Reexamining the Rosenberg Espionage Case

Nth Position turns 4 years old this month–Happy Birthday! In it, Harry Reynolds reviews Sam Robert’s The Brother: The Untold Story of Atomic Spy David Greenglass and How He Sent His Sister, Ethel Rosenberg, to the Electric Chair.


Fifty years ago, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, after a trial by jury, were convicted of espionage and sentenced to death. The verdict was based essentially upon the evidence of Ethel’s younger brother, David Greenglass, and his wife Ruth.

In June, 1953, Julius and Ethel were slain – it’s the only honest word for it – by Joseph Francel, an upstate journeyman electrician who pocketed $150 for each death. Each had refused to disclose information to officials who were standing ready to stop the killings if the Rosenbergs would speak. Two days later, their hearses passed thousands of spectators many of whom had compassion for them as innocent victims of the Cold War, for McCarthyism was then our temporary aberration that led many on the left to discount, in favour of the Soviet Union, any accusation of treason. Many others, however, despised the Rosenbergs as traitors. Years of protest and vilification of the government for slaying the innocent Rosenbergs followed. Among the onlookers as the Rosenberg hearses drove by was six-year old Sam Roberts, now a New York Times editor and host of New York Close-Up, the Times’s nightly public affairs program on NY 1, and formerly city editor of the New York DailyNews.