instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

STILL OUT ON A LIMB

Father’s Day Execution Anniversary

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.
4 Comments
Post a comment