1953 June 19

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg Executed; Civil Liberties Issues Cloud Famous Case


Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed on this day for allegedly stealing the secret to the atomic bomb and giving the information to the Soviet Union. They are the only Americans ever executed for espionage. Their case remains controversial today, and it involves many civil liberties issues, including collusion between the prosecutors and the judge.

Historians generally agree that Julius Rosenberg was a member of a Soviet spy ring and that he did give some information to his handlers. Many, however, argue that the stolen information was not the secret to the Atomic bomb and had little real value. There is general agreement that Ethel Rosenberg did not participate in spying, however. If fact, it is believed that she was given the death penalty in the belief that the sentence would cause her to confess and provide evidence against her husband.

The Rosenberg’s two sons were adopted by Abe Meeropol and his wife. Abe Meeropol was a writer and New York City school teacher who, under the pseudonym Lewis Allen wrote the lyrics for the famous song “Strange Fruit.” For Billie Holiday’s classic recording of the song, see April 20, 1939.

Learn more about the Rosenberg trial: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/rosenb/ROSENB.HTM

Read the book by the Rosenberg’s sons: Robert Meeropol and Michael Meeropol, We Are Your Sons: The Legacy of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (1975)

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