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.
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