In 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of passing information to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) concerning the construction of nuclear weapons. In 1953, the United States Government executed them. Some say, the Rosenbergs received their just punishment. Many historians feel that the trial was unfair, and that international claims for clemency were wrongly ignored. These historians claim that the Rosenbergs were assassinated by the US government. This report will be an analysis of the trial, the events which led up to it, and its aftermath.
What Led to the Arrest? The first clue America ad that a Russian spy ring existed in the US was the discovery of a KGB codebook on the Finnish battlefield during World War II. When compared with Germany’s machine-scrambled codes, the code appeared to be relatively primitive; a certain set of numbers corresponded to a word, letter, or essential phrase. There was a little catch though; the codebook was to be read with a corresponding page that every KGB officer was given. Because the American ciphers did not have the corresponding page, there were an infinite number of possibilities that could have corresponded to the book, making deciphering it impossible.
Milton 7) Klaus Fuchs In 1944, the FBI raided the New York offices of the Soviet Government Purchasing Commission, a known front for the KGB industrial espionage operations. When the FBI began to go through what they had taken, they found that many KGB officers did not adhere to their orders diligently. They were told to dispose of all their “corresponding sheets. ” Many memos and other letters were carelessly stored away, instead of being destroyed after their use. After much studying of all the confiscated letters of the KGB, including the new sheets, the ciphers were now able to elucidate some of the codebook they had ound earlier.
In 1949, a report by Klaus Fuchs was deciphered. This was America’s first solid evidence that there was a spy ring operating within the US. borders. The American authorities had some doubts, however. It was possible that Fuchs was not a spy and somehow the KGB had obtained his report. After much investigation, the FBI arrested Fuchs. Along with other evidence, a letter deciphered by the FBI had a reference to a British atomic spy, whose sister was attending an American University. Fuchs sister, Kristel, had been a student at Swarthmore College at that time. The FBI appointed James Skardon to onfront Fuchs.
Skardon was a renowned spy-catcher, who had obtained confessions from many, including the traitor William Joyce. On December 21 1949, Skardon went to talk with Fuchs in his laboratory at the Harwell Atomic Research Establishment. To Skardon’s surprise, Fuchs was eager to talk. Apparently, Fuchs wanted to talk because he was very upset with the Soviet Union’s postwar policy in Eastern Europe. He did not say everything, but it was a start. After many meetings, Skardon was able to get Fuchs to disclose even more. Fuchs thought that if he owned up to his past, it would be forgotten, or at least forgiven.
He was wrong. Fuchs said, “At first I thought that all I would do was inform the Russian authorities that work on the atomic bomb was going on I did what I consider the worst that I could have done, namely to give information about the principle of the design of the plutonium bomb. ” The FBI later found out from Fuchs that his contact was “Raymond. ” They had only met a handful of times and Fuchs did not know much about him. On March 1, 1950, Fuchs was put on trial. After a trial that lasted only an hour and a half, he was convicted of four accounts of espionage and sentenced to 14 years in jail.
The reason e was not killed was that he gave secrets to an ally. If he had given the same information to an enemy, he would have been condemned to death. (This contrasts with the current US treatment of Jonathan Pollard – another spy on behalf of a US ally, Israel. ) The FBI now had the first link in the chain; the next step was finding Raymond. (Eisenhower 223) Fuchs, in 1945, had been transferred to the theoretical division of the main Manhattan Project installation at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Fuchs then left, without telling his Soviet control that he was leaving.
After Fuchs missed two meetings, Raymond grew very troubled, o he went to his Soviet chief, Anatoli Yakovlev, at the Soviet consulate staff in New York. Yakovlev went through Fuchs’ portfolio and found his sister’s address. He then told Raymond to go visit Fuchs sister, Kristal, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Raymond acting as an old friend of Fuchs inquired as to his well being. Upon her telling him that he had moved “somewhere down south,” he left his telephone number. When Fuchs came home for a vacation with his sister, she called Raymond. Raymond immediately resumed their secret meetings.
When the FBI was searching for “Raymond”, they asked Fuchs and Kristal for descriptions. The FBI, with their two descriptions from the Fuchs, researched into their own files and produced a suspect: Joseph Arnold Robbins, a left-wing chemical engineer who graduated from CCNY in 1941. After a background search on him, the FBI rejected him as a witness. After more intense investigation, two other suspects were suggested, Abraham Brothmon and Harry Gold. The FBI thought Gold was a stronger suspect for multiple reasons, so, on May 9, Hoover ordered a manhunt to find Gold.
On May 23 1950, Gold was arrested in Philadelphia. The importance the FBI attached o the capture of Fuch’s accomplice was indicated by J. Edgar Hoover, “In all the history of the FBI there never was a more important problem than this one, never another case where we felt under such pressure. The unknown man simply had to be found. ” The pressure that Hoover was referring to is unknown, but months just prior to Gold’s arrest the FBI was criticized for allegedly bungling investigations in the Redin, Amerasia, Eisler, and Coplon cases. Milton 38)
Harry Gold In 1915, Tom Black, an old friend, offered Gold a job in the Manufacturing Company in New Jersey. Gold immediately took the job. After working there for a little while, Black began to take Gold to Communist meetings. Gradually, Gold became a committed Soviet and when Black asked him (in 1935) to help the Soviets and give them some information, Gold eagerly agreed. Although, Gold was not pro-Communist, he was pro-Soviet. The reason Gold liked the Soviets so much was because he thought they were benevolent towards the Jews.
Sam Semenov, Gold’s Soviet contact, suggested that he make his own contacts that had access to more information than he did. After working for the Soviets for eight years, Semenov told Gold to break all ties with his ormer contacts. Gold was given new contacts, “a group of American scientists in New York. ” This was considered a promotion, for Gold was assigned a contact who had access to a lot more information. This new person was Klaus Fuchs. After four years of working with Fuchs, Gold stopped working for the Soviets and began to lead a normal life, cutting all ties he had with his contacts and the Soviets.
A couple of months later, one of Gold’s contacts, Abraham Brothmon called Gold franticly saying the FBI questioned him and they were onto them. Days later, the FBI interrogated Gold. At first, Gold claimed the same tory as Brothmon, but after extremely long interrogations Gold was worn down, and accidentally slipped, and the FBI began to catch the inconsistencies in Gold’s story. The next week, they searched his house. In the middle of the search, Gold admitted to being the man to whom Klaus Fuchs passed the information on atomic energy.
Despite Gold’s attempts, after an exhausting week of interrogation, Gold slipped and mentioned old contact’s and friend’s names, including his friend Tom Black and David Greenglass. (Allen 41) David & Ethel Greenglass David Greenglass was an American solider assigned as a echnician at Los Alamos. For $500 he gave Gold sketches of the system used to focus high explosive pressure waves that drove together packets of uranium and produced the chain the chain reaction of nuclear fission-the explosion of the atomic bomb. David Greenglass’ sister was Ethel Greenglass, later to be Ethel Rosenberg.
The Greenglass’s grew up in New York’s Lower East Side, in a small cramped apartment. Ethel was brilliant. She graduated at age 15 from Seward Park High School. Even in the poor economy of that period, when there was an extreme demand for jobs, she was able to find work within a month f receiving her diploma, at age 15. She was fired four years later when she organized a strike of 150 women who lay down in the street blocking all the company’s delivery trucks. Ethel then filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, which she won. She succeeded at finding a better job, for twice the pay of her previous one.
Ethel was known as a “go-getter”; she did not stop until she was satisfied. With some training, Ethel started to sing in choirs and act in plays in the evenings. One evening, before Ethel went on stage, she met the one and only love of her life, Julius Rosenberg. Milton 50) Julius Rosenberg Julius’ background was similar to Ehtel’s; he grew up on New York’s East Side. He went to the same schools as Ethel, Talmud Torah for middle school, and Seward Park for high school. Julius never had to worry about money, and his father wanted him to further his religious leanings and become a rabbi.
In Julius’ senior year, he grew more interested in politics and less interested in religion. After Julius graduated from Seward, he went to the City College of New York, where he majored in electrical engineering. This major was favored by politically aware students ecause it entitled them to membership in the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians (FAECT), a militant union for white collar professionals with a pro-Communist leadership. Julius soon became a member in the Steinmentz Club, a branch of the Young Communist League, or YCL.
Soon Julius became so involved in politics that his graduation was in jeopardy. At this time, Julius and Ethel were becoming very serious about each other and Ethel made Julius come over to her house to study so that he would eventually receive his diploma. Because Julius spent so much time in Ethel’s house, David Ethel’s brother) became very friendly with Julius. Julius kindled David’s interest in politics, convincing him to join the YCL. (Allen 45) Julius and Ethel were married in 1939. After struggling for a few years with no substantial job, Julius was hired as a civilian employee of the U. S. Army Signal Corps in the fall of 1942. In 1942, David married Ruth Printz.
In 1943, the Greenglasses joined the YCL, and the Rosenbergs were full members of the Communist Party. Julius was chairperson of Branch 16B of the Party Industrial Division and often held meetings in his house. Party members were encouraging everybody to do verything they could to support the wartime effort. When David was admitted to the American army, he looked forward to helping the Communist cause in any way he could. Julius, however, was physically unfit for the army, so he looked for other ways to help his party. Milton 70)
According to Ruth Greenglass’ testimony, Julius and Ethel dropped out of the Communist party in 1943 to take their own “initiative” in helping their party. She claims that Julius told her that he began to form contacts to help him enter a new kind of activity. David later claimed that Julius approached him about the subject of espionage. Even without David Greenglass’ testimony, one can understand why the Rosenbergs dropped out of the party. Ethel had her first child in early 1943, and Julius was working for the government, so he was afraid he would lose his job if his Communist affiliations were discovered.
In the beginning of 1945, Julius was dismissed from his job. Sometime before this, the FBI had sent to the U. S. Army Intelligence a copy of a Communist Party membership card showing that in 1939, Julius had been involved in the Party. The Army felt this was not sufficient evidence to dismiss Julius because there was no reason for them to assume it was the same Julius Rosenberg who was their Signal Corps employee. In the fall of 1944, the FBI sent the Army more information on Rosenberg, including his address.
This time the evidence sufficed and Julius was dismissed. (Milton 83) On July 17, 1950, David told the FBI that Julius was talking freely about his “secret work” in order to make David more comfortable helping him. Julius confided in David that the first move he made in espionage was while he was working as a signal corps inspector. Julius told David that he knew that soviet radios and electronics were loundering (David realized that Julius was talking about their radar technology) and had tried to help the Soviets by picking up copies of tube manuals.
David said that Julius bragged to him many times about the network of contacts he had built in Cleveland, Ohio, and upstate New York, and about information about certain top secret weapons. (Milton 84) On July 16, 1950, two uniformed police officers, William Norton and John Harrington, came to Julius’ apartment and took him down for questioning. Julius remained very calm while being interrogated but refused to allow his apartment to be checked without a warrant.
When Julius was taken to the base, Harrington asked him, “What would you say if we told you that your brother-in-law said you asked him to supply information to the Russians? Julius responded sharply, “Bring him here, and I will call him a liar to his face. ” (Sharlitt 3) Soon after being taken to the station, Julius asked to call his lawyer. When Victor Rabinowitz answered the telephone, his first question was, was he under arrest. When they told Julius that he had not been arrested, he immediately stood up and walked out of the station. When Julius left the station, he saw the newspapers screaming that Greenglass had been rrested that day and was being held on $100,000 bond. From the station, Julius went straight to Rabinowitz.
Rosenberg wanted the FAECT counsel to represent him, but because Rabinowitz had recently defended the alleged spy Judith Coplon, he felt his involvement would be detrimental for Rosenberg’s case, so he gave Rosenberg another lawyer, Emanuel Hirsch Bloch. Bloch was a very eminent lawyer; he was a member in National Lawyer’s Guild and the Civil Rights Congress. He served on the defense team of Willie McGee and was also serving as one of the three CRC attorneys assigned to the case of the Trenton Six. Bloch was also well known for his representation of Steve Nelson, a leader of the Communist Party in Pittsburgh.
The real reason though, that Rabinowitz appointed Bloch, was that Bloch was a good friend of O. John Rogge and shared an office building with him. Rogge was Greenglass’ attorney and Rabinowitz wanted to stay well informed of Greenglass’ situation, and if possible, prevent him from becoming a government witness. (Sharlitt 6) The first time Bloch met Rosenberg he thought this would be a simple open and shut case. He thought that if Rosenberg would respond to all questions with the Fifth Amendment, then the prosecution’s case would become a lot weaker.
He missed some obvious hints though, that would have led him to think otherwise. For example, Greenglass was nicknamed by the media as the “atom-spy. ” (Sharlitt 6) After being released, Julius continued his normal routine while the FBI conducted what they call a “discreet surveillance. ” Agents Norton and Harrington were permanently assigned to Rosenberg’s case. Without David Greenglass expanding on his accusations from June 15-16, they could not justify arresting him. There are different theories as to why Julius did not seize the chance to flee the FBI.
One theory is that he did not think that David would break down so far as to mention even his own family. Another theory is that it would have taken weeks to alert some of his contacts without leading the FBI to them. (Meerpool 37) On July 12, Greenglass, with the urging of his lawyers, had his second extradition hearing. This led the media to think that Greenglass was leaning towards pleading guilty. According to Ruth, David’s wife, Ethel visited her to find out what David’s plans were and if he was going to indict her husband, Julius. (Meerpool 42)
The FBI, after Greenglass made his statements, went to James McInerney of the Justice Department, who agreed there was now enough evidence to charge Julius Rosenberg with conspiracy to commit espionage. When Richard Whelan, assistant special agent in charge of the New York office, heard McInerney’s ruling, he sent Norton to file a complaint before federal judge John F. X. McGohey. Immediately after J. Edgar Hoover heard that Whelan tried to delay the arrest, he grew infuriated. He suspected the reason for the delay was in order to tip off the press so that the story would be covered in the next day’s papers.
Hoover feared that when the press found out, Rosenberg might be tipped-off and lee at the last second. Milton 92) On Tuesday, July 17, 1950, when Rosenberg was arrested, it was in full view of his aghast family; his two sons standing agape, watching their father dragged out by two officers. Julius and Ethel until the bitter end maintained their innocence. They never pleaded guilty nor even considered it. The FBI, after searching Julius’ house, had evidence that the espionage ring that Greenglass talked about was true. In order to force Rosenberg to disclose names of other spies, Hoover suggetsed that Ethel be arrested, and be used as leverage to force Julius to talk.
Mitlon 93) Ethel Rosenberg On August 11, Ethel Rosenberg was arrested and bail was set at $100,000-the same huge amount as her husband. Ethel’s lawyer was Bloch’s father, Alexander Bloch. The reason for this was that when she was arrested, Manny Bloch was not in the office, but his father was, so he rushed down to the station to help Ethel and then later took her case. The Rosenberg children were sent to Tessie Greenglass, who very soon complained to the court she could not control them and more importantly, could not afford them.
The court sent them to the Hebrew Children’s Home in the Bronx. Most believe that the FBI arrested Ethel in order to force her husband into confessing. Others disagree and say that Greenglass’ accusations proved true, and it is possible that Ethel was a full partner in her husband’s doings and she was arrested purely on her misdeeds. (Sharlitt 42) The Trial On March 6, 1951, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s trial began. Their case attracted so much attention because this was the most publicized spy hunt of all time.
Another reason this case received so much attention was that it contained all the elements of a high drama trial. The case had a family feud already familiar to the public, because the Jewish Daily Forward had published a series of articles on the Greenglasses. The trial also involved defendants who firmly claimed their innocence, and the possibility of eminent atomic scientists testifying. (Milton 98) US Attorney Irving Saypool was prosecuting the case. Saypool had made a very good reputation for himself when he prosecuted Communists, including Alger Hiss and the eleven Smith Act defendants.
From the onset of the trial, Saypool treated the defendants without the accustomed court propriety. Irving R. Kaufman, the judge, chose the jurors himself in a day and a half. Kaufman read a list of any parties, organizations, and clubs and anybody affiliated with any of them were excused. Then they were asked if they were opposed to the death penalty, the use of atomic-weapons in war, or felt that any information concerning the development of atomic energy should be revealed to any Russian satellite country. If they were, they were excused. Burkholz 73)
In Saypool’s opening words, he stated, “The loyalty and the allegiance of the Rosenbergs were not to the country but to Communism, Communism in this country and throughout the world. ” Emanuel Bloch immediately objected that Saypool’s allusion to communism as irrelevant because communism was not on trial. Kaufman said that communism would be allowed in the trial because it established motive. Saypool also said that they convinced David Greenglass to become a traitor to his country, “a modern Benedict Arnorld.
After Saypool’s very powerful opening statement, the public began to talk about capital punishment. (Burkholz 75) It is nearly impossible to convict someone of treason. It was such a serious crime that the standards of proof are very strict. On the other hand, it is easy to get a conviction for conspiracy; it is even sometimes refereed to as the “prosecutor’s riend. ” Hearsay testimony is admissible in trial, and once the existence of conspiracy is established every conspirator may be held liable for the acts of the others, even if he does not have any knowledge of them.
In addition, in order to be convicted, only the conspiracy had to be proven. (Meerpool 176) The prosecution brought several very damaging witnesses against the defense: Julius Rosenberg’s brother-in-law, David Greenglass, and his wife Ruth Printz Greenglass. Greenglass testified that he passed to his sister and brother-in-law sketches of the implosion lens, a vital component of the plutonium bomb. David Greenglass’s story was corroborated by his wife and another spy, Harry Gold. Gold testified that he received information from David Greenglass, and that he passed them on to the Rosenbergs.
These testimonies showed clearly that there was a plan to spy and to pass secrets. (Milton 103) Max Elicher testified about a second spy ring which Julius Rosenberg headed. The second ring was formed to disclose to the Soviets naval secrets pertaining to communications instruments. He testified that Julius Rosenberg recruited him to spy. Nobody knew about the two conspiracies except for Rosenberg; he was the only onnection between the two. Although Elicher did not say what information he gave to Rosenberg, it connected Julius Rosenberg to two spy rings.
None of Elicher’s testimony was refuted except by Rosenberg’s denials. (Milton 104) After a fourteen day trial, there was no evidence proving the Rosenberg’s innocence so the jury decided to believe David Greenglass’, Harry Gold’s, and Max Elicher’s testimonies. The prosecutors asked the Rosenbergs many questions about their involvement in the Communist Party in order to establish motive. They answered most of the questions with the Fifth Amendment so that their answers ould not incriminate them. This led many people, including the jurors, to feel very strongly about their guilt.
Many argue that the Rosenbergs were framed and that they were the perfect people to be framed because of their involvement in the Communist Party. There are a few questions as to why Emanuel Bloch did certain things in the trial. For example, he did not cross-examine Harry Gold. (Sharlitt 17) For cooperating with the prosecution, Greenglass’ sentence was for fifteen years of imprisonment, Gold’s for thirty and Fuch’s for only fourteen. The Rosenbergs pled not guilty. In March 1951, they became he first Americans to be sentenced to death on a charge of espionage in peacetime. Milton 103)
Doubts on the Trial Some historians say that the government framed the Rosenbergs, and was aiming for capital punishment. First, they were not charged with espionage, rather they were charged and convicted of conspiracy to spy. This was to the government’s advantage because, as explained previously, much less proof is necessary for a conviction for conspiracy. A second reason that historians think that the government was out to kill the Rosenbergs was because Saypool, Lane, Cohn, and Kilsheimer were all ssigned to the case. This showed the government’s strong and special interest in the case.
In summary, the charge against the Rosenbergs, the powerful prosecution, the well-known anti-Communist prosecutors and the judge, all support that the government’s objective was to kill the Rosenbergs. (Sharlitt 23) The reason many people call the Rosenberg’s executions a legal and fatal error is simple. On June 19, 1953, the federal government executed the Rosenbergs. The Rosenbergs were charged, tried, and convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917. In 1946, the Atomic Energy Act was passed. It required that spies who assed atomic secrets be executed only after a jury’s recommendations.
From the day the Rosenbergs were indicted to three days before their execution, this act was ignored. Astonishingly, nobody realized, including the prosecutors, defendants, or any judges, that this was being ignored. A lawyer from the West Coast raised the issue that suggested to somebody that the Rosenbergs were being wrongly executed. Even after the issue was raised, the Supreme Court ignored it and the Rosenbergs were executed anyway. Still today, there is an ongoing and bitter controversy as to why the Rosenbergs were put to death.