February 25th will mark the 60th anniversary of the United States Appeals Court’s affirmation of my parents’ conviction for Conspiracy to Commit Espionage. As I have explained before, my parents were convicted of conspiracy- not spying, espionage or treason as the mainstream media usually reports. Prosecutors like conspiracy charges because the law in this country holds everyone involved in the conspiracy responsible for all the acts of any of the conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy. And all the prosecutors need to show to prove that a conspiracy exists is that two or more people got together, made an illegal plan and took one overt act to move that scheme forward. It could be as simple as agreeing to make a phone call or arranging a meeting.
In order to prove a conspiracy the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendants joined together in a common plan. This is sometimes referred to as the chain of conspiracy. In appealing their conviction, my parents’ attorneys attempted to sever the government’s chain of conspiracy at its weakest link.
This is how they did it. Although my parents’ denied that they conspired with chief prosecution witnesses David and Ruth Greenglass (my mother’s younger brother and his wife) to steal atomic secrets, they could not deny that they knew and met with the Greenglasses on many occasions. After all, they were family. Moreover, my parents’ attorneys did not contest the testimony of a third government witness, Harry Gold. Gold stated he was an espionage courier who transmitted a great deal of material to the Soviet Union about the construction of the atomic bomb from Klaus Fuchs, one of the top atomic scientists working on the Manhattan project. Gold also testified that on one occasion he obtained secret information at David and Ruth Greenglass’s apartment in Albuquerque, not far from Los Alamos where David, an Army sergeant, worked as a machinist fabricating pieces of the atomic bomb. In their appeal, my parents’ attorneys acknowledged that while the Rosenbergs and Greenglasses were connected, and Gold, Fuchs and the Greenglasses were connected, no one testified at the trial that Gold or Fuchs knew my parents or vice versa. In other words, the defense claimed that the government had not established the chain of conspiracy that connected the Rosenbergs to Gold and Fuchs.
The Appeals Court disagreed. The Justices pointed out that the Greenglasses testified that my father had given Ruth a half a Jello box-top as a recognition signal and kept the other half. David testified that when Gold came to his doorstep in Albuquerque he presented the half of the Jello box top that matched the one Ruth had kept. David stated further that my father said the person who came to collect the secrets would use a code phrase with Julius’ name in it. Gold and David both testified that Gold used the name Julius at the meeting to prove his bona fides. Thus, the Appeals Court concluded the jury could infer the connection between the Rosenbergs and Gold through the Jello box top and code phrase.
Of course, we now know a lot more than the Appeals Court did 60 years ago. Over 20 years after their decision, my brother’s and my legal action forced into the public eye secret government files detailing Gold and Greenglass’s initial confessions. Gold first said he used the name Ben in the code phrase, while David testified Gold used the name Dave. Another government file reported that after several months in custody Gold and Greenglass were brought together to iron out this discrepancy, and it was at that meeting that Greenglass “proposed” that “possibly” Gold used the name Julius. Gold responded that he was “not at all clear on this point,” but none of this came out at the trial three months later and both testified that they were certain the name Julius was in the code phrase.
It was not until the 2010 publication of Walter Schneir’s book, Final Verdict, that we learned that Ruth Greenglass, not my father, was tasked with the job of creating the “recognition signal.” Thus, the two pieces of “evidence” upon which the Appeals Court based its decision to uphold my parents’ conviction, have lost their probative value. Harry Gold and David Greenglass inserted the name Julius into the code phrase just a few months before the trial, and Ruth Greenglass, not Julius Rosenberg created the Jello box-top recognition signal. But, of course, once the executions took place on June 19th, 1953, these fatal errors could not be undone.
To receive a notification whenever there is a new post to Out on a Limb Together, subscribe now.
The heroic Rosenbergs, who refused to "confess" to supposed crimes they did not commit, were put to death by a capitalist system that knew they were innocent. Jailing and even killing innocent leftists has been a specialty of American capitalism since its inception.
One hundred years ago the Lawrence textile workers went out on strike and the police murdered one of the strikers. The murderers then arrested the strike leaders and charged them with their murder. A giant labor-centered mobilization led by IWWers Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (The "Rebel Girl") and Bill Haywood helped free the imprisoned leaders, who were facing the gallows.
A similar campaign, but much larger and even international in scope, was organized to free the innocent Rosenbergs, but the capitalist class was intent on going through with their frame-up, as part of their hysterical attack on the labor movement across the country. We honor the heroic Rosenbergs, and all the victims of capitalism, who gave their lives in the struggle to free humanity from this inhuman system.
As always. when this subject comes up, my heart aches! The miscarriage of justice is a bad mark on American history.
I have believed all my active (since age 13 or so) life that the Rosenbergs were framed. It makes me feel that I am vindicated even if it's much too late to do anything for them. This may sound selfish, but it helps me in my resolve to continue to fight alongs side Bradley Manning.
Thank you Robert and Michael for continuing to fight for you parents's memory.
It makes me sad every time I read (once again!) about the tragic execution of Ethyl and Julius Rosenberg -- two dedicated, progressive activists who were targeted and then killed by the government in its over zealous attempts to stop socialist and communist movements in our country.
On the other hand, I feel so proud of Robbie for carrying forward the basic hopes and dreams of his parents -- not only in keeping the public eye on the execution travesty, but in supporting the children of other political prisoners, just as he was supported by a welcoming community of activists when his parents were imprisoned...and murdered.
They'd be proud of you, Robbie!
My heart goes out to you, Robert. You had wonderful parents, and may their spirits guide us in working for justice.
I grew up in the shadow of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which cast my parents into despair. They could not speak of it without weeping, and they could not not speak of it.
Your work does more than honor them; it carries the struggle forward and does so with exemplary intent, courage and style.
And yes, the connection to Manning is there for me too.
I was just a young boy during the Rosenberg fiasco. But I can still remember telling my mom (we were in the supermarket with the radio broadcasting the execution, I think, of Ethyl) that the government was full of shit (in Polish LOL). She agreed.
As a teenager, I was on more than one picket line and leaflet distribution because I believed that your parents were framed. The night of their execution was an agony for thousands, not just here but in other countries as well.
I did my graduate work at the school you were attending. Sorry I didn't get to know you and your brother then.
There is no possible vindication, but an apology by the Justice Department would be nice, although meaningless.
Thanks for this blog post. Even though I am far away, I carry with me the story of this momentous travesty and miscarriage of justice. I am so grateful of the work that you and Elli have done these nearly 60 years and proud of my role in support of the RFC.
Where do I begin?..possobly with the "forked togues"- pschological manipulations of the >Sacred Word?+Greed-? +Avarice-?+ 10 rules to turn us into human brothers- up from the animals-now ignored?
Maybe with Socrates shineing his latern in public square at NOON? (They said--"what are you doing- you fool?)
He said simply- "Looking for an HONEST MAN!- 300 years B.C.
Or Albert and Oppenheimer learning about "Nukes", then telling this Govt. "NEVER USE THIS" because there is NO predictable future outcome
NO! Albert passed- Oppenheimer was fired- Just like Pandora was warned "Never open this box" - --We all know she DID!
Duponts Ohio Works on the cuyahoga river took over the stock mkt. when it "crashed" His Manhatten project clean-up caused the river to burn.
He said- "better things for better living through chemistry- WRONG AGAIN!
How about "wounded knee"the deaf boy didn't drop his gun? All who love truth-(love)know there is no beginning or end and we will all be together-
Middle class liberals like my husband and I couldn't believe the government would actually execute the parents of two young children. But they could and they did.This was a reminder to all of us that cruel, murderous fascists did not just exist in Europe.
The day of the execution, my husband and I walked down the subway stairs and stood on the platform crying, Suddenly a fat, blousy woman, her hair in big rollers, looked about her, saw us crying, triumphantly smacked her lips and carrolled, " They got it. They got it. Good. I'm glad." This ignoramous was glad the Rosenbergs had been executed. I still can not forget the cruelty.I never will.
Today, people like Rush Limbaught would be exulting.
But you have survived and every year more people know the truth.
Thank you for your wonderful work.
Dr. Sheila Schwartz
"From Stalin and from the longtime Soviet Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav M. Molotov, the memoir says, Khrushchev learned that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had ''provided very significant help in accelerating the production of our atomic bomb.''
''Let this be a worthy tribute to the memory of those people,'' the memoir says of the Rosenbergs. ''Let my words serve as an expression of gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives to a great cause of the Soviet state at a time when the U.S. was using its advantage over our state to blackmail our state and undermine its proletarian cause.''"
I must respond to the last comment since it is based on ignorance.
This is very old news that has been debunked for over 20 years, but evidently the person making the comment did not realize that. Here's what I wrote about the supposed Khrushchev memoir in my memoir, published in 2003.
Some answers were easy. For instance, it was simple to dismiss a book published in 1990 containing transcriptions of what were purported to be tape recordings of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev stating that before Stalin died he said my parents’ provided “very significant help” to the Soviet Atom Bomb project. (Khrushchev Remembers, Little Brown, 1990) I already knew from sworn statements of scientists who had built the bomb at Los Alamos that no matter what Khrushchev had said neither of my parents was directly or even indirectly involved in the transmission of valuable atomic secrets. Sure enough, within months, information surfaced showing that the quality of the tape was so poor that the same voiceprint expert used to verify other Khrushchev recordings refused to certify that the voice on these portions of the tape was Khrushchev’s.
Whether or not Khrushchev actually said anything of the sort, the veracity of any statement by K. should be questioned. For those of you interested in pursuing this subject, a recently published book, "Khrushchev Lied" by Grover Furr, published by Erythros Press and Media, 2011, reveals that much of what K. said was politically motivated and untrue.
I knew your grandmother Sophie in the 1940s. Born in 1931 I lived at 272 Delancey St. around the corner from Sophie Rosenberg living on Sherrifs St.on Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1940s. She was friends with my mother, Sadie, fellow East European Jews and as a boy said hello to Sophie a couple of times but never met your parents.
Following your parents case closely I signed at least two petitions calling for their freedom. Joining the USAF in 1951 I eventually needed a Top Secret Clearance and took several years to get it. I had assumed that it was strictly because my mother was born in White Russia but learned from your appearances on CSPAN that signers of the Rosenberg Petitions received extra scrutiny by the FBI. Thanks for the info.
Count me as a dissapointed supporter who only recently gave up on Julius' innocence but still conclude that no case has ever been made against Ethel Rosenberg. As an old Political Science Professor I do conclude that the trial was a sham, there was no justification for executing your parents, while your father probably passed secrets there is no proof that it concerned Atomic Bombs, there was nothing that justified a death sentence and that the only reason your mother was even indicted (let alone executed) was because she was the wife of Julius Rosenberg).