Monday, February 28, 2011

Note on the Rosenberg Case

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in Prison

On June 19, 1953 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed by means of electrocution for the crime of spying for the Soviet Union.1 At the time and later the case generated a great deal of heat and controversy. Many people thought that the Rosenbergs were victims of a government frame up.2 In fact as late as the 1990’s many still thought the Rosenbergs as innocent.3 For example Fred Inglis writes:

Evidence-conscious as we all are now we have to say solemnly at this juncture that we cannot know for sure that Greenglass’s story was all tarradiddle. But Greenglass was a known perjurer who was desperate to climb out of trouble; he was also an extremely low-level lens-grinder for the Los Alamos project. Julius Rosenberg was an honest sap. At the trial Rosenberg doggedly, ingenuously said that he felt the Soviets had made life better for the underdog, had restored the fabric of the country, had helped destroy the “Hitler beast” who destroyed Jewry.

Alger Hiss, like the Rosenbergs, still stands in an obscure position between innocence and guilt in the case history of American law.4
Now Fred Inglis is perfectly aware of Radosh and Milton’s book and refers to it positively what he neglects to mention is that Radosh & Milton built up a truly formidable case for the guilt of the Rosenbergs. Fred Inglis neglects to tell his readers that the guilt of the Rosenbergs is vastly more likely than their innocence. Fred Inglis’ comment about Julius being an “honest sap”, is risible and an indication of a desperate desire to, despite the evidence, to find the Rosenbergs innocent.

Not surprisingly the Rosenbergs two sons believed in their parent’s innocence and were quite vocal and argumentative about it.5

In the 1990’s the battle over the Rosenberg case was finally settled, (and hopefully its use as an ideological battle was finally over), by the following revelations.

First was the publication of parts of Khrushchev’s memoirs that had not been published earlier in which Khrushchev reveals that he overheard Molotov tell Stalin that they got crucial atomic bomb information from the Rosenbergs.6

Later in 1995 was the release of the long secret Venona documents. These were transcriptions / translations of secret Russian cables by American code breakers. What they revealed was indisputable evidence that Julius Rosenberg was in fact head of a spy ring. In the cable’s Julius is referred to by the code name “Antenna” at first and later as “Liberal”. Julius is never referred to by his real name. So how do we know it is him? Well because the Soviets were in the habit of when mentioning someone, who might spy for them for the first time to give their actual name. Thus Ruth Greenglass, Julius’ sister-in-law, is described in a cable sent in September 1944 with the words:

“… the wife of his wife’s brother”7

This is only one of many, many other cables among the Venona cables that point to Julius Rosenberg. What the cables also reveal is that the Communist party of the USA was indeed used by the Soviets, rather heavily, to recruit spies with the knowledge of those heading the party.8

Further the cables revealed both the extent and nature of the spy work that Julius was involved with, including requests for photographic equipment in order to engage in further espionage.9

These revelations caused the Schneirs who had touted the most respectable argument for the Rosenbergs innocence to abandon the case and admit that the Rosenbergs had in fact been spies.10

Further putting in the screws was Alexander Fekisov a member of the Soviet Secret services who ran spying operations in the USA for the Russians. He claimed that Julius worked for him and provided him with much information including atomic information.11

Finally Morton Sobell who had been a peripheral member of Julius’ spy ring finally came clean and admitted to having been recruited as a spy by Julius. This revelation was enough to convince even Ethel and Julius’ two sons that their parents had been involved in spying for the Soviets.12

At another time I might discuss other aspects of the case, such as the fairness of the death sentence and the political uses of the case. However it is now clear that after more than 50 years it is indisputable that the Rosenbergs were spies.

1. Radosh, Ronald, Milton, Joyce, The Rosenberg File, Second Edition, Yale University Press, New Haven CONN, 1998, pp. 413-419. (First Edition 1983)

2. The best presentation of this position is Schneir, Walter, Schneir, Miriam, Invitation to an Inquest, Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1973. There is a 1983 edition from Pantheon Books New York.

3. For example Michael Parent who wrote books like Blackshirts and Reds, Citylight Books, New York, 1997. In some respects Michael Parenti is an interesting writer in others he is frankly too much of the fellow traveller type who is an apologist for terror by favoured states. The fact that he wrote and published his belief in the Rosenberg’s innocence after the various revelations of the early 1990’s, including the up dated edition of Khrushchev’s memoirs (Published 1990). The Venona releases, (released in 1995) which prove indisputably that the Rosenbergs were involved in spying, and finally the fact that Walter and Miriam Schneir finally admitted that the Rosenbergs had been involved in spying in 1995. It is ironically that Michael Parenti uses the Schneirs’ book in a footnote to his reference as proof the Rosenbergs were innocent; this is two years after the Schneirs’ had abandoned the claim that the Rosenbergs were innocent! All of that reveals either poor research skills or a mind very resistant to new facts. (Note I don’t remember exactly what book Parenti wrote this thought in. I will check to see if the reference is to this book by Parenti or another of his books)

4. Inglis, Fred, The Cruel Peace, Basic Books, New York, 1991, pp. 114, 119.

5. Robert, Meeropel, Michael, Meeropel, We Are Your Sons: The Legacy of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Second Edition, University of Illinois Press, 1986.

6. Khrushchev, Nikita, Khrushchev Remembers: The Glasnost Tapes, Little Brown, New York, 1990, pp. 193-194.

7. Radosh et al, quoted p. xvi.

8. IBID, pp. xv-xxi.

9. IBID.

10. Schneir, Walter, Schneir, Miriam, Cryptic Answers, The Nation, Aug. 14-21, 1995, pp. 152-153. When Radosh and Milton wrote in to say thanks for finally agreeing with us; the Schneirs were anything but gracious; instead they were petulant and petty.

11. Fekisov, Alexander, Kosti, Sergi, The Man Behind the Rosenbergs, Enigma Books, New York, 2001.

12. Roberts, Sam, Figure in Rosenberg Case Admits to Soviet Spying, New York Times, September 11, 2008. Here. See also Meeropol, Michael, and Meeropol, Robert, The Essential Lessons of the Rosenberg Case, Los Angles Times, October, 5, 2008. Here.

Pierre Cloutier

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