Berdichevsky was arrested for allegedly being a Trotskyite; Stalin feared fellow Bolshevik Leon Trotsky until the latter’s assassination in 1940. Imprisoned at Vorkuta Corrective Labor Camp, or Vorkutlag for short, Jon’s father was executed at the Brick Quarry, a notorious site mentioned in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Berdichevsky was one of three leaders of a hunger strike in his prison camp and was found guilty of “provoking massive discontent among the prisoners,” Utley explained. Berdichevsky was formally rehabilitated in 1961, only a quarter century late.
In 2004, Utley traveled to Russia, visiting the Federal Security Service (formerly KGB) archives and Perm gulag museum. He reviewed his father’s file, which included three photos of Berdichevsky, his mother’s letter, and the execution order signed by Joseph Stalin. Utley made a fascinating half‐hour film of his quest.
The experience helped turn his mother, who emigrated with Jon to America, into a fervent anti‐Communist. In 1940, she penned The Dream We Lost. Explained Utley: “It had a very profound effect on intellectuals who later built the anticommunist movement in America after 1945.”
She wrote a number of books in succeeding years, including Odyssey of a Liberal, a biography covering her early years and political journey. Perhaps most important for Jon’s intellectual development, his mother turned their home into a salon of sorts, with leading conservative intellectuals in regular attendance. Jon could not escape being involved in the conservative movement.
Nevertheless, though journalism and activism were in his blood, he began his career with American International Group Insurance in Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela, all destined to become international hotspots. He later worked in the oil and real estate industries.
Still, his calling remained clear. He was a foreign correspondent for Knight‐Ridder, involved in Latin American publications, and entered the Voice of America during the Reagan administration. Ultimately, his career became his work on behalf of freedom.
He was involved with and supported many movement organizations. For instance, he backed Reason foundation and magazine and Future of Freedom Foundation, as well as the Cato Institute, with which I am affiliated. However, his special passion was hating communism. So he naturally celebrated its demise. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he worked and traveled with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, now the Atlas Network, to promote the newly free states’ transition to capitalism and democracy. Years later he supported the Victims of Communism Memorial to ensure that people remembered the legacy of mankind’s most destructive modern ideology.
He was no narrow ideologue, however. After the demise of the “Evil Empire” in Ronald Reagan’s famous description, Jon took on another cause: peace. He was never attracted by the superficial cant delivered by hardened revolutionaries and their fellow travelers. He had no sympathy for the ideological posturing of authoritarians in sheep’s clothing. His personal experience demonstrated the big lie that undergirded systems like the USSR.
However, he truly believed in limited government and individual liberty. And understood how war undermined both. His views were a bit like that of James Madison, who warned: “Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instrument for bringing the many under the domination of the few.” But there was something more. Jon was appalled by the human cost to Americans and other peoples. His moral concern and human compassion did not end at the country’s border. Patriotism never blinded him to the harm done to other societies by Washington’s promiscuous war‐making.
In 1991, Jon organized against the first Gulf War. He backed creation of antiwar.com, for which I wrote a column in the late 2000s, becoming the first major donor in 1999, according to co‐founder Eric Garris. Years later he became publisher and financial benefactor of The American Conservative, an iconoclastic right‐leaning publication, for which I write a weekly column, helping it financially as well.
These were his passions, though he did not stop there. He was never satisfied with just a financial role. Not one to sit in the grandstands reviewing others’ work, he also wrote regularly for numerous publications. He loved the intellectual contest, shaping the argument, convincing others, and especially addressing philosophical friends who needed to be saved from their wayward ways. He was a political evangelist, thriving on personal contact and going where the people were. For him, as Jesus said, the fields, political in Jon’s case, “are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). Observed Kelley Vlahos at The American Conservative: