People

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Ether Greenglass High School Graduation

Ethel Greenglass was born on September 28, 1915, in New York. She was an aspiring actress and singer, but eventually took a secretarial job at a shipping company. She became involved in labor disputes and joined the Young Communist League, where she first met Julius.

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Ether and Julius Rosenbergs
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Julius and Ether Rosenbergs

Julius Rosenberg was born on May 12, 1918, in New York. He graduated from the City College of New York with a degree in electrical engineering in 1939 and in 1940 joined the Army Signal Corps where he worked on radar equipment. He became a leader in the Young Communist League, where he met Ethel in 1936, before marrying her three years later.

In 1942, Julius and Ethel became full members in the American Communist Party. By 1943, however, the Rosenbergs dropped out of the Communist Party to pursue Julius’s espionage activities. Early in 1945, Julius was fired from his job with the Signal Corps when his past membership in the Communist Party came to light. On June 17, 1950, Julius Rosenberg was arrested on suspicion of espionage after having been named by Sgt. David Greenglass, Ethel’s younger brother and a former machinist at Los Alamos, who also confessed to passing secret information to the USSR through a courier, Harry Gold. On August 11, 1950, Ethel was arrested.” [5]

“Julius was arrested in July 1950, and Ethel in August of that same year, on the charge of conspiracy to commit espionage. Specifically, they were accused of heading a spy ring that passed top-secret information concerning the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.

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Rosenbergs during the trial.

The trial against the Rosenbergs began on March 6, 1951. From the beginning, the trial attracted a high amount of media attention and generated a largely polarized response from observers, some of whom believed the Rosenbergs to be clearly guilty, and others who asserted their innocence.

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David Greenglass testifying.

The prosecution’s primary witness, David Greenglass, Ether’s brother, stated that Ethel, working as a “probationer,” had typed notes containing U.S. nuclear secrets, and these were later turned over to Harry Gold, who would then turn them over to Anatoly A. Yakovlev, the Soviet vice consul in New York City. Both Rosenbergs asserted their right under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate themselves whenever asked about their involvement in the Communist Party of with its members.” [6]

READ ROSENBERGS’ LETTERS FROM JAIL

“The pair was taken to Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York, to await execution. During the next two years, the couple became the subject of both national and international debate. Many people believed that the Rosenbergs were the victims of a surge of hysterical anticommunist feeling in the United States, and protested that the death sentence handed down was cruel and unusual punishment. Most Americans, however, believed that the Rosenbergs had been dealt with justly.

“I can only say that, by immeasurably increasing the chances of atomic war, the Rosenbergs may have condemned to death tens of millions of innocent people all over the world. The execution of two human beings is a grave matter. But even graver is the thought of the millions of dead whose deaths may be directly attributable to what these spies have done.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and sentenced to death under Section 2 of the Espionage Act. The couple were the only two American civilians to be executed for espionage-related activity during the Cold War. Judge Kaufman noted that he held them responsible not only for espionage but also for the deaths of the Korean War, since the information leaked to the Russians was believed to help them develop the A-bomb and stimulate Communist aggression in Korea. Their case has been at the center of the controversy over communism in the United States ever since.

The Rosenbergs remain the only married couple executed for a federal crime in the United States, and the only civilians put to death for conspiracy to commit espionage. No American civilian has ever been killed for espionage or treason, let alone conspiracy to commit these crimes. Even during World War II, soldiers who deserted and fought with the Nazis, and individuals convicted of treason . . . only received sentences of life in prison, or less. . . . Ethel Rosenberg remains only the second female killed for a capital offense in the United States, following Mary Surratt, a conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. – Lori Clune, Executing the Rosenbergs: Death and Diplomacy in a Cold War World, 2016

Ethel Rosenberg’s letter to President Dwight D. Eisenhower asking for clemency, June 16, 1953.

President Eisenhower’s response to Clyde Miller, denying the clemency for Rosenbergs, June 10, 1953.

Julius Rosenberg was the first to be executed, at about 8 p.m. on June 19, 1953. Just a few minutes after his body was removed from the chamber containing the electric chair, Ethel Rosenberg was led in and strapped to the chair. She was pronounced dead at 8:16 p.m. Both refused to admit any wrongdoing and proclaimed their innocence right up to the time of their deaths.” [7]

 

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David Greenglass (1922-2014) was a machinist and member of the Special Engineer Detachment who engaged in espionage activities for the Soviet Union at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project.

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Ether and her brother David Greenglass

Greenglass, the younger brother of Ethel Rosenberg, was born in New York, New York on March 2, 1922 to a family of Jewish immigrants. He graduated from Haaren High School in 1940 and later attended Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, although did not complete his studies there.

In 1942 Greenglass married Ruth Printz. Prior to entering the US Army in April 1943, he and his wife joined the Young Communist League.

Greenglass was assigned to work on the Manhattan Project in July 1944 as a member of the Special Engineer Detachment. Initially stationed at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, he was transferred to Los Alamos in August 1944 where he worked until February 1946. An Army sergeant and skilled machinist, Greenglass was on a team tasked with making molds for the high-explosive lenses used to detonate the plutonium core in the implosion bomb.

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David and Ruth Greenglass

In November 1944, Greenglass and his wife were recruited by his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg, to spy for the Soviet Union. Decrypted cables from the United States Army Signal Intelligence Service (SIS)’s “Venona” project indicate Greenglass and his wife were given the codenames KALIBR (Caliber), and OSA (Wasp), respectively. In the middle of 1945, Greenglass sent Rosenberg a crude sketch and twelve pages of detailed notes on the implosion-type bomb.

Greenglass was honorably discharged from the Army in February 1946 and returned to New York where he, along with Rosenberg, ran a machine shop known as G & R Engineering.

Following the arrest of Klaus Fuchs and Harry Gold in 1950, Greenglass and Rosenberg’s espionage activities became known to the FBI. In June 1950, Greenglass was arrested. In February 1951, he testified against his sister by stating that Ethel had typed the information that Julius later passed on to the Soviet Union. In so doing, Greenglass secured immunity for his wife Ruth, which allowed her to remain with his children while he served his prison sentence.

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David and Ruth Greenglass and their children

His testimony ultimately proved decisive in the conviction of the Rosenbergs, who were executed in the electric chair on June 19, 1953.

In March 1953, Greenglass wrote a letter to President Eisenhower asking him to commute his sister and brother-in-law’s sentences to prison terms. His request was not approved. He was released from prison in 1960.

Greenglass later stated that he intentionally implicated his sister to protect his wife and for the sake of his children. He said he did not recall who typed the notes, believing it could have been his wife. Greenglass died at the age of 92 on July 1, 2014 at a nursing home in New York.

Testimony released in July 2015 indicates that Greenglass did not specifically mention Ethel’s involvement in the delivery of atomic secrets to the USSR. His testimony, and the Rosenberg trial, remain controversial to this day.” [8]

“Six decades later, the execution of the Rosenbergs remains a controversial subject. Recently declassified documents have reignited debate over Ethel’s alleged role in the Soviet spy ring. It was the testimony of David Greenglass in the 1951 trial which implicated Ethel, but before a secret grand jury in 1950, Greenglass affirmed, “I said before, and say it again, honestly, this is a fact: I never spoke to my sister about this at all.” This testimony was not made available to the defense lawyers at the Rosenbergs’ trial.

Furthermore, a Venona Project intercept from 1944 mentioned the recruitment of Ruth Greenglass, the wife of David Greenglass, but made no mention of Ethel Rosenberg. In later interviews, David Greenglass stated, “I frankly think my wife did the typing, but I don’t remember” and “My wife is more important to me than my sister.” Ruth was never charged.”[9]

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Michael and Robert Meeropol

“The Rosenbergs left behind two sons, Michael and Robert.  During the trial and the various appeals of their parents the boys had no home of their own. When Ethel Rosenberg was arrested the children were sent to live with Tessie Greenglass, Ethel’s mother. Tessie Greenglass was unable to take care of the boys, and after staying with her for three months they were moved to the Hebrew Children’s Home. Sophie Rosenberg, Julius’ mother removed Michael and Robert from the shelter after they had been there for several months. She decided to take care of the boys herself. During this time Michael and Robert were allowed to visit their parents in Sing Sing prison. After about one year with their paternal grandmother the boys were forced to relocate once again, this time moving in with the Bach family, friends of the Rosenbergs, who lived in New Jersey.

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Sophie Rosenberg, Julius Rosenberg’s mother, comforts her grandsons Robert (left) and Michael Rosenberg eight months after their father and mother, Ethel Rosenberg, were executed in 1953.

On June 14, 1953 Michael and Robert traveled to Washington, D.C. to appeal for their parents lives to be spared.

The boys visited Sing Sing prison in Ossining, N.Y., on Thursday, June 18, 1953, their parents’ 14th wedding anniversary. Michael interrupted the death-house decorum by wailing: “One more day to live.” The following day, their parents wrote: “Always remember that we were innocent and could not wrong our conscience.”[10]

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Michael and Robert Meeropol

The Rosenbergs’ will named their attorney, Manny Bloch, as guardian of the boys. Bloch placed the Rosenberg’s children with Abel and Anne Meeropol, and in 1957 the couple legally adopted the boys. (Abel Meeropol, incidentally, wrote the music and lyrics for “Strange Fruit,” a haunting song about lynching. The song became a Billie Holliday trademark. Time Magazine recently picked “Strange Fruit” as “the song of the century.”) With a new family and a new last name the boys were able to try to live a normal life. They kept the identity of their parents a secret from all but their closest friends.”[11]

“For over 40 years Robert has been a progressive activist, author and public speaker. In the 1970’s he and his brother, Michael, successfully sued the FBI and CIA to force the release of 300,000 previously secret documents about their parents.”[12]

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The Rosenberg boys — Robert, left, and Michael — with their grandmother, Sophie Rosenberg, during a protest outside the White House in 1953. (AP)

“During the 1970’s the Meeropol’s became more open about their biological parent’s identity. Using the Freedom of Information Act they were able to obtain previously undisclosed documents related to their parent’s case, documents that they felt showed their parents innocence. In 1975, they authored We Are Your Sons, a book detailing their experience as sons of the Rosenbergs, as well as proclaiming the innocence of their parents. Michael Meeropol edited The Rosenberg Letters in 1994.”[13]

In 2008, after Morty Sobell, Julius Rosenberg’s City College classmate and co-defendant, admitted that he spied for the Soviets, Michael and Robert Meeropol finally came to terms with their father’s guilt.[14] When asked whether he felt betrayed by their parents, Robert responded:

What Julius was asked to do was send his best friends to jail, and he could not do that. My parents would have to have made a bigger betrayal to avoid betraying me, and frankly I don’t consider myself that important.[15]

Both Michael and Robert maintain Ethel’s innocence and have created an online petition to exonerate her. In 2016, they also appealed to President Obama to exonerate their mother. [16]

CLICK HERE FOR INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL AND ROBERT MEEROPOL

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