Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Julius Rosenberg Proven Guilty

It was called the crime of the century. The Soviet Union had just tested its first nuclear bomb years earlier that most thought them capable of doing so. It soon became clear that the only way they could have done so was with help from the United States. And so the world's greatest spy hunt began. The year was 1950 and anti communist sentiment was at its height. China had just gone red, North Korea had invaded the south and the Iron Curtain was firmly established in Europe. Led by Senator Joseph McCarthy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover an effort was made to root communists or those with communist sympathies out of government (particularly the state department), the media and even the army. But the principle objective was to track down spies who were actually working for the Soviet Union. The Attention of the FBI was soon drawn toward married couple Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on trial for the crime of the century

The Rosenberg's were arrested in March 1950. In March 1951 they went on trial charged with espionage. It was claimed that they both obtained nuclear secrets through David Greenglass (Ethel's Brother) who worked on the Atomic project at Los Alamos and that Julius then passed these onto his Soviet handler. Both Ethel and Julius were convicted and in one of the most controversial cases in US history they were both sentenced to death. In June 1953 both were executed by electric chair. The execution orphaned two young boys. Many see the Rosenberg case as a example of the worst type of anti communist hysteria in America pointing out that the evidence against the couple was less than convincing. It has also been claimed that anti semitism was a motive. Both Ethel and Julius were Jewish communists and many made an issue of this connection.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg embrace after the guilty veridct

However this remarkable story took another twist this week as pointed out by Dennis Staunton in an article in The Irish Times.. A man called Martin Sobell, who was an engineer at Los Alamos and who was also convicted of espionage alongside the Rosenbergs broke his silence earlier this year by claiming that he did pass information on to Julius Rosenberg. Sobell had confessed to his own guilt at the time but remained tight lipped about the Rosenberg's involvement until recently. He claimed that he did pass secrets on to Julius but that Ethel was entirely innocent. However he claimed that the information passed to Julius was largely unimportant and could not have contributed significantly to the acceleration of the Soviet bomb. Upon hearing this the Rosenberg's two sons, Robert and Michael announced this week that their farther was in fact guilty of espionage. For years the two men have vehemently protested their parents innocence but felt they could no longer do so in the wake of Martin Sobell's admission. They do however stick with Sobell's claim that their mother was innocent and that even though their farther was guilty his crime did not merit execution. This admission along withe the release of documents this month that corroborate Sobell's claims brings to an end one of the most fascinating and indeed disturbing trials in US history.

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