"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York." - Sylvia Plath ("The Bell Jar")
Today marks the 59th anniversary of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. We wanted to share this piece from the New York Times, written for the 50th anniversary.
Remembering the Rosenbergs
Today, or, more precisely, a few minutes past 8 p.m. tonight, marks the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the electric chair at Sing Sing. The Rosenbergs, who maintained their innocence to the end, were convicted of conspiring to pass atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, a crime the judge declared ''worse than murder.'' It now seems clear the Rosenbergs were neither as innocent as they claimed nor as guilty as the government alleged.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were committed Communists and admirers of the Soviet Union at a time when the Soviets were still our allies. But when they were arrested in 1950, the McCarthy era had begun, and the nation was caught up in anti-Communist hysteria. Their trial was flawed -- Ethel's brother later admitted he lied on the witness stand. In imposing the death sentence, Judge Irving Kaufman held the Rosenbergs responsible not only for stealing atomic secrets but also for more than 50,000 deaths in the Korean War. F.B.I. documents, made public in the 1970's, revealed that he had one-sided discussions with prosecutors about sentencing.
Ethel, the mother of two young sons, protested, in a last-minute appeal to President Dwight Eisenhower, that the nation was ''proposing the savage destruction of a small unoffending Jewish family, whose guilt is seriously doubted throughout the length and breadth of the civilized world.''
Since then, Soviet cables released as part of the Venona Project show that Communist espionage in the United States, long dismissed by the Rosenbergs' defenders, actually occurred, and that Julius was an atomic spy. But the same cables strongly suggest that Ethel played little or no role. There is no reason to believe either Rosenberg passed on secrets so valuable that they should have been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths.
The Rosenberg case still haunts American history, reminding us of the injustice that can be done when a nation gets caught up in hysteria.