The Rosenberg trial, which ended in a double execution in 1953, was one of the century's most controversial trials. It was sometimes referred to as, "the best publicized spy hunt of all times" as it came to the public eye in the time of atom-spy hysteria. Husband and wife, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. Most of the controversy surrounding this case came from mass speculation that there were influences being reinforced by behind-the-scenes pressure, mainly from the government, which was detected through much inconsistencies in testimonies and other misconduct in the court. Many shared the belief that Ethel Rosenberg expressed best as she wrote in one of her last letters before being executed, "-knowing my husband and I must be vindicated by history...We are the first victims of American Fascism." Some people believed that the Rosenbergs had a vulnerable background which made these innocent people fall victim to the government.
In September 1940 Julius Rosenberg was hired by US army Signal Corps as a junior engineer, but fired March 1945 because he was found to be a member of the communist party. He was employed in 1945 with Emerson Radio. Finally, in 1946 Bernard Greenglass, his brother-in-law, asked him to a join war surplus business called Pitt Machine Products Company.
Ethel Rosenberg supported herself as a teenager through pageant prize money she won as a singer and dancer. Later on she was employed as a clerk for National Shipping but lost her job for union activities. They lived a happily married life with two sons until June 15, 1950 when brother-in-law, David Greenglass named Julius and Ethel as people who recruited him to spy for the Soviet Union. The case judged by Irving R. Kaufman began on March 6,1957. The Rosenbergs, as well as Morton Sobell, were accused of delivering information, documents, sketches and other material vital to the national defense of our country, to a foreign power, namely, to Soviet Russia. Greenglass testified that it was he who turned over most of these materials to the Rosenbergs because of pressure. On March 29, after a much publicized court case, the couple were found guilty and sentenced to be executed in the week of May 21, and their accused co-conspirator, Sobell, got 30 years in jail because he was not explicitly connected to the atom bomb. Many people were against this decision and the president tried to justify such rash actions: "The execution of two human beings is a grave matter. But even graver is the thought of the millions of dead whose death may be directly attributable to what these spies have done." After many failed appeals, Julius and Ethel were electrocuted minutes apart on June 19, 1953. Some of Julius' last words were, "...Never let them change the truth of our innocence." There were many illogical and contradicting statements in the testimonies, especially in Ethel Rosenberg's brother's, David Greenglass'. David worked for the US army and for a time in a place where there was work on atomic energy. David Testified that the Rosenbergs asked his wife for information on the atomic bomb. By coming out and confessing, the Greenglasses were seen as helpless tools of the Rosenbergs. For weeks after her husband's arrest, before the accusation of the Rosenbergs, Ruth vehemently denied her husband's confession and insisted that he was innocent. In mid July 1950, Ruth corroborated David's story. Yet there are many contradictions between early testimonies of Ruth and her husband's testimony to be noted. One issue of disagreement was over passport photos Julius Rosenberg supposedly told the Greenglasses to get six pictures in case they need to leave the country quickly. David said they kept five of the pictures and gave the sixth to Julius. Ruth, on the other hand, signed testimonies long before the trial saying they gave the sixth to the FBI. Later it was proven that no such pictures were given to the FBI. David also admitted that he gave to Julius scientists' names and sketches of a flat lease mold, yet people who saw the sketches referred to them as, " a worthless caricature with many errors." As far as names of scientists went, Greenglass claimed he gave Dr. William Spindel's name as someone who gave information about government experiments. The doctor, however told the New York Times that it was not true. Many people suspected that the FBI tried to find a scientist to admit he gave information, but were unable to find one to go along with this story. There are several hypotheses as to why David Greenglass may have falsely accused his sister's family in their actions. One was that there was some ill will between families because of the failure of a family business. David tried to downplay the animosity between families due to financial and social humiliation. In court, Julius quoted David saying, "I am in a terrible jam...I must have a couple of thousand dollars in cash...I just got to have that money and if you don't get me that money, you are going to be sorry." Exactly how sorry did David mean? Perhaps David put his own credibility in danger in the belief that he could win leniency for his own crimes by pointing to more important traitors. The Rosenbergs were especially vulnerable to the government because of past political associations. Most of the criticism of the case came from the appearance that Greenglass was working in cahoots with the FBI. When questioning came even close to this topic in court, Judge Kaufman allowed David to avoid answering and steered the questioning in a different direction. Two weeks before the execution was supposed to take place, new evidence of blatant lying by David Greenglass was discovered but the judge refused the request of an appeal. The strongest argument about David's testimony is that he never actually said that received or gave anything to "Russians." Another thing that seemed wrong in the trial was the prosecuting role which Judge Kaufman often took. Many found it ironic that, "Kaufman- a New York Jew, Democrat and man of otherwise liberaterian instincts- felt compelled to impose punishment harsher than even J.
Edgar Hoover thought called for." Some of the judge's misconduct included his persistent questioning of Rosenberg whenever it appeared that Julius sounded sincere and was making a favorable impression on the jury. Judge Kaufman made a big point when Ethel used her fifth amendment right and declined to answer questions on the basis that she might incriminate herself. The judge said, "it is something that the jury may weigh and consider on the questioning of the truthfulness of the witness and on credibility..." Not only that, but the judge allegedly would lead prosecuting witnesses to say things against defense. Defense lawyer Mr. Alexander Block tried to get a mistrial based on the judge's behavior but was denied. The judges bias continued throughout the trial and was expressed most clearly in his sentencing speech. "The issue of punishment in this case is presented in a unique framework of history. I consider your crime worse than murder....I believe your conduct caused the communist aggression in Korea..." Many questioned his truthfulness in the case as Kaufman continued to obsess over it as revealed in FBI documents released later and his continuous need for approval of his conduct in the case. Misconduct by the FBI is also pervasive in the Rosenberg case. The FBI spoke to Julius Rosenberg's cellmate, Jerome Tartakow, who said Julius to him that he wouldn't answer in court if he was a member of the Communist party because it would incriminate himself. The prosecutors used this information to their benefit and asked Julius repeatedly . What they left out of Mr. Tartkow's testimony is that Julius said he was innocent of espionage. Most horrifying of the FBI's role is portrayed in the FBIs final questioning of Julius in Sing Sing right before his execution. The FBI asked him, "Was your wife cognizant of your activities?" Ethel was about to be executed as a full- fledged partner in Julius' crime. How can they doubt her participation now, only minutes before her execution? Many saw the trial as an attempt to scare all American members of the Communist party. During the trial itself, there was no need to connect communism with the charge of espionage, never-the-less, it was done excessively.
The prosecutors used a primitive bias as a substitute proof for motive. President Eisenhower practically admitted to this.
"The execution were necessary to refute the known convictions of Communist leaders all over the world that free governments...are notoriously weak and fearful and that consequently subserve and other kinds of activity can be conducted against them with no real fear of dire punishment." The primary consideration was that going through with the execution would send a message to the Communists that from now on, American nationals recruited into Soviet espionage networks would be treated with the utmost security. So many recognized and respected people believed the verdict of death had been sealed from the beginning by a conspiracy of the fascist, anti-semitic forces that controlled America. They held the belief that the Rosenbergs were, "hopeless victims of cold war hysteria, singled out because of their political views, and perhaps also because of their Jewishness." U.S. Ambassador Douglass Dillion said, "Nothing could be better calculated than this claim to convince waverers that the Rosenbergs, if executed, will be victims of what the Europeans freely term McCarthyism." Harold Urey, a world-renounced scientist said: " Now that I can see what goes on in Judge Kaufman's courtroom, I believe that the Rosenbergs are innocent...What appalls me most is the role that the press are playing. The judge's bias is so obvious. I keep looking over at the newspapermen and there is not a flicker of indignation or concern...." Albert Einstein wrote to President Truman: "My conscience compels me to urge you to commute the death sentence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg...this appeal to you was prompted by the same reasons which were set forth so convincingly by my colleague Harold C. Urey in his letter..." In a letter written October 23, 1952 by Julius to his sons Michael and Robert the same sentiment was expressed.
"Our case is an integral part of the conspiracy to establish fear in our land. The political nature of the frame-up is obvious and the facts must be presented to expose to public attention the danger that this holds to those who fight for peace." Ethel summarized it best in a letter she sent October 13, 1953 from jail to her husband in jail that said" Again political necessity has overruled due process!" It seems as though many people will continue to doubt the prevalence of truth and justice in the Rosenberg trial. Perhaps the most frightful aspect of the case is that this Democratic country of ours is capable of pulling off such an injustice, in order to send a message to the people of the world. Biliography Huston, Luther A., "Rosenbergs Gain a Stay; Review Set," June 17, 1953, Sec.1, p.1. "President Says Couple Increased 'Chances of Atomic War'", June 19, 1953, Sec.1, p.1. The New York Times Meeropol, Robert and Michael.
We Are Your Sons. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970. Radosh, Ronald and Milton, Joyce. The Rosenberg File. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983.
Yalkowsky, Stanley. The Murder of the Rosenbergs. New York: Library of Congress, 1990. Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton, The Rosenberg File(New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983), pp. 170. Robert and Michael Meeropol, We Are Your Sons(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970), P. 217. Stanley Yalkowsky, The Murder of the Rosenbergs(New York: Library of Congress, 1990), p. 340. Radosh and Milton, p. 12. Yalkowsy, p.152. Luther A. Huston, "Rosenbergs Gain a Stay; Review Set," The New York Times, June 17, 1953, Sec.1, p. 1. Luther A.
Huston, "President Says Couple Increased 'Chances of Atomic War,'" The New York Times, June 19, 1953, Sec.
1, p. 1. Radosh and Milton, p. 417. Yalkowsky, p.183.
Meeropol, p. 33. Yalkowsky, p. 232. Yalkowsky, p. 256.
Yalkowsky, p. 350. Yalkowsky, p. 211. Radosh and Milton, p.289. Yalkowsky, p.396. Meeropol, p.31. Radosh and Milton, p.290. Yalkowsky, p. 357. Radosh and Milton, p.378. Radosh and Milton, p. xi. Radosh and Milton, p.
375. Yalkowsky, pp. 454-455. Meeropol, p.142.