Jon Utley Solves Mystery of Father’s Death in the Gulag

Georgie Anne Geyer writes today about Jon Basil Utley‘s journey to find the fate of his father who disappeared into the Soviet gulag.

Jon’s mother, Freda Utley, was a prominent American Communist in the 1920s. She fell in love with a brilliant Russian Jewish economist, the handsome, dark-haired Arcadi Berdichevsky, and moved to Russia with him. In 1936, their lives together came to an end with the Soviets’ infamous “knock on the door” at 2 a.m.

Freda, unable to help him, soon used her and Jon’s British passports to return to England, where she mobilized important leftist friends, people like George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell and Harold Lasky, to try to find out where Arcadi was and even sent a letter directly to Stalin. What camp in the Gulag, that web of labor camps that eventually killed untold millions?

So Freda Utley stayed in the West, moving eventually to the United States, and turned totally against communism, becoming a prominent conservative writer, thinker and activist with her respected books The Dream We Lost in 1940 and Odyssey of a Liberal and many others. With Jon and his family, she settled in Washington, where she died at 80, having learned of her husband’s death, but never knowing the circumstances.

In 1991, Jon began contacting the Russians, and eventually made multiple trips to Russia where he eventually found the fate of his father. “Copies of files detailing his arrest, indictment and execution order were sent to me by the FSB, successor to Russia’s notorious KGB,” he told me. “Incredibly, it still has detailed records of political prisoners and willingly provides information and help to searchers like me. They also gave me three photos of my father from the file, taken at the time of his arrest in 1936. They are in better condition than any that my mother had preserved. In Moscow’s FSB library, I held the files of his interrogation in my hand.”

Read this great article.

I met Jon in the early days of, and his commitment to the cause of peace and his assistance to this Website has been invaluable. Jon is still a welcome member of the conservative inner circles in Washington, DC, in spite of constantly handing out’s latest articles to the often-uncomfortable insiders.

Check out Jon Basil Utley on the Web: archives
Americans Against Empire
Frida Utley’s Writings

7 thoughts on “Jon Utley Solves Mystery of Father’s Death in the Gulag”

  1. Mr. Utley tells a moving story. But I’m curious why his mother, like so many in that day, found communism so very attractive. At least its horror eventually shocked her into good sense, but what a price to pay!

    I wonder too if there are Americans today who unthinkingly and whole-heartedly support the present imperialism who will someday bitterly regret it. Must we be scourged to gain understanding?

    1. Communism in the 20’s in Russia was following the NEP, (New Economic Policy) of Lenin and Russia began to be prosperous. It made communism seem to “work” while England, all during the 20’s, was going through a depression because the government was trying to put back to pound sterling to its pre-1914 value. then came the world depression in the 30’s. All that made many English (and Americans) think that capitalism just bought wars and misery. In 1929 Stalin lowered the boom and returned the real communism.

  2. THANK YOU so much for updating us, on Mr. Utley.

    I stopped by the ‘Conservatives for Peace’ booth, at CPAC 2006. I was very much hoping to meet Mr. Utley, but Mario Calabrese told me that he had just left that area (the tables were set up in the Expo Center, away from the main CPAC program).

    I had wondered whether Mr. Utley was related to Freda Utley… I saw from Marcus Epstein’s The American Conservative article, on one of the prior CPACs, that he was her son.

    I am glad that we have traditionalist conservative columnists, like Georgie Anne Geyer, who are writing about these issues… It is a shame that so many of today’s “conservative” commentators overlook these important issues, pertaining to the roots of our authentic conservative movement.

    The fight on the right may be what determines the real direction that our country will be heading, in the near and distant future. It is vital that those people of the younger generation be made more aware of what true conservatism really is… and what it isn’t.

    1. A good comment about the “fight on the Right,” with so many “conservative” commentators and link to YAF meeting. Many just know very little about the outside world and fear it and so gravitate to the warfare state. Others, if anti-empire, are excluded from conservative publications. I would only add to “follow the money” from the Administration, the military industrial complex, and neocon dominated major foundations, e.g. Heritage is dominated by neocons.

  3. What Nelson said above too.

    And the ones leading the charge today are the political decendants of Looney Leon Trotsky. So they are even worse.

  4. the constitution is the greatest document for the governance of the people of a nation ever written, my view is obviously colored by the fact that i love this nations founders vision for governance through the division of powers and ruled by laws.

    outside of that form of govt we are doomed to be used, abused, and enslaved, because power doth corrupt and the powerful will want to keep their progeny from becoming the rabble over which they rule.

    the powerful will protect and will want to favor their progeny over the other citizens of the nations. but this is a lesson lost to history.

    Focusing on this president’s belief that Article II of the Constitution enables him to appoint himself dictator, the conservative columnist George Will reminds us of President Harry Truman’s 1952 attempt to assert his own “inherent powers” in order to take over the nation’s steel mills and prevent a wartime strike (the war in question being the Korean War). The Supreme Court confronted Truman—like Van Helsing waving a cross before Dracula—with the Constitution’s separation of powers. In a concurring opinion that I hope the members of the current Supreme Court are familiar with, Justice Robert Jackson thundered:

    “No penance would ever expiate the sin against free government of holding that a president can escape control of executive power by law through assuming his military role . . . . [Historians] have discovered no technique for long preserving free government except that the Executive be under the law. . . . “

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