CLIO 7 (1) - page 39

leaving them scrabbling for answers as to how the
Russians had gleaned the secret to the science it
had taken them years (and some of the smartest
people in recent history) to develop. Thus, when it
came to light that Rosenberg was the lynchpin in a
group of Communist spies, and they had someone
willing to testify that he had stolen and sold the
source of their coveted upper hand over Russia, the
systems of authority knew that they had to set an
“I consider your crimes worse than murder
… who knows but that millions more of innocent
people may pay the price of your treason.” So
spoke Judge Irving Kaufman while sentencing the
Rosenbergs to death at the end of the minimal
three-week trial. Despite providing testimony
themselves, the couple were doomed by the in-
criminating evidence of Ethel’s brother and his wife
Ruth. Here lies the major discrepancy in reports
of what happened. At the time, the broadcasted
statements fromGreenglass and his wife present
Greenglass showing Julius the Los Alamos docu-
ments at his apartment, Julius then giving them
to Ethel to type them up, and then Julius sending
them through. In damning Ethel to conviction and
consequent execution, Greenglass had given the
prosecution exactly what they were after – they had
said that it was “important that she be convicted
too, and given a stiff sentence”. With Greenglass’
statements constituting ample ammunition, the
Rosenbergs stood no chance at trial and were soon
convicted and then sentenced, after three weeks,
to death by electrocution. Prosecutor Roy Cohn,
later to become a key assistant to Joseph McCarthy
and then, years later, lawyer for DonaldTrump, has
always denied claims that it was his personal rec-
ommendation that resulted in this extreme sanc-
However, decades later the trial and its
legality have been called into question in regards
to the testimony that provided its foundations.
Upon the release of the statements to the original
Grand Jury, it was revealed that there were major
discrepancies between the account Greenglass
gave then and that which he gave during the trial.
His original story had been that he had given Julius
the documents on a street corner, and discussed
secret information with Julius and his own wife
Ruth as opposed to his sister Ethel - a situation far
different from that depicted within the affidavit
that condemned the Rosenbergs to their deaths.
Talking about his statement in an interview with
journalist Sam Roberts, Greenglass said that he did
not know that his sister was going to be executed. It
did not seem to bother him, however, as he assured
his interviewer that he slept soundly at night, and
that his sister’s death was worthwhile if it allowed
his wife to live and take care of their children.
Although Greenglass himself served ten years of
a fifteen-year sentence, his wife Ruth was spared
imprisonment as a result of his account and her
co-operation with the prosecution; as Greenglass
once stated “My wife is more important to me than
my sister. Or my mother or my father, OK? And she
was the mother of my children." He claimed that it
had been Roy Cohn and the rest of the prosecution
team that had instructed him to lie, believing it was
crucial to convict both Rosenbergs in order to set a
severe enough example of them.
Yet, why was the death penalty deemed a
necessity? To explore this question in more detail,
a certain amount of contextual understanding is
required. The year of the sentencing was 1951, and
the ColdWar was well under way. The threat of
total nuclear annihilation hung over the world and
the United States were afraid. The Red Scare had
imbued within the government trepidation of the
threat of Communist espionage from inside Amer-
ica, and a sense of paranoia was omnipresent; this
mentality was epitomised in the Senate hearings of
Joseph McCarthy, a mentor of Rosenberg prosecu-
tor Roy Cohn. A series of investigations described
by some at the time as ‘witch-hunts’, they were
concerned with potential Communist infiltration in
the US government and armed forces. Often based
on very little evidence, these hearings only fur-
thered the already prevalent demonisation of Com-
munism in the psyche of the American people, and
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