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Top: Jewish Criminals & Spies: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg: History of the Rosenbergs

Rosenberg History & Bibliography

On August 6, 1945 an American bomber dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing approximately 100,000 people. With this event the United States showed the world that they now solely possessed the world's most powerful weapon. The U.S. tried to make sure they were the only ones in the world who knew how to make it. On September 23, 1949 the Russians exploded their own atomic bomb. Had U.S. secrets not been protected? At the time, it seemed highly unlikely that the Russians could have developed this bomb on their own. It seemed that Russian spies living in the U.S. had somehow obtained the information to help construct the bomb. At first, no one had a clue to who these spies could be however, soon the FBI conducted an investigation and several arrests were made. Eventually they found two people who seemed to be the ringleaders of the spies who stole the secrets Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were convicted and sentenced to death because of the testimony of Ethel's brother David Greenglass, the use of Ethel by the government to coerce her husband into confessing, and the blinding fear of communism in the United States as a result of the growing power of the USSR.

The arrests of the Rosenbergs were a direct result of the confession of David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg's brother who was arrested by the FBI. Greenglass worked at a secret base in Los Alamos, New Mexico where he was in a position to learn some of the secrets of constructing the atomic bomb. He admitted that he has given some of these secrets to a Russian agent, but only because of Julius Rosenberg's urging him to do so. Because of this confession, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. David Greenglass was the chief witness in the case against the Rosenbergs. In his testimony, he explained that while he was working in Los Alamos, his wife, Ruth, was living in New York and that one day Julius Rosenberg confronted her saying that her husband was working on the atomic bomb. Julius Rosenberg supposedly also said to her that her husband would help humanity if he would share the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Russians. The Russians were our allies, and also it would be better if two countries had the bomb. Greenglass also claimed that Julius Rosenberg set up the entire espionage operation. Rosenberg had given him a half torn up label from a box of Jell-O and told him that the person who would contact him to get the secrets would have the other half. Secrets, however, were also given directly to Rosenberg and his wife would help type up the secrets he received. Greenglass and his wife Ruth both told the same story of how the Rosenbergs were Russian spies.

Yet another aspect of the reasons surrounding the conviction of the Rosenbergs was the use of Ethel against Julius. It has been argued that "Ethel's arrest, more than a month after her husband's was a cold-blooded effort to pressure Julius into confessing and informing "(Cohen, 51). The FBI and the prosecutors felt that Julius was totally devoted to Ethel and that he would do anything not to bring harm to her. They also knew that should Ethel be convicted with Julius, their young sons, Michael, born in 1943 and Robert, in 1947, would be left alone. The government felt that the threat of abandonment of the two boys would also secure Julius's confession. Many people argue that Ethel had little if anything to do with the Communist spy ring. The most she did was type some materials and was present at her husband's side during a few crucial meetings. Since the FBI and prosecutors had virtually no case against Ethel Rosenberg, it is rumored that the Greenglasses may have been persuaded to embellish Ethel's role in the whole fiasco. Despite the lack of a case against Ethel, she still took the stand and faced cross-examination strongly with the same story as her husband. Ruth Greenglass had much more to do with the stealing of atomic secrets but she was never indicted . In the end it came down to the jury and to who they would believe. "They could either believe David and Ruth Greenglass or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, but they could not believe both" (Arbetman, 78). The jury choose to believe the Greenglasses. The jury found the Rosenbergs guilty and two months later Judge Irving Kaufman sentenced them to death. They were executed in 1953.

However, more was involved in this case than simply the guilt or innocence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. (Arbetman, 81). After World War II America found themselves confronting the Soviet Union and the threat of communism. With the increasing strength of the Soviet Union, the threat of communism overtaking the world was also expanding. This fear of communism resulted in increased tensions between the USSR and the U.S. and ultimately brought about the American policy of containment. Our intervention in the Korean War was a direct result of our containment policy. This policy was extremely anti-Soviet and anti-communistic, therefore it did nothing to ease the tensions of the Cold War on either country. And as the Cold War became more and more intense, Americans became more and more frightened. At the same time, they became willing to accept the notions of Joseph McCarthy and his prosecution of suspected communists at home. The thought of communist ideas and people infiltrating into American life was not acceptable and so when the case of the Rosenbergs was brought to light many people were willing to condemn the Rosenbergs because, at the time, Americans needed something to place the blame on and the Rosenbergs became America's scapegoat.

Driven by a story-line which saw the Cold War as an apocalyptic struggle with the forces of evil and saw the atom bomb as a "secret" which America somehow "owned" and which therefore could be lost only by theft, the FBI and the prosecutors needed traitors and, somehow found the Rosenbergs" (Cohen,48). To this day the guilt of the Rosenberg's remains questionable. America's fear of communism, the Rosenberg's trial and prosecution, the testimony of David Greenglass, and the use of Ethel as a "lever" against Julius resulted in the conviction of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and ultimately sent them to their unjust deaths.

Abertman, Lee, and Richard L. Roe. Great Trials in American History New York: West Publishing Company, 1995.

Aymar, Brant and Sagarin, Edward. World's Greatest Trials. New York: Bonanza Books, 1989.

Cohen, Jacob. "The Rosenberg File." National Review19July 1993: 48-52

Dobbs, Michael. "Julius Rosenberg Spied, Russian Says."16 March 1997

Neville, John F. The Press, the Rosenbergs, and the Cold War. London: Praeger, 1995. "Rosenberg's Guilt." April 1997.

Schneir, Walter and Schnier, Miriam. "Cryptic Answers." The Nation. 14/21 Aug. 1997 52-53

Tornburn, David. "The Rosenberg Letters." Rosenberg Bar.21 May 1997.


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