Robert Meeropol





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STILL OUT ON A LIMB

Father’s Day Execution Anniversary

June 20, 2016

Tags: Exonerate Ethel, Julius Rosenberg

June 19th, the day my parents were executed, fell on Father’s Day this year. Perhaps that’s ironic because for the first time in many years, rather than holding an event to honor them both, this year, my focus is on building the campaign to exonerate my mother, Ethel.

Some supporters of efforts to reopen my parents’ case and the Rosenberg Fund for Children have expressed concern that by singling out Ethel, we’ve neglected the injustice done to my father. Exonerating my father is more complicated. Morton Sobell’s admission in 2008 that he and Julius provided military industrial information to the Soviet Union, coupled with other evidence, prevents us from claiming his innocence. Still, he was executed for stealing the secret of the atomic bomb, a crime he did not commit, and the trial testimony necessary to convict him was false.

The Exonerate Ethel Campaign emphasizes that “the Rosenbergs” were two separate people. After their arrests, however, they acted in concert. While Julius spied and Ethel did not, they both refused to falsely confess to acts they did not commit and implicate others.

Julius grew up during the great depression on Manhattan’s impoverished Lower East Side. He joined the Communist Party after witnessing its efforts to alleviate suffering in his neighborhood. He saw the rise of fascism in Europe and admired the young men who volunteered to fight Franco’s Nazi-supported army in Spain. When World War II erupted, he determined to help the Soviet Union defeat what he called “the Hitler beast.” Bad eyesight kept him out of the armed forces, so he organized several young scientists and engineers to share cutting edge military-industrial information with the USSR.

By 1950, when the government arrested him, Russia, our WW II ally, had become our enemy. In order to avoid confronting more powerful atomic scientists who had shared atomic information with their Russian counter-parts, Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents conspired to transform my passionately idealistic father, whose goal was to help the Soviet Union defend itself, into a master atomic spy. Next, they arrested Ethel, even though they knew she was not a spy, and involved the Judge in their conspiracy. With Judge Kaufman’s connivance, they used the death penalty to attempt to coerce my parents to confess to a crime they did not commit and to rat out the friends Julius had recruited.

Facing death, Julius and Ethel agreed that they would never bow to the government’s demands or betray their comrades. Even though both believed that helping to defeat Hitler was essential, they thought Ethel was insulated from Julius’ illegal activities. If he were imprisoned, they expected that she could stay home with their children.

They never considered that Julius might face execution, or that the government would develop a diabolical plan to arrest and hold Ethel hostage to the death penalty. I don’t know this, but I expect and believe what happened to Ethel was my father’s greatest regret.

My father’s day gift to Julius is working on the campaign to exonerate Ethel. It is what he would have wanted.

Exonerate Ethel

March 15, 2016

Tags: Exonerate Ethel

Last week the Rosenberg Fund for Children launched an online petition campaign to exonerate my mother, Ethel. I urge everyone to click on the picture to the left (it's a link), to sign the petition, and to spread the word throughout your communities.

I’ve wanted this for decades. I can’t recall when I first thought of separating my mother’s case from my father’s. I think the women’s liberation movement of the late 60’s planted the seed. As we began the reopening effort in 1974, I noticed that while almost everyone on both sides talked about “the Rosenbergs,” the debate focused almost entirely on whether Julius was an atomic spy. I remember saying that Ethel was “disappeared” into Julius.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980’s information began to dribble out that raised the possibility that Julius was a spy. The release of the Venona transcriptions in 1995 added force to this possibility, but also provided powerful proof that Ethel never spied. The KGB gave all its operatives code names; Ethel had no code name. At that time, I proposed that we accept that Julius might have engaged in non-atomic military-industrial spying, without conceding this was certain, and that we concentrate on Ethel, whose innocence seemed more likely. Our lawyer, Marshall Perlin, disagreed, saying that would be perceived as giving up on Julius and that would defeat efforts to reopen our parents’ case. I regret accepting his argument.

For the next decade, I groused to close comrades that we should emphasize Ethel more, but met with similar resistance about abandoning Julius. I gave talks that focused on my mother’s innocence, but did nothing further.

Two events in 2008 strengthened my determination to do more. The first was the release of Ruth Greenglass’ Grand Jury statements that demonstrated Ruth lied at trial about Ethel’s involvement. The second was my parents’ co-defendant Morton Sobell’s admission that he and Julius engaged in military-industrial espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Still, it wasn’t until 2012, when I realized that September 28, 2015 would mark Ethel’s 100th birthday, and that was the ideal time to stage a major event all about her. Now I had the answer when people asked, “but what about Julius?” Ethel was almost two years older than Julius; it was neither his birthday, nor his centenary.

With the help of several others I began the work that resulted in New York City Council Members and Manhattan’s Borough President issuing proclamations honoring Ethel on her centenary and declaring her execution wrongful. I had no way of knowing that this plan would get a boost from the release in July, 2015, of David Greenglass’ Grand Jury testimony denying Ethel’s involvement. This release also led to the New York Times publishing an Op Ed piece, written by my brother and me, calling on the Obama Administration to exonerate Ethel.

It took a few more months, but this cascade led to the RFC’s launch of the online petition campaign to pressure the Obama Administration to acknowledge the injustice done to my mother. Regardless of what the administration does, the growing public acceptance of Ethel’s innocence is a triumph. It has been a long, but ultimately fruitful, journey.

Post Script: I would also love the government to declare Julius’ execution wrongful because he did not engage in atomic espionage. Such a declaration from this administration appears impossible, but what would have been Julius’ 100th birthday is still more than a year away. Perhaps the Sanders’ administration will be more accommodating.

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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