Julius Rosenberg, born May 12 1918, was the child of Jewish immigrants who resided in the Lower East Side of New York City. Rosenberg was an average student and attended Seward Park High School. Besides his academic studies, Rosenberg was an aspiring leader of the Young Communist League. It is there that Julius met his future fiancé, Ethel Greenglass, in 1936 and married her three years later. Rosenberg graduated the City College of New York with a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1939 and joined the Army Signal Corps a year later.
Ethel Greenglass was born into a Jewish family in New York City on September 28, 1915. After her educational commitments she pursued a career as an aspiring actress and singer. After attempting to make it big, Ethel joined a shipping company as a secretary. At work she was involved in labor disputes, which led to her eventual interest in the Young Communist League where she met Julius. The couple had two children, Robert and Michael, whom were adopted by a schoolteacher after their parents were executed.
Julius was recruited by the KBB on Labor Day in 1942 by a spy Semyon Semenov. Julius had contacts with members of the Communist Party USA, including high-stakes officials such as Earl Browder and Bernard Schuster. During Julius’ relationship with the men he revealed thousands of confidential documents he obtained from Emerson Radio. Julius is responsible for recruiting several people to the KGB, including Joel Barr, Morton Sobell, Alfred Sarant, and William Perl. Julius and his brother in law, David Greenglass, worked on the Manhattan Project and revealed thousands of top-secret documents from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.
During the Second World War the United States and the U.S.S.R. became allies after Germany’s surprise attack in 1941. The United States remained very cautious and suspicious of Stalin and his regime. Thus, Americans did not reveal information to the USSR. The Soviets were given information by Rosenberg, resulting in the Soviets attempting to infiltrate the Unites States operation. Shortly after possession of the documents the U.S.S.R. began production of nuclear weaponry, later resulting in the Cold War. Meanwhile, Americans were in a state of hysteria surrounding communism and there was propaganda promoting a capitalist environment.
The Rosenberg Trial commenced on March 6, 1951 and the Honorable Judge Irving Kaufman presided over the case. Emanuel Hirsch Bloch served as representation for the Rosenberg’s. David Greenglass served as the prosecution’s key witness in the case. Greenglass claimed that his sister, Ethel,created notes from the couple’s apartment that contained proprietary information regarding nuclear bombs. Additionally, Greenglass claimed he gave Julius sketches of the “Fat Bomb” that dropped on Nagasaki rather than the “Little Boy” bomb, which was deployed in Hiroshima. When the couple was confronted about their involvement in the communist party they used their Fifth Amendment rights and did not reveal additional names.
At the time of the trial the United States federal prison authority did not have electric chairs. Julius and Ethel were sent to the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York State, where they were executed. The execution was originally scheduled for the eve of June 18, 1953, however; Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas delayed the execution due to a stay of execution initiated by Fyke Farmer, a Tennessee attorney. As one last attempt for an extension, Bloch requested the ceremony be executed before sunset. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed on June 19, however; Ethel did not die instantly. It took several shocks for her to be pronounced dead, resulting in smoke coming out of her head. The scene is portrayed in The Atomic Café.
For additional information consult the resources below. The Rosenberg trial has remained in the news as of 2008 when the grand jury testimony was recently unsealed by the court.
- The Rosenberg Trial - An in depth look at the Rosenberg Trial of 1951 featuring original transcripts, court documents, and photographs.
- Julius and Ethel Rosenberg - The official investigation report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
- Government Views of the Rosenberg Spy Case - An in depth review of the case from the government's perspective.
- Julius & Ethel Rosenberg - An academic overview of the Rosenberg case with historical context.
- Further Reading - Document provides a summary of the FBI investigation while citing several books and papers for further reading.
- Communism, Espionage, and the Cold War - Provides historical context and reviews the events leading up to the execution.
- Complete Guide to the Russian KGB - Provides information on the KGB and their relationship with Rosenberg.
- The Rosenbergs On Trial for Atomic Espionage: Summations by the Defense and Prosecution - Provides a summary of the defense and prosecution.
- Julius and Ethel Rosenberg - An overview of the case with resources for further investigation.
- Federal judge unseals 8 more Rosenberg grand jury transcripts - The Rosenberg case fifty years later.
- Trial Of The Rosenbergs: An Account - Doug Linder accounts the Rosenberg case from 1951 to modern day.
- Perlin Papers On-line - A collection of papers from the Rosenberg trial.
- Rosenberg Grand Jury Files - A collection of Grand Jury testimony never seen before.
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