58 Years Ago, My Parents Were Executed

 

 

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(Click here for video of David Strathairn and Eve Ensler reading the Rosenbergs' last letter to Robby and Michael, on June 19, 1953.)
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June 19, 2011

Today is the 58th anniversary of my parents’ execution. But I’m focused more on the 60th anniversary of my first prison visit with them. After my parents’ arrests in mid-1950, the adults in charge of my brother and me felt it would be destructive for us to see our parents in prison. They hoped that our parents would win their trial and come home to us in a matter of months. In May 1951, after the guilty verdict, death sentence and their transfer to Sing Sing prison, it was decided that we should visit them after all. A year is an eternity for a three-year-old, but I had not forgotten. “Why you no come home?” was the first question I asked my parents.

Issues of imprisonment have haunted me this year. September will mark the 40th anniversary of the uprising of inmates at New York’s Attica Prison, and their massacre at the hands of the State. A portion of the funds won from the survivors’ 20-year legal battle for compensation provides the basis of the RFC’s Attica Prison Visit program that enables RFC beneficiaries to visit their incarcerated loved ones. Unfortunately, we face new waves of political imprisonment that will require many more RFC-supported children to visit jailed parents just as I did 60 years ago.

Here are some new grantees who may have to make prison visits soon.

Fatima and Rachel (pseudonyms) were traumatized when the FBI searched their homes, ransacked their rooms and photographed their belongings. Their parents--members of peace and justice groups in the Midwest--are among those who were targeted recently by grand juries investigating anti-war and international solidarity activists for supposedly providing material support of terrorism. These girls, five and six years old, now face the possible imprisonment of one or both of their parents. Grants from the Rosenberg Fund for Children will help provide them a safe haven by paying for dance lessons and summer camp.

The corporate controlled state is criminalizing dissent, destroying unions, dismantling public programs and impoverishing millions. People are fighting back, but militarized police brutalize them, zealous prosecutors label them terrorists and authoritarian judges are all too eager to lock them up. That’s why this year we’ve experienced the biggest single jump in new applications in over a decade!

But where will the extra money to aid these children come from? Repression is intensifying and the demand for our support is surging. That’s why the children we aid desperately need you to step up to make a special contribution now. They have nowhere else to turn.

Perhaps our most surprising new request this spring came from a remarkably courageous young student from Arizona. We’ve been frustrated at the RFC with our inability to help activists struggling for immigrants’ human rights. We recognize that many organizers are undocumented and face detention and deportation if they publicize their status. We understand why they might be extremely reluctant to apply to a public foundation for help. At the same time, we can’t make a grant without receiving an application. Finally, we’ve received a request from Sofia, who as a teenager endured a torrent of threats and hate mail for publicly asserting her rights while proclaiming her undocumented status. Some of Sofia’s family fled to Mexico after her mother suffered a stress-induced stroke. Even this calamity did not stop Sofia from continuing to champion this cause. An RFC grant has enabled her to carry on her education.

I get the most profound sense of personal satisfaction from providing this kind of aid to such a heroic young person, and I’m sure you will as well. And I have the most intense feeling of kinship with the two little girls who face the possibility of sharing my experience of visiting parents in prison. I know that they’ve already suffered and like you, I wish it had never happened. While we can’t eliminate painful memories, every dollar you donate makes a concrete contribution to their well being. Times are hard and finances are tight, but can you think of anything you’d rather spend your money on than bringing solace to children like these?

You know we will use your precious funds carefully. The RFC has been helping kids and youth like these efficiently and effectively for over 20 years. Because the generous support of several dozen major donors covers much of the RFC’s operating expenses, 90% of every dollar you contribute in response to this letter will be awarded this year to children and activist youth like those described above and so many more.

We sense echoes of the past all around us. We see union busting, overt racism, immigrant bashing and a general increase in fascist attitudes. We welcome the recent upsurge of resistance, but are concerned that it won’t be enough. But rather than worry, let’s do what we can to aid those who are responding. You can do that today by contributing to the Rosenberg Fund for Children. Every extra dollar you give will show the children, youth and their families how much you and thousands like you value their resistance. We must never let them feel that they stand alone!

Finally, there is an additional reason why I make this personal appeal to you today.

It has been 60 years since I first saw my parents in Sing Sing. Please consider adding just six dollars to whatever donation you make, or rounding up $50 to $60 or $500 to $600, in tribute to the 60th anniversary of that occasion, and to honor every child who has endured visiting an activist parent in prison. I know you will be most generous.

Those we assist are depending upon you,

Robert Meeropol
Executive Director