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STILL OUT ON A LIMB

September 28th, 2015, Ethel Rosenberg Day Of Justice

October 2, 2015

Tags: Ethel Rosenberg Proclamations

Monday, September 28th, 2015 would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. The material reproduced below details the very special events that marked the occasion.

Proclamation of Manhattan’s Borough President

We are proud to acknowledge those individuals and organizations that have remained committed to improving our city and vibrantly enriching the community; and

WHEREAS, Ethel Rosenberg, née Ethel Greenglass, was born in 1915, grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and excelled at Seward Park High School, wishing to go to college but taking a clerical training course instead because she could not afford college; and

WHEREAS, Ms. Rosenberg found work as a clerk at the National New York Packing and Shipping Company and, showing great bravery, helped lead a strike for union recognition and a pay raise, for which she was fired; and

WHEREAS, Ms. Rosenberg filed a claim for wrongful termination with the newly formed National Labor Relations Board, which found in her favor, and remained active in union organizing, using her singing talents to raise funds at benefit performances—and it was here she met Julius Rosenberg, whom she later married; and

WHEREAS, during World War II, Ms. Rosenberg became the only full-time volunteer at the East Side Defense Council—the first such organization in the nation and a model for others—organizing blood drives and giving speeches on the importance of the war effort; and

WHEREAS, Ms. Rosenberg’s first son, Michael, was born during the war, and her second son, Robert, was born after it ended; and

WHEREAS, in August 1950, Ms. Rosenberg was charged with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage, but FBI documents reveal that chief prosecution witnesses—David and Ruth Greenglass—provided no evidence against Ms. Rosenberg in their initial confessions, and Grand Jury testimony of the Greenglasses recently released excludes mention of Ms. Rosenberg’s involvement; and

WHEREAS, FBI documents show that the prosecution determined that Ms. Rosenberg should be convicted and given a “stiff sentence” so she could be used as a “lever” to induce her husband to cooperate, and that after this strategy was devised, first Ruth and then David Greenglass provided oral testimony against Ms. Rosenberg—testimony on which the judge relied to sentence Ms. Rosenberg to death; and

WHEREAS, shortly before the Rosenbergs were executed in 1953, an FBI document listed questions to ask Julius Rosenberg if he cooperated—one of which was “Was your wife cognizant of your activities?”—but there was no such list created for Ms. Rosenberg; and

WHEREAS, in 2001, David Greenglass admitted that his testimony was false, and National Security Agency files indicate that the Soviet Union never gave Ms. Rosenberg a codename—meaning that she was not an active espionage agent;

Now therefore, I, Gale A. Brewer, do hereby recognize the injustice suffered by Ethel Rosenberg and her family, and on the occasion of her 100th birthday on Monday, September 28th, 2015, proclaim “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.”


Proclamation of 13 members of the New York City Council

Ethel Rosenberg, nee Ethel Greenglass, was poor and lived on New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1920s and 1930s where she excelled as a Seward Park High School student and dreamed of college. Her teachers considered her singing voice exceptional. She graduated three months before her 16th birthday but, unable to afford college, she took a clerical training course; and

WHEREAS: In 1935, at the age of 19, Ethel worked as a Clerk at the National New York Packing and Shipping Company, and, demonstrating great bravery, helped lead a strike for union recognition and a pay raise. The New York Times reported that “about 150 young women pickets moved in squads through the garment district… They lay on the pavement in front of trucks and dared the drivers to move”; and

WHEREAS: Ethel was fired and filed a claim for wrongful termination with the National Labor Relations Board, which found in her favor: “There is no allegation or evidence that she was not an efficient employee. The [company’s] antagonism to Ethel Greenglass undoubtedly arose by virtue of the fact that she was active in organizing the Union.” Ethel remained active in union organizing and used her singing talents to raise funds. While performing, she met Julius Rosenberg, whom she later married; and

WHEREAS: During World War II, Ethel joined the East Side Defense Council as its only full-time volunteer. It was the first such organization in the nation and became a model for others. She organized blood donation drives and gave speeches on the importance of the war effort. Her first son, Michael, was born during the war and her second son, Robert, was born after it ended; and

WHEREAS: In August 1950, Ethel was charged with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage. FBI documents reveal that chief prosecution witnesses David and Ruth Greenglass provided no evidence against Ethel Rosenberg in their initial confessions. The Greenglass’s recently released Grand Jury testimony also excludes mention of Ethel’s involvement. FBI documents show that members of the prosecution team determined that she should be convicted with a “stiff sentence” and be used as a “lever” to induce her husband to cooperate. After devising this strategy, Ruth and David Greenglass provided oral testimony against Ethel. The judge relied upon this new testimony to sentence Ethel to death. In 2001, David Greenglass admitted the testimony was false; and

WHEREAS: National Security Agency files indicate that the Soviet Union never gave Ethel Rosenberg a code name and that she, therefore, was not an active espionage agent. And that shortly before the Rosenbergs’ executions, an FBI document listed questions to ask Julius Rosenberg if he cooperated. The FBI did not create such a list for Ethel and did not ask if Ethel was involved. Instead, one question on the list was: “Was your wife cognizant of your activities?” Since despite this, the government wrongfully executed Ethel Rosenberg; now therefore

BE IT KNOWN: That we, the undersigned Members of the New York City Council, honor the life and memory of Ethel Rosenberg in observance of the 100th anniversary of her birth.


My statement in response

On behalf of our family; many of whom are here today, I thank all who have brought this to fruition: Councilor Daniel Dromm who initiated the effort, his staff member Michael Mallon who guided it, and all the Council Member co-signers. Thanks also to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for her statement declaring today “Ethel Rosenberg day of Jusrtice” in Manhattan, and to Letitia James, New York City’s Public Advocate, for her support.

We are grateful to Tibby Brooks and Charles Bayor, of the Rosenberg Family Ethel Rosenberg Centenary Campaign for their hard work and good counsel, to my daughter, Rachel’s, partner, Tomas Hunt, for obtaining the support of so many elected officials, to Amber Black at the Rosenberg Fund for Children for her press work, and to attorney Daniel Meyers, who first suggested this idea. I apologize to those I’ve missed.

When I was born, I was brought home from the hospital to an apartment about a mile from here. To have so many Council Members of my parents’ hometown – my hometown, my brother’s hometown – acknowledge our mother’s achievements and note that she was wrongfully executed is a dream come true. Today, a major elected institution of this great city and Manhattan’s Borough President have taken important steps towards acknowledging a terrible injustice. Next, it is time for the Federal Government to step up and do the same.

One final thank you: to my parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, for their courage, their faithfulness to their ideals, and their activism to create a better world for their children.


My brother’s statement in response

This past summer, the Grand Jury testimony of the chief witness against our parents, our mother’s brother David Greenglass, was unsealed. We believe that this testimony provides the final piece of evidence that leads to an inescapable conclusion. Our mother, Ethel Rosenberg, was not an espionage agent. She was framed by the government to put pressure on our father. In effect, the government took her as a hostage -- and then murdered her when our father refused to falsely confess to atomic espionage and name names.

Let me echo Rob’s thanks to the members of the City Council, the Manhattan Borough President and the Public Advocate for recognizing the injustice that was done to our mother and, as a result, to her entire family.

We also want to make it clear that the unjust prosecution and execution of our mother damaged our country as well. The Rosenberg case was based on perjured testimony and guilt by association arguments. It culminated in the outrageous statements of the sentencing judge and President Eisenhower – that our parents had caused the Korean War and a future nuclear war. These combined to fuel a dangerous climate of fear and intolerance in our country which permitted political opportunitists like Senator Joseph McCarthy to poison our society.

We believe that the issuance of these proclamations implicitly calls upon the federal government to take corrective action. We would like to make this request explicitly.  Therefore, we call upon Attorney General Lynch and President Obama to acknowledge the injustice done to Ethel Rosenberg back in 1953 as a way of learning from our past in the hope that similar injustices will be avoided in the future.

Selected Works

Memoir
"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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