The Rosenberg story never changes

Sixty Minutes had a long section on the sons of the Rosenbergs, who you may remember were American Jewish Communists who were part of a Soviet espionage ring.  This espionage ring had been active for many years, and they were found guilty relaying information on the Manhattan Project, the U.S. effort to construct an atomic bomb, to the Soviet Union and were sentenced to death.

Sixty Minutes interviewed the sons, who go under their adoptive name "Meeropol," at length, and the interview was a tear-jerker about how much pain they had gone through as children before, during, and after their parents' execution.  Words like "Joseph McCarthy" (who had nothing to do with the case) and the "'50s" were strategically voiced.

Decades later, with the help of various leftist "activists," the Meeropol brothers tried to rehabilitate their parents, claiming they were innocent.  However, examination of documents by a sympathetic academic revealed that, lo and behold, they, indeed, had been guilty of espionage.  The investigation were written up in The Rosenberg File, and the writer, Ronald Radosh, lost a lot of leftist friends as a result.  Incidentally, the very same change of mind happened regarding an investigation of Alger Hiss, another Communist spy, by Allen Weinstein, documented in Perjury.

The two brothers have since that time changed their efforts from declaring both parents innocent to having only their mother declared innocent.  In this, they rely on arguing that one of the Communist witnesses at the trial lied to save his skin and that Ethel's role in the espionage ring was relatively minor and did not merit the electric chair.

There is an additional factor that comes into play here, which was not brought up in the sympathetic 60 Minutes segment.  It comes from the history on the KGB as detailed in Col. Oleg Gordievsky's book, KGB, The Inside Story.  Gordievsky defected to the West in 1985 and provided a massive amount of information.  With regard to the Rosenbergs, a tactical ploy was used very effectively.  Since the Rosenbergs were a couple whose children would end up orphaned, they were ordered by Moscow to constantly proclaim their innocence.  The Communists would then organize a worldwide campaign agitating against the cruel, heartless, evil United States for its persecution of innocent people falsely accused of being Communist spies.  When the pair – including a woman! – were sentenced to be executed, this martyrdom went beyond their wildest expectations.  Julius Rosenberg, in particular, was perfect for the role, with his puny frame and his facial expression of martyrdom.  Massive demonstrations took place – secretly organized by Communist organizations.  Instead of the Rosenbergs being denounced for betraying their country, it was America that was denounced as being evil.  It was a great propaganda victory.

What is also interesting is that both Rosenbergs were told that if they came clean about their operation, the death sentence would be rescinded.  Even with the knowledge that her husband had been executed and her sons would be orphaned, Ethel, the true believer, refused.

This would not have been surprising to those who had firsthand knowledge of Communists: many persons in the Soviet Union had denounced relatives for the mildest negative comments, and some Communists who had ended up in the Gulag still proclaimed themselves Marxists and praised the genius of Josef Stalin.

Armando Simón is a retired college professor and the author of A Cuban from KansasVery Peculiar Stories, and The U.  They can be found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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