On this date in 1938, Arkadi (or Arcadi) Berdichevsky, a Russian Jew run afoul of the (pre-KGB) NKVD, was executed in the Arctic Circle prison town of Vorkuta for leading a prisoners’ hunger strike.
Though the powerful whom Stalin purged are well-known to the student of Russian history, Berdichevsky is just one of the countless obscure Soviet citizens who disappeared into the gulag never to emerge again.
Berdichevsky had something most of his fellow-victims did not: an English wife.
Freda Utley and her son Jon Utley — the couple cannily gave the boy his mother’s foreign last name to make it easier to emigrate if it should come to that, as indeed it did — left the USSR and Freda’s communist youth for fame as (paleo)conservative giants.
While young Jon — just two years old when his father was whisked out of their Moscow flat by the spooks — came of age, Freda Utley naturalized as an American and turned against her former ideology with the zeal of the converted.
Berdichevsky’s widow, Freda Utley, published this book in 1940 about her disillusionment with communism. This work and many others by Utley are also available as free pdfs from FredaUtley.com.
In 2004, Jon Utley finally obtained the remarkably detailed records revealing that it was a firing squad rather than cold or malnutrition that took his father’s life. Utley then personally visited the sites of that Calvary in the Komi region of Russia.
Jon Utley gives a video interview about the experience and about his own path as an anti-communist here, but most especially recommended for our purposes is his written account of finding his father: HTML form here; pdf here.
On this date in 1945, according to a fringe faction of American conservatism, the first victim of the Cold War was shot by Chinese Communists at Suchow, China, near Xi’an.
John Birch, a military chaplain proselytizing in China and an agent of the CIA’s precursor entity Office of Strategic Services, had the kind of portfolio sure to rub Mao’s boys the wrong way.
Apparently it was his personality that got him into trouble.
On recon duty days after the end of World War II, he bumped into a patrol of Red Chinese. According to Time, he failed his diplomacy check.
As the scene has been reconstructed, Birch argued violently with the Communist officer who wanted to disarm him. Birch was seized and shot after his hands had been tied. The Communists then bayoneted him at least 15 times and tossed his body on a heap of junk and garbage.
“In the confusing situation,” said [Birch’s commanding officer Major Gustav] Krause last week, “my instructions were to act with diplomacy. Birch made the Communist lieutenant lose face before his own men. Militarily, John Birch brought about his own death.”
Days after World War II — how does that square with your international Communist conspiracy? The incident was not especially notable at the time, but some elements later conceived John Birch the first American casualty of Communism during the Cold War, and in this guise he became the namesake of the John Birch Society (Wikipedia entry | homepage — evidently forward-thinking enough to have grabbed their own three-letter acronym)
Here’s candy magnate and founder Robert Welch, Jr., explaining:
Despite the young lieutenant’s credentials as a martyr of evangelical anti-Communism, the oft-loopy Society’s relationship to the mainstream conservative movement and the Republican Party it took over was never completely comfortable and eventually came to a definite sundering.
The Society soldiers on, its “Get US out of the United Nations” billboards a minor fixture of Americana from Port Angeles, Washington to this one in Ypsilanti, Michigan.