Rot In Hell, Ethel Rosenberg

James O'Brien Freelance Writer
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Robert and Michael Meeropol are the orphaned children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted and executed in 1953 for spying for Russia.  The Rosenbergs’ crimes included, among other things, stealing drawings and other information related to the design and construction of the atomic bomb.

For many years, the Meeropol brothers — Robert an economics professor; Michael, a retired attorney and the founder of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which gives grants, aid and comfort to the “children of activists” — campaigned to have both their parents posthumously exonerated.   From the 1970s on, they and their many allies used the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to previously sealed court records and other records.

In the leftist catechism, the innocence of the Rosenbergs had been an unquestioned article of faith, but the newly unearthed information – including intercepts from the Venona archives and elsewhere – made it painfully clear that Julius Rosenberg, at the very least, was an active Soviet agent and the leader of a spy ring that stole, not just nuclear secrets, but information and documents related to U.S. technological advances such as radar, jet engines and proximity fuses.

The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, was the testimony of Morton Sobell in 2008.  Sobell had been the Rosenbergs’ co-defendant and had received a 30-year sentence.  He had, like the Rosenbergs, always maintained his innocence, but at the age of 91 he admitted that he and Julius Rosenberg had, in fact, been Soviet agents.

After that, even the Meeropol brothers could no longer proclaim their father’s innocence. So, they switched to a more sympathetic subject, their mother.  Unlike other members of the Rosenberg spy ring, Ethel Rosenberg was never given a code name by the Soviets.  Another co-defendant, her brother David Greenglass, claimed that his testimony regarding Ethel’s involvement (including typing up meeting notes) was false and was given only to protect his own wife (who was not charged, despite her own involvement in the spy ring).

The Meeropol brothers have taken their quest for their mother’s exoneration to new heights, using the Rosenberg Fund website and other vehicles to mount a petition drive to ask President Obama to exonerate Ethel Rosenberg.  Their efforts culminated on October 16 with a “60 Minutes” double segment, hosted by a sympathetic but reasonably skeptical Anderson Cooper.  Note that the Meeropols seek exoneration, and not a pardon, for Ethel Rosenberg; they want the slate wiped clean on their mother’s behalf.

This should not happen.  The line between “Communist Party member and sympathizer” and “active Soviet agent” is blurry in Ethel Rosenberg’s case. At the very least, she knew and approved of her husband’s activities. She recruited her own brother as a spy and suggested other candidates to her husband.

These may not be capital crimes; they certainly constitute espionage.  So Ethel Rosenberg was not innocent.  There is plenty of after-the-fact evidence to indicate that the Justice Department (with a 24 year-old Roy Cohn working on its legal team) overstepped its bounds, mishandled evidence, and used Ethel’s execution as a bargaining chip to get Julius to identify other members of the spy ring and his handlers higher up the chain.  And, from a humanitarian standpoint, the idea of executing a married couple and leaving their young children orphaned is cold-hearted at best.

Yet the Rosenbergs had options.  No one forced them to spy for the U.S.S.R.; they did so eagerly and enthusiastically.  If Ethel disapproved of her husband’s actions, she could at any time have reported them to the F.B.I.  The Rosenbergs could have received clemency at any time had they identified colleagues and superiors.  Instead, they chose to remain silent – martyrs to the cause – and to leave their children without parents.

The Rosenberg Fund’s website offers some interesting clues as to Michael Meeropol’s real leanings and motivations.  Among the petitions for exonerating Ethel and the laughably one-sided descriptions of the case against Julius are little news nuggets about fund-raisers “featuring Angela Davis” and felicitations to vile leftists like the terrorist-abetting Lynne Stewart.  Both Harry Belafonte and his daughter Gina are on the Fund’s Advisory Board, so you can get the general drift of things here.

I don’t really want Ethel Rosenberg to rot in hell.  What I would have preferred would have been for Ethel to have been granted clemency, to have served a moderately long prison term (with time off for good behavior) and then to have turned her back on communism and embraced the ideals of the country of her birth.  I would have liked even more for her children to drop the charade of their parents’ innocence and to demonstrate that one of the foundation myths of U.S. leftism is just that – a myth, and a pernicious one at that.  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg gave their lives in an effort to destroy our way of life and replace it with a reprehensible, totalitarian system.  That is something that cannot be exonerated.