Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

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On this day in 1953 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for espionage in the electric chair at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in upstate New York. They were to have been executed the previous day, but were granted a stay of execution by US Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas thanks to the efforts of their lawyer, Emanuel Hirsch Bloch. While the Rosenbergs were generally considered to be guilty by all and sundry - including the left-wing press - in the weeks and months leading up to their trial, between the time of their conviction and their death grave doubts began to appear, mainly as a reaction to the fanatical anti-Semitism the case had engendered.

Information has recently came to light that Julius Rosenberg may have been guilty of something, just not of selling secrets of the Atomic Bomb to the Soviet Union, the crime for which he was convicted; it is generally accepted that his wife was entirely guiltless, and merely indicted alongside him in order to coerce him into a confession - a strategy which backfired, since it was a confession he could never make because he hadn't done it.

The Rosenberg's two sons - Robert and Michael - were orphaned by the executions, the stigma of which made their adoption difficult; the boys were eventually taken in by songwriter Abel Meeropol* and his wife Anne, at which time they took their new parents' surname.

The two later wrote the 1975 memoir We Are Your Sons: The Legacy of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the proceeds of which established the Rosenberg Fund for Children to aid the children of leftist activists involved in similar legal mishegas; E. L. Doctorow also wrote a book about the Rosenberg execution, his 1971 debut novel The Book of Daniel, which was itself made into a film, Daniel (1983) directed by Sidney Lumet and starring the world's least Jewish-looking actor Timothy Hutton.

*Author of the song Strange Fruit under the pseudonym Lewis Allen.

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Seumas Gagne said...

I wonder if we'll ever really know what went on there. In my guts, I feel like they were innocent.

michael sean morris said...

She was definitely innocent. I have the feeling - in light of new evidence - that he was up to something. But a commie-hating anti-Semitic society (such as was present in the whole Western world in the 50s) kind of decided the outcome.