CLIO 7 (1) - page 38

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were married
residents of NewYork in 1950s America. Both were
members of theYoung Communist League in their
youth: he was an electrical engineer; she was an
aspiring actress and singer. On June 19th 1953, they
were both put to death by electric chair on charges
of conspiracy to commit espionage. The reasoning
behind the extreme nature of their sentence has
been subject to historical scrutiny.Yet, perhaps
more importantly, the implications of their exe-
cutions are relevant to contemporary debate on
human rights.
The facts of their case have been widely disputed,
but what seems clear is that Julius Rosenberg was
recruited by an NKVD officer in 1942, and went on
in subsequent years to supply important documents
to the Soviets, culminating in the recruitment of his
brother-in-law, David Greenglass, a machinist for
the Manhattan Project. Greenglass aided him in the
alleged transfer of crucial plans for atomic weapon-
ry to the USSR. It was this factor that determined
his fate – whether or not he passed on these papers,
it set him on an irreversible course for the electric
For when the US government finally caught
wind of Greenglass’ name, the machinist was driven
to confess Rosenberg’s role, implicating Ethel as
a typist for transmitting the documents in the
process. The Americans were struck by the speed
at which the Soviets developed nuclear weapons,
Julius and Ethel
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