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My name is Robert Meeropol, but I was born Robert Rosenberg. When I was three, my parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were arrested and charged with giving the secret of the Atomic Bomb to the Soviet Union. When I was six, the government executed my parents at the height of the McCarthy era. Now, more than fifty years later, I can sense the same chill winds that wreaked havoc on my life and many others, once again sweeping our nation.
In recent years, we have witnessed the most rapid and widespread erosion of our civil liberties since the 1950’s. Those who speak out in opposition to our criminal war abroad and the growing repression at home are condemned as “traitors” and treated as enemies of the state.
These conditions are familiar to anyone who lived through the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950’s. After my parents’ arrests, my relatives were so frightened of being associated with "communist spies" that they refused to take me into their homes. First I lived in a shelter. Later I lived with friends of my parents in New Jersey, but I was thrown out of school after the Board of Education found out who I was. After my parents' execution, the police even seized me from the home of my future adoptive parents, and I was placed in an orphanage.
Bad as this was, it could have been much worse. As I grew older, I came to realize the debt I owed to so many generous individuals whom I never met, but who rallied to my support. As a result of their collective efforts and generosity, I grew up in a loving household and flourished in the supportive environment provided by child-oriented progressive institutions.
In 1990 I figured out how I could repay the community that helped me survive. I initiated the Rosenberg Fund for Children to find and help children who are enduring the same kind of nightmare I endured as a child. You may be shocked to learn that there are hundreds of children in these circumstances in this country today! Moreover, as thousands of outraged young people across the nation protest against injustice, many of these activist “children” are themselves becoming the targets of repression.
As happened during my own childhood, our beneficiaries’ lives have been thrown into turmoil by the harsh reprisals aimed at those resisting repression today. The Rosenberg Fund for Children provides the shelter of a supportive community for children whose parents are working for social justice, and -- as a direct result -- have lost their livelihood, their liberty, their physical or emotional well-being or even their lives in the course of that work.
Children are suffering right now because their parents have been persecuted in response to their involvement in progressive movements including the struggles to preserve civil liberties, wage peace, safeguard the environment, combat racism and organize on behalf of workers, prisoners and others whose human rights are under threat.
My experience has taught me what is needed to ease the pain of these children. I never would have survived to build my life and create the Rosenberg Fund for Children were it not for the help I received from a supportive community made up of so many socially aware individuals and institutions. I started the Fund to enable today’s members of this community to rally around the children of this era’s targeted activists.
The Rosenberg Fund for Children provides for its beneficiaries’ educational and emotional needs in the same way that I was helped. The Fund makes grants to institutions and professionals who nurture these youngsters and cultivate progressive values.
For the first time, many of these children have been able to learn and flourish in a supportive community of sympathetic peers and adults. Attending a school or a summer camp that celebrates struggles for economic and social justice has a powerfully positive impact on a child whose parents have been attacked for participating in such struggles.
Children in traumatic circumstances yearn for stability. The RFC recognizes that need and aims to make long-term commitments to our beneficiaries. Once children have begun receiving grants, the RFC strives to continue providing aid until the children reach an age where they are no longer eligible for our assistance.
We have learned from prior episodes of repression. We know that the best defense is to be outspoken and for communities to rally around those who are targeted.