Obituaries

Bill Mandel, longtime KPFA broadcaster and Soviet expert, dies at 99

William Marx “Bill” Mandel (born June 4, 1917 in New York City), a former Bay Area broadcast journalist, left-wing political activist and author, best known as a Soviet expert, died Nov. 24 at 1:15 a.m. Bill was 99.

Considered a leading Sovietologist during the 1940s and 1950s, Mandel was a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, but lost his position there due to the political pressures of the McCarthy era. He is perhaps best known for standing up to Senator Joseph McCarthy during a televised 1953 Senate committee hearing in which Mandel pointedly told the senator, “This is a book-burning! You lack only the tinder to set fire to the books as Hitler did twenty years ago, and I am going to get that across to the American people!”

In 1960, Mandel was again subpoenaed, this time by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He testified on May 13 in a hearing held at the San Francisco City Hall. Outside the hearing, hundreds of protesting Bay Area college students were blasted with fire hoses and dragged down the marble steps by police officers, leaving some seriously injured. Newsreel cameras recorded Mandel’s scathing response to the question posed by Richard Arens, the head attorney: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

Mandel “spent the remainder of his testimony respectfully telling his inquisitors to go to hell,” according to a Wikipedia article. William F. Buckley later characterized Mandel’s testimony as “a histrionic speech.

Here is a snippet from his dramatic 1960 testimony before HUAC:

In 1957, Mandel, his wife Tanya, and their three children, Phyllis, Bob, and David, moved to Berkeley, where they lived for the next 40 years. In 1958, Mandel started broadcasting an hour-long show on KPFA and it stayed on the air in various permutations until 1995. The show was originally called “Soviet Press and Periodicals.” He later broadcast a show at Radio Free Berkeley.

Mandel was the author of several books, including “Soviet Women,” published in 1975, and the latest, his autobiography, “Saying No to Power,” which was published in 1999.

Mandel died peacefully at his home in Kensington. A memorial service is pending, his daughter Phyllis wrote on KPFA’s tribute to Bill, although it will not be held for a few months.

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