Joe Bruno on the Mob – Ethel Rosenberg – Part 1
She was ostensibly a dotting housewife and the loving mother of two. Considering what we know now, it is mindboggling Ethel Rosenberg willfully chose to die with her husband, Julius, a creep if there ever was one, to protect the names of other Russian spies. Her senseless and treasonous decision left her two children without either parent for the rest of their lives.
The evidence against Ethel was flimsy at best and Julius could have saved Ethel’s life by insisting she knew nothing about his actions to help the Russians stay even with the United States in the arms race. Conversely, Ethel could have saved her own life by naming the names of other spies; people she knew only peripherally; but knew nevertheless.
Neither spouse budged. And as a result, on June 19, 1953, as the nation gasped and people wept, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were electrocuted in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison.
Some said this was absolute justice – the Rosenberg’s had betrayed their own country and deserved to pay with their life. Others said it was a tragedy and that two innocent people had been railroaded into the electric chair by the United States government.
Neither of these statements is completely true and we will now explore the reasons why.
Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg was born on September 25, 1915 to Barnet and Tessie Greenglass, in a dilapidated, unheated tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Ethel’s father made a meager living repairing sewing machines and the Greenglass family struggled to make ends meet.
Ethel was the only Greenglass daughter and was quite precocious at an early age. She attended the Downtown Talmud Torah, and then Seward Park High School. Ethel dreamed of being an opera singer, but when she graduated high school at the age of 15, she took a job as a clerk for a shipping company to help support her family. At work, Ethel was a progressive agitator; fighting for woman’s rights. And after four years at the company, she was fired for organizing of strike of 150 fellow woman workers.
Soon, Ethel joined the Young Communist League and then became a member of the American Communist Party. Ethel still wished to embark on a singing career, and in late 1936, while she was waiting to go on stage to sing at a New Year’s Eve celebration, she met Julius Rosenberg.
Julius Rosenberg, the son of Polish immigrants, was born on May 12, 1918, also in downtown Manhattan. His father, Harry, worked in the garment industry and his mother, Sophie, was a stay-at-home mom who took care of the five Rosenberg children. As did Ethel, Julius attended the Downtown Talmud Torah, and then Seward Park High School. Despite his father’s hopes that his son become a rabbi, Rosenberg attended the City College of New York to study engineering.
Julius was a mediocre student who graduated in the bottom quarter of his class. In college, instead of studying, Julius was more interested in becoming an activist. He joined the Steinmetz club, which was the City College campus branch of the Young Communist League. There he met Morton Sobell, with whom he would later engage in anti-American activities. In college, Rosenberg also joined the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists, and Technicians, a group known for its radical activities, and he also joined the American Communist Party.
Rosenberg graduated City College in the summer of 1939, one semester later than his graduating class. Weeks later, he married Ethel Greenglass. In 1943, they had their first son, Michael.
In the fall of 1940, Rosenberg took a job as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army Signal Corp. In 1942, he was promoted to inspector. This was like the United States government giving the keys to the blood bank to a vampire.
In 1942, Julius started secretly working as a spy for the Russian K.G.B. Eventually, his Russian handler became Alexander Feklisov, who gave Rosenberg the codename “Liberal,” or “Libbi,” for short.
In his book The Man Behind the Rosenbergs, Feklisov said he was put onto Rosenberg by fellow Russian spy Semyon Semyonov, who had cozied up to Rosenberg and found him a willing subject for the Russian communist cause.
In a dossier to Feklisov, Semyonov wrote, “Rosenberg is a man of left-wing ideas. He’s pro-Soviet and completely dedicated to the fight against Fascism. He will no doubt be shocked if you take him to a fancy restaurant and order expensive wine. He feels we have no right to celebrate since our country (Russia) is at war.”
Semyonov told Feklisov he had recruited Rosenberg on Sept. 7, 1942 at a Labor Day rally in Central Park. Rosenberg had attended the rally with pal, Bernard Schuster, who had already been drafted by the Russians and working under the codename “Echo.”
Semyonov told Feklisov, “A podium was set up in Central Park with a few rows of chairs for labor leaders, public figures, cultural personalities and Soviet representative, surrounded by a dense crowd of 50,000 people. There Schuster introduced Rosenberg to me. Rosenberg was delighted; he had never met Soviet national before, while wholeheartedly supporting their struggle against Nazism.”
Semyonov and Rosenberg exchanged contact information and soon Rosenberg initiated further exchange by inviting Semyonov to a restaurant to have lunch. At this meeting, according to Semyonov, Rosenberg “Fired away questions about life in the USSR, the attitude towards Jews, their extermination by the Nazis and the harshness of the fighting on a front that was several thousand miles long.”
Semyonov could see Rosenberg almost hyperventilating with his eagerness to help the Russian cause. However, Semyonov did not want to push the envelope of Rosenberg’s cooperation too quickly. It wasn’t until their second lunch meeting that Semyonov made his pitch.
While nibbling on cheese blintzes with sour cream, Semyonov casually told Rosenberg that “America, despite of its commitment towards Russia, was hiding its latest technological innovations from its ally, who needed them very badly.”
Rosenberg leaned forward; beads of sweat dripping down his forehead. He told Semyonov in a low but passionate voice, “I find it unfair that you should be fighting the common enemy alone. If I can do anything to help, you can count on me.”
The line was baited and the big fish swallowed it whole. Julius Rosenberg was now a full-fledged Russian spy with the safely of his own country – the United States of America – the furthest thing from his mind.