Facts about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Biography
American communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in 1953 after being convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage.
Arrested in 1950, the Rosenberg’s trial came in the post-World War II frenzy over the threat of communism — that is, Americans’ fear of the Soviet Union.
The Rosenbergs were accused of passing U.S. military secrets to Soviet agents, secrets they’d obtained from Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, David Greenglass, during World War II. Greenglass was an Army machinist who was stationed at the atomic bomb facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico (1944-46).
Julius and Ethel died without admitting guilt, and at the time many supporters believed they’d been railroaded, victims of overzealous prosecutors and Cold War fear-mongering.
As it turns out, documents made public after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s showed that indeed, Julius Rosenberg and David Greenglass (and his wife, Ruth) had been Soviet agents working in the United States.
Ethel Rosenberg’s involvement is less clear, but it is now generally agreed that she had much less to do with her husband’s espionage activity, but did help recruit her brother and his wife.
During their trial in 1951, her brother testified that Ethel was involved. (Specifially, that she had typed a report for Julius and David.) Fifty years later, David Greenglass told a television reporter that he’d lied on the stand to protect his wife, Ruth (who also testified that Ethel had typed a message).
The Greenglass testimony was apparently enough to convict Ethel as part of the conspiracy and send her to the electric chair along with her husband.
Despite protests in the U.S. and Europe and pleas for clemency, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case and the Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953, their 14th wedding anniversary.
In sentencing them to death, Judge Irving Kaufman said he considered their crime “worse than murder,” and he blamed the Rosenbergs for “putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb.”
Now it is known that Rosenberg and Greenglass passed on secrets about radar and artillery, and that the Soviets did not obtain useful atomic secrets from them.
The F.B.I. found their way to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and David Greenglass after the confession of Harry Gold, a Philadelphia chemist who’d been working with the Soviets since 1935. The F.B.I. found Gold after the confession of Klaus Fuchs, a physicist on the Manhattan Project and spy for the Soviet Union… David Greenglass was sentenced to fifteen years in prison (he served 10) and Ruth Greenglass was not charged at all… Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had two sons; family shunned the boys and they were eventually adopted by Abel and Anne Meeropol (Abel Meeropol was an American communist and the writer of the Billie Holiday song, “Strange Fruit”)… Convicted along with the Rosenbergs was co-conspirator Morton Sobell. Sobell served almost 18 years in prison, and maintained his innocence until after the 2008 release of the grand jury testimony to the public. At the age of 91, he told the press that yes, he’d given the Soviets military secrets.