- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2000

We lost a hell of a man last week when Bert Jolis passed away in New York at the spritely age of 88. Bert was one of those rare people to whom life owed absolutely nothing; he had seen it all, and done it all, and he did it with grace, good humor, enormous energy and unflagging devotion to the cause of freedom. He was a pal of Bill Casey, and served bravely in the Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War.

He was an enormously successful diamond merchant and acquired a considerable fortune, which he lavished on good causes, from the International Rescue Committee to Resistance International. He was a man of considerable culture, and counted George Orwell and John Dos Passos among his wide international network of friends and acquaintances. He wooed and won fabulously beautiful and charming women, and is survived by his delightful wife Mona, four children, and a small army of grandchildren.

Happily for those of us who want to know how it all really happened, he also leaves us a singularly enchanting memoir, "A Clutch of Reds and Diamonds," a book that never has attracted the attention it deserves, both because Bert was so uncompromising in his hatred of fascism and communism, and because his life causes us all to consider how much more we could and should do to advance the cause of freedom.

Born into a family of Dutch Jews in the diamond trade, Bert grew up in London, fell in love with America, and became one of our most patriotic countrymen. Refusing a desk job in the Army, he was recruited by OSS, and operated effectively in North Africa and Western Europe. He ran agents into the Third Reich, and, toward the end of the war, saw clearly the outlines of the coming struggle with the Soviet Union. He was so outraged at the monstrous Allied policy of forced repatriation of all Soviet prisoners, regardless of their desires and irrespective of their peril, that he became a driving force in the International Rescue Committee after the war, and never ceased to support freedom-loving escapees and defectors from Soviet tyranny.

Had he been less independent, Bert might have made a career in the CIA, and indeed he was invited to join the American intelligence community at war's end. But he had seen too clearly that the American government would cut and trim rather than relentlessly challenge the enemies of freedom, and he was simply not prepared to make such moral compromises. From time to time he was asked to carry out secret missions for the government, and he invariably accepted, but he never became part of the intelligence establishment. He accomplished far more as an independent spirit than he ever could have achieved inside the system.

In the midst of all this political activity, Mr. Jolis spent years pursuing his diamond interests in Africa, most notably in the bizarre world of the Central African Republic (and then Empire) under the regime of the Emperor Bokassa. To succeed in such a setting required quick wit and great personal courage, for those who provoked Bokassa's rage sometimes ended up on (not at) the emperor's dinner table.

I met Bert toward the end of his life, when he had become a major supporter of the American Committee for Resistance International, the enormously potent anti-Soviet organization headed by Vladimir Bukovsky. Bert well understood the importance of coalitions, and his lively sense of humor was engaged by Mr. Bukovsky's restless search for new and unpredictable allies in the effort to bring down the Soviet Empire. We were together at an enormously successful counter summit in Vienna in the mid-'80s, when Resistance International outshined George Shultz and Andrei Gromyko. It was easily accomplished: We had such celebrities as Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Eugene Ionesco, and the German Green leader Petra Kelly, all brilliantly and dramatically denouncing Soviet human rights violations, and the destruction of the Soviet ecosystem, while the American and Soviet diplomats presented the usual tedious diplomatic press conferences. Without Bert Jolis, Resistance International could not have succeeded.

There are precious few such persons in any generation, and it seems there are even fewer today than in the past. We are doubly impoverished at the death of Bert Jolis, deprived as we are of the man himself, and of his great ability to inspire those around him to fight ever harder, and work ever more, for the success of our common mission.

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