Joe Bruno on the Mob – Ethel Rosenberg – Part 4
By late 1944, Rosenberg was recruiting heavily for the Russians. He now oversaw several spies, working in sensitive positions; who were stealing top-secret documents and handing them over to Rosenberg, who in turn handed them over to Feklisov. One of Rosenberg’s recruits was Joel Barr, an old chum who had attended the same grammar and high schools as Rosenberg. Barr also attended City College with Rosenberg. (It’s ironic that City College is free from tuition and that neither man had to pay for an education that gave them the knowledge they later used to impede America’s progress against the Russians.)
After graduating from City College, Barr assumed a position at a West Electric plant in New York. His job was to design improvements on radar devices that were used on B-type bombers. Barr was highly esteemed by his bosses, and he had access to the most secret documents concerning devices Western Electric had been working on.
Also in Rosenberg’s inner circle was Alfred Sarant, who worked at Bell Research Laboratories” developing electrical devices for military applications,” as well as William Perl and Morton Sobel.
Through Rosenberg, Perl supplied Feklisov with thousands of secret documents from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, including a complete set of design and production drawings for the Lockheed’s P-80 Shooting Star, which in 1944, was the first “jet fighter” used operationally by the United States Army Air Force.
Sobel, who worked at the Navy Bureau of Ordinance in Washington D. C., and later at the General Electric Company in Schenectady, NY, handed over to Feklisov, through Rosenberg, the plans for the SCR 584 Radar System, which was used to shoot down United States aircraft both in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
The beginning of the end for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was when Julius convinced Feklisov they should recruit Ethel Rosenberg’s younger brother, David Greenglass, who worked as an Army machinist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory located in the desert of New Mexico. Before Greenglass joined the United States Army, he and his wife, Ruth, were both members of the Young Communist League, and both were only 20 years old when they married. While at Los Alamos, Greenglass was promoted to sergeant and assigned to work on the top secret “Manhattan Project,” which was developing the “Atomic Bomb” that effectively ended Work War II against Japan.
Rosenberg made his pitch to Feklisov concerning the recruitment of Greenglass. However, although Greenglass was an extreme progressive and decidedly anti-fascist and pro-communist, Feklisov was concerned about Greenglass’s age. Greenglass was only twenty-one-years-old when Rosenberg wanted to recruit him as a spy, and Feklisov and his NKVD superiors reasoned that a man of Greenglass’s age had not developed the strong convictions needed for such dangerous work.
At their next meeting, Feklisov told Rosenberg about his and his boss’s concerns about Greenglass. This meeting took place in a tiny Chinese restaurant/coffee shop on Mott Street; where the chalkboard menus on the wall were penned in Chinese scrawl. There were only a handful of patrons in the place, and all, including the waiters, were conversing loudly in bastard versions of the Chinese language.
The two Russian spies sat at a tiny table in the back near the kitchen. They were facing each other, pecking at pork fried rice and sipping green tea from tiny cups. Waiters constantly passed their table, transporting food and plates back and forth from the kitchen. However, being the only “Lo Fon” (non-Chinese) in the joint, except to order their food and pay their bill, neither Rosenberg nor Feklisov were paid any attention by the staff. Since Chinese people tend to mind their own business, Feklisov felt dives like this were perfect for spy meetings.
After Feklisov conveyed his feelings about Greenglass, Rosenberg leaned forward; specs of fried rice squirting from his mouth.
“Greenglass is part of my own family!” Rosenberg cried. “He’s the same blood as my wife Ethel! He’s devoted to our cause and one hundred percent reliable!”
Rosenberg banged his fist against his own puffed chest. “I’ll give my right hand to be chopped off if he lets us down!”
Moved by Rosenberg’s passion, Feklisov told Rosenberg he would tell his superiors that he (Feklisov) felt Greenglass would fit the bill as a Russian spy.
In November 1944, after getting the go-ahead from his NKVD superiors, Rosenberg asked Ruth Greenglass to meet him in his Knickerbocker Village apartment to have dinner with him and his wife, Ethel. Ethel pulled out all the stops to impress Ruth. She crafted her best “Golden Chicken Soup,” and followed it up with a juicy Gebratenes (roasted meet) main course; with a side of Pierogi – potato dumpling filled with minced meat. For desert, Ethel fashioned scrumptious Teiglach – little balls of dough the size of marbles drenched in honey – and Ingberlach – rectangular shaped ginger candies. Both desserts are traditionally reserved on Rosh Hashanah, but getting Ruth Greenglass to do what the Rosenbergs wanted was worth the fuss.
While they were sipping after-dinner coffee, Julius Rosenberg made his pitch.
“We both know you and your husband are both true Communist sympathizers,” Rosenberg told Ruth. “But are you willing to take risks to further the Communist cause?”
“What kind of risks?” Ruth said.
Rosenberg told Ruth that David’s job on the Manhattan Project in the deserts of New Mexico afforded him the opportunity to give the Russians information as to what the Americans were undertaking at Los Alamos. If they agreed to cooperate, Rosenberg said Ruth and her husband, David, would become very vital to the Communist cause.
Ruth Greenglass beamed. Only in their early 20’s, her and David had a chance to make a difference in a world in which they felt the rich had an unfair advantage over the common working man.
“Yes, this is something I think my husband would be quite interested in,” Ruth said. “I swear to you we will do whatever is necessary to further the Communist cause.”
It was obvious to both Rosenbergs, Ruth Greenglass meant what she said. If anything, Ruth was more enthusiastic than her husband about helping the Soviets.
Ruth also told the Rosenbergs she was planning to visit David for two weeks in Albuquerque in early December to celebrate their first anniversary. At that time she would confirm with her husband that they indeed would work for the Russians.
In late December, after meeting with his wife in New Mexico, David Greenglass returned to New York City, and he and his wife, Ruth, spent considerable time with the Rosenbergs. David was Ethel’s youngest brother (David was seven years younger than Ethel) and she absolutely adored him.
While celebrating the holidays at Knickerbocker Village, David, at Julius’s request, penned drawings of one of the lenses he was working on at Los Alamos, along with written explanations of the drawings.
Rosenberg passed on these drawings to Feklisov, saying, “It’s very important that David be able to talk to one of your specialists on this matter. Is that possible?”
Feklisov hooked up Greenglass with Anatoly Yatskov, a top Russian engineer, and after grilling Greenglass on his work, Yatskov confirmed that Greenglass was indeed working on the Manhattan Project: the making of the first atomic bomb. From that point on, David Greenglass knew exactly what was expected of him and what information he must uncover in his job at Los Alamos.
The atomic bomb information needed to be transported from Greenglass to the Russians, but the Russians felt Rosenberg was too hot to be the middleman. The Russians decided to employ for the task a shadowy figure named Harry Gold. Gold, a Philadelphia research chemist, was, according to an article in the July 23, 1950 of the in New York Times, “A man who had found in the Communists an outlet for the frustrations of a lonely poverty-stricken youth.”
Gold had already proved himself to the Russians when he stole and turned over to the Russians samples and production data of a high-powered explosive called RXD, which was being produced at the Holston Ordinance works at Kingsport, Tenn. This explosive, which has twice the blasting force of TNT, had been known for half a century, but no practical way to manufacture it had been discovered until The United States Armed Forces adapted it for use in Navy torpedoes and Army bazooka rockets.
In June of 1945, in his Knickerbocker Village apartment, Rosenberg gave Greenglass, who was on furlough in New York, a half-torn Jell-O box. Rosenberg told Greenglass he was to meet an unidentified man (Gold) in Albuquerque, N.M. As a means of identification, this man would have the other half of the torn Jell-O box to confirm this was the spy Greenglass would do business with.
When Gold and Greenglass met in New Mexico, Gold produced the other half of the Jell-O box, along with a payment of $500. In return, Greenglass gave Gold classified information concerning a lens mold and other secret projects, including the production of the atom bomb.
Greenglass and Gold met numerous times during the next two years. At these covert tête-à-têtes, Greenglass handed over to Gold numerous classified documents. However, in later years, Gold maintained the information Greenglass gave to Gold, which Gold, in turn, passed on to the Russians, was of little importance, except to corroborate information the Russians had already collected from other spies.
“What we gave them was junk,” Gold said years later, after he had been released from prison.
In December 1946, Greenglass was discharged from the military and he was no longer of use to the Russians.
By the spring of 1945, the NKVD, without giving Rosenberg a reason, removed Rosenberg’s recruits from his supervision. The war was nearing an end, and it was clear, although the United States and Russian were Allies in the war against Germany, they would now, due to their severe differences in ideology, maintain an adversarial relationship. As the result, the FBI was increasing its surveillance of Soviet citizens living in the United States (Feklisov) and left-leaning American citizens like Rosenberg.
In the fall of 1945, at one of their last meetings, a distraught Rosenberg told Feklisov, “Alexander, I understand why you removed all my comrades from my supervision and I accept that. I don’t see them often and I even avoid calling them up. I don’t see you that much anymore. I understand everything, but it makes me said. I’m bored. I was used to being involved, seeing people, convincing them, and making plans. That was my life. And now I have nothing.”
Feklisov liked Rosenberg, but he knew, with Rosenberg under intense FBI surveillance, it would be risky to have Rosenberg doing covert work for the Russians. Besides, Feklisov’s NKVD superiors felt if Rosenberg was caught, he would crack under duress and spill everything he knew about the Russian spy net in America (In light of future events, the Soviets were wrong about Rosenberg’s toughness).
Feklisov tried to pacify Rosenberg by saying with all his free time (Rosenberg was now without a military or civilian job) he should take Ethel and their young son Michael on a sight-seeing tour around the country. Rosenberg face turned sour, so Feklisov added, “You could take advantage of the time by meeting new people who could be useful to us in the future.”
In August 1946, Feklisov’s NKVD superiors made arrangements for Feklisov to depart America. They reasoned, since the FBI was turning up the heat on Feklisov, it was only a matter of time before the Feds put the cuffs on the Russian spymaster. One week before his scheduled departure, Feklisov contacted Rosenberg. They had not spoken for six months and Rosenberg was despondent over no longer being a cog in the Soviet machine.
The meeting, which Feklisov called their “Farewell Dinner,” took place at the Golden Fiddle, a Hungarian restaurant on the Upper West Side. Feklisov selected the upscale restaurant because he wanted his last meeting with Rosenberg to stand in stark contrast to their usual encounters in assorted New York City dives.
The two old pals dinned on the house specialty – sautéed veal with spicy sauce – and drowned their sorrows in a bottle of Portuguese red wine. While they were dining, a violinist, accompanied by a small Hungarian band, circulated from table to table playing sad gypsy music. One of the songs they played was The Storks Fly Away. Rosenberg was so moved by the melancholy melody of this song, after the violinist finished playing at the two Russian spy’s table, he asked the violinist the name of the song.
After the busboys cleared the dishes from the table, Feklisov asked the waiter for two Remy Martin cognacs and the check. The drinks arrived and Feklisov raised his glass in a toast.
“To old friendships,” he said. “May they never be forgotten.”
The two men clinked glasses and took a sip of their drinks. Feklisov said Rosenberg looked like he was ready to cry.
Feklisov said, “Listen Julius, I have to give you some news. I’m about to leave New York in a very short time. I’m going back home.”
“What do you mean?” Rosenberg said. “You’re leaving me? Why?”
Feklisov took another sip of his cognac.
“You know the normal stay abroad is three to four years,” he told Rosenberg. “I have been here for five and a half years.”
“So if I stay too much longer you-know-who might start getting suspicious. Even for your sake, it will be best to lay low for a while.”
“You sure you can’t stay any longer?”
“No Julius. It’s not my call.”
Rosenberg excused himself from the table and approached the violinist. Minutes later, the violinist, accompanied by his tiny band, circled the Russian spies’ table; playing The Storks Fly Away.
You can’t make up stuff like this.
Their final dinner a thing of the past, Feklisov and Rosenberg took a long stroll by Riverside Drive. The hot air heavy with Rosenberg’s angst, the two men sat on a park bench and watched several luxury liners float up the Hudson.
Minutes of silence passed.
Then the two men stood and engaged in a two-hand shake. Feklisov wished Rosenberg “every success, happiness and prosperity for himself and his family.”
As a vessel gave out a long whistle, the two men hugged. As he was ordered by his NKVD bosses, Feklisov gave Rosenberg one thousand dollars, which, since Rosenberg was still out of work with no prospects of landing another job, the Rosenberg family needed badly to survive. Feklisov also gave Rosenberg the date, time, and location of a meeting where Rosenberg would meet his new Russian contact, along with the password Rosenberg must use to use to identify himself (The password was “Libbi”: Feklisov’s codename for Rosenberg).
It was the last time the two men ever saw each other.