Sketches of the Rosenbergs by Pablo Picasso
Fifty five years after the execution of their parents as convicted nuclear spies, the sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg share their views on that dark period in American history known as the Cold War… a must read.
Also see The New McCarthyism….

The essential lessons of the Rosenberg case

The couple’s sons say those in power manufactured evidence and targeted their parents, making them the focus of the public’s Cold War fear and anger.
By Michael Meeropol and Robert Meeropol
October 5, 2008
We are the sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. We were young children — 10 and 6 years old, respectively — when our parents were put to death in the electric chair at Sing Sing for passing the secret of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.

For many years after that, we believed our parents to be wholly innocent of the charges against them. But over the years, and especially as further evidence became available at the end of the Cold War, we began to question that belief.

Now, 55 years after their execution, two recent revelations in our parents’ case have again rekindled fierce debate about their culpability. But in our opinion, these disclosures — the release of our aunt’s sworn statements to a grand jury and a surprise new admission by our parents’ codefendant — have obscured both the essence and the essential lessons of the Rosenberg case.

Many Americans now living were not born when our parents stood trial in 1951 for conspiracy to commit espionage, so they may not understand why this case remains one of our nation’s most sensational courtroom dramas. The reason is that, at the height of the Cold War, two people were executed for allegedly giving the secret of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.

Viewed through the lens of 1950s America, it appeared to many that the Rosenbergs had given our archenemy the means to destroy our nation. The trial judge justified the death sentences by pronouncing that our parents made it possible for the Soviets to build their bomb earlier than expected, causing the Korean War and the deaths of thousands of American soldiers. “I consider your crime worse than murder,” said the judge as he sentenced our parents to death. “Plain deliberate contemplated murder is dwarfed in magnitude by comparison with the crime you have committed.”

But was that true? Had they in fact passed the so-called secret of the atomic bomb to the Russians? We have acknowledged for a long time the possibility that our father may have engaged in non-atomic espionage. The recent statement by our parents’ codefendant, Morton Sobell, confirms exactly that, and several weeks ago we stated publicly for the first time that we now believe that our father did, in fact, participate in passing along military information.

But Sobell’s recent admission sheds no light on whether our father in fact stole the secret of the atomic bomb, the crime for which he was executed. To this day, there is no credible evidence that he participated in obtaining or passing on any such secret.

In contrast, the newly released grand jury transcript does provide interesting new information about the case.

At the start of the investigation against our parents, David and Ruth Greenglass, our mother’s brother and sister-in-law, confessed to being part of an atomic spy ring and cooperated with the prosecution in exchange for no charges being brought against Ruth and a comparatively light sentence for David.

Ruth’s trial testimony provided the one key piece of evidence that led to our mother’s conviction and subsequent execution. She testified at trial that our mother typed up notes that contained the “secret” of the atomic bomb, provided, supposedly, by David, a U.S. Army sergeant with only a high school education, who was assigned as a machinist to the Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

However, the newly released transcript reveals that Ruth Greenglass’ grand jury testimony included nothing about our mother typing any espionage notes. The only notes mentioned in Ruth’s testimony were ones she wrote herself, which described the buildings at Los Alamos, not the atomic bomb.

It was not until February 1951, months after her grand jury testimony, that Ruth gave a new statement in which she reported (we would say “invented”), for the first time, the allegation that our mother had typed David’s handwritten notes describing the atomic bomb. Confronted with Ruth’s revisions, David Greenglass then contradicted his earlier statement to the FBI in which he had denied our mother’s participation in espionage activities. Subsequently, David and Ruth both testified at the trial that our mother had typed notes about the secret of the atomic bomb.

In another stunning discrepancy, there is no mention in Ruth’s grand jury testimony of an alleged meeting described by David and Ruth at the trial, during which David supposedly handed over the “secret of the atom bomb sketch” — trial Exhibit 8 — to Julius. Exhibit 8 was the main evidence for the government’s contention that Julius successfully stole such a secret. If there is no mention of the meeting in David’s grand jury testimony (which has yet to be released but which is essential to obtain), the core of the government’s case against both of our parents will be dealt a crippling blow.

Some commentators have, in essence, said that neither this lack of evidence nor these inconsistencies matter. “The Rosenbergs were Soviet spies, and not minor ones either,” wrote Ronald Radosh in these pages on Sept. 17.

Evidently, in Radosh’s eyes, our mother remains a spy even though the new information indicates that the evidence against her was fabricated, and our father succeeded in passing vitally important data even though there is no clear proof to this day of the value of the military/industrial information that he, Sobell or others transmitted.

Radosh’s arguments also divert attention from the most important problem of all: The U.S. government executed two people for stealing the secret of the atomic bomb — a crime it knew they did not commit.

The central lesson of this episode is that our government abused its power in dangerous ways that remain relevant today. Those in power targeted our parents, making them the focus of the public’s Cold War-era fear and anger. They manufactured testimony and evidence. They arrested our mother simply as leverage to get our father to cooperate.

They used the ultimate weapon — the threat of death — to try to extort a confession. They created the myth that there was a key “secret” of the atomic bomb, and then devised a strategy to make it appear that our father had sought and passed on that “secret.” They executed our father when he refused to collaborate in this lie. They executed our mother as well, even though they knew that she was not an active participant in any espionage activities.

This case provides a crucial warning about the tendencies of our government to manufacture and exploit public fear, to trample civil rights and to manipulate judicial proceedings. In our current political climate, the targets being vilified have changed, but the tactics of those in power remain much the same.

Michael Meeropol is chairman of the economics department at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. Robert Meeropol is the founder and executive director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children (



  1. Maurice said,

    October 6, 2008 at 00:02

    “The central lesson of this episode is that our government abused its power in dangerous ways that remain relevant today.” Relevant today indeed. Much like Cold War hysteria sent the Rosenbergs to the chair, ruined a lot of careers and unleashed the military-industrial-complex juggernaut, post 9/11 hysteria has also spawned government abuses (WMD lies, CIA renditions program, etc.).

  2. Neil said,

    October 6, 2008 at 01:18

    Many people are thinking it may be best just to level the US and start again. We can ‘reclaim it’ after it’s been ‘sterlized’ of all the nazi-hood-ness.

  3. jwlq said,

    October 6, 2008 at 02:56

    The precedent of jewish/Israeli spying and betrayal of the USA is long indeed, and this was one of the very few times they ever had to pay a price for it. USS Liberty? A free ride. Art students spy ring? Nothing. The JDL/ADL spying on Americans? Assistance from the FBI. Jonathan Pollard? Considered a martyr in Israel. AIPAC spy case with Rosen and Franklin? No trial will ever come to court. There are plenty of others, so pardon me if it seems there was the same kind of justice here that the Israelis later administered on a regular basis to thousands of Palestinians. Except that the Palestinians dont even get a trial, just summary targeted execution.

  4. Larry said,

    October 6, 2008 at 03:15

    Then, just as now, people are easily manipulated. It should be apparent that anything “they” (meaning both the so-called government and their propaganda arm the MSM) push us to believe is almost certainly a lie.
    People forget that the Soviets were our “allies” during WWII and many people who lived through economic times like we’re about to face were pretty disenchanted with Capitalism. Many felt that keeping the USSR on an “even footing” with the West was a good idea.
    Despite the obvious horrors of the Soviet Union we should not have to look too far afield to see equally horrifying institutions taking shape right before our eyes.
    Those who are painted as “traitors” by the makers of orthodoxy may be seen by more objective observers as “patriots”. It’s the old “one man’s freedom-fighter is another man’s terrorist” scenario.
    I didn’t know the Rosenbergs and I couldn’t judge them. I do however, know that taken in the context of the time when the event took place it’s obvious that they were made patsies by those selling a “cold-war” agenda.

  5. Nancy said,

    October 6, 2008 at 03:17

    I read Michael and Robert’s book many years ago…”We Are Your Sons”…and could not finish it because it broke my heart. My dear friend, Douglas Redefer, introduced the book to me.

    We discussed what happened during the 1950’s that could bring about such a tragic and nightmarish period in our history.

    I fear that we are in the same state of mind today and I hope that people will remember the consequences of such a rush to condemn.

  6. Denis said,

    October 6, 2008 at 05:39

    Records of the Rosenberg Grand Jury Transcriptsontains the voices of an earlier American age emerged fresh and harsh in more than 900 pages of secret grand-jury testimony from the defining espionage case of the Cold War and can be found at

  7. Easterling said,

    October 6, 2008 at 06:11

    Just imagine if the AIPAC-Bu$hista puppet regime and the people who control them were the ONLY ‘nuclur’ power in the world? This is a thought to horrible to contemplate.

  8. TW said,

    October 6, 2008 at 07:11

    Michael and/or Robert — please contact me via my email. I’ve always felt that your mother was innocent, and used as a tool to secure the conviction of your father who, while recent revelations may have revealed that he was guilty of passing some secrets to the Soviets, never gave them any useful information regarding the atomic bomb. Their entire case was a prime example of American Paranoia 50s style — not at all unlike what we’re experiencing now, in which people of the wrong religion suffer for the crimes of various governments.

    I’m also very interested in your adoptive parents’ story, as I’m working on a play which involves the Rosenbergs, the Meeropols, and other figures of 20th Century American History. I want to get it right, and I would hope that you would be willing to help me do that.

  9. swalker said,

    October 6, 2008 at 09:34

    Moving and fascinating.

    Another case that highlights why, in my opinion, the death penalty is utterly inhuman.

    A few questions spring to mind.

    Taking the authors’ conclusion as read, the Rosenbergs were framed for crimes they didn’t commit. If so, why and by whom?

    Were they patsies? Who benefitted from their demise?

    I understand there was general ‘Cold War Paranoia’ at the time and pressure for scapegots. Even so, to frame people is a deliberate activity. It doesn’t occur by accident. Someone must arrange it. Their real motivation is not always obvious.

    Who did transmit secrets of the US atomic weapons program to the Russians? How crucial were they? Are these things well known?

  10. White Rose said,

    October 6, 2008 at 10:07

    Whoever gave the nuclear secrets to the Russians, presuming the Russians did not create their own nuclear technology, deserves a medal.
    The cold war and MAD kept the peace for many years.
    It has been since the collapse of the Soviet Union that we have seen the real bloodshed and abuses of power. American murder and American abuses.
    A standoff and a multipolar planet kept the American excesses at bay. We have since seen just what a murderous, lying, bloodletting killing machine the United States is once unrestrained and unipolar.
    I think as a nation it is far worse than anyone could have imagined even ten years ago and sinking downhill into utter abhorrence so fast, its breathtaking .
    I am delighted to hear the Russians are rearming and spreading their wings. It is the only protection most of us on the planet have aginst the most evil ’empire’ the world has witnessed and suffered from both militarily and economically. American violence and greed knows no bounds.

  11. scarlett said,

    October 6, 2008 at 12:24

    I’m sorry but I am going to have to say the unpopular here. Those who were communists during the time when the USSR was considered an evil have now become the neo-conservatives of the USA. It is the same people. I think that communism was something to fear. Not because of what the ideology professed but rather because of the motives of the people behind it. The ideology of capitalism is not the evil. It is those who are using that and distorting it for their own purposes that are the problem.

    And, yes, they may not have actually passed atomic secrets. But let us not forget that they were passing military information. Willingly. They weren’t duped into passing it. They did so of their own accord. That still makes them traitors. I’m not saying that the death penalty was warranted. But they deserved punishment. And, I personally believe that they were sacrificed so that the truth would never come out. It is akin to executing the wise guy and letting the mob boss go free.

  12. October 6, 2008 at 15:17

    The atmosphere that permitted an innocent women to be used as a means of psychological blackmail against her husband in order to illicit a confession is the same that exists today; it is the same atmosphere that prompts a president to dismiss the constitution as inconvenient, to erode the right of habeas corpus – an essential protection enjoyed since 1215, long before the establishment of the Republic. It is an atmosphere that exists in a place called “Gitmo”, where people are held for years without having charges brought against them, without having a trial, all for the supposition of having done something wrong.

    What could Ethel Rosenberg have confessed to, or what could she have told the prosecutors in order to save her own life? Do you not imagine for an instant that this mother of young children would not have moved a mountain in order to be reunited with her beloved children? Alas, one cannot confess to what one has not done; having not passed information relating to atomic secrets there was nothing for her to say, she could not provide anything to satisfy those who were intent on seeing her strung up like an animal. She had been executed before she had even walked into the courtroom, just as Julius had been; two innocent Americans thrown under the bus while the truth was conveniently dismissed.

    It was far easier to convict the Rosenberg’s and execute them (to prevent them from protesting their innocence) in order to demonstrate that the government had “done something” – they had sealed up a critical security leak, albeit a bit late in regards to the atomic secrets, but no more information would be seeping out through that conduit now.

    The truth, alas, was far different than that fairy tale portrayed by the government: spies from within the government – the CIA, FBI, NSA and other alphabet organizations – not to mention military intelligence from the Navy and other branches – provided the Soviets with a wealth of information through to the end of the 1980’s … and probably to this day with other countries, and Russia. Only someone that is intentionally ignoring the truth will be unable to see the inherent idiocy in the Rosenberg case and the blatant politicizing on the part of the government.

    The most likely reason the prosecution of the Rosenberg’s turned out the way it did was to protect the real spies – someone that the government was not prepared to have revealed just yet, for whatever reason, perhaps indicating an individual working as a double agent (certainly not unheard of in the 1950’s). Whatever the reason, we can see that the tactics of the government then, as today, rely on deceit and the overt manipulation of the legal system in order to achieve their goals: beware lest you be drawn in yourself.
    If you want change in U.S. politics, ask yourself this: can you really trust a candidate who shows up to a debate and then refuses to answer the questions, choosing instead to deliver her stump speech? Gov. Palin and John McCain represent the type of political atmosphere that led to the persecution of the Rosenberg’s, that led to the murder of habeas corpus, that led to the near collapse of the U.S. market due to the dismantling of the regulations that monitored the situations and worked to prevent the current situation. If you want more of this … McCain’s your man … you should also try a bit of crack, ’cause a bit can’t hurt, right?

  13. Dave said,

    October 6, 2008 at 16:25

    Although I do have sympathy for you two having to live with those crimes that your parents were convicted of in a court of law,I also hope that you do not have 1% of the perfidy that your parents had.
    Please do not spend your efforts attempting to clear their names amongst people who are too young to remember the details of the case(more perfidy?).
    Instead,why don’t you work on exposing the continuing policy of Israeli’s and their sympathizers that currently spy on our nation and maybe also you could attempt to get these people to adapt to and blend with their host country and not constantly try to undermine it.
    It will take decades,but anti-Semitism will subside if enough of you focus on this issue.

  14. Mark said,

    October 6, 2008 at 16:52

    The following are excerpts from the book The Implosion Conspiracy, a very sympathetic (to the Rosenbergs) account of the trial, appeal and execution by the famous trial lawyer Louis Nizer. Page numbers are from the paperback edition.

    Introduction, p. 12
    My objective was to know every inch of the thousands of pages of the record, as if I were going to write the briefs; and every word and authority in the briefs, as if I were going to argue the appeals; and every word of the many judicial opinions, as if I were going to write a critique for a law review; and every book I could find for or against the verdict, as if I were going to review each one for the Sunday Times; and every newspaper reference I could find, as if I were an editor preparing an editorial; and every person I could find who touched their lives or deaths, as if I were a reporter on a Pulitzer-Prize mission.

    Chapter 36, p. 439 (He refers to the following.)
    … how meticulously every conceivable point, legal and factual, raised by the Rosenbergs and Sobell [another defendant, he got 30 years], was examined; how painstakingly it was researched; how diligently and profoundly it was decided; and how fully it was expounded so that it could be the subject of review and criticism.

    Chapter 54, p. 536
    It is the jury which “sizes up” the witnesses, which the appellate judges do not see. Judge Frank wrote:
    [start indent] The jury believed the evidence unfavorable to the defendants. On that assumption, the evidence to sustain the verdict is more than ample. [end indent]
    So I find it too.
    [He goes on to say he believes the death penalty, as opposed to prison, was unfortunate.]

    The Rosenbergs were guilty as charged. Loyal to Stalin’s Soviet Union, traitors to America – they deserved their sentence. (In practice I’d rather have had them sentenced to life in prison without parole.) Gold got 30 years, Greenglass 15, and Fuchs 14 – when they ought to have shared the Rosenbergs’ fate.

    These traitors were nutters too. Take Ethel R., who proclaimed in prison: “I am made of the stuff of the early pioneers, and in my veins beats the blood of the Maccabees!” (quoted p. 464) – the Maccabees being a Jewish movement that had won independence from some ancient Greek dynasty.

    The sickening self-righteousness of these traitors is nothing new to evil. Othello’s Iago is strictly a character of fiction.

  15. October 7, 2008 at 04:34

    And perhaps we have all forgitten Koval , the most esteemed jewish American Spy who recently recieved honor for the Great information and Nuclear techno,ogy he gave to the Soviets from is position in the USA militar Nuke facilities.

    “Atomic spies are old stuff. But historians say Dr. Koval, who died in his 90s last year in Moscow and whose name is just coming to light publicly, was probably one of the most important spies of the 20th century.

    On Nov. 2, the Kremlin startled Western scholars by announcing that President Vladimir V. Putin had posthumously given the highest Russian award to a Soviet agent who penetrated the Manhattan Project to build the atom bomb.”

    Add to that the numerous spies with dual loyalties it is amazing (or perhaps NOT) that the US permits Duals in it’s military at all, let alone as head of the Airforce (now ) and HOmeland Security etc. Recently a Jewish American submariner passed Tomohawk secrets after being outraged at the Sub monitoring Israel. Go figure. The Fifth Column was always there . 911 is the Final Outcome. Ruination of everykind is the final result.

  16. October 7, 2008 at 13:40

    I find it impossible to imagine that traitors could come out of the U.S. military … having gone through such intensive indoctrination and training into the “American way”, these brave young men are obviously the “right stuff” – specially selected to protect the American people, the constitution, and to protect the American way of life from all enemies, both foreign and domestic.

    Of course, there was Lee Harvey Oswald … an ex-marine … and Timothy McVeigh … and Charles Whitman who killed 14 and wounded 31 from his perch from the observation deck of the administration building of the University of Texas at Austin.

    Aside from these isolated cases … well, then there’s the 420,000 hits that come up when you type in the search “Unites States military misconduct” which yields a number of gems, including a former U.S. Marine captain facing 210 years for raping, torturing and sexually abusing girls in Cambodia, and another U.S. soldier pleading guilty to having killed four PRISONERS in Iraq.

    Paragons of virtue all, I’m sure … but otherwise, I can’t imagine anything bad coming out of an official arm of the government … they couldn’t possibly be doing something to protect their own agendas or their own deeply entrenched spies through the sacrifice of two people (the Rosenbergs) who meant absolutely nothing to them.

    If you don’t believe that something like this couldn’t happen to you today you are not only supremely naive, you have been living in a dream since 2001. The powers that the United States government has endowed themselves with through such things as the US PATRIOT Act and other extreme forms of legislative terrorism make it possible for anyone – U.S. citizens included – to be held (not arrested, detained) under any suspicion of terroristic activity … that could even include participating in online discussions that may be perceived as being “anti-government” or seditious in anyway. Beware – Echelon is listening and you have no idea who your real friends are … and that is exactly the way the government wants you living – in a perpetual state of paranoia. They want you looking over your shoulder, imagining that you are being watched, being followed by some “all-seeing” entity that can not only read your thoughts but know the intent of your every action – even before you know yourself.

    More innocent people will disappear into the bowels of this dangerous administration unless real change is called for – unless the people of the United States wake up and realize that there is only one way that they can slough off the cadaver that has been hanging around their neck for the past eight years – change will only come through ridding Washington of the Rovian nightmare that has been guiding the campaign of John McBush and Sarah McSame.

    The death of the Rosenbergs was an American tragedy that should never be allowed to be repeated – the only way to stop it is to end the use of Guantanimo Bay as the Bush administrations private gulag for anyone they want out of the way but are unable to bring charges against because of an annoying lack of evidence (the law can be so inconvenient sometimes).

    That’s all … if you don’t like it … too bad (hey, profnasty … which finger am I holding up?).

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