Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Rosenberg Code

The Rosenbergs

On June 19th 1953 the Rosenberg’s, Julius and Ethel were executed. Still to the last claiming that they were innocent. We now know that those protests were hollow and false yet how and why the Rosenberg’s to the last proclaimed their innocence and convinced so many that they were so is a continuing mystery in many respects.

In two previous postings I looked at the Rosenberg case in which I outlined how the evidence now indicates well beyond a reasonable doubt that the Rosenberg’s were guilty and further that they were true believing Stalinists and that these Stalinists beliefs corrupted them both into a species of Orwellian doublethink.1 Here I will examine, briefly, some  of the letters that the Rosenberg’s wrote during their incarceration before their executions which reveal the truly “remarkable” Newspeak world of the Rosenberg’s and how a pernicious poisonous ideology corrupted them.2

Most of the letters are brim full of the Rosenberg’s love for each other and their children. They talk about the weather, what they are reading and so forth. It certainly makes them live and breath as a couple of complex, loving human beings. They frankly come across as attractive human beings. And reading the letters one can’t but be convinced that they are utterly sincere in proclaiming their innocence. Yet all their proclamations of innocence, their sincerely held avowals that their rights were violated and that they were victims of frame-up. That they were being attacked for political reasons and so on and so forth now faces one overwhelming problem. They were guilty as sin as the saying goes. How can one reconcile the patent sincerity of their repeated statements of innocence with the fact of their guilt?

One must think in terms of George Orwell’s 1984. One must think in terms of doublethink, newspeak and duckspeak and the memory hole. One must think in terms of Koester’s Darkness at Noon, with the “needs” of the party outweighing mere truth.

That being the case one must conclude that the Rosenberg’s in their letters were speaking in a special code that would only speak un-ambiguously to the insiders within the party in the know so to speak. Thus much of what the Rosenberg’s said in their writings could very easily be taken to be “harmless” and the idea that only a perverse reading could find coded Communist messages in them would be a satisfactory interpretation. In fact given commonsense and everyday reality the more sensible interpretation would be to assert that someone is reading stuff that isn’t there. However in this case the "perverse" reading is indeed the correct one.

Several authors shortly after the Rosenberg’s were executed did in fact assert that there were coded meanings in the Rosenberg’s letters and that when they said X they meant Y to those in the know.3 Such an interpretation had to rely on the notion the Rosenberg’s were guilty because on the face of it the letters were not incriminating and notions of coded meaning seemed to some extent far fetched.

However we now know that these interpreters were in fact correct. How do we know this? We know this because evidence coming to light since the Rosenberg’s executions as indisputably shown that they were guilty. And knowledge of that guilt will necessarily affect just how we evaluate and analyze the letters.

Of course not everything is settled. It appears for example that there was perjured evidence in the original trial and that Ethel’s involvement in spying was tangential and that she was charged as a way to bring pressure on her husband to confess. And one may quite rightly question aspects of the trial like the behavior of the Judge and Prosecutor. Still the fact of their guilt cannot be questioned however flawed the trial and the resulting, post-trial, media circus was.4

Thus statements by the Rosenberg’s in their letters claiming “innocence” must be evaluated in light of our knowledge of their guilt and it is here that we learn about Rosenberg code. Thus we get this comment from Julius:

I know I have a heavy responsibility, a duty to the people to contribute my all to the common struggle for peace and decency. But I have been held back because I feel inadequate to the task, for I want to be worthy of the faith and support of my fellow men.


The peculiar circumstances are these that two innocent people are condemned to death in a political frame up.5

Thus we get the proclamation that they are innocent from Julius and for the initiated the coded phrasing about the “duty” to “contribute” to the “common struggle for peace and decency”. Since the Rosenberg’s were not politically active for many years before their arrest how did they “contribute” to the “struggle”? Why by being spies of course.

Later Julius begins to outline that he thinks that the USA is run by corporations, trusts etc., that advance the cause of war-making and big business. He calls them the “fraternity brothers”. Thus he writes:

The people contributed generously, coins and dollar bills. The public was overwhelmingly in favor of the Republican Spanish cause. However, the fraternity brothers were on the side of Franco while we fought fascism. For this we are condemned with 42 more days left to live.6

Here we also get indications that the Rosenberg’s see themselves has political victims sacrificed by the wicked Capitalist “fraternity brothers”, for fighting Fascism. Of course fighting Fascism also involves spying for the Soviets. Julius says later:
No force on earth, no matter how reprehensible can prevent the people from working for peace even death cannot silence the cry of humanity for peace.
It is particularly heartwarming to us to hear of the participation of our American brothers and sisters in this noble work because, in a way, it destroys the purpose of the prosecution in our case to stifle the voice for peace. We are happy to join the millions of mankind in wishing you success in your deliberations.

For in the victory of your endeavors all the people ["s" CO at end of last word] benefit and we are vindicated.

Long live Peace Long live Liberty.7

Their American brothers and sisters are of course American Communists and the noble working for peace includes spying for the Soviets. For in Rosenberg code working for peace is spying for the Soviets and since their motives are pure their prosecution by definition is political. Julius wishes this work to continue.

In another letter Julius double downs and lies by insinuation, for the cause of course.

We never claimed to be communist & it was never proven we were communists. Even taking the meaning of what he says gives the lie to the government. The entire trial was full of our opinions on politics. Our activity for Spain. My opinions of the 2nd front. Our union activity and our talks with friends where we expressed progressive ideas.8

Julius insinuates that he and his wife were never communists although by the weasel language “it was never proven”, he manages to avoid denying it. Of course both of the Rosenberg’s were members of the Communist Party of the United States and insinuating otherwise is deceptive.

A statement of Julius’ position on the free press and his opinions on the USA being a Capitalist power are in the following long quote:

 Where do they stand on the cartels?

Are they fighting the policies of imperialism that up to date has been responsible for the shrunken bodies, the swollen bellies of children, poverty, disease and hunger, short stunted lives devoid of all but the most meager means to maintain body and soul much less the ability to raise the moral, mental and cultural standards of the colonial people? Are they supporting every move for their national liberation so that these men and women can determine for themselves their own form of government, can appropriate to themselves a larger share of their natural [partial word "resour" co, NWI] wealth and above all walk with human dignity as free people masters of  their own destiny? Or do they support the robber barons in their merciless exploitation, degradation and racist policy against the interests of these people. No amount of prettied up high sounding phrases about the need for raw materials, mineral wealth and strategic positions against the bogey man communism can justify imperialism in any form.

Where do they stand on peace and coexistence?

Are they fighting militarization, alliances with every fascist and reactionary regieme [sic], superweapons that are only of an offensive nature, jingoistic programs and bellicose statements that are made in the guise of national security while preparing and concentrating massive means of aggression? Are they supporting "agreements" that only mean surrender to the program of finance capital? Are their policies only based on anti-communist belligerent propaganda?

Where do they stand on the living standards of the people?9

Thus we can see that Julius viewed him and his wife has fighting “Imperialism” and their belief in peace and co-existence was of course a justification for spying. And of course by doing so they were fighting Fascism and reactionaries who “really” governed the USA.

That the Rosenberg’s viewed what happened to them as a gross miscarriage of justice is apparent in the letters. Where over and over again they complain about the how political and how unfair their trial and imprisonment was.10. Further that they were being attacked in order to disrupt and destroy efforts to ensure peace. These efforts to ensure peace of course included spying.11

Julius later castigates Judge Kaufman:

The judges [sic] sentencing speech included the following paragraph "Indeed the defendants Julius and Ethel Rosenberg placed their devotion to their cause above their own personal safety and were conscious that they were sacrificing their own children, should their misdeeds be detected all of which did not deter them from pursuing their cause[.] Love for their cause dominated their lives. It was even greater than love for their children."

What he said is not based on the record of the trial but is purely a fabrication of his own warped imagination and is an unmitigated lie.12

Despite Julius’ anger it appears Judge Kaufman was saying nothing less than the truth. For rather than tell the truth and save themselves they deliberately did not do so and became willing martyrs to the cause.

Julius also says:

In order to secure a conviction The [sic] prosecution and the judge violated our constitutional rights throughout the trial and allowed it to be dominated by inflammatory extraneous issues taking advantage of a prevalent atmosphere of war tension and anti-Soviet hysteria. The verdict could well be described as a triumph of political prejudice.13

Thus Julius complains about the trial and of course is indignant. Soviet abuses of course are ignored. Also Julius hints again that in the USA there is war hysteria being whipped up by the “fraternity brothers”. Of course Soviet involvement in these tensions are ignored for by definition the Soviet Union is working for peace and freedom.

Julius states regarding his children:

My lovely wife and I we shared everything together and gave our all to help our boys develop as healthy, socially conscious human beings, holding dear the principles of democracy, liberty and brotherhood.14

Of course democracy, liberty and brotherhood are coded Communist meanings. For according to the Communists only in those societies is there “true” democracy liberty and brotherhood. However these boiler plate phrases sound harmless enough but knowing that the Rosenbergs were guilty we know they are words signaling to the initiated their adherence to Communist principles.

Thus Julius asserts that:

I am sure we will never lend ourselves to be tools to implicate innocent people, to confess crimes we never did and to help fan the flames of hysteria and ["support" CO, NWI] help the ["gro" co, NWI] growing witch hunt.15

Thus Julius asserts again that he and his wife are political prisoners being held for political crimes. And assert that they will never name names including those guilty of spying. For by definition spying for the Soviets is not a crime. Besides it serves the cause to not name names.

Julius pats himself on the back and talks about being “true”:

We are just plain ordinary people like you and because the future belongs to your children and our children, we plain folks have a great job to do.

We find our senses keener and we are able to examin [sic "ourselves" CO, N2WI] our values and ourselves and determine our true worth. Our conscience is clear because we have led useful lives. We have been true to our vows to each other, to our responsibility to our children and to our single heartedness of purpose to work to make this a better world to live in and that can only be when there is peace.16

Julius says that their consciences are clear and the useful lives they had led and their work to “make this a better world” is their spying for the Soviets.

Julius also says:

All movements for decency and right start with a few, especially when it is against the tide. It requires hard work sacrifice and devotion to rigtheous [sic] principles to rally mankind behind this noble cause.17

Julius is talking about the cause of freeing them but at the same time he is also talking about the noble Communist cause and movement. Later Julius says:

I continued to integrate my social activities working for peace, for liberty and ["holding dear" CO) in the best tradition of American democracy.18

Of course working for peace etc., meant spying for Stalin. Since what was Julius doing after the war in terms of political activities? It appears there were no public ones so what he is referring to is spying.

Julius later on states that he cannot deny his principles:

Can I now deny all these truths
[N2WI] I know?
Can I deny the principles of democracy that are [N2WI] so much part of me? This I can never do. I cannot live a lie nor can I be like the Greenglasses and the Bentleys.329 My entire life and philosophy negates this and it is [NWI] obvious ["plain" CO, "clear" inserted then CO] that I could never commit the crime I stand convicted of[.] [a letter, either "t" or "f," is added, then CO] The plain fact is that we are completely innocent and we are confident we will prove that to the people[.]19

Behind the generic language Julius is declaring that he and his wife will die for Communism. For they cannot deny its principles. And since their motives were pure and the USA is ruled by a corrupt, warmongering group of “fraternity brothers” and fascists they, the Rosenberg’s, did not commit treason. For by definition spying for the Soviet Union is not treason.

One thing is certain; in that "brave, new world" that we may never see, it will be noted with shocked disbelief that in the barbaric year of 1952, ["when" CO] duplicity was the order of the day, and the august words "His Honor" came to mean, "Dishonor"!


This is what Ethel wrote when she found out the Rosenberg’s had lost an appeal. The self-righteousness and the hope that history will vindicate her and her husband. And the hope of a “brave new world” which of course is a Communist utopia like that of the USSR.

In another letter Ethel tells Julius to hold fast even unto death.

Aux Armes, citoyens! For myself, I want it fully known, that it is my unaltered judgment, my most steadfast understanding, that you must fear moderation only. Do not, I entreat you, you who hold in your massive, deathless hands, all of human bondage and human liberation, do not, for [NWI] all our children's sweet sakes, allow yourselves to be cajoled by blatant blandishments nor coerced by truculent threats, into abating your righteous anger! Shun like the plague and mercilessly expose the advocates of "sha sha" (a salty and derisive Yiddish teun for the "hush-hush" policy of appeasement), for they advocate only death!21

In other words do not confess. Hold to the true faith in Communism for you hold the fate of the world in your hands. So what is your death compared to that. Thus Ethel reiterates the true believing fanaticism of the Rosenberg’s in their Stalinist faith.

How terribly afraid of the truth they are! We two little people ["are" CO], even [NWI] when facing death, are strong in our innocence and confident of the justness of our cause.22

Their cause is Communism, which is of course not mentioned overtly instead they use words like ‘progressive”, but those in the know, know what is meant. They of course know they are innocent because spying for the Soviets is not a crime in their eyes. For as Julius says later:

I know that in time we will be vindicated but the suffering of the moment is the reality of our situation and it is very difficult to assuage pain from a deep hurt ["simply because" CO] even though we know we are right. That does not mean that we are any the less strong in our determination to win the fight for this just cause. For nothing can change the fact that in truth we are innocent.23

Again the reiteration of claims of innocence and the confidence they will be vindicated probably once the warmongering Imperialist Fascists are overthrown in America they will be vindicated when the revolution comes and the Stalinist utopia is erected in America. For again spying for the Soviets is no crime and any actual charges are politically motivated moves by the evil ruling class.

And one more example of Julius claiming  innocence:

It staggers the imagination to think that we could possibly endure such dire hardships which are greatly aggravated because we are completely innocent. Our determination to prove as you've so aptly ["put it" CO, NWI] stated before "the indestructibility of the human being" and to show the power of the dignity of the individual enables us to hold fast to our principles and withstand the mounting pressure.24

We are “innocent” but we will die for our principles, i.e., Communism.

And a final claim of innocence:

I must reassert, with all the emphasis I possess, that we are completely innocent.25

I have little doubt that Julius and Ethel were totally sincere in their claims to innocence because in their minds spying for the Soviet Union was working for peace, security and the benefit of all mankind and hence not treason.

Thus Ethel wrote the following poem for her two sons about why she and their father may die.

If We Die

You shall know, my sons, shall know
Why we leave the song unsung
The book unread the work undone
To lie beneath the sod.

Mourn no more, my sons, no more
Why the lies and smears were framed
The tears we shed, the hurt we bore
To all shall be proclaimed.

Earth shall smile, my sons, shall smile
And green above our resting place
The killing end, the world rejoice
In brotherhood and peace.

Work and build, my sons, and build
A monument to love and joy
To human worth, to faith we kept
For you, my sons, for you!26

Eventually Ethel tells her sons they will be vindicated and the Communist utopia established and she calls upon her sons to continue this glorious work. Meanwhile Ethel will see that she and her husband keep the, Communist, faith.

As for guiding principles we hear again from Julius the coded language that indicates to the knowing Stalinism / Communism.

The essence of our strenght [sic] is a solid premise based on truth of the laws of human ["and" CO] nature and social relations, a life devoted and dedicated to follow and enhance these always guided by the principles and a clear political perspective of where ["you" CO, NWI] we are heading.27

The laws referred to are the Stalinist / Communist laws of history and the Rosenberg’s are here saying that their actions have been guided by those laws, which tell them where things are going. And of course understanding those laws led the Rosenberg’s to logically spy for the Soviet Union. The truth is Communist ideology which is the bedrock of their faith.

Ethel again reiterates that she and her husband will die for the true faith:

…my husband and I shall die innocent before we lower ourselves to live guilty. And nobody, not even you, whom we continue to love and extol as our own true brother, can dictate terms to the Rosenbergs, who follow only the dictates of heart and soul, [NWI] truth and conscience, and the God-blessed love we bear our fellows!28

Although the mention of God in the above by a Communist is disconcerting, but then so is the Rosenberg’s participation in religious services etc., while imprisoned which probably was at least in part, part and parcel of the way to make themselves martyrs. What is striking is the stridency with which Ethel states they will not confess; they will to the end deny and go to their deaths as martyrs. The fellows I suspect are fellow Communists. Yes they will like good little minions die for the cause.

Julius states again:

We have been successful in arousing the conscience of the world by our adherence to principles and have made known the issues involved in this case ["the world public" CO, NWI] millions understand the political implications and that is the reason for their concern and their active support.29

Julius reiterates that:

We believe our legal execution has been ordained in order that we serve as scapegoats for ulterior political purposes of higher government policy.30

And of course when Ethel hears about the possibility that she might as a mother be spared she vehemently rejects the notion and states her determination to die or live only with her husband and not to violate their principles!

Be under no illusions, either, magnanimous sirs, that I shall besmirch and dishonor my marital vows and the felicity and integrity of the relationship we shared, to play the role of harlot to political procurers. My husband is innocent as I am myself and no power on earth shall divide us in life or in death. Trust me, I shall remain faithful; trust me, I shall not revile him!31

Thus does Ethel pour her scorn upon those who suggest she confess to save herself. She is determined to be vindicated or to die. Thus the depth of their true believer mentality is shown. So is their belief in their “innocence”. And Ethel like her husband will remain "faithful" to that unspoken ideal "Communism"!

In a later letter the Rosenberg's accuse those people who tried them of a conspiracy to destroy two “innocent” people and further to prepare the way for war and a “police state" in the USA.32 This of course shows their enduring belief that the trial was political that their actual guilt was not really guilt and that they were martyrs to the hope for the betterment of mankind and therefore doubly innocent. Further that their persecution was part of an effort to cause a war with the Soviet Union.

Here Julius talks about his life and career:

Well do we recall the last two decades, when first as young people and then as young parents, we participated as social beings with our fellowmen always working for the good of the community and for a better world. Considering our background it was natural that we were active unionists and devoted anti-fascists. Alert to happenings, we strove to contribute our share on the side of progress. In our views and in our actions we were two among the many who practiced the principles of democracy we held dear.33

The code words are there for the principles they held dear were not democracy but Communism. As for their actions which showed their adherence to principles it was their spying for the Soviet Union, which is what Julius means by "working" "for a better world". Again those who knew the code knew what the Rosenberg’s were really talking about. They did indeed contribute to the side of "progress", i. e., Communism / Stalinism by spying.

As the day of their execution approached Julius said:

Also we must hold fast to the truth, to the fact that we are innocent and have the courage of our convictions.34

And later:

It is we who have a conscience and deeest [sic] feelings that are forced to suffer the tortures of the damned, in order, to uphold our principles. At the moment, we are in the forefront of a very important struggle and I feel confident we will continue to find the courage [N3WI] to stand firm in spite of the terriffic [sic "ff' in previous word written over either an "I" or a "b"] personal pressures assailing us.35

And also:

The world has come to recognize the true nature of our case and the people, the most effective force on earth, are behind us and are demonstrating a thorough awareness that they know  how to fight for peace and freedom. Politically not only has this miscarriage of justice misfired but it has exposed ["those in" CO] our government by the barbaric sentence of death against two innocent people for their progressive views.36

Again more statements of innocence and statements about dying for conviction and principles but being vague about what those are. And of course it was Communist principles they died for as those in the know would know. And of course peace, freedom and progressive are here being used for Communist / Stalinist.

And about all the pressure to confess Julius says:

The hearts who wish to destroy us fail to understand that their brutality cannot make us dishonor our names or betray our love for our children and each other.37

And again:

Since in truth we are guilty of no crime we will not be party to the nefarious plot to bear false witness against other innocent progressives [punctuation CO] to heighten hysteria in our land and worsen the prospects of peace in the world.38


The stakes are high we must all rise to the occasion to defend with the best of our abilities all that we hold dear.39

Thus does Julius indicate him and his wife’s Ethel’s willingness to die for Communism while also reassuring the other Communists that they would not betray them even to save their own lives. And the coded language continues; Communist becomes progressive. But the code is known to the insider. Also again the conviction that they are "innocent"!! It is of course a very special "innocence" in which what they did was in fact not "really" treason because they were aiding mankind and America to enter into the Communist utopia.

No self-respecting person with pride and dignity will be able to flourish under this situation and history has proven that the only answer to this autocratic anarchy is forthright defense of freedom, democracy and peace.40

Again the coded language. It would never have occurred to the Rosenberg’s that the Soviet Union was a vicious tyranny. Again “freedom” etc., as code words for Communism / Stalinism.

Yesterday we were offered a deal by the Attorney General of the United States. We were told that if we cooperated with the Government, our lives would be spared. By asking us to repudiate the truth of our innocence, the Government admits its own doubts concerning our guilt. We will not help to purify the foul record of a fraudulent conviction and a barbaric sentence. We solemnly declare, now and forever more, that we will not be coerced, even under pain of death, to bear false witness and to yield up to tyranny our rights as free Americans. Our respect for truth, conscience and human dignity is not for sale. Justice is not some bauble to be sold to the highest bidder. If we are executed, it will be murder of innocent people and the shame will be upon the Government of the United States. History will record, whether we live or not, that we were victims of the most monstrous frame-up in the history of our country."41

Thus the Rosenberg’ statements, to those who know the code, are that they will not confess even to save their lives. They will die as martyrs to the true faith. For they state, to those in the know, that spying for the Soviet Union is not a crime and by dying they will serve their cause to which they have pledged loyalty. They will sacrifice themselves to serve the greater good. The truth they die for is Communism / Stalinism with its respect for conscience and human dignity (snark). Thus they sacrifice each other for and to the cause. They will not confess to spying / treason because that will not serve the cause, and besides in their minds it was never really treason at all.

The Rosenberg’s again near the end assert their innocence, but it is a special “innocence”. So Julius writes:

Remember Mr[.] Bennett we love our country it is ["the" CO, NWI] our home, the land of my children and my family and we do not want its good name to be shamed and in justice and common decency we should be allowed to live to prove our innocence.42

And Ethel states:

I do, however, know my own mind and heart, and I tell you in all conscience that I continue to maintain my innocence for the sole reason that I am simply not guilty of the charge.[")43

Thus Julius says he loves his country for in his mind the espionage he did was for the "real" interests of the USA and its peoples. The Capitalist elites who rule the USA don’t deserve such loyalty. Julius in his mind was acting in the “true” interests of the USA and therefore was not guilty of treason. Ethel says that in her heart she knows she is innocent. After all the treason wasn’t “real” treason. So no doubt she was saying nothing more than the truth has she felt it when she said her conscience was clear. And so did Julius when he said they were innocent. Like good Communists they will die for the cause that represented the “true” interests of the USA. They will assert their innocence because it serves the cause and of course they will be vindicated and so will their spying be seen has just and right and not treason.

Then Ethel in a plea to then President Eisenhower for clemency says:

Surely you must recognize then, that the ensuing damage ["to the" CO] to the good name of our country, in its struggle to lead the world toward a more equitable and righteous way of life, ["may" co, NWI] should not be underestimated.44

Of course in Communist code the struggle for a more just and equitable world was one only Communists could really undertake. That would be the struggle Ethel was referring to.  Of course Ethel’s appeal to the bad reputation the USA would get from allowing the executions is ironic given the recent Slansky trials in Eastern Europe which were total judicial farces.

In a letter to their children the Rosenberg's say:

Be comforted, then, that we were serene and understood with the deepest kind of understanding, that civilization ["had" CO, NWI] had not as yet progressed to the point where life did not have to be lost for the sake of life; and that we were comforted in the ["fact that th" CO] sure knowledge that others would carry on after ["a" CO] us.

We wish we might have had the tremendous joy and gratification of living our lives out with you. Your Daddy who is with me in these last momentous hours ["wants" CO] sends his heart and all the love that is in it for his dearest boys. Always remember that we were innocent and could not • wrong our conscience.

We press you close and kiss you with all our strength.45

The Rosenberg’s were executed on June 19, 1953.

It is pretty easy to see that the Rosenberg’s loved their children. But note that they assure their children that they are innocent when of course they did in fact do the things they were accused of. That is a terrible burden to place on their children. However note the words “wrong our conscience”. That is again a coded reference for it means yet again that although we did the things we were accused of we were innocent because what we did were not crimes and to think of those things as crimes is pure reactionary / fascist politics. But then they hope that in the end humanity will advance enough to not need anymore such sacrifices for the cause of Communism / Stalinism, and that will happen in the glorious day when Communism triumphs and they are vindicated as true patriots and heroes.

Thus understanding the coded language of the Rosenberg’s enables us to see beneath the innocuous phrasing and note the political fanatics within. These bright, articulate, loving people were also in the mesh of a fanatical sectarian political cult. This distorted their perceptions of reality and their situation and led them to embrace martyrdom and convince themselves in a ludicrous display of doublethink to think themselves innocent. And this doublethink enabled them to code the language of their letters, which only the knowledge of their guilt allows us to truly understand, with euphemistic language that proclaims to those in the know their adherence to the doctrines of Stalinism / Communism.

For this ideology they were willing to sacrifice themselves and blight the lives of their children. All for the good of the cause. They threw away chances to save their own lives and defended a cause which even at the time was, to any one paying attention, morally obscene. Only true believing fanatics, self-blinded by ideology, could honestly think Stalin and the Soviet Union at the time was the radiant future. They went to their deaths as martyrs to a repellent and terrible cause. They destroyed themselves because they intellectually capitulated to nonsense. This may be a sort of heroism, but it is tainted with the dry rot of intellectual corruption. That two such nice and loving people could be so twisted by their fanatically held ideology is a tragedy worthy of Sophocles.

In the book I quoted the above letters from there is a letter that Sam Greenglass, Ethel’s brother, wrote to her after visiting her in September of 1950. It is contained within a footnote and goes like this:

Dear Sis:

Today I visited Mom-1 also saw Robert and Michael. I told Michael that I had spoken to you. His first words to me were, "my mother is innocent" She would not do anything that was wrong"-Well, you certainly built up a lot of faith in this poor child- How can you have the bitter thought on your conscience to let this child down in such a horrible way.

When a stranger walks into the house--his fist question is "Is she from the child welfare or is she an investigator-. I don't want to go to a foster home I want to stay here."

How can mom keep those two children- They are wearing her away very quickly-! must say you have done and are still doing a very wonderful job-- There is not much more disgrace you could bring to your family-but now your great problem seems to be--to get rid of them one at a time—First Mom-then Chuch [Tessie Greenglass' sister, Chutcha, who lived with her]The Children in a foster home-your brother in jail- What an excellent job>-. Pride yourself- And you no doubt have the outlandish courage to think of yourself as a mother! What kind of metal are you made of!

Why dont [sic] you chuck this whole crazy idea of yours and expose all the information you can so that possibly your mother and your two children can look forward to seeing you in your proper role>--as a mother to your children. I still implore you again-for this inhuman idea of yours-you want to sacrifice your entire role in life-to society and to your children to play the martyr a martyr to whom-to a foreign ideology that will eventually be barred from all corners of the earth.

Certainly there must be some iota of human feeling left in you. Your obligation to your one remaining parent is naught. To a woman like Chucha who has been the spearhead of every horrible remark made by you-who in turn does so much for you and your children [Manny Bloch remembered it differently. He claimed that the day after Ethel was arrested, Tessie had called his father Alexander Bloch and threatened to dump "these brats" at the nearest police station. (Recording of a speech given by Emanuel Bloch in Detroit, Michigan, on September 22, 1953.) For the reaction of Bernard Greenglass' sister-in-law, see Sons, p. 24.]- That undoubtedly I could never tolerate-after all those insulting slurs I'd be damned if I'd ever look upon your children-yet she is giving them a new springboard in life in spite of you. The children cling to her for protection, for love, for warmth,-for comfort. There are good people on this earth and she is one of them. As for me, I wouldn't touch them (those kids) with a ten foot pole-1 wouldn't lift a finger-if it weren't for Mom and Chucha,-and their greatest thought is only for the children to have a natural upbringing in the care of their mother.

Since this entire incident began-1 have done things that I never would have given myself credit for-I have even gone to see you- In my lousy heart there is only contempt for you and your kind-but spurred on by the emotions and a mother and an Aunt who unselfishly give of their lives so that poor defenseless and innocent children can have a temporary shelter and comfort and protection-

For these I ask again-give up this wild ideology come down to earth, give yourself a fighting chance (I may be able to help you) so that someday you may possibly be a mother to your two children-and not a number in some jail-rotting away for years- I mention again that I may be able to help you but I must have your co-operation.

your brother


It is obvious that Michael Meeropol did not think that this letter reflected poorly on his mother Ethel; but in fact reflected poorly on Sam Greenglass. But now that we know that the Rosenbergs were in fact guilty a different cast is given the letter. Yes Sam does not come across too well the letter. But in his shrill, jerk like manner he is trying to save Ethel from destroying herself. Sam Greenglass saw the fanaticism in his sister’s commitment to Communism and urgently, even a bit hysterically asked her to rethink her position and save herself and reject martyrdom for a reprehensible ideology. However he sees all too clearly the fanaticism and willingness to martyr herself that his sister has. He also seems to have little doubt that his sister is guilty. No doubt many ideological arguments with his sister and brother in law have convinced him that they were only too capable of being actual spies. So he urges Ethel to think of the children and cooperate. She and Julius did not and the result was tragedy.

1. See HereHere.

2.  Meeropol, Michael, Editor, The Rosenberg Letters, Garland Publishing, New York, 1994. Outlining why there can be no doubt of the Rosenberg’s guilt see Radosh, Ronald, & Milton, Joyce, The Rosenberg File, Second Edition, Yale University Press, New Haven CONN, 1997.

3. Fielder, Leslie, A Postscript to the Rosenberg Case, Encounter, no. 1, Oct. 1953, pp. 12-21, Warshow, Robert, The “Idealism” of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, in The Immediate Experience, Doubleday Anchor Books, New York NY, 1962, (Originally published in Commentary 1953),  pp. 33-43, and The Liberal Conscience in The Crucible, in The Immediate Experience, (Originally published in Commentary in 1953), pp. 133-147.

A few quotes from them.

Fiedler says:

The upshot of the whole business is that the Rosenberg’s were quite incapable of saying in their last letters just what it was for which they thought they were dying for. Not only had they excluded themselves from the traditional procedure of the old-style radical, who rises up in court to declare that he has acted in the teeth of accepted morality and law for the sake of certain higher principles;  they could not even tell the world for what beliefs they were being "framed". Beyond the cry of "frame-up", they could only speak in hints and evasions, so that they finished by seeming martyrs only to their own double talk, to a handful of banalities: “democracy and human dignity,” “liberty and peace,” "the greatest good of our own children, our family and all families", and finally, "the interests of American democracy, of justice and fraternity, of peace and bread and roses and the laughter of children.”

But one must look deeper, realize that a code is involved, a substitution of equivalents whose true meaning can be read off immediately by the insider, “Peace, democracy and liberty,” like “roses and the laughter of children,” are only conventional ciphers for the barely whispered word “Communism,” and Communism itself only a secondary encoding of the completely unmentioned Soviet Union. The Soviet Union - here is the sole principle and criterion of all value -  and to this principle the Rosenberg’s felt they had been true; in this sense, they genuinely believed themselves innocent, more innocent then if they had never committed espionage. (p. 20-21.)

Warshow says:

Or, finally, consider that most mystical element in Communist propaganda about the Rosenberg case: the claim that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are being “persecuted” because they have “fought for peace.” Since the Rosenberg’s had abstained entirely from all political activity of any sort for a number of years before their arrest, it follows that the only thing they could have been doing which a Communist might interpret a “fighting for peace” must have been spying for the Soviet Union; but their being "persecuted" rests precisely on the claim that they were innocent of spying. The main element here, of course, is deliberate falsification. But it must be understood that for most partisans of the Rosenbergs such a falsification raises no problem; all lies and inconsistencies disappear in the enveloping cloud of the unspoken “essential” truth: the Rosenbergs are innocent because they are accused; they are innocent, one might say, by definition. (From The Liberal…p. 146)

At another place Warshow exposes Julius’ shallowness and lack of thought:

On July 4, 1951, Julius clipped a copy of the Declaration of Independence from the New York Times and taped it to the wall of his cell. "It is interesting," he writes to Ethel, "to read these words concerning free speech, freedom of the press and of religion in this setting. These rights our country's patriots died for can't be taken from the people even by Congress or the courts." Does it matter that the Declaration of Independence says nothing about free speech, freedom of the press, or freedom of religion, and that Julius therefore could not have found it "interesting" to read "these words" in that particular document? It does not matter. Julius knew that America is supposed to have freedom of expression and that the Declaration of Independence "stands for" America. Since, therefore, he already "knew" the Declaration, there was no need for him to actually read it in order to find it "interesting," and it could not have occurred to him that he was being untruthful in implying that he had just been reading it when he had not. He could "see himself" reading it, so to speak, and this dramatic image became reality: he did not know that he had not read it. ( From The “Idealism”…  p. 37)

In regards to what Julius and Ethel actually meant by their repeated statements that they were innocent was according to Warshow:

Similarly when he [Julius] says "it is obvious that I could never commit the crime I stand convicted of", we cannot assume that he is simply lying. More probably what he means is something like this: If it were a crime, I could not have done it. Since in the language of the unenlightened what I did is called a crime, and I am forced to speak in that language, the only truthful thing to say is that I did not do it.(The “Idealism”… p. 37)

Warshow states regarding the Rosenbergs that: 

The point is that all beliefs, all ideas, all "heritages" were really the same to them, and they were equally incapable of truth and of falsehood. What they stood for was not Communism as a certain form of social organization, not progress as a belief in the possibility of human improvement, but only their own identity as Communists or "progressives," and they were perfectly "sincere" in making use of whatever catchwords seemed at any moment to assert that identity-just as one who seeks to establish his identity as a person of culture might hy to do so either by praising abstract painting or by damning it. The Rosenbergs thought and felt whatever their political commitment required them to think and to feel. But if they had not had the political commitment could they have thought and felt at all?
Well, we cannot dispose of them quite so easily. They did suffer, for themselves and for their children, and though they seem never to have questioned the necessity of their "martyrdom" or the absolute rightness of all they had ever done (" ... when [the children] are older, they will know that all the way through, we ... were right .. . "), they wept like anyone else at the approach of death; if it were not for that, one might wonder whether they had any real sense of what they were giving up when they chose to give up their lives.( The “Idealism”…, p. 42)
Warshow also says about the Rosenbergs:
...and the commitment for which they died-and by which, we must assume, they somehow fulfilled themselves-was precisely that the truth was not to be spoken.
Not spoken, not whispered, not approached in the merest hint. These letters were undoubtedly written, or revised, for publication; in any case, they were subject to examination by prison officials. Under the circumstances, they could not have been truthful. But there is something uncanny nevertheless in the way this husband and wife felt compelled to write to each other, never evading the issue but, on the contrary, coming back to it continually in order to repeat continually what was not true. "We are innocent"-again and again Julius tells this to Ethel and Ethel tells it back to Julius. "What have we done to deserve such unhappiness? All our years we lived decent, constructive lives." "I firmly believe that we are better people because we stood up with courage through a very grueling trial and a most brutal sentence, all because we are innocent." ''I'm certain we will beat this frame-up. . . ." The word "Communist" never appears except in quotation marks; when Julius seeks to define the faith for which he is prepared to die, he can say only that he is "a progressive individual"-this after a fragment of autobiography, addressed to his lawyer, which makes it especially clear that he was a Communist. He is even forced to speak of espionage-to him, surely, the very crown of the "decent, constructive" life of "a progressive individual" - as a "crime": "Can I deny the principles that are so much part of me? This I can never do. I cannot live a lie nor can I be like the Greenglasses and the Bentleys. My entire life and philosophy negates this and it is obvious that I could never commit the crime I stand convicted of."
 No doubt there is a certain covert truth-telling in all this, with "we are innocent" standing for "my resolve is unshaken; I will not confess." But one is forced to wonder whether the literal truth had not in some way ceased to exist for these people(The “Idealism”… p. 36)
4. See Radosh et al.

5. Rosenberg, Julius, Letter, dated November 28th 1952. From  Editor, Meeropol, Michael, The Rosenberg Letters, Garland Publishing, New York, 1994, p. 476.

6. IBID, Julius, December 1, 1952, p. 485.

7. IBID, p. 486.

8. IBID, Julius, December, 2, 1952, p. 487.

9. IBID, Julius, December 3, 1952, pp. 488-489.

10. IBID, Julius, p. 491.

11. IBID, p. 493.

12. IBID, p. 495.

13. IBID, p. 494.

14. IBID, p. 496.

15. IBID, Julius, December 7, 1952, p. 501.

16. IBID, Julius, December 7, 1952, pp. 503-504.

17. IBID, Julius, December 11, 1952, pp. 509-510.

18. IBID, Julius, December 12, 1952, p. 510.

19. IBID, Julius, December 24, 1952, p. 524.

20. IBID, Ethel, January 6, 1953, p. 545.

21. IBID, Ethel, January 6, 1953, p. 546.

22. IBID, Julius, January 6, 1953, p. 548.

23. IBID, Julius, January 11, 1953, p. 552.

24. IBID, Julius, January 15, 1953, p. 556.

25.IBID, Julius, January, 21, 1953, p. 562.

26. IBID, Ethel, January 24, 1953, p. 566.

27. IBID, Julius, January 29, 1953, p. 572.

28, IBID, Ethel, January 29, 1953, p. 574.

29. IBID, Julius, February 5, 1953, p. 589.

30. IBID, Julius, Feburary 11, 1953, p. 593.

31, IBID, Ethel, February 9, 1953, p. 591.

32. IBID, Julius, Feburary 11, 1953, pp. 597-601.

33. IBID, Julius, Feburary 24, 1953, p. 620.

34. IBID, Julius, March 8, 1953, p. 629.

35. IBID, Julius, March 15, 1953, p. 632.

36. IBID, Julius, March 19, 1953, p. 634.

37. IBID, Julius, April 12, 1953. p. 645.

38. IBID, Julius, May 3, 1953, p. 652.

39. IBID, Julius, May 9, 1953, p. 656.

40. IBID, Julius, May, 21, 1953, p. 666.

41, IBID, Julius & Ethel, Press Release, June 3, 1953, p. 674.

42. IBID, Julius, June 5, 1953, p. 677.

43. IBID, Ethel, June 8, 1953, p. 686.

44. IBID, Ethel, June 15, 1953, p. 698. 

45. IBID, Ethel & Julius, June 19, 1953, p. 703.

46. IBID, Sam, No specific date given, September, 1950, Footnote 27, pp. 25-26.

Pierre Cloutier

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