Jean-Paul Satre - Alan Dershowitz - UMBC online - John Welford - Joseph H Sharlitt - Biography: Your Dictionary online -
A legal lynching which smears with blood a whole nation. By killing the Rosenbergs, you have quite simply tried to halt the progress of science by human sacrifice. Magic, witch-hunts, autos-da-fé, sacrifices – We are here getting to the point: your country is sick with fear ... You are afraid of the shadow of your own bomb. Jean-Paul Sartre
There had to be a hysteria and a fear sent through America in order to get increased war budgets. Julius Rosenberg
We are innocent ... To forsake the truth is to pay too high a price even for the priceless gift of life. Ethel & Julius Rosenberg
We are the first victims of American fascism! Ethel Rosenberg, spy facing execution 1953
Ethel Rosenberg was not guilty of the crime of which she was charged. But there was a plot afoot. And the plot was from the highest levels of government to frame Ethel Rosenberg in order to get Julius to want to save her life by ratting out the people who he was in contact with. I don’t think we’ve ever had a miscarriage of justice that parallels the Rosenberg case in my lifetime. Alan Dershowitz, cited Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn, 2019
The Rosenberg case remains among the most controversial in American history. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were put to death for espionage on June 19 1953 at the height of the Cold War. Considering the social and political climate of the early 1950s, it is important to ask whether justice was fairly served. Were the Rosenbergs guilty as charged and the death penalties appropriately imposed, or were they victims of McCarthy-era fear and hysteria? UMBC online article, Cold War Case Files: The Rosenberg Trial – Was Justice Fairly Served?
The trial of the Rosenbergs and other members of the spy ring began in New York on 6th March 1951. This was at the height of the anti-Communist ‘Red Scare’ initiated by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the opportunity was not lost to make an example of some real Communist spies who had been unmasked, as opposed to the many phony cases of supposed ‘anti-American activities’ that McCarthy claimed to have revealed …
During the trial the Rosenbergs clearly came off worst. Their fellow conspirators had no qualms about pointing the finger of blame at them, but they continued their silence and cited the Fifth Amendment to the American Constitution that allowed them not to answer any questions that might have incriminated them.
This silence was probably the reason why they received death sentences as opposed to the prison terms given to the other conspirators. The essence of McCarthyism was that people under suspicion would seek to lessen the consequences to themselves by spreading the net of suspicion to others, and this was what the Rosenbergs refused to do …
The convictions and executions of the Rosenbergs pose a number of disturbing questions that revolve around the issue of whether or not justice was served.
There can be little doubt that Julius Rosenberg was guilty of the crimes with which he was charged. He was the central pivot around which everything else revolved, having been the recruiter of his wife and the Greenglasses. But was Ethel equally guilty, and was she more guilty than her brother and sister-in-law? That would appear to have been the conclusion of the trial judges given that she received the same sentence as her husband which was far more severe than that of any of the other defendants.
When one looks at what Ethel Rosenberg actually did, the suspicion that a miscarriage of justice took place becomes extremely strong. If she had any role in the business it was no more than that of a secretary who typed the handwritten reports produced by her husband and brother. There was never any suggestion that she actively sought the information that was passed on and she was certainly not the prime mover of the spy ring.
So why was she executed when others, more guilty than she, were not? One reason could be the evidence provided in court by her brother, David Greenglass, who was at the heart of the information gathering at Los Alamos. Evidence was also given against her by her sister-in-law, Ruth Greenglass.
Exactly what was said in court was not known at the time, due to the need to maintain secrecy because of the highly sensitive nature of the evidence, and it was many years later that the trial transcripts became public knowledge.
In 2001 David Greenglass, then aged nearly 80, recanted the evidence he gave in court that sent his sister to the electric chair. His aim had been to save his own skin and that of his wife, who was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for his evidence.
The evidence that Ethel Rosenberg was the group’s secretary, and therefore an important cog in the whole process, was provided by the Greenglasses, and this was the evidence that David Greenglass recanted and admitted had been given falsely under oath. He served a jail sentence of less than ten years, and had to live with the guilt of having – in effect – murdered his sister for the rest of his long life. He died in 2014 at the age of 92. John Welford, Owlcation online article 16th April 2017, ‘Julius & Ethel Rosenberg: Victims of a Miscarriage of Justice?’
But the significance of what Greenglass betrayed through [the Rosenbergs], in comparison with what the Soviets had already learned from a far more rewarding source, Klaus Fuchs, makes Judge Kaufman’s sentence a repudiation of hard facts. Those facts were available when [Kaufman passed sentence]. He was never given them. Foremost among them are two: It was Klaus Fuchs and not David Greenglass who gave the Soviets major secrets of the bomb; and Klaus Fuchs – whose betrayal of the West was catastrophic in comparison with Greenglass’s transgressions – was sentenced to imprisonment of 14 years. Joseph H Sharlitt, Fatal Error: The Miscarriage of Justice that Sealed the Rosenbergs’ Fate
His wife was arrested in August. The government had little evidence against her, but hoped to use the threat of prosecution as a lever to persuade Julius to confess. The couple was charged with conspiracy to commit espionage, and their trial began on 6 March 1951. The prosecutor was attorney Irving Saypol, the judge was Irving Kaufman, and the defense was led by Emmanuel Bloch.
From the beginning the trial attracted national attention. Saypol and his young assistant, Roy Cohn, decided to keep the scope of the trial as narrow as possible, with establishing the Rosenbergs’s guilt the main target, and exposing their spy ring a lesser concern. Nonetheless, the trial was punctuated by numerous arrests of spies associated with the Rosenbergs, some appearing in court to testify against them …
After months in prison, the Rosenbergs still maintained their innocence and began to write poignant letters, which were widely published, protesting their treatment. The case was followed closely in Europe, where many felt the Rosenbergs were being persecuted as Jewish (though Judge Kaufman was also Jewish). A movement began to protest the ‘injustice’ of the Rosenberg trial. Passions both for and against the Rosenbergs grew so great that they even threatened Franco-American relations, as the French were particularly harsh in their condemnation of the trial as a sham.
By the end of the trial the defense had all but collapsed under the weight of the evidence and Bloch’s incompetence. His summation appealed to the jurors’ emotions, while prosecutor Saypol ran coolly through the testimony. Although the evidence against Ethel was slight, the jury and the public had come to believe that she was the mastermind of the operation. Both she and Julius were found guilty and sentenced to death, a punishment more fitting a treason conviction than the lesser charge of espionage.
In the months between the sentencing and execution, criticism of the trial grew more strident, and major demonstrations were held …
In spite of attempts at appeal and a legal stay issued by Supreme Court Justice William O Douglas, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed on 19 June 1953, both refusing to confess.
Years after the execution the case still stirs debate. It can now be seen as arising from the height of Cold War hysteria fed by the Korean War, which had broken out the summer before the trial. It must be remembered that, although the Rosenbergs were communists and spies, they did not spy for an enemy of the United States, as the sentence might indicate, but rather for its wartime ally. Recent studies of the couple’s activities show that the evidence against them was overwhelming. It is difficult, however, to imagine the execution of a married couple without understanding of the hysteria that the Cold War produced. Biography: Your Dictionary online article