Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Rosenbergs: A Case of Love, Espionage, Deceit and Betray

Epilogue

The execution of the Rosenbergs did not end the Rosenberg Case. For years many argued for their innocence, while others brought forth evidence of their guilt. At the least, it was justifiably argued that their ultimate penalty did not fit the crime.

Most of the principal actors are gone, although David and Ruth Greenglass live on, having changed their names. Eventually, Irving Kaufman was elevated to a seat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the same court on which Jerome Frank served. Irving Saypol became a member of the New York State Supreme Court. Roy Cohn went on to fame and infamy with Senator McCarthy, eventually dying of AIDS. Emanuel Bloch died of a heart attack in January, 1954, a little more than seven months after the execution of his clients. Klaus Fuchs, after his release from prison in 1959, went to East Germany and eventually became the director of the Institute for Nuclear Research, dying there in 1988. Harry Gold died in 1974.

The Rosenberg drama persists to the present day, and it will no doubt persist beyond the lives of the participants still living. Books continue to be published, and revelations continue to appear.

It now seems clear that Julius Rosenberg was engaged in espionage. The CIA, in 1995, released "the Venona Cables," decoded Soviet documents that demonstrate Rosenberg's espionage activities. The Khrushchev memoirs mention Rosenberg's spying for Russia. Released KGB files provide further evidence. Finally, Rosenberg's Soviet contact, Alexander Feklisov, one of Klaus Fuchs' Soviet contacts, admitted that he had met with Julius Rosenberg as early as 1943, when, as with all American Communists recruited for espionage, Julius left the Party.

Considering Ethel's devotion to her husband, it is very likely that she participated in the espionage ring. But since she was burdened with various illnesses and a very difficult child (Michael), it may be that her involvement was peripheral, that of a help-mate.

The sons, Michael and Robert, were adopted by the Meerpols and took their adoptive parents name. As one would expect from loyal sons, they maintain the innocence of their parents. Both became college teachers.

As in all good dramas, the Rosenberg Case abounds with ironies. Spies convicted of much more serious acts of espionage, both during and since 1950, have received less severe sentences than the Rosenbergs. The death penalty has not been imposed for spying since 1953.

A second irony is that the Rosenberg espionage ring was, in a sense, at the periphery of spying. The information about the atom bomb passed to the Soviets by Alan Nunn May and Klaus Fuchs was much more significant to the development of the Russian bomb, but they had the good fortune to be tried by the British. Others have argued that it is not the significance of the information that the Rosenbergs passed, but the act itself.

The final irony is that the Rosenbergs chose to become martyrs to a cause that forty years later had, for all intents and purposes, disappeared.

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