father was Jewish, was expelled from high school on religious grounds.

His father, Bedrich Schulz, died in January 1945 in a concentration camp in Kaufering (currently in Germany).

Schulz managed to complete his secondary education in 1949, continuing on to study at the Philosophical Faculty at Prague’s Charles University with a focus on Czech and Russian languages.

Schulz had always wanted to write, having inherited a love for words from his father, who composed cabaret sketches. After finishing university, he worked for “Literarni Noviny,” ("Literary Newspaper), a weekly magazine focusing on literature and culture that was regarded as an intellectual platform for progressive thinkers. 

He also worked as a freelancer for the avant garde theater Semafor, where he was responsible for producing the printed programs for plays. Schulz contributed opinion columns and commentaries to many other newspapers and magazines, including “Mlada Fronta,”  “Kvety,” “Host do Domu” and “Plamen.”

In the 1960s, quick to understand the power of television, Schulz began reporting on foreign television festivals for Czechoslovak TV. While covering a television festival in Rome in 1969, he made the decision to leave Czechoslovakia permanently.

Schulz emigrated to Germany, settled down in Munich and started working for the Czechoslovak service in 1970. In his signature radio documentary show, “Events and Opinions,” he provided sharp commentary and analysis on political affairs. Since the service's broadcasts were strictly prohibited and audiences listened clandestinely, Schulz lacked any reliable statistics on listenership. He would only learn much later, in 1995 when RFE/RL relocated to Prague, that his popularity among Czech audiences was immense.

He signed on with the renamed Czech language service as a freelancer, traveling back and forth between Prague and Munich.

Schulz is survived by a son, Martin, from his first marriage. Together in 1991, they hosted “Snezi” (It is Snowing), a talk show on Czech TV devoted to cultural and philosophical issues. 

Schulz published his memoirs, titled "Hledani Zatraceneho Casu" ("Seeking Cursed Time"), in 2012.

Lida Rakusanova, Petr Brod and Radko Kubicko, prominent Czech media personalities who worked with Schulz, offered tributes to him at a recent memorial on January 30.

- Jana Hokuvova

Tags:rferl, milan schulz

Ralph E. Walter -- An Appreciation

RFE Director Ralph Walter

Ralph E. Walter died in Berlin on July 11, 2013. Over a long career at RFE and RFE/RL he did much to shape a responsible and professional broadcasting organization promoting freedom in Soviet-dominated Europe.

Ralph was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on May 7, 1924. Following service in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946, he enrolled at St. Olaf College, where he met Paul Henze, beginning a lifelong professional and personal friendship. He received B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Minnesota.

Ralph joined the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE), RFE’s parent organization, in 1951, first working in the Division for Exile Relations with East European leaders and organizations supported by the NCFE. In January 1954 he transferred to RFE in Munich as assistant political advisor for Polish affairs, reporting to Paul Henze and Political Advisor William E. Griffith. In October 1958 he returned to New York to work again on exile affairs. After a series of temporary assignments in New York and Munich, he was appointed RFE Policy Director in September 1965 and RFE Director in March 1968.

Mindful of inadequate management oversight of RFE broadcasts to Hungary in 1956, Ralph was determined that all RFE broadcasts during the 1968 Czechoslovak “Prague Spring” and the ensuing Soviet/Warsaw Pact occupation would be restrained and responsible. As he explained later to Arch Puddington [recorded in Puddington's Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty], “We heeded the lessons of the Hungarian Revolution. We were cautious, because we were conscious of the possibility of an invasion.” Departing from usual RFE practice during the crisis, Ralph and his staff approved political commentaries prior to broadcast and exercised policy oversight of newscasts. At his direction, RFE relayed much information from the underground radios--but not calls for active resistance, even when carried in Western media. These steps were controversial internally, but RFE broadcasts to Czechoslovakia throughout 1968 won high praise from Czechs and Slovaks and from Washington policymakers, including Deputy Undersecretary of State Chip Bohlen. Ralph likewise insisted on prior review of some Polish Service commentaries on the regime’s violent crackdown on protests on the Baltic Coast in 1970. RFE’s performance under his leadership during the 1968 Czechoslovak crisis and the Polish crises in the seventies and early eighties justified his careful and alert, hands-on style of management.

Ralph was a staunch defender of the independence of RFE and RFE/RL, resisting--not always diplomatically--what he saw as efforts of various American ambassadors, State Department and German Foreign Office officials, and Board for International Broadcasting (BIB) staff to interfere with RFE/RL operations and broadcasts. Rejecting criticism from the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest that Romanian Service broadcasts were “too harsh and querulous,” Ralph countered that “we have no intention of ceasing criticism of Romanian regime policies and practices.” He was equally blunt in rejecting suggestions from the German Olympic Committee and Foreign Office that RFE refrain from political broadcasts and contacts with Soviet bloc visitors during the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Following the merger of RFE and Radio Liberty in 1975, Ralph was appointed Executive Vice President for Programs and Policy, overseeing RL as well as RFE broadcasts. In 1982, BIB Chairman Frank Shakespeare installed a new RFE/RL management team and Ralph (along with RFE/RL President Glen Ferguson and RFE Director Jim Brown) left RFE/RL in September after completing 31 years of distinguished service. A recent Polish TV documentary about RFE/RL concludes with an interview with Ralph recorded a year before his death in which he relates how proud he was to have been associated with RFE/RL and its exile broadcasters and to have witnessed a future he had worked for but never expected to see -- a Europe whole and free.

We knew Ralph Walter as boss, colleague, and friend. We honor his dedicated service to RFE and RFE/RL for over three decades. His contribution to the cause of freedom in Eastern Europe is fully documented in his papers that are now part of the RFE/RL Collection at the Hoover Archives at Stanford University.
-- A. Ross Johnson
-- Martin K. Bachstein

Tags:rfe/rl, Prague Spring, radio free europe, Ralph Walter


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