Have you ever wondered why anniversaries that are multiples of 5 or 10 are more significant milestones than those that are multiples of other numbers? I wonder if we had six fingers, instead of five, whether a 24th wedding anniversary might be a bigger deal than the 20th, and if we had seven fingers a 49th might be much more important than a 50th.
This week will mark 56 years since my parents’ executions on June 19th, 1953. I expect that unlike the 50th anniversary in 2003, the day will pass with very little public notice. But this week will resonate more powerfully for me because for the first time in 11 years the days of the week track the weekdays of 1953. In other words, my parents’ executions took place at sundown on Friday the 19th, and the 19th will also fall on a Friday this year.
To mark this echo, I’ll recall in daily posts to this blog, the events of the final five days of my parents’ lives and my feelings at the time.
56 years ago today, on Monday June 15th, 1953, the Supreme Court denied my parents’ request for a stay of execution by a 5 to 4 vote. This was the 8th time my parents had asked the Supreme Court to review their case and the Court had refused them all. With this denial the Supreme Court adjourned for the summer. The Federal Bureau of Prisons scheduled the executions for that Thursday, June 18th, on my parents’ 14th wedding anniversary.
My brother, Michael, and I were living with acquaintances of my parents, Ben and Sonia Bach, in Toms River, New Jersey. I had just turned 6 and my brother was 10. The previous Friday had been the last day of school, so our summer vacation had just started. I have no specific recollection of the Supreme Court’s denial that Monday, but I do remember attending a big demonstration to save my parents in Washington DC the day before. Here’s what I wrote in my memoir about that event:
“We went to New York or Philadelphia and got on a bus with many others going to Washington. I peered out the window as we drove south on Route 1 apparently racing a passenger train I believed was filled with people going to the same place; it was exciting to observe and imagine everyone rushing to a common destination. But once we got off the bus and became part of the commotion, it wasn’t fun anymore. Then I was a small person amid crowds of milling adult legs. I observed the process of getting to the demonstration so closely because I wanted so much to understand what was happening. I could see how we got there with my own eyes, but no one told me why we were doing this or what was happening once we got there, and incomprehension left me anxious.”
(Check back each day this week for a new posting leading up to Friday, June 19th, the 56th anniversary of my parents’ executions. To be notified whenever there is a new post to Out On a Limb Together, subscribe to the blog here.)
56 years is a very long time ago, but it still seems like yesterday to some of us.
Robert, I followed the links in the introduction to your blog, and was glad I did. The videos of the actors reading your parents' letter and also the one of your statement were very moving. I see they're from YouTube so I'm going to check there for others- hope to find some! I've just subscribed to this blog and will be reading the rest of your entries as this fateful week progresses.
I am very proud that my father was among those who traveled from New York City to Washington, DC, to demonstrate against the execution of the Rosenbergs. And I am grateful that you, Robert, turned the pain of this experience into your work on behalf of children of activists and young activists who face persecution. Let us continue to struggle for a more just and humane world for all.
So, if it was 1953, I was 7. I went to a big rally to support the Rosenbergs, somewhere in Manhattan, shortly before these five days, with one or both of my parents. I only remember hearing one speaker, the grandmother of Robert and Michael. This was one of the many open-air political rallies I attended in NYC during that era, but because the concept of a grandmother was a very familiar one to me, it is one of the few that I remember. And I also remember (in response to Tuesday's post) being hidden among all those long legs of the adults!
One of the things that strikes me as I read all the comments, both posted on the blog-site and direct responses via email, is the community nature of so many. People remember going to rallies as children with a parent, or hear of their father's experience. There are many reasons why the story of my parents case still reverberates today, but one of the most powerful reasons is that an entire community was attacked and an entire community resisted.
I was a pre-teen when my mother taught me about the Rosenbergs' execution by the government. I learned my most important history lessons from my mother, not from school...such as concentration camps in America for Japanese-American citizens who had the properties confiscated during WWII, the Trail of Tears in which Native Americans had their land confiscated and they were marched from North Carolina to Oklahoma, the stock market crash in 1929 which was created by the bankers and perpetrated on a perfectly thriving economy overnight, and many other such unjust acts of the U.S. government. My own grandparents lost their property from that stock market manipulation.
Among the most important lessons my mother taught was the disgrace of the trumped up charges of treason against the Rosenberg's and that the citizens of this country should never allow this to happen again. It was 50 years before the secret documents used to convict the Rosenberg's were unsealed proving the government lied and invented false "evidence."
We cannot stand silently by and watch it happen again. Pfc. Bradley Manning exposed hundreds of war crimes of the most terrible sort including the famous "Collaterol Damage" video of US military gunning down innocent civilians, including children, in Baghdad, Iraq in 2007... and then laughing about it. Manning did his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States by reporting these crimes to his superiors who told him to be quiet about them. For his truth-telling about American war atrocities and corporate and government criminal behavior he is being court martialed in a kangaroom court in Ft. Meade. Bradley Manning needs your support as his trial enters its third week on Monday, June 17, 2013. He should be granted amnesty and released now. If Bradley Manning is sentenced to years in prison, it means the end of America.
For more information go to http://www.bradleymanning.org/ and follow Kevin Gostolo at http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/. Kevin has been independently reporting on Manning's pretrial hearings and this trial from the outset and he is financing it out of his own pocket. http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/ . The other person who covered and reported on all the trials and posted transcripts of the proceedings, because the government will NOT is Alexa O'Brien. She too is financing this effort from her own pocket. http://www.alexaobrien.com/secondsight/wikileaks/bradley_manning/
Robert, I'm sure that Julius and Ethel would celebrate with enormous joy the noble work you've been carrying on all these years. I remember the day, because I was in Los Angeles, circling the Federal Building with perhaps 1000 others, as we withstood the taunts and jeers of a group of college fraternity rowdies and as cynical police looked on. By midnight, those who picketed had shrunk to a dozen or so. And the two or three police remaining stood by as more rowdies joined those who had continued to taunt us. I went to a phone and called the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union. Within 20 minutes more than a dozen burly stevedores appeared and the college boys quickly disappeared. A small victory, even though we were not able to prevent the horror of your parent's execution. We continue to celebrate their lives, and wish the best for you and your brother as your own lives continue. Dan Bessie