The Rosenberg Trial


The Rosenberg Trial Essay, Research Paper

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.

Meeropol, p.139.

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