The Case Against Ethel and Julius Rosenberg
INTRODUCTION The year 2000 marks the 50th anniversary of the arrests of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and the beginning of a legal case that would capture and hold the interest of people around the world from that beginning through today. Their controversial conviction on charges of conspiring to give away secrets of the atomic bomb just a few short years after it was used to end WWII, divided the world, the nation, and a brother and sister and their spouses. The key government witness was Ethel Rosenberg’s own brother, David Greenglass. This display is designed to introduce you to these historic personalities and to some of the facts and questions that still surround the case. It should be viewed with an eye toward what it might have been like to be sitting at the defendant’s chair or testifying on the witness stand, or listening from the jury box.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS • September 28, 1915: Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg born • March 1917: The Russian Revolution begins • 1917: Espionage Act that the Rosenbergs are convicted of violating is enacted • May 12, 1918: Julius Rosenberg born • 1929: Communist Party of the United States is founded • 1934: Julius Rosenberg enters City College of New York; is involved in radical politics • Summer 1939: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg married • 1943: Rosenbergs cease open activities with Communist Party; Daily Worker subscription stops • July 1944: David Greenglass chosen to work on the Manhattan Project • November 1944: Julius Rosenberg recruits aid of Greenglasses in obtaining information about the Manhattan Project • January 1945: David Greenglass provides his own notes and a sketch of a high-explosive lens from the Manhattan Project
TIMELINE OF EVENTS • June 1945: Harry Gold meets with Greenglass in Albuqurque • August 6, 1945: United States drops Atom bomb at Hiroshima • September, 1945: Greenglass meets with Rosenberg while on forlough in New York • August 28, 1949: Soviets detonate their first Atom bomb • February 2, 1950: Klaus Fuchs arrested • May 22, 1950: Harry Gold confesses to the FBI • June 15, 1950: David Greenglass names Julius as the man who recruited him to spy for the Soviet Union • July 17, 1950: Julius Rosenberg arrested • August 11, 1950: Ethel Rosenberg arrested
THE ACCUSED Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg in happier times. Members of the jury will be asked to determine if this seemingly typical couple were the leaders of an American spy ring that gave secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.
PROSECUTION WITNESS David Greenglass, known as "Doovey" to his older sister Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg, was born in 1922. Greenglass, like his brother-in-law Julius, was interested in the ideas of Communism. He and his wife Ruth joined the Young Communist League in early 1943, and shortly afterwards David was inducted into the Army. While in the Army Greenglass preached his political ideas to his fellow soldiers, sometimes to their annoyance, but he proved valuable as a highly skilled machinist. When his unit shipped out of Jackson, Mississippi, and Greenglass was left behind, he suspected that it was the result of his political ideas. Ironically it was not, he had been selected to be part of the secret Manhattan Project. He was stationed in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and then later in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Greenglass was not aware that the purpose of the Manhattan Project was to develop the atomic bomb until his wife told him; she had been informed by Julius Rosenberg. In November 1944, while Ruth was visiting him in Albuquerque, he decided to pass information about the project along to Julius Rosenberg, and continued to do so until he left the Army in 1946. Greenglass decided to be a prosecution witness against his sister and his brother-in-law in exchange for immunity for his wife Ruth, so that she might remain with their two children. Greenglass received a 15 year sentence for his role in the passing of the Atomic information. He and Ruth remained together after he was released from prison. In 1990, David Greenglass was living under an assumed name in a single-family house in the Queens when he was interviewed by Sam Roberts of the New York Times. Since released from prison, Greenglass had invented a number of devices, including a waterproof ornamental electrical outlet. Roberts described Greenglass, then 68, as "still pudgy and wearing steel-rimmed glasses." According to Roberts, Greenglass, when asked if he would have done anything differently, replied "Never."
PROSECUTION TESTIMONY Greenglass testified that Rosenberg asked David and Ruth Greenglass to visit him in Knickerbocker Village. When they arrived, a woman by the name of Ann Sidorovich was also there. Greenglass said that Rosenberg told him that Sidrovich would probably meet Greenglass in a movie theater in Denver to pick up information that he is able to get in Los Alamos. Because his contact might turn out to be someone else, Rosenberg cut a Jell-O box with a scissors and gave one half to Ruth Greenglass while keeping the other half. He told Greenglass that whatever person he sent to meet with him would carry the matching half of the Jell-O box as a recognition signal. The meeting point was changed from Denver to Albuquerque. Greenglass then testified as to a meeting (also in New York) arranged by Julius, with a Russian in a car. Greenglass described the lenses to the unknown Russian and answered his questions about activities in Los Alamos. Cohn provided Greenglass with a Jell-O box and asked him to cut it in the way that he said Julius had during their meeting at his apartment. Cohn asked Greenglass about his meeting in Albuquerque with Harry Gold, who turned out to be his contact. David Greenglass Testimony (80 s)
THE LENS MOLD This lens mold sketch was drawn by David Greenglass and presented by the prosecution as the key secret given to the Soviet Union. Physicists later described it as “insignificant.
PROSECUTION WITNESS Harry Gold was the son of poor Russian Jewish immigrants. He was a small quiet boy abused by his schoolmates. As a young man both he and his family became interested in Socialism, perhaps as a means of escape from their rough life. His interest in Socialism eventually led him to make contacts within the Communist movement. In 1935, Gold began to steal industrial formulas from the Pennsylvania Sugar Company, where he was working as a chemist. He had been asked by his friend Tom Black to aid the Soviets with the formulas. As Gold continued his espionage activities and rose in responsibility he began to tell his various contacts elaborate tales of his family life. But Gold's tales were all fantasy, he was actually a bachelor. Gold also began drinking heavily and was sloppy with the evidence of his illegal activities. Perhaps he wanted to be caught. Gold was given several days warning that the FBI was going to search his home, where he lived with his father and brother. Yet he didn't begin trying to rid his home of incriminating evidence until mere hours before the search was to begin. There was simply too much to destroy and Gold confessed to the FBI. Gold was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his espionage activities and actually seemed to adapt well to the structured life of prison.
PROSECUTION TESTIMONY At the time of the Rosenberg trial, Harry Gold had been involved with spying for the Soviet Union for about 15 years. His testimony against the Rosenbergs served to verify what David Greenglass had stated concerning Julius’ role as the ring leader of the American spy ring. He stated that a Soviet agent named Anatoli Yakalev contacted him and instructed him to go to Albuquerque to pick up some information from the home of some American spies named Greenglass. He said that Yakalev gave him $500.00 to give to the Greenglass’ and half of a jello box top that was to be used as a means to identify the exchange. He testified that the recognition signal was to be “I come from Julius.”
DEFENSE WITNESS Julius Rosenberg was born on May 12, 1918 in New York City. He was the son of Polish immigrants, his father Harry worked in the garment industry and his mother Sophie took care of the couple's five children. As a boy Julius attended Downtown Talmud Torah and then Seward Park High School where he graduated at 16. Although his father hoped Julius would become a rabbi, Julius enrolled at the City College of New York to study electrical engineering. In college, Julius also pursued his interest in politics, joining the Steinmetz Club, the campus branch of the Young Communist League where he would meet Morton Sobell, William Perl, and Joel Barr. Julius also became a member of the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists, and Technicians (FAECT), a rather radical union for professionals. Julius Rosenberg became so engrossed in his political activities that his studies began to languish. Rosenberg graduated in 1939, but was one semester behind the rest of his class. Later that same summer, Julius married Ethel Greenglass. After leaving college, Julius did freelance work until the fall of 1940 when he was hired as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Julius was promoted in 1942 to the position of Inspector and the new position allowed the Rrosenbergs to move to a new three bedroom apartment. Around this same time Julius and Ethel became full members in the American Communist Party. Julius was the chairman of Branch 16B of the Party's Industrial Division and held its meetings at the Rosenbergs' apartment. By 1943, however, the Rosenberg's dropped out of the Communist Party to pursue his espionage activities. Early in 1945 Rosenberg was fired from his job with the Signal Corps when his past membership in the Communist Party came to light. Julius took a job with the Emerson Radio Corporation for a while and then in 1946 formed G & R Engineering Company with David Greenglass, Bernard Greenglass, and Isadore Goldstein. But this small machine shop was never a success. On June 17, 1950, Julius Rosenberg was arrested on suspicion of espionage after having been named by David Greenglass. Julius Rosenberg stoically maintained his innocence throughout the length of his trial and appeals. On June 19, 1953, Julius Rosenberg was executed at Sing-Sing Prison in New York.
DEFENSE TESTIMONY BLOCH: If the Court, please, my first witness is the defendant Julius Rosenberg. E. H. BLOCH: Now, Mr. Rosenberg, are you aware of the charge that the Government has leveled against you? ROSENBERG: I am. E. H. BLOCH: D o you know what you are being charged with? ROSENBERG: Yes. E. H. BLOCH: What are you being charged with? ROSENBERG: Conspiracy to commit espionage to aid a foreign government. E. H. BLOCH: And you have been here all the time that the witnesses who appeared for the prosecution testified? ROSENBERG: Yes, sir, I have. E. H. BLOCH: And amongst those witnesses did you hear your brother-in-law Dave Greenglass testify? ROSENBERG: Yes, I did. E. H. BLOCH: And did you hear your sister-in-law Ruth Greenglass testify? ROSENBERG: I did. E. R. BLOCH: Now I want to direct the following questions and try to have you focus your attention upon your recollection of their testimony. Mrs. Ruth Oreenglass testified here, in substance, that in the middle of November 1944, you came over to her house or you invited her to your house and you asked her to enlist her husband, Dave Greenglass, in getting information out of where he was working and deliver or convey that information to you.Did you ever have any conversation with Mrs. Ruth Greenalass at or about that time with respect to getting information from Dave Greenglass out of the place that he was working? ROSENBERG: I did not. Julius Rosenberg Testimony (90 s)
DEFENSE WITNESS Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg was born September 28, 1915 in New York City to Barnet and Tessie Greenglass. Her father ran a repair shop for sewing machines, but was barely able to provide for his wife and four children. The Greenglass family lived in a shabby tenement that was unheated. Early on Ethel, the only daughter, showed that she was a strong willed and intelligent woman. Ethel attended a religious school, Downtown Talmud Torah, and then Seward Park High School, where she graduated at the age of only 15. Ethel became a clerk for a shipping company immediately after finishing school. She remained at this job for the next four years, until she was let go for her role as the organizer of a strike of 150 women workers. Ethel was not just an activist at work, she was also interested in politics. Ethel joined the Young Communist League and eventually became a member of the American Communist Party. In addition to her clerk job, Ethel enjoyed singing, alone as well as with a choir. Ethel was waiting to go on stage to sing at a New Years Eve benefit when she first met Julius Rosenberg. The couple was married not long afterwards in the summer of 1939. Although mentally tough, Ethel Rosenberg's body was weak. She was not healthy enough to work after the Rosenberg's were married, instead Ethel stayed home with their two sons Michael and Robert. By the summer of 1950, Ethel's younger brother, David Greenglass, had named Julius as a participant in the spy ring. The FBI questioned her husband and eventually placed him under arrest. On August 11, 1950, Ethel Rosenberg was herself arrested. At trial Ruth Greenglass, Ethel's sister-in-law, implicated Ethel in the Atomic spy ring by testifying that Ethel had been the one to type the notes provided by David Greenglass. This testimony sealed Ethel's fate. She was found guilty of espionage along with Julius Rosenberg and on April 5, 1951 was sentenced to death. For the next two years Ethel Rosenberg lived on death row at Sing Sing prison maintaining her innocence and hoping for leniency. It never came. On June 19, 1953, Ethel was put to death in the electric chair.
DEFENSE TESTIMONY Ethel Rosenberg testified after her husband and was asked about her knowledge concerning her brother’s military assignment. She was asked about his testimony regarding the alleged jello box and its use as a signal from her husband to pass information to an emissary. Ethel Rosenberg Testimony (90 s)
PROSECUTION SUMMARY • Ethel and Julius Rosenberg are members of the communist party. • Harry Gold and David Greenglass each stated that Julius arranged the transfer of information using a jello box. • David Greenglass drew a sketch of the lens mold which was given to the soviets at Julius’ request.
DEFENSE SUMMARY • Being members of the Communist Party is not a crime, and the accused are not on trial for this action. • Both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg denied the jello box testimony.
JURY DELIBERATION The Verdict decision comes down to which testimony is the most believable, that of David Greenglass, or that of the Rosenbergs. Would a brother lie, knowing the that his sister could be executed? Would the transfer of such a secret be done with such a simplistic method; a jello box? Has the prosecution met the burden of proof in this case? Have they convinced the jury the crime has been committed by the Rosenbergs? If you were sitting in the jury box in 1950 would your vote be guilty or not guilty?
SENTENCE STATEMENT I consider your crime worse than murder. Plain deliberate contemplated murder is dwarfed in magnitude by comparison with the crime you have committed. In committing the act of murder, the criminal kills only his victim. The immediate family is brought to grief and when justice is meted out the chapter is closed. But in your case, I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason. Indeed, by your betrayal you undoubtedly have altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country. The evidence indicated quite clearly that Julius Rosenberg was the prime mover in this conspiracy. However, let no mistake be made about the role which his wife, Ethel Rosenberg, played in this conspiracy. Instead of deterring him from pursuing his ignoble cause, she encouraged and assisted the cause. She was a mature woman--almost three years older than her husband and almost seven years older than her younger brother. She was a full-fledged partner in this crime. Indeed the defendants Julius and Ethel Rosenberg placed their devotion to their cause above their own personal safety and were conscious that they were sacrificing their own children, should their misdeeds be detected--all of which did not deter them from pursuing their course. Love for their cause dominated their lives--it was even greater than their love for their children." Judge Irving Kaufman
FINAL LETTER Dearest Sweethearts, my most precious children, Only this morning it looked like we might be together again after all. Now that this cannot be, I want so much for you to know all that I have come to know. Unfortunately, I may write only a few simple words; the rest your own lives must teach you, even as mine taught me. At first, of course, you will grieve bitterly for us, but you will not grieve alone. That is our consolation and it must eventually be yours. Eventually, too you must come to believe that life is worth the living. Be comforted that even now, with the end of ours slowly approaching, that we know this with a conviction that defeats the executioner! Your lives must teach you, too, that good cannot flourish in the midst of evil; that freedom and all the things that go to make up a truly satisfying and worthwhile life, must sometime be purchased very dearly. Be comforted then that we were serene and understood with the deepest kind of understanding, that civilization had not as yet progressed to the point where life did not have to be lost for the sake of life; and that we were comforted in the sure knowledge that others would carry on after us. We wish we might have had the tremendous joy and gratification of living our lives out with you. Your Daddy who is with me in the last momentous hours, sends his heart and all the love that is in it for his dearest boys. Always remember that we were innocent and could not wrong our conscience. We press you close and kiss you with all our strength. Lovingly, Daddy and Mommy Julie Ethel
INFORMATION • Meeropol, Robert and Michael. We Are Your Sons. Houghton and Mifflin, 1975. • Schneirs, Walter and Mirriam. Invitation to an Inquest. • Sharlitt, Joseph. Fatal Error. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1989. • Yalkowsky, Stanley. The Murder of the Rosenbergs.
THE END BARB PEARSON