Statement on the passing of Rosenberg case co-defendant, Morton Sobell

January 31, 2019

News has just broken that Morton Sobell, co-defendant of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, passed away December 26, 2018, at the age of 101. Following his conviction, Mort was sentenced to 30 years in prison and served 18 before being released in 1969.

For decades, Mort maintained his innocence. Then in 2008, in connection with the release of key, previously-secret documents from the case, he abruptly reversed course and admitted he had conspired with Julius to supply the Soviets with non-atomic military and industrial information.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many other news outlets have run lengthy stories detailing Mort’s long and complex life. We’ve posted links to several of them on the RFC Facebook page, where we invite you to leave your comments.

The Rosenberg case was nothing, if not complicated, and that’s true for Morton Sobell’s role in it, as well. But a few simple truths stand out:

1) Mort stood in solidarity with Ethel and Julius at their darkest hour, at great personal cost.

2) His 2008 disclosure paved the way to the clear understanding of the key facts of the case that we have today, which include:

  • Mort and Julius engaged in acts of espionage, but did not “steal” or give to the Soviets what the U.S. government called “the secret of the atomic bomb.”
  • Ethel did not engage in espionage at all, and our government knew that, but prosecuted and executed her anyway.

With the passing of the last of the central figures in what was one of the most controversial legal cases of the 20th century, we’re reflecting on the notion of solidarity, and on the sacrifices people are willing to make for their most deeply held values and beliefs.

And we’re also thinking about how our government’s playbook of fearmongering and repression – so much a part of the prosecution of Morton Sobell and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg – is once again being embraced and utilized by those in power in our country today.