testified that he was engaged in Soviet espionage from 1935 up to the
time of his arrest in May, 1950, and that from 1944 to 1946 his
espionage superior was a Russian, known to him as "John." He
identified a picture of Anatoli A. Yakovlev, former Soviet Vice-Consul
in New York City, as "John." Yakovlev's picture was admitted into
In June, 1944,
Gold had an espionage meeting with Dr. Klaus Fuchs in Woodside,
Queens, New York. As a result of this meeting, Gold wrote a report and
turned it over to Yakovlev about a week or so later, when he told
Yakovlev that at Gold's next meeting with Fuchs, the latter would give
Gold information relating to the application of nuclear fission to the
production of military weapons.
In the latter
part of 1944, Gold met Fuchs in the vicinity of Borough Hall,
Brooklyn, and received a package from Fuchs which Gold later turned
over to Yakovlev.
meeting with Fuchs was in July, 1944, in the vicinity of 9th Street
and Central Park West, New York City. About a week or two later, Gold
gave Yakovlev a report he had written concerning this conversation and
told Yakovlev that Fuchs had given further information concerning the
work of a joint American and British project to produce an atom bomb.
Subsequently, Gold had a regularly scheduled series of meetings with
Yakovlev, who instructed Gold how to continue his contacts with Fuchs.
Gold stated that this was to obtain information from a number of
American espionage sources and give it to Yakovlev. He pointed out he
organized his meetings with these sources by using recognition
signals, such as an object or a piece of paper and a code phrase in
the form of a greeting, always using a pseudonym. He also stated that
his sources lived in cities other than Philadelphia (Gold's home city)
and that he paid money to these sources which he had in turn received
January, 1945, Gold met Fuchs in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and
received a package of papers which he later turned over to Yakovlev in
New York City. He told Yakovlev that Fuchs had mentioned that a lens
was being worked on in connection with the atom bomb. His next meeting
with Fuchs was to be in Santa Fe on the first Saturday of June, 1945.
1945, Gold met Yakovlev on 23rd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues in
New York City. At this meeting, Yakovlev indicated the Russians'
interest in the plans mentioned by Fuchs.
On the last
Saturday in May of 1945, Gold met Yakovlev inside a restaurant on 3rd
Avenue in New York City, to discuss Gold's next meeting with Fuchs in
Santa Fe. Yakovlev instructed Gold to take on an additional mission in
Albuquerque, New Mexico. Gold protested, but Yakovlev said it was
vital, pointing out that a woman was supposed to go but was unable to
make the trip. Yakovlev gave Gold an onionskin paper, on which was
typed the name "Greenglass," an address on High Street, Albuquerque,
and the recognition signal, "I am from Julius." Yakovlev also gave
Gold a piece of cardboard cut from a food package. He stated that
Greenglass in Albuquerque would have the matching piece and that if
Greenglass was not in, Greenglass's wife would give Gold the
information. Yakovlev then gave Gold $500 in an envelope to turn over
to Greenglass and instructed Gold to follow an indirect route to Santa
Fe and Albuquerque in order to minimize the danger of surveillance.
Gold arrived in
Santa Fe on Saturday, June 2, 1945, and met Fuchs, who gave him a
package of papers. Gold left Santa Fe in the afternoon on June 2nd by
bus and arrived in Albuquerque that evening. He went to the High
Street address, found that Greenglass and his wife were not in, and
stayed at a rooming house overnight. The next day he went to the High
Street address and David Greenglass opened the door. Gold said, "Mr.
Greenglass." David answered, "Yes." Gold then said, "I come from
Julius," and showed Greenglass the piece of cardboard which Yakovlev
had given him. Greenglass requested Gold to come into his apartment,
then took a piece of cardboard from a woman's handbag and compared it
with the piece Gold had given him. The pieces matched. Gold introduced
himself to the Greenglasses as "Dave from Pittsburgh."
Gold that the visit was a surprise and that it would take several
hours to prepare the A-bomb material. He started to tell Gold about
possible recruits at Los Alamos, but Gold cut him short and pointed
out to David that it was very hazardous and that David should be
circumspect in his behavior. Gold left and returned later that
afternoon, when David gave him an envelope which he said contained
information on the atom bomb. Gold turned over to David the envelope
containing the $500. Greenglass mentioned to Gold that he expected to
get a furlough sometime around Christmas and gave Gold Julius's phone
number in New York City in the event that Gold wanted to reach
to New York City by train on June 5, 1945. While en route, he examined
the material David had given him and put it in a manila envelope. He
put the material he had received from Fuchs into a different manila
envelope. That evening Gold met Yakovlev along Metropolitan Avenue in
Brooklyn and gave him both envelopes.
About two weeks
later Gold met Yakovlev on Main Street in Flushing, New York. Yakovlev
told Gold that the information he had received from him on June 5 had
been sent immediately to the Soviet Union and that the information he
had received from Greenglass "was extremely excellent and valuable."
At this meeting, Gold related the details of his conversation with
Fuchs and Greenglass. Fuchs had stated that tremendous progress had
been made on the atom bomb and that the first explosion had been set
for July, 1945.
In early July,
1945, Gold met Yakovlev in a seafood restaurant. Yakovlev said it was
necessary to make arrangements for another Soviet agent to get in
touch with Gold. At Yakovlev's instructions, Gold took a sheet of
paper from his pocket which had the heading of a company of
Philadelphia. Gold tore off the top portion containing the name and on
the reverse side of the sheet wrote in diagonal fashion, "Directions
to Paul Street." Yakovlev then tore the paper in an irregular fashion.
He kept one portion and Gold kept the other. Yakovlev said that if
Gold received two tickets in the mail without a letter, it would mean
that on a definite number of days after the date on the ticket Gold
was to go to the roadway stop of the Astoria Line for a meeting which
would take place in a restaurant-bar. Gold's Soviet contact would be
standing at the bar and approach Gold, asking to be directed to Paul
Street. They would then match the torn pieces of paper.
1945, Gold again met Yakovlev in Brooklyn and was told to take a trip
in September, 1945, to see Fuchs. Gold suggested to Yakovlev that
since he was going to see Fuchs, he might as well go to Albuquerque to
see David Greenglass. Yakovlev answered that it was inadvisable
because it might endanger Gold to have further contact with Greenglass.
1945, Gold met Fuchs in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On his return to New
York City on September 22, 1945, Gold went to a prearranged meeting
place to see Yakovlev, who failed to appear. About ten days later,
Gold met Yakovlev at Main Street, Flushing, and turned over to him a
package he had received from Fuchs. He told Yakovlev that Fuchs has
said there was no longer the open and free cooperation betwen the
Americans and the British and that many departments were closed to
Fuchs. Fuchs also stated that he would have to return to England and
that he was worried because the British had gotten to Kiel, Germany,
ahead of the Russians and might discover a Gestapo dossier there on
Fuchs which would reveal his strong Communist ties and background.
Fuchs and Gold also discussed the details of a plan whereby Fuchs
could be contacted in England.
1945, Gold had another meeting with Yakovlev at which time Gold
mentioned that Greenglass would probably be coming home around
Christmas for a furlough. Gold said plans should be made to get in
touch with Rosenberg in an effort to obtain more information from
1946, Gold again met with Yakovlev, and was told about a man Yakovlev
had tried to contact who was under continuous surveillance. Yakovlev
used this story to illustrate that it was better to give up the
contact than endanger their work.
Early in December, 1946, Gold received two tickets to a boxing match
in New York City through the mail. The tickets were addressed to
Gold's Philadelphia home incorrectly and too late for Gold to keep the
appointment. At 5 p.m. on December 26, 1946, Gold received a telephone
call at his place of employment. The voice said, "This is John." Gold
then arranged with John to meet an unidentified man in a certain movie
theater that night. The man identified himself by handing Gold the
torn piece of paper containing the heading which Gold and Yakovlev had
previously prepared. This man asked Gold to proceed to 42nd Street and
3rd Avenue, New York City, to meet Yakovlev.
He met Yakovlev,
who asked if Gold had anything further from Fuchs, apologized for his
ten months' absence and explained that he had to lie low. He stated
that he was glad Gold was working in New York and told Gold he should
begin to plan for a mission to Paris, France, in March 1947, where
Gold would meet a physicist. He gave Gold an onionskin paper setting
forth information for his proposed meeting in Paris. During the
coversation with Yakovlev, Gold mentioned the name of his employer,
and, upon hearing this, Yakovlev became very excited. He told Gold
that Gold had almost ruined eleven years of work by working for this
individual because he had been investigated in 1945. Yakovlev dashed
away, stating that Gold would not see him in the United States again.
interesting to note that the Soviet intelligence services, in
utilizing Gold to contact Greenglass, made a mistake in security which
ultimately led to the uncovering of the Rosenberg spy ring, a network
independent of the one Gold was involved in. From FBI knowledge of
Soviet intelligence activities, it is known that the Soviets with
their stress on security will not usually allow a member of one
network to know of the existence of another network so that in the
event one network is detected, the other will not be compromised. It
will be recalled that Gold's protest to Yakovlev about contacting
Greenglass in Albuquerque went unheeded. The Soviets undoubtedly found
good reason to regret this error in judgment.
chemist testified that from 1944 to 1947 he was associated with the
atom bomb project at Los Alamos. He stated that his own work was
related to implosion research and classified secret. He further stated
that he would go to the machine shop, furnish sketches to the
supervisor of the shop and determine what was needed. The nuclear
chemist recalled seeing David Greenglass in the machine shop. He
identified the sketches prepared by David Greenglass at the trial and
entered as exhibits reasonably accurate replicas of the type of
sketches he, himself, submitted to the machine shop. These specimens
could have been of value to a foreign power, the nuclear chemist
stated, and would reveal to any expert what was going on at Los Alamos
and indicate to the expert its relation to the atom bomb.
testified that he first met Sobell while both were attending a high
school in New York City. He further stated that he and Sobell also
attended college together in New York from 1934 to 1938. Elitcher
graduated with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and
pointed out that Julius Rosenberg also studied engineering at the same
college during this same period. Elitcher saw Sobell daily at school
but saw Rosenberg less frequently. After graduating, Elitcher was
employed with the Bureau of Ordnance, Navy Department, Washington,
D.C., from November, 1938, until October, 1948.
1938, Elitcher resided in Washington, D.C. During December of that
year Sobell came to Washington and stayed at a house next to
Elitcher's place of residence. In April or May, 1939, Elitcher and
Sobell took up residence in a private home, and in May of 1940, they
moved into an apartment. During the period they lived together Sobell
was also employed at the Bureau of Ordnance. In September, 1941,
Sobell left his employment to go to a university in Michigan in order
to continue his studies.
further advised that during the period he lived with Sobell they had
conversations concerning the Communist Party and that, at Sobell's
request, Elitcher joined the Young Communist League. About September,
1939, Elitcher attended a meeting with Sobell at which there was a
discussion about forming a branch of the Communist Party. This branch
was formed and Elitcher joined the Communist Party at the end of 1939.
Meetings of this group were held at the homes of various members and
dues were paid to the chairman of the group. Elitcher stated that
Sobell was the first chairman of the group. At meetings, discussions
were conducted of news events based on the "Daily Worker" and
literature such as "The Communist." The group also discussed Marxist
and Leninist theory. Suggestions were made to the members to join the
American Peace Mobilization and to assist the American Youth Congress
convention. Discussions were also held concerning the Hitler-Stalin
Pact, and members were instructed to strive to get support of other
people for the Russian position. Elitcher continued to go to these
meetings until September, 1941. In 1942, Communist Party branches were
formed which contained groups of employees from particular Government
agencies, and Elitcher joined the Navy branch of the Communist Party.
testified that around June, 1944, he received a telephone call from
Julius Rosenberg who identified himself as a former college classmate
of Elitcher. At Elitcher's invitation Rosenberg visited the Elitcher
home the same evening. Rosenberg told Elitcher what the Soviet Union
was doing in the war effort and stated that some war information was
being denied that country. Rosenberg pointed out, however, that some
people were providing military information to assist the Soviet Union.
Rosenberg asked Elitcher to supply him with plans, reports, or books
regarding new military equipment and anything Elitcher thought would
be of value to the Soviet Union, pointing out that the final choice
for the Soviet Union of the value of the information would not be up
to Elitcher, but that the information would be evaluated by someone
1944, Elitcher went on a one-week vacation in a state park in West
Virginia with Morton Sobell and his future wife. During this vacation,
Elitcher told Sobell about Rosenberg's visit and request for
information to be given to the Soviet Union. When he remarked that
Rosenberg had said Sobell was helping in this, Sobell became angry and
said that Rosenberg should not have mentioned his name.
In the summer
of 1945, Elitcher was in New York on vacation and stayed at the
apartment of Julius Rosenberg. Rosenberg mentioned to Elitcher that
Rosenberg had been dismissed from his employment for security reasons
and that his membership in the Communist Party seemed to be the basis
of the case against him. Rosenberg had been worried about this matter
because he thought his dismissal might have had some connection to his
espionage activity, but he was relieved when he found out it concerned
only his Communist activity.
testified that in September, 1945, Rosenberg came to Elitcher's home
and told him that even though the war was over, Russia's need for
military information continued. Rosenberg asked Elitcher about the
type of work he was doing, and Elitcher told him he was working on
sonar and anti-submarine fire-control devices.
In the early
part of 1946, Elitcher visited an electric company in connection with
official business and stayed at the home of Sobell in Schenectady. At
the time, Sobell was working at this electric company. On this
occasion Sobell and Elitcher discussed their work.
Later that year
Elitcher again saw Sobell, and Sobell asked about an ordnance
pamphlet, but Elitcher said it was not yet ready. Sobell suggested
that Elitcher see Rosenberg again.
At the end of
1946 or in 1947, Elitcher telephoned Rosenberg and said he would like
to see him. At this time Rosenberg advised Elitcher that there had
been some changes in the espionage work, that he felt there was a
leak, and that Elitcher should not come to see him until further
notice. He also advised Elitcher to discontinue his Communist
testified that in 1947, Sobell had secured employment at an instrument
company in New York City doing classified work for the Armed Forces.
Elitcher saw Sobell there several times and on one occasion had lunch
with him at a restaurant in New York City. Sobell asked Elitcher on
this occasion if he knew of any progressive students or graduates and
if so, whether he would put Sobell in touch with them. Elitcher said
he did not know any.
1948, Elitcher left the Bureau of Ordnance and went to work for the
instrument company in New York City where Sobell was employed. He
lived in a house in Flushing, New York, and Sobell lived on a street
behind him. They went to work together in a car pool. During a trip
home from work one evening, Sobell again asked Elitcher about
individuals Elitcher might know who would be progressive. Sobell
pointed out to Elitcher that because of security measures being taken
by the Government, it was necessary to find students to provide
information whom no one would suspect.
further testified that prior to leaving the Bureau of Ordnance, he had
discussed with Sobell his desire to secure new employment during a
visit Elitcher made to New York City in the summer of 1948. Sobell
told Elitcher not to leave the Bureau of Ordnance until Elitcher had
talked to Rosenberg.
Sobell made an appointment for Elitcher to meet with Rosenberg. They
met on the street in New York, and Rosenberg told Elitcher that it was
too bad Elitcher had decided to leave because Rosenberg needed someone
to work at the Bureau of Ordnance for espionage purposes. Sobell was
present at this meeting and urged Elitcher to stay at the Bureau of
Ordnance. Rosenberg and Elitcher then had dinner together at a
restaurant in New York City where they continued to talk about
Elitcher's desire to leave his job. Rosenberg wanted to know where
important defense work was being done, and Elitcher mentioned
laboratories at Whippany, New Jersey. Rosenberg suggested that
possibly Elitcher could take courses at college to improve his status.
testified that in July, 1948, he took a trip to New York City by car
during which he believed he was being followed. He proceeded to
Sobell's home and told him of his suspicion. Later that evening,
Sobell mentioned to Elitcher that he had some information for
Rosenberg which was too valuable to destroy, and he wanted to get it
to Rosenberg that night. He requested Elitcher to accompany him.
observed Sobell take a 35-millimeter film container with him and place
it in the glove compartment of Sobell's car. Sobell and he then drove
to a building in New York City and parked on Catherine Street. Sobell
took the container out of the glove compartment and left. When he
returned, Elitcher asked him what Rosenberg thought of Elitcher's
suspicion that he was being followed, and Sobell answered that
Rosenberg thought it was nothing to worry about.
testified that Sobell possessed a camera, some 35-mm film and an
enlarger, and that all of the material Sobell worked on in his various
places of employment was classified. He stated he last saw Sobell in
cross-examination, Elitcher recalled that during Rosenberg's visit to
his house in June, 1944, which was after D-Day, Rosenberg mentioned
that he had a drink with a Russian in celebration of this event.
Elitcher testified that Rosenberg contacted him at least nine times
from 1944 to 1948 in an attempt to persuade him to obtain information
for him, but that he always put Rosenberg off. In 1948, Elitcher told
Rosenberg that he definitely would not cooperate with him.
Bentley, a confessed former Communist, testified that she was a member
of the Harlem section of the Communist Party from 1935 to 1938. In
July, 1938, she secured a job in the Italian Library of Information,
and for the remainder of that year was instructed to go underground
and to pretend not to know other Communists. While employed there, she
came to know Feruccio Marini, a Communist Party official who handled
Italian Communist activity in the United States. She knew Marini under
the name of F. Brown. In October, 1938, she met Jacob Golos through
Marini. Golos was in the Communist underground and operated World
Tourist, Inc., a travel agency set up in 1927 by the Communist Party.
Until his death in November, 1943, Golos had been a member of the
three-man control commission of the Communist Party in the United
Bentley, the Communist Party of the United States was part of
Communist International. After Golos died, Bentley had other contacts,
the last one being Anatole Gromov, First Secretary of the Soviet
Embassy in the United States; her final contact with Gromov being in
December, 1945. She stated that the information which Golos had
obtained was passed on to the Soviet Embassy.
died, Bentley's duties consisted of collecting information from
Communists employed in the U.S. Government and passing it on through
Communist superiors to Moscow. She stated that the Communist Party in
the United States served the interests of Moscow. She revealed that
she transmitted orders to Earl Browder from Moscow which he had to
accept. Pointing out the close relationship between the Communist
Party in this country and Communist International, Bentley stated that
this close relationship was preached at Communist Party meetings. Any
member who did not adhere to the Party line, as dictated by Communist
International in Moscow, was expelled. She revealed that all of her
contacts in her work were obtained from the Communist Party.
In the summer
of 1945, Bentley reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
all her activities and was asked if she would continue her activities
under FBI guidance, which she did until the spring of 1947.
that, during her association with Golos, she became aware of the fact
that Golos knew an engineer, named "Julius." In the fall of 1942, she
accompanied Golos to Knickerbocker Village but remained in his
automobile. She saw Golos conferring with Julius on the street but at
some distance. From conversations with Golos, she learned that Julius
lived in Knickerbocker Village. She also stated that she had telephone
conversations with Julius from the fall of 1942 until November, 1943.
with FBI Agents, Bentley had described Julius as being about 5'10",
slim, and wearing glasses. She had also advised that he was the leader
of a Communist cell of engineers which was turned over to Golos for
Soviet espionage purposes. Julius was to be the contact between Golos
and the group. Golos believed this cell of engineers was capable of
by the FBI disclosed that Julius Rosenberg resided in a development
known as Knickerbocker Village, was 5'10" tall, slim, and wore
glasses. Bentley, however, was unable to make a positive
identification of Julius.
Ethel Rosenberg testified and denied all espionage allegations against
them. They admitted having a console table, but denied it was a gift
from the Russians, as claimed by David Greenglass and his wife. They
stated that they bought the table at a New York City department store
in 1944 or 1945. On cross-examination, they were asked questions as to
their Communist affiliations but refused to answer on the grounds of
On March 28,
1951, counsel for each side summed up their respective case to the
jury. On March 29, 1951, the jury rendered a verdict of guilty against
the three defendents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and Morton Sobell.
On April 5,
1951, the following sentences were imposed: Julius Rosenberg, death,
such sentence to be carried out during the week of May 21, 1951; Ethel
Rosenberg, death, such sentence to be carried out during the week of
May 21, 1951; and Morton Sobell, imprisonment for a term of 30 years.
Communist Party Front Activities and Propaganda on Behalf of
legal struggle waged on behalf of the Rosenbergs was matched in
intensity by an extraordinary propaganda drive to "Save the Rosenbergs."
Significantly, the Communists' frenzied effort to rescue the
Rosenbergs from what they termed "legal murder" was deferred for more
than a year after their arrests and for more than four months after
they had been found guilty in a trial which the Communists later
called a "monstrous frame-up" and "a travesty of justice."
At first the
Rosenberg trial went completely unnoticed in the usually vigilant
Communist Party press. Not a word about the alleged Rosenberg
"frame-up" appeared in the "Daily Worker" until the day after the jury
returned a verdict of guilty. Moreover, the Party's first public
recognition of the Rosenberg case gave no hint whatever of the
tremendous propaganda storm that the Communists would later raise over
the Rosenbergs. Buried inconspicuously on page 9 of the March 30,
1951, "Daily Worker," the Rosenberg conviction was reported in routine
notice appeared in the "Daily Worker" concerning the Rosenberg case
until April 6, 1951, when it was announced under a feature headline as
follows: "Rosenbergs Sentenced to Death, Made Scapegoats for Korean
War." The article, noting that the Rosenbergs were parents of two
small children, appeared to be aimed chiefly at condemning the
severity of the sentence, rather than the verdict itself. The word
"frame-up," later to become virtually synonymous with the Rosenberg
trial in Communist propaganda, was not yet used. In the same issue of
the "Daily Worker," a front-page editorial charging that American
"panic mongers" were deliberately trying to create an atmosphere of
war made several oblique references to the Rosenberg case without,
however, directly questioning the verdict.
It was not
until midsummer of 1951 that the propaganda campaign on behalf of the
Rosenbergs began in earnest. Even at this late date, the Communist
Party did not immediately commit itself to the task of vindicating the
Rosenbergs and exposing the "hideous plot" against them. Instead, the
campaign was intitiated in the form of a series of articles in the
"National Guardian." This publication was described in 1949 by the
California Committee on Un-American Activities as notoriously
Stalinist in its staff, writers, management, and content.
It is evident
that the clemency drive on behalf of the Rosenbergs was from the
beginning a highly artificial affair, and was carefully promoted
rather than a spontaneous public reaction which the Communist press
sought to show. This was indicated from the mere fact that the "Daily
Worker" was about to print the names and addresses of hundreds of
clergymen and intellectuals who had written to the President asking
for clemency. Unless the National Committee to Secure Justice in the
Rosenberg Case (NCSJRC), or the Communist Party, had solicited such
letters themselves, the Party press would have had no way of knowing
who had written to the White House except in a few isolated incidents.
At a number of rallies sponsored by the NCSJRC, individuals in
attendance were handed telegrams, post cards, or letters which were
completely filled out and addressed to the President and which lacked
only a signature. In addition, it was reported that representatives of
the NCSJRC conducted intensive house-to-house canvasses in an effort
to obtain signatures for clemency petitions.
27, 1952, to January 17, 1953, a continuous round-the-clock picket
line was maintained by Rosenberg sympathizers at the White House
during the period that former President Truman was presumably studying
a plea for executive clemency. This "White House Clemency Vigil" was
called off on January 17, 1953, after more than 500 consecutive hours,
only when it became evident that President Truman would not rule on
the petition for clemency prior to his retirement from office.
According to the "Daily Worker," this affair climaxed on January 5,
1953, when more than 2,000 persons from 22 states arrived at the
District of Columbia to take part in the "vigil."
As the final
legal moves were being made by the Rosenbergs' defense attorneys,
thousands of pickets formed around the White House in June, 1953. The
majority of these pickets poured into Washington, D.C., from New York
City, where the NCSJRC had arranged for several special "clemency
trains" to carry these Rosenberg sympathizers to the Nation's Capital.
at the White House began at approximately 1:30 p.m. on June 14; at
4:00 p.m. the pickets marched to Ninth Street and Constitution Avenue,
Northwest, where the NCSJRC held a "prayer meeting" at which the
Rosenbergs were eulogized by officials of the Committee and several
count of the pickets by the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police
Department indicated that there were approximately 6,800 persons
involved in this attempt to pressure the President of the United
States into granting clemency for the convicted atom spies. The
NCSJRC's own estimate of the number of pickets was set at 13,000.
"prayer meeting," the majority of pickets returned to New York City,
leaving a small handful of pickets to continue the "24-hour vigil" at
the White House. The picketing of the White House continued until June
17, 1953, when after the U.S. Supreme Court recessed for the summer,
one of the Supreme Court justices announced that he had granted a stay
of execution in order that new points of law brought before him by
defense attorneys could be heard by the lower courts.
the news that the Government was successful in petitioning for an
extraordinary session of the U.S. Supreme Court, the NCSJRC went into
action and again sent pickets to parade before the White House. The
picketing continued until the execution of the Rosenbergs was
announced at approximately 8:45 p.m. on June 19, 1953, at which time
about 500 pickets were on hand at the White House.
This case has
been used by Communist Parties thoughout the world for propaganda
purposes against the United States. American embassies in Canada and
Europe were flooded with petitions for clemency by various people and
organizations. During the last few days prior to the execution of the
Rosenbergs, demonstrations were held in major capitals of Europe, such
as Paris, Rome and London. In a news release on June 20, 1953, foreign
reaction to the execution was reported as follows: " ‘Paris -
Communist-led groups swarmed through European streets last night and
early today in generally orderly demonstrations protesting the
execution of atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. A French teenager
was shot and wounded and 386 persons were arrested in Paris."
Court Action Following Convictions
employed every conceivable trick in their efforts to aid the atom
spies, including high-pressuring the courts by innumerable appeals.
The case was dragged out for a period in excess of two years.
On February 11,
1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower denied the petition for executive
clemency filed by the Rosenbergs. In denying this petition, President
Eisenhower stated, "These two individuals have been tried and
convicted of a most serious crime against the people of the United
States. They have been found guilty of conspiring with intent and
reason to believe that it would be to the advantage of a foreign
power, to deliver to the agents of that foreign power certain highly
secret atomic information relating to the national defense of the
United States. The nature of the crime for which they have been found
guilty and sentenced far exceeds that of the taking of the life of
another citizen; it involves the deliberate betrayal of the entire
Nation and could very well result in the death of many, many thousands
of innocent citizens. By their act these two individuals have, in
fact, betrayed the cause of freedom for which free men are fighting
and dying at this very hour."
Eisenhower continued, "The courts have provided every opportunity for
the submission of evidence bearing on this case. In this time-honored
tradition of American justice, a freely selected jury of their fellow
citizens considered the evidence in this case and rendered its
judgement. All rights of appeal were exercised and the conviction of
the trial court was upheld after full judicial review, including that
of the highest court in the land. I have made a careful examination
into this case, and I am satisfied that the two individuals have been
accorded their full measure of justice. There has been neither new
evidence nor have there been mitigating circumstances which would
justify altering this decision and I have determined that it is my
duty, in the interest of the people of the United States, not to set
aside the verdict of their representatives.
On May 29,
1953, the District Judge set the date of execution of the Rosenbergs
for the week of June 15, 1953. At the time, the usual execution date
at Sing Sing Prison was Thursday night, which meant the Rosenbergs
were scheduled to die on June 18, 1953.
additional appeals both to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second
Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court followed.
June 16, 1953, a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court requested the
Rosenberg defense attorneys to submit their petitions for a stay of
execution in writing. On that date, two attorneys appeared at the
Supreme Court and attempted to file petitions for a writ of habeas
corpus on behalf of the Rosenbergs. Their action in attempting to file
these writs was opposed by attorneys for the Rosenbergs. These
petitions for a writ of habeas corpus were heard by the Supreme Court
Justice in his chambers.
The main issue
made in the petition was that, under the 1946 Atomic Energy Act, the
death sentence might be imposed only upon the recommendation of the
jury and then only when the defendants were charged with intent to
injure the United States. It was argued that, inasmuch as the
conspiracy for which the Rosenbergs were convicted commenced in 1944
and existed until 1950, the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act
applied to the sentencing, rather than the provisions of the Espionage
Act of 1917.
On June 17,
1953, a stay of execution was granted by this Justice in order that
the question raised could be argued in the District Court and more
evidence received in order to determine whether there was merit to the
On June 19,
1953, a special session of the U.S. Supreme Court, which had been
called by the Chief Justice, vacated the stay of execution granted two
On June 19,
1953, the President of the United States refused to grant executive
clemency to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In this refusal, the President
stated, "Since its original review proceedings in the Rosenberg case
by the Supreme Court of the United States, the courts have considered
numerous further proceedings challenging the Rosenberg convictions and
the sentences imposed. Within the last two days, the Supreme Court,
convened in a special session, has again reviewed a further point
which one of the justices felt the Rosenbergs should have an
opportunity to present. This morning the Supreme Court ruled that
there was no substance to this point. I am convinced that the only
conclusion to be drawn from a history of this case is that the
Rosenbergs have received the benefit of every safeguard which American
justice can provide. There is no question in my mind that their
original trial and the long series of appeals constitute the fullest
measure of justice and due process of law. Throughout the innumerable
complications and technicalities of this case, no judge has ever
expressed any doubt that they committed most serious acts of
espionage. Accordingly, only most extraordinary circumstances would
warrant executive intervention in this case. I am not unmindful of the
fact that this case has aroused grave concern both here and abroad. In
this connection, 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 death may be directly attributable to what
these spies have done."
continued, "When democracy's enemies have been judged guilty of a
crime as horrible as that of which the Rosenbergs were convicted; when
the legal processes of democracy have been marshaled to their maximum
strength to protect the lives of convicted spies; when in their most
solemn judgment the tribunals of the United States have adjudged them
guilty and the sentence just, I will not intervene in this matter."
At 8:05 p.m. on
June 19, 1953, Julius Rosenberg was executed at Sing Sing Prison,
Ossining, New York. At 8:15 p.m. on the same date, Ethel Rosenberg was
executed at Sing Sing Prison.
David Greenglass, who received a 15-year sentence after a guilty plea,
was released from Federal prison on November 16, 1960. He was required
to report periodically to a parole officer until November, 1965.
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