The Fear of Communism and the 1953 Rosenberg Execution
In 1950, the fear of communism put Americans on edge and one American couple living in New York became the center of this Red Scare. On June 17, 1950, Julius Rosenberg, an engineer and a member of the American Communist party, was arrested for conspiring to commit espionage against the United States. His wife, Ethel was arrested two months later. She and her husband were tried and convicted for their roles in helping the Russians and they were sentenced to death. They were electrocuted on June 19, 1953.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the only two American civilians to be executed for spying for the Russians. Despite their Communist connections, they vehemently denied the charges. They left behind two young sons.
While some people felt the Rosenbergs were caught up in the anti-communist hysteria, most Americans at the time believed the Rosenberg sentence was just. President Eisenhower issued this statement on the case:
I can only say that, by immeasurably increasing the chances of atomic war, the Rosenbergs may have condemned to death tens of millions of innocent people all over the world. The execution of two human beings is a grave matter. But even graver is the thought of the millions of dead whose deaths may be directly attributable to what these spies have done.
Pablo Picasso, who at age 62 became a member of the Communist party, was outraged at their death sentence. Just weeks before their execution, he wrote in the French newspaper, L’Humanité,
The hours count. The minutes count. Do not let this crime against humanity take place.
Although Julius Rosenberg’s activities were more documented, Ethel’s arrest and guilt have often been questioned. Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, who had also been arrested for espionage, confessed and went to prison. Years later, he admitted that he lied about Millie’s involvement, to save his wife, Ruth.
The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor is an excellent historical novel about this couple, and about the fictional character, Millie Stein, who agrees to watch Ethel’s children on the morning of Ethel’s arrest.
Click here to read my review of The Hours Count.
For more information about the Rosenbergs, visit these websites:
Wikipedia article about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Wikipedia article about the Red Scare
This Day in History article about the Rosenbergs from History.com
History in the Headlines article about Pablo Picasso from History.com
Atomic Archive article about the Rosenbergs
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