Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
One of the largest cases of treachery on modern times, the tale of the Rosenberg’s is sad and terrible, and still controversial. The second Red Scare of Communism framed the circus-show of a trial for the Rosenbergs, and though there is controversy, we do know for sure that Julius was a traitor.
Julius and Ethel both grew up in New York. Julius went to college for electrical engineering, where he joined the Young Communist League. Ethel had been an aspiring actress before getting involved in labor groups and eventually into the same Young Communist League.
Julius got a job as an engineer at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey in 1940. The fort developed guided missiles, radar, and other advanced technology. Two years later he was recruited by a Russian spy handler Alexander Feklisov through communist party connections.
For years, Julius passed classified information to his Soviet spy handler, including plans for the U.S.’s first jet fighter. Ethel’s brother David Greenglass just happened to be working on the Manhattan project during this period as well. He was soon recruited by Julius and began supplying information on Atomic bomb research, while Ethel typed up the reports.
When the Rosenbergs were finally caught and arrested, a group of government officials met in private to discuss the largest and most serious case of espionage in recent history. They decided that they Rosenberg’s spy ring was much larger than it seemed and hoped that they could pressure the two into talking.
Despite not having much evidence against Ethel, the prosecution fought for the death sentence on her as well as for Julius. The fact that the two were/had been members of a communist group fueled the fires for their conviction during a fearful time of the Cold War, but the fact that the Rosenbergs had two young children and Ethel’s guilt was in doubt stirred public sympathies.
The judge, Irving Kaufman, extrapolated the treason into a “crime worse than murder”. The implication was that Russia gained knowledge of the atomic bomb early enough to be aggressive on the world stage, causing the Korean war and thousands of American lives. The treason led to the constant fear of nuclear holocaust as the two rival superpowers seemed a phone call away from launching new and terrifying nuclear bombs.
Through the trial, both Julius and Ethel pled the 5th and refused to talk. Public outcries for clemency failed and both were sentenced to death. It was a sad and only partially just case as the proposed death penalty for Ethel was supposed to be a bluff for more information, and the Rosenbergs called the bluff. Foreign governments, the Pope, and others pleaded for at least Ethel’s life to be spared, but to no avail.
On June 19, 1953, the Rosenberg’s were put to death by electric chair. The fall of the U.S.S.R. brought out more proof that Julius was indeed guilty of serious espionage, and that Ethel was certainly guilty as well, but likely did not deserve the death penalty.