House on Un-American Activities Committee
In 1949, the federal government jailed 11 leaders of the American Communist Party. A friend in the Justice Department tipped Osheroff that he would be next, so he went underground, a fugitive from the FBI. For several years, Osheroff moved frequently and kept a low profile. He worked one stretch on a dude ranch, and another for a company that wrote term papers for college students.
The prosecution of the Communists was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1957. But by then, Osheroff had undergone a crisis of conviction.
Communism originally had appealed to him because of its willingness to take dramatic action on behalf of the powerless. But with the revelations in the mid-'50s of the evils of Stalinism, disaffection grew.
The final blow was the ruthless Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Had he been in Budapest, Osheroff said, I know that I would have taken up arms against the Red Army.
Communism, he decided, was no longer radical or humanist. He broke with the party, a painful process that meant dissolving old friendships and abandoning long-held beliefs.
The decision was pure Osheroff, his friends say.