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Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

John Simkin

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John Simkin, aged 8, child at school, June, 1953.

In 1953 I was not aware of the execution of Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg. I was more interested in the fact that Blackpool had just won the FA cup.

It was not until 1965 that I first became aware of the Rosenberg case. I cam across it when I was reading about the origins of the Cold War. In fact, one author suggested that the Rosenbergs were the first victims of this war and that it heralded the real start of McCarthyism.

I discovered that in 1950 Klaus Fuchs, head of the physics department of the British nuclear research centre at Harwell, was arrested and charged with espionage. Fuchs confessed that he had been passing information to the Soviet Union since working on the Manhattan Project during the Second World War.

The FBI were desperate to discover the names of the spies who had worked with Klaus Fuchs while he had been in America. Elizabeth Bentley, a former member of the American Communist Party, had in 1945 given FBI agents eighty names of people she believed were involved in espionage. At the time it had been impossible to acquire enough information to bring the suspects to court. These people were interviewed again and one of them, Harry Gold, confessed that he had acted as Fuchs's courier. He also named David Greenglass as being a member of the spy ring. Greenglass was now interviewed and he named his sister and brother-in-law, Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg as spies.

At this point the confessions stopped. The Rosenbergs both denied they had been involved in spying for the Soviet Union. However, it was decided couple were nevertheless charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. Virtually the only evidence against them was supplied by David Greenglass. He claimed that Julius Rosenberg had given him atom bomb secrets that he in turn passed to Harry Gold. The defense attorney, Emmanuel Bloch, argued that Greenglass was lying in order to gain revenge because he blamed Rosenberg for their failed business venture.

The jury believed the evidence of David Greenglass and both Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg, were found guilty and sentenced to death. A large number of people were shocked by the severity of the sentence as they had not been found guilty of treason. In fact, they had been tried under the terms of the Espionage Act that had been passed in 1917 to deal with the American anti-war movement.

Afterwards it became clear that the government did not believe the Rosenbergs would be executed. J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, had warned that history would not be kind to a government responsible for orphaning the couple's two young sons on such poor evidence. Rumours began to circulate that the government would be willing to spare the couple's life if they confessed and gave evidence about other Communist Party spies.

The case created a great deal of controversy in Europe where it was argued that the Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg were victims of anti-semitism and McCarthyism. Nobel prize-winner, Jean-Paul Sartre, called the case "a legal lynching which smears with blood a whole nation".

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg remained on death row for twenty-six months. They both refused to confess and provide evidence against others and they were eventually executed on 19th June, 1953. As one political commentator pointed out, they died because they refused to confess and name others.


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I must tell you that I was 6 years old in 1951 when the Rosenbergs first came to my attention via the newspaper accounts of their indictments and trials, plus the various accounts broadcasted on the 6:00 TV news broadcasts of NBC and CBS, at the time. But, what eventually began to traumatize me was the New York Daily News' vivid, blow by blow report, of what I'd consider today to be sensationalized and biased journalistic license. During that era, there was a zealous form of blood-thirstiness permeating every form of information distribution to the American public. No media affiliate gave an objective perspective of what was really going on except maybe, the NY Times, but even they were cautious as to how they should temper their reportage with anti-communist hyperbole. "They got what they deserved.", and so forth. I was overwrought at the thought of their execution, so much so, that my mother forbid my father to leave any newspapers around that, too literally, played up the sentencing and executions. I was distraught for the two sons, and who was going to take care of them. The overkill of the whole media circus atmosphere surrounding it disturbed my sleep with too many nightmares for someone my age. My father would chide me about being overly sensitive for such a little girl, but when I cried for the children and explained how I would feel if I was in their shoes, he later regretted having allowed the exposure to the event enter into our daily lives to the extent that it was distressing me to this point. But, it wasn't totally his fault because with the coming age of television, there was very little anyone could do to avoid the intrusion of unpleasant events into their lives via the 6:00 News broadcasts, short of turning it off. Too many people were mesmerized by their TV sets to ever think of doing just that. I find this a problem today, with the trash being consumed by the masses, especially the tripe broadcasted between channels 2 through 13 via the U.S.A. and its broadcasting hype giants. We even had the Vietnam War served to us with the our dinner on the 6:00 evening news, for the first time and "IN LIVING COLOR", by the NBC Peacock during that siege in the 60's and 70's. Now we have Iraq, and beheadings, and hanging, burning bodies.

Therefore, is it any wonder that I find myself turning away from what I now refer to as, the broadcast of "The Daily Blues". I prefer to get my news from the foreign news services these days. How's that for progress and ingenuity? And, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out, either. LOL


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