The criminal case that I will be examining is that of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. This is an essay about crime and punishment. The Rosenbergs were charged with conspiring with each other as well as other conspirators. One of these was an agent of the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs allegedly conspired with this agent in delivering information to the Soviet Union that was vital to the defense of our country. I will exam this case to see whether the Rosenbergs were rightly punished because of the crime they committed or if the government used primitive bias as a substitute proof for motive in sentencing them to death. I will also address a larger issue of this time period in regards to the Rosenberg case, Communism. I will look to see if the Rosenbergs alleged belief in Communism was a motive for them to conspire to commit espionage or if the United States fear of Communism at the doomed the Rosenbergs from the beginning of their trial.
First, we must look at who Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were and the events that led up to their arrest. Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg, born in 1915, was the older of two children. Plain, slightly dumpy, and not conspicuously talented as an actress or a singer, she nevertheless extruded determination that made others respect her. While in school, she never had time for friends or hanging around the neighborhood. She was a very intelligent girl who skipped several grades and graduated from Seward Park High School at the age of fifteen. About a month after she graduated, she got a job as a clerk in the office of a shipping company. She held that job for four years until she was fired for organizing a 150 women co-worker strike. After losing her job, she filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, which she won, and found a better job that paid twice the salary.

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Like Ethel Greenglass, Julius Rosenberg was a product of the Lower East Side. His father, Harry was an immigrant from Poland, had gone to work as a garment industry sample maker. His mother, Sophie, also an immigrant, had been too busy caring for her five children ever to learn to read and write English. Julius attended the Downtown Talmud Torah, the same religious school where Ethel had been a pupil, and graduated from Seward Park High School. The Rosenberg family was Jewish and Julius’ father hoped he would continue in his Hebrew studies and one day become a rabbi. But by his senior year in high school, he found a passion in politics.
After majoring in engineering at City College of York, he would become a member of the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists, and Technicians (FAECT), a militant union for white-collar professionals with a pro-Communist leadership. He soon became a member of the YCL, the Young Communist League, which became a major part of Julius’ life to the point that it almost affected his studied.
By 1943, four years after Ethel and Julius were married, they had become passionate believers in Communism. They had moved pas the Young Communist League and had become full members in the Communist Party and, Julius especially, were always dedicated activists. This was the era of the Second Popular Front, when Party members were being urged to do everything in their power to support the war effort. American Communist leader Earl Browder stressed that Party membership was thoroughly compatible with American Patriotism and the wartime alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union lent credibility to his assertion. Hollywood movies like Song of Russia and Mission to Moscow, reflecting a utopian view of the Soviet Union were being made with the official blessing of the U.S. government, and such conservative figures as Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and General Douglas MacArthur heaped praise on our heroic Russian allies.
By the end of 1943, Julius Rosenbergs life underwent a major change. Although he remained at his Signal Corps Job, sometime late in that year, he and Ethel quietly dropped out of the Party activities that had been so important to them since they were teenagers. The following February, when their branch of the Communist Party was dissolved as part of a routine Party reorganization, they alone of the old members failed to take up their new assignment to a neighborhood Party club.
There are two possible explanations for the Rosenbergs decision to leave the Party during the end of 1943. One is a very innocent and simple explanation. Ethel had just given birth to the couples first child and Julius had a very demanding government job
that would be threatened if his Communist affiliation came to light. Basically, their growing professional and family responsibilities would leave them neither the time nor the passion for political activism.
However, Ruth Greenglass, wife of David Greenglass, would later charge that her in-laws dropped out for quite different reasons. Ruth had claimed that sometime in 1943 Julius confided to her that he had begun to feel that he was slated for something else. Julius decided, Ruth stated, “that he would rather do something active than be active in the Party itself.” He told her that he had begun, on his own initiative, to try to make contact with someone who could help him enter a new line of activity. David Greenglass, brother of Ethel Rosenberg, would go on to say that earlier that year, before he left for the army, Julius had begun to talk to him, always in abstract terms, about the subject of espionage. These hints about espionage would later translate into an espionage ring that Julius and Ethel would supposedly create where they were the leaders. He would use his brother-in-law, David Greenglass, as one of their main conspirators.
David Greenglass joined the army on April 28, 1943. David moved up in the ranks very quickly, all the while writing letter to Ruth (his wife) about how he would “raise the red flag” and “socialism would be their future.” In one of his letters, David’s declaration of love for Ruth is inevitably merged with his expressions of his political enthusiasm. He wrote, “Although I’d love to have you my arms, I am content without so long as there is a vital battle to be fought with a cruel ruthless foe. Victory shall be ours and the future is socialism’s.” During these years in the army, David always showed his loyalty to socialism and the Communist Party in his letters. In another letter, he wrote, “Darling, during lunch I had two discussions on political questions with some fellows. I used the utmost patience and care in the choice of words so that I could get my point across and still not be suspected of Communism. Well, I believe that I did get something across to them and I will continue to work on them further. Ill raise the red flag yet so don’t worry about the future.”
The turning point of Greenglasses involvement in the conspiracy came when he was chosen to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project. This is when Julius received information about the making of the Atomic bomb from David Greenglass. Greenglass wrote to Ruth, “ I was happy o hear that you spent a pleasant day with the Rosenbergs. My darling, I most certainly will be glad to be apart of the community project that Julius and his friend have in mind. Count me in dear or should I say say it has my vote. If it has yours, count us in.” This letter showed that Greenglass has been trying to alert Julius Rosenberg about the nature of his work on the atomic bomb as early as the summer of 1944. As for the “friends” mentioned in the letter, that was an euphanism for the Russians. Rosenberg also did his best to explain to Ruth the significance of David’s work on the Atomic Bomb. He told her that the atomic bomb was “the biggest thing yet, that it was top secret, and that he felt it was information that should be shared.” Ruth did not like the idea at first but was convinced by Ethel to at least ask David about it because she thought it would be something he would like to be involved in.
Ruth went to visit David in Albuquerque and told him what Julius had said. It was then and only then that they made their final decision to go along with Julius’ plan. It was then that David first told Ruth (to tell Julius) in as much detail as he could remember about the layout and operations of the Los Alamos installation (Manhattan Project Site). He also told about some of the prominent scientists who were working on the project. When Greenglass received a furlough in 1945, he returned to New York for a brief visit. It was at this time he relayed more information to Julius concerning the Atomic Bomb.
This was just the beginning of the acts of espionage done by Greenglass and Rosenberg. Soon, other people who were called couriers were brought in by Julius to get the information from the Greenglasses and deliver it to Julius. One of these couriers was Harry gold, who would basically perpetuate the arrest of the Rosenbergs and Greenglass.
The bomb waws dropped on David Greenglass and Julius Rosenberg on February 2nd, 1950 when Klaus Fuchs was arrested. It was Fuchs arrest and conviction that led to the arrest of Henry Gold, to the arrest of David Greenglass and finally to the arrests of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Fuchs was a brilliant scientist and ex-patriot from Nazi Germany who on his own initiative, confessed to British authorities that while working in United States he had given secrets o the Atomic Bomb to the Russian. The officially presented facts were that Klaus Fuchs, while working at Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1945, passed to Harry Gold, an American industrial chemist, the secrets of the atom bomb. Gold also at this time received atom bomb secrets from David Greenglass, an enlisted man in the US army who also worked at Los Alamos, and then passed the secrets to Anatoli Yakovelv. He was a member of the Russian consulate in New York who forwarded the information to the Soviet Union. Greenglasses brother-in-law Julius Rosenberg, an electrical engineer in New York, and his wife Ethel were the masterminds of the spy operation.
These actions led to the arrest of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg as the masterminds behind this espionage operation. Julius Rosenberg was arrested on July 17, 53 while Ethel was arrested some time later. Their trial began on March 6, 1951.
The trial of the United States of America versus Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg began on March 6, 1951. The case started out with Judge Irving R. Kaufman explaining to the jury that the punishment would be decided by him alone. He told them “That is completely within my jurisdiction, no within the jurisdiction of the jurrors.”
The indictment by the Grand Jury read as follows: “It is charged that the two defendants, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, from 1944, until the time when they were indicted by this Grand Jury some months ago, conspired and agreed with each other and alos other conspirators, including Harry Gold, David Greenglass, David Wolfe, Ruth Greenglass, and one Anatoli Yakolev, an agent official of the Soviet Union, and with others to deliver information, documents, sketches and material vital to the national defense of our country, to a foreign power, namely to Soviet Russia.”
The prosecution, attorney Irving Saypol, look to prove that the evidence will show that the loyalty and the allegiance of the Rosenbergs were not to the United States, but that it was to Communism, Communes in this country, and communism throughout the world. They also looked to show at the arrest of the Rosenbergs, Greenglass stole and turned over o them and to their conspirator Harry Gold, at secret location, sketches and descriptions of secrets concerning atomic energy and sketches of the very bomb itself. At this point in the case, the defense objected at Saypols opening statement on the grounds that the introduction of communism to the case was not relevant. This will be discussed later in the paper in great detail. Let’s now move o to what secrets of the atom bomb were revealed.
The atomic secrets that were given to Harry Gold and then to Julius Rosenberg, What was handed over to Gold as supplied by Greenglass during testimony was a list of scientists who worked on the project, some possible recruits for Soviet espionage, and a sketch of he lens mold pus a written description describing the diagram.
The sketch of lens mold and the written description was that of the more advance implosion type atom bomb that was being developed since his arrival at Los Alamos. However, how useful was Greenglasses information of the atom bomb to any foreign country? Judge Kaufman emphasized the importance of the information conveyed by Greenglass in regard to the A-bomb. In recent years however, critics wondered if the Rosenbergs Espionage was of real significance. It is impossible, they argue, for an army mechanic with a high school educations and a second class security clearance to have had the capability of producing anything that could have been of real value to he Russians. A Nobel prize-winning physicist Harold C. Urey contended in a telegram to President Eisenhower first days before the Rosenbergs’ execution, “A man of Greenglass’s capacity is wholly incapable of transmitting the physics, chemistry, and mathematics of the bomb to anyone.”
Phillip Morrison, co-holder of the patent on the Nagasaki implosion type bomb, and a major Los Alamos physicist, also conceded that Greenglass information would be useless to the Russians and if any of the information was useful, I would have been from Klaus Fuchs. The precise content of the information that Klaus Fucks gave the Soviets through Harry Gold is in fact the real “atomic secret”, which was never revealed at the Rosenberg or the Fuchs trial. Greenglass’ sketch was babyish in comparison to Fuchs. Fuchs diagrams shows the array of spherical components of the bomb and the calculations to go with it. When the diagram was shown to Phillip Morrison, he stated, “It’s the real thing.”
The only reason David Greenglass was looked at as important was because he was at the Los Alamos lab before Fuchs. He made his sketches first and they were received first by the Russians. However, once they received Fuch’s sketches, Greenglass’ information was deemed useless. This shows that the Rosenbergs were technically guilty of espionage, but in actuality the information Julius Rosenberg was sending from David Greenglass was useless.
At 11:01 A.M. on March 29, 1951, the jury brought in their verdict of guilty. Then Judge Kaufman addressed the courtroom. He believed that in his opinion the jury’s verdict was indeed correct. He also stated, “I must say that as an individual I cannot be happy because it is a sad day for America. The thought that citizens of our country would lend themselves to the destruction to their own country by he most destructive weapon know to man is so shocking I can’ find the words to describe it.”
On April 5th, 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death. Judge Kaufman adressed the Rosenbergs before he stated their punishment. He stated that, in his mind, what they had done was worse than committing murder. He told them that the punishment that he had reached for them was not an easy one but was one the one that would bring justice. He stated, “It is not in my power, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, to forgive you. Only the lord can find mercy for what you have done… he sentence of the court upon Julius and Ethel Rosenberg is, for the crime for which you have been convicted, you are here by sentenced to the punishment of death.”
After the final verdict, ,many appeals followed in an attempt to save the Rosenbergs lives. All of these appeals and petitions reached the highest court in the land, but in the end they were all denied. Julius Rosenberg was electrocuted on June 19, 1953 at six minutes after eight he was pronounced dead. Ethel Rosenberg was then electrocuted at sixteen minutes after eight she was pronounced dead.
The Rosenberg case was a monumental one in American history. It involved a number of criminals who successfully stole and transported information about the American atomic bomb to Russian intelligence. Russia was a Communist nation and during this time period, Communism brought the fear of God into many people of the world and the United States. The Bolshevik Revolution of November 7, 1917 and Lenin’s call for the overthrow of the capitalist world started the Red Scare and the history of American anti-Communism.
Lenin created the ideology of Communism and was able to overthrow tsarist Russia and unify the Russian state as the Soviet Union. From there he looked to expand the Soviet Union and Communism throughout the world.
From the beginning the American public was shocked by the Bolsheviks disregard for the traditional and considered their separate peace with Germany a great betrayal. The nation watched Red Scourge moved westward in Europe. The net result of this was the implantation of the Bolshevik in the American mind as the center of all that was evil. However, great sympathy immediately occurred for the Russian revolution from the American radicals. In September 1919, two domestic Communist Parties were created, and while the movement remained very small, its noise more than compensated for its size.
These American Communist held parades and meetings, and distributed pamphlets and other literature in hope of calling more American radicals to action. Now hat the war was over, people were still conditioned to the danger of spies and sabotage. So that just escalated the height of the Red Scare. Fortunately, the great Red Scare soon subsided, but not before the forces of reaction implicit in the 1919 economic, political, and social environment achieved their goal. Civil liberties were prostrate, the labor movement of the capital was enhanced, and complete antipathy toward reform was enthroned. In this respect, the Red Scare served as the major vehicle on which the American nation rode from a victorious war into a bankrupt peace.
The fear of Communism may have subsided, but the awareness of it did not. The United States became involved in a Cold War with the Soviet Union. Each nation struggled for position, so each had to be weary of spies. The Cold War did not end until 1991, but it began around 1945, which was the coming of the second Red Scare. This was right during the time of the Rosenberg conspiracy and then trial.
That is the larger issue in this case, Communism. As stated earlier, the prosecution looked to prove that he loyalty and allegiance of the Rosenbergs was to Communism. They also looked to prove that by stealing Americas’ secrets and by giving them to the Soviet Union, the Rosenbergs looked to advance its cause and the cause of world Communism. Rosenbergs attorney, Edmund Bloch, responeded by objecting to the statements that Communism was a motive. He stated, “I object to Communism being mentioned at all on the grounds that there is no casual connection between Communist and the crime charged in the indictment. If it is done for the purpose of showing motive, hen they have to show that there is some casual connection.”
Saypol responded by saying that a connection would be shown. Judge Kaufman accepted Saypol’s statement and the testimony was admitted on the theory of motive. But why would Communism necessarily be a motive? A belief in Communistic principals would not necessarily mean that a Communist would be loyal to Russia simply because Russia was a Communist country. I will look to see if the government was using primitive bias as a substitute for motive.
In his opening speech, Irving Saypol linked the “espionage” for the defendants with an affinity for communism. No matter how unethical, Saypol’s coupling of communism and espionage was a masterful courtroom tactic. Of course, he trial was not technically about treason. Only a limited sense was it supposed to be about communism, yet once there two explosive issues were joined, the terms of the Rosenberg case were irrevocably established. In only minutes, Saypol framed and fused the underlying, politically stated themes of he trial. The press, and news media in general would find this framing and irresistible agenda setter.
These opening comments deeply affected how the press reported the case. He New York Times opening day deadlines stated: “Theft of atom bomb secrets in War stressed at Spy Trial.”
These headlines were similar in other papers and all the articles wrote something about communism. In turn, Irving Saypol’s opening statements clearly reflected the headlines for the day. Irving Saypol’s first say comment raises Bernard Cohans’s original pre-empirical hypothesis of agenda setting. Cohen stated, “The press may not be successful much of he time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about…The world will look different to different people; depending… on he map hat is drawn for them by writers, editors, and publishers of papers they read.
What Saypol did was turn this case of conspiracy to commit espionage into a case of communist action in the minds of he media and the public. This was basically devastating to the defense of the Rosenbergs during this ago of near total anti-communism.
When Julius Rosenberg approached the stand was when Saypol would once again use his begin his taller on communism. Saypol basically bombarded Rosenberg with questions of his political beliefs and on communism right from the start of his crazy examination. Rosenberg would answer any question relating to he charges of espionage without even a hint of reluctance. But his refusal to answer questions exposing him o relatively minor consequences concerning his communist affiliations were repeatedly presented by Saypol and Kaufman as evidence of his quilt in respect to he major charges he faced.
No matter how much Rosenberg’s attorney tried, he could not sop Saypol from hammering at the point that Rosenberg was a communist. Bloch, (Rosenberg’s attorney,) stated, “If Mr. Saypol wants a concession, I will concede right now that this witness was removed from Government service upon charges that he was a member of he communist party.” Even this would not stop Saypol’s question about communism.
Saypol also had known in advance how Rosenberg would respond to his questions. Throughout the trial, while waiting to testify, Rosenberg’s cellmate and closes friend was Jerome Tartakow, a criminal and government informer. Tartakow was interviewed regularly by the FBI. In one of these interviews, dated March 22, 1951, Tartakow informed Agent Cammarota that “Rosenberg stated that there are two questions he would refuse to answer in court on the grounds that they would tend to incriminate him. The first was as to whether or not he is a member of the communist party. The second was as to whether or not he knows William Peal.”34 Since he had this information before he questioned Julius Rosenberg, attorney Saypol knew that Rosenberg would refuse to answer whether or not he was a Communist party member no matter how may times the question was asked of him.
It was never found if Rosenberg was actually a communist because the evidence that the government supposedly had could not be found. Saypol finally decided to throw out the issue of communism because of the lack of evidence, but the damage created by his questioning had already been done. Saypol consented to letting Rosenberg involve the Fifth Amendment at his pleasure. This was a carefully set trap that would explode first in the courtroom, then in the media. Before the trial, Rosenberg told Bloch that he and his wife would “plead the fifth” to any questions about his political beliefs. Bloch’s father, Alevander Bloch, argued that to invoke fifth amendment in reply o a political question would suggest hat the defendants had something to conceal.
When Julius Rosenberg refused to answer questions about his politics, he might as well been waving a red flag.
The Rosenbergs were not on trial for their political beliefs, but Judge Kaufman allowed he prosecution to probe the subject freely. I was a prime opportunity for Saypol to convince the jury of the defendants’ guilty by association before he persuaded the nation by newspaper he next day.
What Saypol pulled off in this case, with the help of Judge Kaufman, was using primitive bias as a substitute proof for motive. By introducing communism into this case as a motive, Saypol re-ignited a mass hysteria of communism in a nation that was in an age of total anti-communist belief. He even could not prove that Rosenberg was a communist through lack of evidence and silence from Rosenberg, he did succeed in planting a seed in the mind of he jurors and he public. He tried and succeeded in making the jury and the people believe that the defendant did not just try to commit espionage against the US, but that they tried to do it to advance the cause of Communism as a possible motive. He was able to create a bias in the jury and people against the Rosenbergs because they thought that they might have been Communist based on the Rosenbergs lack of testimony. Even though Communism was not found to be a motive and was thrown out of the case, it created enough hysteria to cause the death of he Rosenbergs.

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