Friday June 19th, 1953 was a warm, sunny, slightly-humid day.
In the morning the Supreme Court denied the stay by a 6 to 3 vote and the executions were set for 11PM that evening. Manny Bloch and several other lawyers spent the day filing a variety of appeals to judges and the President, but it was all to no avail. When they pointed out that it would be improper to carry out executions during the Jewish Sabbath which started at sundown on Friday, the government obliged by moving the executions forward to 8PM so they could be carried out just before sunset.
Michael and I tried to play outside but the Bachs’ front lawn was now swarming with reporters. To get away from the press we were whisked to a friend’s house in the next town. I don’t remember leaving the Bachs’, but I do recall playing ball with my friend Mark that evening, while my brother played with Mark’s older brother Steve. Earlier we’d been watching a baseball game on TV when the news flashed across the screen that plans for the executions were going forward. I do not recall Michael’s reaction, but he remembers moaning, “That’s it, goodbye, goodbye.”
Michael’s reaction, which was followed by the adults’ deciding to send us outside, gave me the sense that something terrible was happening. We came back in only when it got too dark to see the ball. I remember that Michael was distraught, but I doubt I fully comprehended that my parents had just been executed. However I do remember thinking that Manny Bloch had failed to provide the “eleventh reason” and that’s why my parents’ were killed.
Throughout that evening upwards of 10,000 people had gathered on 17th Street off Union Square in New York City. The rally was originally planned to celebrate Justice Douglas’ stay, but it turned into a death watch. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps more, demonstrated against the executions throughout the world that Friday. They promised never to forget, and even now, many communicate with me and describe what they did that day.
The 56th anniversary may not be a marker of great note and a long chunk of my life has passed since then. But this week that leads up to today has brought the memories very close.
To commemorate the 56th anniversary of the Rosenbergs’ executions by supporting the RFC, the organization their son Robert started in their honor, click here to donate now.
To watch a video and view the text of the Rosenbergs’ final letter to their sons (read by David Strathairn and Eve Ensler), click here.
To view a video message and letter from Robert Meeropol about how the RFC’s work honors his parents’ legacy of resistance and nurtures the children of today’s targeted activists, click here.
To be notified whenever there is a new post to Out On a Limb Together, subscribe to the blog here.)
We must never forget the awful crime against you, your brother, and (especially) your parents. I admire greatly the way that you and Elli continue to work for justice and a better world for all.
It's hard to know how to comment on such a tragedy. What comes to me is that because of you and the Rosenberg Foundation, your parents are very much alive and present.
In their last letter that they wrote to you they said," that freedom and all the things that go to make up a truly satisfying and worthwhile life, must sometimes be purchased very dearly". They and you know the depth of that cost.
The Rosenberg Foundation provided money for our daughter's tuition when my husband and I were in prison for our actions to disarm the US nuclear arsenal. Our family paid a small percentage of that cost More importantly, the Rosenberg Foundation connected our family to yours and to the many other families who also payed a costly price for the things that make for a worthwhile life. For this we are very thankful.
The vision that your parents had has been kept alive through you and all the families who have been nourished and fed by your foundation. As long as that vision stays alive, we stay alive, for without a vision, the people will perish.
Stay strong and know you are loved.
Michele, Greg and Rachel Obed
Dear Michele, Greg and Rachel,
Thank you for your comments. Comments such as your affirm the importance of our work and provide us with necessary feedback. It is great to know that we are achieving our objectives. I'm glad to have met you all and hope our paths cross again before too long.
On that Friday, in U.S.Army uniform on a weekend pass from Fort Dix, NJ, I stood on the sixth floor of an office building overlooking 17th St. in Manhattan, where thousands were gathered for a final, futile rally. To have joined them would, of course, have invited close attention by the (probably) scores of FBI agents in attendance. I listened as Yiddish/English author Yuri Suhl -- the first chronicler of Jewish resistance against the Nazis -- thundered our protest and mourned the tragedy about to befall.
At 8:00, the huge mass of humanity fell silent, until the terrible news came.
Thank you, Robbie, for the wonderful monument you have erected in memory of Ethel and Julius which has helped not only its beneficiaries, but those of us in the older generation who have benefitted from the healing that the Fund has provided.
Hershl Hartman, Secular Jewish vegvayzer/Leader
Amber, my colleague on the RFC staff, was particularly moved by your last thought. She wrote me: "I think this is the first time I’ve heard someone put it just this exact way, in terms of “healing” for the older generation, too."
I agree, what a terrific point, although knowing you, I'm not surprised that you would have this insight and express it so elegantly.
On another note, I've already communicated with some folks in L.A. about doing a 20th anniversary event (of the RFC) there in 2010. Hope you will be involved.
Over this sad weekend as I remembered Ethel and Julius's commitment to telling the truth, I had occasion to peruse a friend's extensive book collection on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the intelligence establishment, and general Cold War issues. He had only one book on the "atom bomb spies," but it was one I hadn't yet read, written by a Canadian official with some insider knowledge.
My friend believes his father was a human guinea pig in secret mind-control experiments carried out by the CIA and other U.S. military agencies during the Cold War. He believes the JFK assassination had something to do with these crimes against human rights. I found myself explaining that the anti-communist cancer that killed JFK goes back to the Rosenberg case. This prosecution established the consensus necessary to justify a huge peacetime military establishment and intervention in foreign nations. The JFK assassination and cover-up occurred only 10 years after the Rosenbergs were framed for a crime they didn't commit.
To understand anti-communism, one has to study the frame-up of Ethel and Julius by the FBI and the Justice Department. Just as Ethel was about to be exonerated last year with the release of the 1950 grand jury minutes, anti-communists concocted a revisionist history of the Rosenbergs to justify the original crime - the game of chicken that ended with the executions.
Whatever allegations they make today about an alleged "non-atomic" Rosenberg spy ring (from non-existent Soviet files) cannot wipe out the heinous act that deprived Robbie and Michael of their parents. Ethel and Julius endured psychological torture at the hands of our government because they were told that if they confessed, they could live! They refused to confess falsely like David Greenglass and his wife, Ruth.
The six FBI agents at Sing Sing that June 19th were stunned and distressed that the anticipated confession never came. In the car going back to Washington, the agents were morose because they had sacrificed a wife and mother they knew was innocent of any wrongdoing.
Everyone today knows the "secret of the atomic bomb" didn't exist. One nuclear scientist said it was an industry, not a formula. J. Edgar Hoover was aware of several scientists in the Manhattan Project who provided information to the USSR. One of these men was a citizen of both the USA and the USSR and worked for Soviet military intelligence. Some American scientists like Ted Hall helped our ally during World War II out of conscience. They wanted to prevent the U.S. from terrorizing the world with an atom-bomb monopoly.
The Rosenbergs were scapegoats for the failures of Hoover's FBI. Documents probably exist to prove this. They await a Freedom of Information lawsuit to liberate them from the crypt where they are buried.