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​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 was the founder of Bedford Publishing, the vehicle for Radio Liberty's book publishing and distribution efforts in the 1950's and 1960's, which introduced hundreds of thousands of Russians and other Soviet citizens to banned literature and other books.

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 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