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Not Naming Names

Julius Rosenberg’s Decidedly Political Decision

Michael Meeropol is the older son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. He is the coauthor, with his brother Robert, of We Are Your Sons and editor of The Rosenberg Letters, a complete edition of his parents’ prison correspondence.

I would like to expand on a couple of areas from Staughton Lynd’s thought-provoking essay (“Is There Anything More to Say About the Rosenberg Case?MR, March 2011) on the case of my parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Though Staughton is too modest to “have a go” at the validity of the analysis presented in Walter Schneir’s Final Verdict, I think it is important to note that unlike the authors of Venona, whose work is quoted in the article, Schneir is the first writer to take the most recently released materials from the former Soviet Union and subject them to a close analysis in comparison to what we had always “believed” we knew about the case.

Even though much of the material utilized by Schneir had been available since 1999 (with the publication the The Haunted Wood by Allen Weinstein and Alexei Vassiliev), not one expert on the case had ever attempted a close comparison between the information in that volume and the information from the original trial, the original interviews between the major prosecution witnesses and the FBI, and information that had become available in 1995 as a result of the release of the Venona decryptions. Based on that comparison, Schneir is able to come to some inescapable conclusions:

  1. My mother, Ethel Rosenberg, was not an espionage agent and the U.S. government knew it. She was arrested as a hostage by the FBI and killed when my father refused to put other people in his jail cell.
  2. Half of the case—the important half about the so-called secret of the Atom Bomb—against my father was fabricated by David and Ruth Greenglass to make their roles appear less important.

In this action, the Greenglasses were aided and abetted by the U.S. government because, as Staughton rightly pointed out, the goal was for my father to turn state’s evidence and betray his friends. His refusal to do this was not just “good” jailhouse behavior. The decision not to turn in his friends—people whom he had himself induced to help in the struggle against fascism during the Second World War—was a decidedly political decision.

My one quibble with Staughton here is that I believe the government did not merely want my father to become a snitch. They wanted to transform his crime—espionage in support of an ally during wartime—into the crime of treason. (The language used by the judge in his sentencing speech).

Finally, I appreciate the fact that Staughton mentioned Miriam Moskowitz’s memoir Phantom Spies, Phantom Justice. I believe that book deserves to be read both as a mini-example of the corruption of our judicial process in the politicized atmosphere of the early 1950s and of the indomitable will that led to her survival and a series of personal triumphs over the adversity visited upon her by the U.S. government.

I hope readers of MR will enjoy both books.

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