As we continue with connections to my current Battle of the Bands song, Strange Fruit, I have a summary for you of the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which is so complicated that I can't possibly unravel it in a blog post. However, many sources are available online for further reading.
In 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a married couple with two young children, were convicted of espionage for leading a spy ring that provided atomic bomb information to the Soviet Union. On June 19, 1953, they were executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York––first Julius and then Ethel. Julius was 35, and Ethel was 37.
Calling the case "controversial" is quite the understatement.
Were they guilty? Were they victims of anti-communist hysteria in the U.S.? The answer to both of these questions is yes.
During the two years between the conviction and execution, and in the decades since, their supporters have argued that they were innocent, that they were framed, and finally, have been forced to acknowledge that they bore some guilt. The execution seems to have been an insane overreaction.
Here are the basic facts:
- The U.S. did not share information about the atomic bomb program with their allies during World War II, the Soviet Union.
- In 1949, the U.S. government was shocked when the Soviet Union tested an atomic weapon.
- In 1950, the U.S. learned that a physicist and German refugee working on the Manhattan Project gave information about atomic weapons to the Soviets throughout the war. Fuchs said his courier was a man named Harry Gold.
- In May, 1950, Harry Gold was arrested and confessed. He identified David Greenglass as another participant in the scheme. Greenglass was a machinist in the U.S. Army who was assigned to the top-secret Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
- In June, 1950, David Greenglass was arrested and confessed to giving secrets to Gold, who passed them on to the Soviet Union.
- David Greenglass also identified Julius Rosenberg, an electrical engineer who was his sister Ethel's husband, as the person who persuaded Greenglass's wife, Ruth, to recruit him and said that Julius Rosenberg gave atomic secrets to the Soviets.
- Rosenberg's Soviet contact agent was Anatoly Yakovlev, to whom Rosenberg provided numerous documents and drawings connected with atomic secrets.
- Morton Sobell, another accused conspirator, took off for Mexico City. He was extradited to the U.S. and was tried with the Rosenbergs for conspiracy to commit espionage.
The ploy didn't work the way that government prosecutors thought it would. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were called to testify before a grand jury and were indicted along with David Greenglass and Anatoly Yakovlev. During the grand jury hearing and at their trial, the Rosenbergs never implicated anyone else. They refused to incriminate themselves. The judge in their trial sentenced them to death for conspiracy and blamed them for American deaths in the Korean War. They were the only two people to be executed for conspiracy during the Cold War.
Up to the last minute before their executions, Ethel was told she could save herself by admitting that her husband was guilty, but she wouldn't do it.
Jean Paul Sartre said the executions were a "legal lynching."
And what happened to others who were accused?
Harry Gold was convicted and served 15 years.
Klaus Fuchs was convicted in Great Britain and served nine years and four months.
Martin Sobell was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He served 17 years and nine months. In 2008, he admitted he was a Soviet spy.
David Greenglass was sentenced to 15 years in prison, served 10, and went home to his wife Ruth. They lived under assumed names. In 2001 he recanted his testimony against his sister and admitted that he lied to spare his wife and their children. Ruth died in 2008 at age 83. David died at age 92 in 2014.
Yes, Julius Rosenberg was guilty, but Sobell and other sources have claimed that the information Julius Rosenberg passed to the Soviets was of little value.
Ethel was probably guilty of hiding money for Julius. She also allegedly asked her sister-in-law Ruth to convince David to join Julius in the spy ring. All four, along with Martin Sobell, were members of the American Communist Party.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg could not possibly have deserved the punishment they received.
When they were executed, their sons Michael and Robert were ten and six years old.
Next time, what happened to Michael and Robert and how is the author of Strange Fruit involved?
Infinities of love,
If you haven't voted in my Battle of the Bands, please check it out at
http://dumpedfirstwife.blogspot.com/2017/10/battle-of-bands-strange-fruit.html. The song is Strange Fruit. The contenders are Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.
It's amazing what my eyes "see" as I get older. I glanced quickly at the link at the end of your post, and read it as "http://humpedfirstwife.blogspot.com/2017/10/battle-of-bands-strange-fruit.html" by mistake.ReplyDelete
OH- it is heartbreaking all the way around. I remember reading about this years ago and being absolutely fascinated by the case. Those poor children.ReplyDelete
I think the case is fascinating and horrible, too.Delete
I remember reading about this and thinking Oh No ?ReplyDelete
Have you watched "The Assets" on Netflix ? so good.
No, I have not watched The Assets. I'll try to remember to add it to my list.Delete
A tragic story, any way you look at it.ReplyDelete
A sad chapter in American history.ReplyDelete
I remember hearing about the Rosenbergs a long time ago and don't remember a lot of the details. So many details. And then what have their kids got to do with Strange Fruit? You have got me going, Lady. :)ReplyDelete
Good! I'm glad it's interesting. It's hard to remember details about the Rosenbergs because there's so much to remember.Delete
Hi Janie - this is interesting to read and know about ... as Stephen says ... a very sad chapter in history ... horrible death to receive ... not good - HilaryReplyDelete
Yes, it was a horrible death. Although Julius's execution was relatively quick, it took longer to kill Ethel. Smoke was coming out of her head at the end. I've heard of some people catching on fire in the electric chair.Delete
That's why I'm not a fan of the death penalty. That was an overly harsh punishment dished out because the emotions of the times erased logical thinking. Justice should remain blind and not be influenced by the public's fear.ReplyDelete
I'm opposed to the death penalty. If even one person is executed unjustly, it's one too many, and we don't know how many people have been executed unjustly. With DNA evidence, look at all the people who have been found innocent. The Rosenberg case was more complicated, but when transcripts from the grand jury were released (years later), they showed clearly that David and Ruth Greenglass later changed their testimony.Delete
I always thought, since every nation spies, that caught spies should be exchanged. We got yours, you got ours. Executing spies can only lead to false confessions from the ones caught, hoping to be spared. And this is only speaks to the practical part, having to do with the deterrent factor. That is aside from the moral aspect of the death penalty with its intolerable rate of false convictions.ReplyDelete
You make perfect sense.Delete
It is sad that they were made an "example" to others who wish to steal secrets. How the others, who were more guilty, be given lighter sentences is beyond me when these 2 were executed. They were not innocent but hardly deserved this sentence. Unfortunately, this was during the height of the McCarthy witch hunts and fear was running rampantReplyDelete
Yes, I didn't use the word "McCarthyism," but the witch hunters were zealous. They saw Julius as the mastermind of this ring and wanted him to confess.Delete
I remember when all this happened; so sad!!ReplyDelete
Yes, it was influenced by McCarthyism and, I think, antisemitism, too.Delete
Wow. That is bad. Why electrocute them, and not send them to prison, like the others? Give the kids a chance to see their parents again. I never knew women were electrocuted too. So very sad.ReplyDelete
A very sad story. I didn't know about this one. Anti-communist hysteria wasn't exclusive to one area. My parents who came to Canada in the late 50s told me that it was the same in Greece at that time. People would be rounded up if they were suspected of being communists. All you had to do was point someone out and off they went. So if you had a vindictive neighbour who didn't like you, well, you know the rest...ReplyDelete
Even as a Canadian child, I was familiar with this story. It always sickens me, but then any execution does. I am absolutely opposed to capital punishment.ReplyDelete
That is a scary (and sad) story!ReplyDelete
Hello!! I'am glad to read the whole content of this blog and am very excited.Thank you.ReplyDelete