Rosenbergs' execution: 1953
Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg were great heroes, victims or the worst traitors in U.S. history depending on your point of view.

The two U.S. citizens were executed June 19, 1953 for conspiracy to commit espionage related to the passing of information on the construction of an atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.

At the time of their trial that began March 6, 1951 evidence against the Rosenbergs was thin and depended on the testimony of Ethel’s brother David Greenglass. Greenglass’ testimony that he passed documents from Los Alamos National Laboratory to Julius and that Ethel typed up the notes.

The two along with Morton Sobell, who was tried with them, became an international cause with demonstrations, letter writing and pleas to first free the Rosenbergs and for clemency after their conviction and death sentence.

The political climate in the U.S. was one of fear with the onset of the Cold War with the Soviet Union following confrontation in Europe and the Soviet Union’s test of an atomic bomb in 1949. Leadership at many levels of the Communist Party USA were being sentenced to jail for their beliefs while the rank and file members were blacklisted from employment and persecuted during the second red scare.

At the same time, U.S. forces were fighting in Korea against the communist regime centered in North Korea and aided by the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union.

Greenglass made a deal with the federal government to testify in order to reduce his sentence and obtain immunity for his wife. Years later he recanted his testimony regarding Ethel saying he believed it was his own wife who typed up the notes.

While the U.S. and the Soviet Union were allies in World War II, the U.S. did not share information on the atom bomb project.

The Rosenbergs joined the Young Communist League in the late 1930s. According to his former Soviet handler Alexander Feklisov, Julius began passing classified documents to the Soviet Union while at the Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey in 1940.

The prosecution saw Julius’ potential cooperation as a chance to break a larger Soviet intelligence group in the U.S. and believed the only way to break Julius was to expose his wife Ethel to the death penalty. The ploy didn’t work.

The Rosenbergs were the only two American civilians to be executed for espionage-related activity during the Cold War.

In imposing the death penalty, Judge Irving Kaufman noted that he held them responsible not only for espionage but also for the deaths of the Korean War:

"I consider your crime worse than murder... I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-Bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason. Indeed, by your betrayal you undoubtedly have altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country. No one can say that we do not live in a constant state of tension. We have evidence of your treachery all around us every day for the civilian defense activities throughout the nation are aimed at preparing us for an atom bomb attack."

Commenting on the sentence given to them, Julius Rosenberg claimed the case was a political frame-up.

"This death sentence is not surprising. It had to be. There had to be a Rosenberg case, because there had to be an intensification of the hysteria in America to make the Korean War acceptable to the American people. There had to be hysteria and a fear sent through America in order to get increased war budgets. And there had to be a dagger thrust in the heart of the left to tell them that you are no longer gonna get five years for a Smith Act prosecution or one year for contempt of court, but we're gonna kill ya!"

An article by Norman Markowitz for Political Affairs in 2008 sums up another point of view.

“These were people who, for ill or for good, admired both Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and President Franklin Roosevelt as advancing the struggle for working-class liberation against fascism. They saw them as helping to bring about more than a “better world,” but a world with a socialist system that fostered equality, peace and social justice. If patriotism in its most simple definition means love of country, this was the America that communists defended and loved, rather than the America of Standard Oil, Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover, the corporate leadership ready and willing to do business with Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese militarists both to make money and fight socialist revolutions.”

This point of view also holds that providing the Soviets with intelligence on the atomic bomb helped insure that the U.S. would not launch nuclear weapons again after the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.
Those charged or implicated with the Rosenbergs include:

Julius Rosenberg: executed June 19, 1953
Ethel Rosenberg: executed June 19, 1953
David Greenglass: served 9 and half years of a 15-year sentence
Ruth Greenglass: not charged, granted immunity
Morton Sobell: served 17 years, nine months of a 30-year sentence
Harry Gold: served 14 years of a 30-year sentence
Klaus Fuchs: served 9 years of a 14-year sentence in Great Britain

Later documents and memoirs indicate fairly conclusively that all were involved in the effort to provide the Soviet Union with information on the atomic bomb except Ethel Rosenberg where there is no conclusive evidence.
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