Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (d 1953)
Julius Rosenberg was born on May 12, 1918, in New York. He graduated from the City College of New York with a degree in electrical engineering in 1939 and in 1940 joined the Army Signal Corps where he worked on radar equipment. He became a leader in the Young Communist League, where he met Ethel in 1936, before marrying her three years later.
Ethel Greenglass was born on September 28, 1915, in New York. She was an aspiring actress and singer, but eventually took a secretarial job at a shipping company. She became involved in labor disputes and joined the Young Communist League, where she first met Julius. The Rosenbergs had two sons, Robert and Michael.
In 1942, Julius and Ethel became full members in the American Communist Party. By 1943, however, the Rosenbergs dropped out of the Communist Party to pursue Julius's espionage activities. Early in 1945, Julius was fired from his job with the Signal Corps when his past membership in the Communist Party came to light. On June 17, 1950, Julius Rosenberg was arrested on suspicion of espionage after having been named by Sgt. David Greenglass, Ethel's younger brother and a former machinist at Los Alamos, who also confessed to passing secret information to the USSR through a courier, Harry Gold. On August 11, 1950, Ethel was arrested.
The trial against the Rosenbergs began on March 6, 1951. From the beginning, the trial attracted a high amount of media attention and generated a largely polarized response from observers, some of whom believed the Rosenbergs to be clearly guilty, and others who asserted their innocence.
The prosecution's primary witness, David Greenglass, stated that Ethel, working as a "probationer," had typed notes containing U.S. nuclear secrets, and these were later turned over to Harry Gold, who would then turn them over to Anatoly A. Yakovlev, the Soviet vice consul in New York City. Both Rosenbergs asserted their right under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate themselves whenever asked about their involvement in the Communist Party of with its members.
The Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and sentenced to death under Section 2 of the Espionage Act. The couple were the only two American civilians to be executed for espionage-related activity during the Cold War. Judge Kaufman noted that he held them responsible not only for espionage but also for the deaths of the Korean War, since the information leaked to the Russians was believed to help them develop the A-bomb and stimulate Communist aggression in Korea. Their case has been at the center of the controversy over communism in the United States ever since.
The Rosenbergs stoically maintained their innocence throughout the length of the trial and appeals. They were executed by the electric chair on June 19, 1953.