2. Ethel Rosenberg: The American Housewife Executed by the US for passing on nuclear secrets
In 1953, Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg followed her husband Julius to the electric chair after being convicted of passing on information about the construction of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union. Both Rosenbergs were committed communists and identified as part of a spy ring by the FBI in 1950. Evidence against Ethel was initially thin. However, this changed when two other members of the group, Ethel’s brother and sister-in-law, David and Ruth Greenglass testified that it was Ethel who had typed up the stolen secrets from notes taken from David. It was this evidence that sent Ethel to the electric chair.
The Rosenbergs waited for 26 months for their sentence to be carried out, during which time they were offered a reduced sentence if they implicated others. Neither cracked. Outrage followed the execution as people regarded the couple as scapegoats of McCarthyism. The couple’s orphaned children agreed. In adulthood, they began to collect evidence that showed that the Rosenberg’s connection to a Soviet spy ring was peripheral at best. Julius had only passed on military information to the Russians during the Second World War when the US and the USSR were allies against the Nazis. However, he was dropped as an agent after the war because he no longer worked for the US army.
As for Ethel, the Soviets had never registered her as an agent. However, Ruth Greenglass was. It was Ruth who typed up the notes made by her husband, David Greenglass- not Ethel. David only implicated his sister after pressure from the federal prosecutors. Many years later he admitted he lied at the trial to cut a deal that saw him and his wife walk away free. It seems the only reason Ethel was arrested in the first place was to pressure Julius. When she refused to co-operate, a US prosecutor said that despite the weak evidence against her, Ethel should be convicted and given a stiff sentence. Essentially, Ethel Rosenberg joined her husband in the electric chair because unlike her brother; she refused to be bullied.