Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg (September 25, 1915 – June 19, 1953) and Julius Rosenberg (May 12, 1918 – June 19, 1953) were American communists who were convicted and executed on June 19, 1953, for conspiracy to commit espionage during a time of war. Their charges were related to the passing of information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. This was the only execution of civilians for espionage in United States history.
In 1995, the U.S. government released a series of decoded Soviet cables, codenamed VENONA, which confirmed that Julius acted as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets but which were ambiguous about Ethel's involvement. The other atomic spies who were caught by the FBI offered confessions and were not executed, including Ethel's brother, David Greenglass, who supplied documents to Julius from Los Alamos and served 10 years of his 15-year sentence; Harry Gold, who identified Greenglass and served 15 years in Federal prison as the courier for Greenglass; and a German scientist, Klaus Fuchs. Morton Sobell, who was tried with the Rosenbergs, served 17 years and 9 months of a 30-year sentence. In 2008, Sobell admitted he was a spy and confirmed Julius Rosenberg was "in a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb." This is now helpful.
Early life and education
Ethel Greenglass was born on September 25, 1915, in New York City. An aspiring actress and singer, she eventually took a secretarial job at a shipping company. She became involved in labor disputes and joined the Young Communist League, where she met Julius in 1936.
Julius Rosenberg was born to a family of Jewish immigrants in New York City on May 12, 1918. Census records show that his family lived at 205 East 113th when he was two years old. The family moved to the Lower East Side by the time Julius was eleven. His parents worked in the shops of the Lower East Side, as Julius attended Seward Park High School. Julius became a leader in the Young Communist League, USA while at City College of New York. In 1939 he graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering.
Julius Rosenberg joined the Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in 1940, where he worked as an engineer-inspector until 1945. He was fired when the U.S. Army discovered his previous membership in the Communist Party. Important research on electronics, communications, radar and guided missile controls was undertaken at Fort Monmouth during World War II.
According to a 2001 book by his former handler Alexandre Feklisov, Rosenberg was originally recruited by the NKVD on Labor Day 1942 by former spymaster Semyon Semenov. He had been introduced to Semenov by Bernard Schuster, a high-ranking member of the Communist Party USA as well as Earl Browder's personal NKVD liaison. In fact, Feklisov, a lifelong Communist, was covering the role of Jacob Golos, who in 1942 passed the Communist "information" cell of young engineers headed by Julius Rosenberg into direct contact with the Soviet operatives in New York. After Semenov was recalled to Moscow in 1944, his duties were taken over by Feklisov.
According to Feklisov, Rosenberg provided thousands of classified (top secret) reports from Emerson Radio, including a complete proximity fuze, an upgraded model of which was used to shoot down Gary Powers' U-2 in 1960. Under Feklisov's administration, Rosenberg is said to have recruited sympathetic individuals into NKVD service, including Joel Barr, Alfred Sarant, William Perl and Morton Sobell.The Venona intercept shows that Julius Rosenberg (code name LIBERAL) was the head of this particular spy ring.
According to Feklisov, he was supplied by Perl, under Julius Rosenberg’s direction, with thousands of documents from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, including a complete set of design and production drawings for the Lockheed's P-80 Shooting Star. Feklisov says he learned through Rosenberg that his brother-in-law David Greenglass was working on the top-secret Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory; he used Julius to recruit him.
The USSR and the U.S. became allies during World War II, after Nazi Germany's surprise attack on the USSR in 1941, but the U.S. government was highly suspicious of Joseph Stalin's long-term intentions. The Americans did not share information or seek assistance from the Soviet Union for the Manhattan Project. The Soviets were aware of the project as a result of espionage penetration of the U.S. government and made a number of attempts to infiltrate its operations at the University of California, Berkeley. The FBI file CINRAD (Communist Infiltration of the Radiation Laboratory) implicated J. Robert Oppenheimer, a consultant at the Radiation Lab and later, the key figure at Los Alamos, because of his earlier communist sympathies. A number of project members—some high-profile—voluntarily gave secret information to Soviet agents, many because they were ardent communists or were sympathetic to the Soviet Union's role in the war and did not feel the U.S. should have a monopoly on atomic weapons.
After the war, the U.S. continued to protect its nuclear secrets, but the Soviet Union was able to produce its own atomic weapons by 1949. The West was shocked by the speed with which the Soviets were able to stage their first nuclear test, "Joe 1", on August 29, 1949. In January 1950 the U.S. discovered that Klaus Fuchs, a German refugee theoretical physicist working for the British mission in the Manhattan Project, had given key documents to the Soviets throughout the war. Fuchs identified his courier as Harry Gold, who was arrested on May 23, 1950.Gold confessed and identified Sergeant David Greenglass, a former machinist at Los Alamos, as an additional source.
Greenglass confessed to having passed secret information on to the USSR through Gold. Though he initially denied any involvement by his sister, Ethel Rosenberg, eventually he claimed that she knew of her husband's dealings and typed some documents for him. He also claimed that her husband, Julius, had convinced her sister-in-law Ruth Greenglass to recruit David while on a visit to him in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1944. He said Julius had passed secrets, and linked him and Ethel to the Soviet contact agent Anatoli Yakovlev. This connection would be necessary as evidence if there was to be a conviction for espionage.
Another accused conspirator, Morton Sobell, was on vacation in Mexico City when both Rosenbergs were arrested. According to his memoir, On Doing Time, he tried to figure out a way to reach Europe without a passport. Abandoning that effort, he returned to Mexico City, where he claimed to have been kidnapped by members of the Mexican secret police and driven to the U.S. border, where he was arrested by U.S. forces. The government claimed Sobell was arrested by the Mexican police for bank robbery on August 16, 1950, and extradited the next day to the United States in Laredo, Texas. He was charged and tried with the Rosenbergs on one count of conspiracy to commit espionage.
In August 1950, a federal grand jury was convened to hear the Justice Department's case for indictments. The grand jury transcripts, made public in 2008, record that on August 3, Ethel Rosenberg's sister-in-law, Ruth Greenglass, testified that in November 1944, Julius Rosenberg recruited Ethel, and urged her to recruit David Greenglass (Ruth's husband) into a conspiracy to engage in atomic espionage for the Soviet Union:
[H]e proceeded to tell me that he knew that David was working on the atomic bomb.... that he felt there was not a direct exchange of scientific information among the Allies, and that it would be only fair for Russia to have the information, too... and he wanted to make that possible. He asked me if I would relate this to David and ask him to pass on information through Julius.
She added that Ethel participated in this effort, urging her to comply:
His wife said that I should at least relay the message, that she felt that David might be interested, he would want to do this.... [S]he urged me to talk to David. She felt that even if I was against it, I should at least discuss it with him and hear what he had to say.
On August 17, the grand jury returned an indictment alleging 11 overt acts. Both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were indicted, as were David Greenglass and Anatoli Yakovlev.
Trial and conviction
The trial of the Rosenbergs and Sobell began on March 6, 1951. The judge was Irving Kaufman. The prosecutor was Irving Saypol, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The attorney for the Rosenbergs was Emanuel Hirsch Bloch.The prosecution's primary witness, David Greenglass, stated that his sister Ethel typed notes containing U.S. nuclear secrets in the Rosenberg apartment in September 1945. He also testified that he turned over to Julius Rosenberg a sketch of the cross-section of an implosion-type atom bomb (the "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, as opposed to a bomb with the "gun method" triggering device as used in the "Little Boy" bomb dropped on Hiroshima). The notes allegedly typed by Ethel apparently contained little that was relevant to the Soviet atomic bomb project and some suggest Ethel was indicted along with Julius so that the prosecution could use her to pressure Julius into giving up the names of others who were involved. However, neither Julius nor Ethel Rosenberg named anyone else and during testimony each asserted their right under the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment to not incriminate themselves whenever asked about involvement in the Communist Party or with its members. The then Deputy Attorney General of the United States William P. Rogers, when later asked about the failure of the indictment of Ethel to extract a full confession from Julius, reportedly said, "She called our bluff."
The Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and on April 5 were sentenced to death by Judge Irving Kaufman under Section 2 of the Espionage Act of 1917, 50 U.S. Code 32 (now 18 U.S. Code 794), which prohibits transmitting or attempting to transmit to a foreign government information "relating to the national defense." The conviction helped to fuel Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens. While their devotion to the Communist cause was well documented, the Rosenbergs denied the espionage charges even as they faced the electric chair.
The Rosenbergs were the only two American civilians to be executed for espionage-related activity during the Cold War.In imposing the death penalty, Kaufman noted that he held them responsible not only for espionage but also for the deaths of the Korean War:
I consider your crime worse than murder... I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-Bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason. Indeed, by your betrayal you undoubtedly have altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country. No one can say that we do not live in a constant state of tension. We have evidence of your treachery all around us every day for the civilian defense activities throughout the nation are aimed at preparing us for an atom bomb attack.
After the publication of an investigative series in The National Guardian and the formation of the National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case, some Americans came to believe both Rosenbergs were innocent or received too harsh a punishment, and a grassroots campaign was started to try to stop the couple's execution. Between the trial and the executions there were widespread protests and claims of antisemitism; the charges of antisemitism were widely believed abroad, but not among the vast majority in the United States, where the Rosenbergs did not receive any support from mainstream Jewish organizations nor from the American Civil Liberties Union; the ACLU would not acknowledge any violations of civil liberties.
Marxist Nobel-Prize-winning existentialist philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre called the trial "a legal lynching which smears with blood a whole nation. By killing the Rosenbergs, you have quite simply tried to halt the progress of science by human sacrifice. Magic, witch-hunts, autos-da-fé, sacrifices – we are here getting to the point: your country is sick with fear... you are afraid of the shadow of your own bomb." Others, including non-Communists such as Jean Cocteau, Albert Einstein and Nobel-Prize-winning physical chemist Harold Urey, as well as Communists or left-leaning artists such as Nelson Algren, Bertolt Brecht, Dashiell Hammett, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, protested the position of the American government in what the French termed America's Dreyfus affair. In May 1951, Pablo Picasso wrote for the communist French newspaper L’Humanité, "The hours count. The minutes count. Do not let this crime against humanity take place." The all-black labor union International Longshoremen’s Association Local 968 stopped working for a day in protest. Cinema artists such as Fritz Lang registered their protest.Pope Pius XII appealed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower to spare the couple, but Eisenhower refused on February 11, 1953, and all other appeals were also unsuccessful.
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, investigated how much the Soviet spy ring helped the USSR to build their bomb. In 1945, Moynihan found, physicist Hans Bethe estimated that the Soviets would be able to build their own bomb in five years. “Thanks to information provided by their agents,” Moynihan concluded in his book Secrecy, they did it in four. That was the edge that espionage gave them: one year.”
Eyewitness testimony (as given by a newsreel report featured in the 1982 documentary film The Atomic Cafe) describes the circumstances of the Rosenbergs' death, noting that while Julius Rosenberg died after the first electric shock, his wife did not. After the normal course of three electric shocks, attendants removed the strapping and other equipment only to have doctors determine that Mrs. Rosenberg had not yet died (her heart was still beating). Two more electric shocks were applied, and at conclusion eyewitnesses reported, Bob Considine among them, that smoke rose from her head in the chamber.
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were buried at Wellwood Cemetery in Pinelawn, New York.
Roy Marcus Cohn (February 20, 1927 – August 2, 1986) was an American attorney who became famous during Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations into Communist activity in the United States during the Second Red Scare. Cohn gained special prominence during the Army–McCarthy hearings. He was also an important member of the U.S. Department of Justice's prosecution team at the espionage trials of Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
Born to a non-observant Jewish family in The Bronx, New York City, Cohn was the only child of Dora (née Marcus; 1892–1967) and Judge Albert C. Cohn (1885–1959), who was influential in Democratic Party politics. His great-uncle was Joshua Lionel Cowen, the founder and longtime owner of Lionel, the toy trains manufacturer. He lived in his parents' home until his mother's death, after which he lived in New York, the District of Columbia, and Greenwich, Connecticut.
After attending Horace Mann School and the Fieldston School, and completing studies at Columbia College in 1946, Cohn graduated from Columbia Law School at the age of 20. He had to wait until his 21st birthday to be admitted to the bar, and used his family connections to obtain a position in the office of United States Attorney Irving Saypol in Manhattan the day he was admitted.
Although he registered as a Democrat, Cohn supported most of the Republican presidents of his time and Republicans in major offices across New York.
The Rosenberg Trial
Cohn played a prominent role in the 1951 espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Cohn's direct examination of Ethel's brother, David Greenglass, produced testimony that was central to the Rosenbergs' conviction and subsequent execution. Greenglass testified that he had given the Rosenbergs classified documents from the Manhattan Project which had been stolen by Klaus Fuchs. Greenglass would later admit that he intentionally lied at the trial in order "to protect himself and his wife, Ruth, and that he was encouraged by the prosecution to do so." Cohn always took great pride in the Rosenberg verdict, and claimed to have played an even greater part than his public role: He said in his autobiography that his own influence had led to both Saypol and Judge Irving Kaufman being appointed to the case. He further said that Kaufman imposed the death penalty based on his personal recommendation. These ex parte discussions between a prosecutor and a judge outside the courtroom were improper.
Work with Joseph McCarthy
The Rosenberg trial brought the 24-year-old Cohn to the attention of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director J. Edgar Hoover, who recommended him to Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy hired Cohn as his chief counsel, choosing him over Robert Kennedy, reportedly in part to avoid accusations of an anti-Semitic motivation for the investigations. Cohn assisted McCarthy's work for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, becoming known for his aggressive questioning of suspected Communists. Cohn preferred not to hold hearings in open forums. This mixed well with McCarthy's preference for holding "executive sessions" and "off-the-record" sessions away from the Capitol in order to minimize public scrutiny and to question witnesses with relative impunity. Cohn was given free rein in pursuit of many investigations, with McCarthy joining in only for the more publicized sessions.
Cohn invited his friend G. David Schine, an anti-communist propagandist, to join McCarthy's staff as a consultant. When Schine was drafted into the army in 1953, Cohn made repeated and extensive efforts to procure special treatment for Schine. He contacted military officials from the Secretary of the Army down to Schine's company commander, and demanded that Schine be given light duties, extra leave, and exemption from overseas assignment. At one point, Cohn is reported to have threatened to "wreck the Army" if his demands were not met. This conflict, along with McCarthy's accusations of Communists in the defense department, led to the Army–McCarthy hearings of 1954, in which among other developments the Army charged Cohn and McCarthy with using improper pressure on Schine's behalf, while McCarthy and Cohn counter-charged that the Army was holding Schine "hostage" in an attempt to squelch McCarthy's investigations into Communists in the Army. During the hearings, a photograph of Schine was introduced, and Joseph N. Welch, the Army's attorney in the hearings, accused Cohn of doctoring the image to show Schine alone with Army Secretary Robert Stevens. Although the findings of the hearings blamed Cohn rather than McCarthy, they are widely considered an important element of McCarthy's disgrace. After the Army–McCarthy hearings, Cohn resigned from McCarthy's staff and went into private practice.
After leaving McCarthy, Cohn had a 30-year career as an attorney in New York City. His clients included Donald Trump, Mafia figures Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante, and John Gotti, Studio 54 owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Texas financier and philanthropist Shearn Moody, Jr. and the New York Yankees baseball club. He was known for his active social life, charitable giving, and combative personality. In the early 1960s he became a member of the John Birch Society and a principal figure in the Western Goals Foundation. He maintained close ties in conservative political circles, serving as an informal advisor to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Federal investigations during the 1970s and 1980s charged Cohn three times with professional misconduct, including perjury and witness tampering.He was accused in New York of financial improprieties related to city contracts and private investments. He was never convicted of any charge. In 1986, a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court disbarred Cohn for unethical and unprofessional conduct, including misappropriation of clients' funds, lying on a bar application, and pressuring a client to amend his will. In this case in 1975, Cohn entered the hospital room of a dying and comatose Lewis Rosenstiel, the multi-millionaire founder of Schenley Industries, forced a pen to his hand and lifted it to the will in an attempt to make himself and Cathy Frank—Rosenstiel's granddaughter—beneficiaries. The resulting marks were determined in court to be indecipherable and in no way a valid signature. He lost his law license during the last month of his life. At that time, National Review senior editor Jeffrey Hart referred to him as "an ice-cold sleaze."
Roy Cohn allegedly spent several decades living a discreet life as a closeted gay man. When he brought on Schine as chief consultant, speculation arose that Schine and Cohn had a sexual relationship, although some historians have more recently concluded the friendship was platonic. During the Army–McCarthy hearings, Cohn denied having any "special interest" in Schine or being bound to him "closer than to the ordinary friend." Joseph Welch, the Army's attorney in the hearings, made an apparent reference to Cohn's homosexuality. After asking a witness if a photo entered as evidence "came from a pixie," he defined "pixie" for McCarthy as "a close relative of a fairy." Fairy was, and is, a derogatory term for a gay man. Pixie was also a brand name for a line of cheap cameras. The people at the hearing recognized the allusion and found it amusing; Cohn later called the remark "malicious," "wicked," and "indecent.” Cohn and McCarthy targeted many government officials and cultural figures not only for suspected Communist sympathies, but also for alleged homosexuality.
In 1984, Cohn was diagnosed with AIDS and attempted to keep his condition secret while receiving experimental drug treatment. He participated in clinical trials of AZT, a drug initially synthesized to treat cancer, but later developed as the first anti-HIV agent for AIDS patients. He insisted to his dying day that his disease was liver cancer. He died on August 2, 1986 in Bethesda, Maryland, of complications from AIDS at the age of 59. According to Republican political consultant Roger Stone, for whom Cohn was a role model, Cohn's "absolute goal was to die completely broke and owing millions to the IRS. He succeeded in that." He was buried in Union Field Cemetery in Queens, New York.