Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly described the origins of a lawsuit that led the U.S. government to make public grand jury testimony in the case. The lawsuit was filed by a group led by the National Security Archive, not by the Rosenbergs' sons, Robert and Michael Meeropol. The article also incorrectly said that the Meeropols have spoken to "their parents' one living collaborator"; other collaborators are still alive.

Rosenberg Sons Say Father Was Guilty, Mother Was Framed

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By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NEW YORK, Sept. 22 -- Before Julius and Ethel Rosenberg died in the electric chair for espionage in 1953, they left a message for their sons: "Always remember that we were innocent and could not wrong our conscience."

On Monday, after fighting a decades-long battle for the release of secret records, the sons said they have reached a different conclusion. In separate telephone interviews, they said that they have now read all of the recently released grand jury testimony and talked to their parents' one living collaborator and have little doubt that their father was guilty of espionage -- but that their mother was framed.

"Now I think it's a virtual certainty," said Robert Meeropol, 61, the executive director of the Rosenberg Foundation for Children, which supports the children of activist parents who have suffered because of their politics. Robert and his older brother, Michael, took the name of their adoptive parents after the Rosenbergs were executed.

The brothers said that the trial was riddled with prosecutorial misconduct and that their mother was executed on dubious charges in an effort to persuade their father to confess and name other spies.

"They created a case for my mother," said Michael Meeropol, 65, chairman of the economics department at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. "They put a gun to her head and said to my father, 'Talk or we kill her.' "

The Rosenbergs' case goes back to 1945, when a Soviet cipher clerk revealed that the Russians were spying extensively on the United States, though they had been allies during World War II.

In July 1950, FBI agents arrested Julius Rosenberg, a Communist, at their home on the Lower East Side, in a case that divided the country ideologically. A month later, Ethel Rosenberg was also arrested.

Details of their 1951 trial in Manhattan have been the basis for books, films and law school analyses. But most of the grand jury testimony -- revealing because the questions are broader and the answers less rehearsed than in a trial -- had remained sealed. Recently, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Meeropol brothers and historians, the government made public the grand jury testimony of witnesses who are dead or who consented.

Morton Sobell, who maintained his innocence through his 1951 trial and conviction of espionage with the Rosenbergs, last week told the New York Times that he had passed military secrets to the Soviet Union and so had Julius -- but not Ethel.

The Meeropol brothers told the Times that they thought their father had likely been a spy.

During the trial, the government said the Rosenbergs had asked Ethel's brother, David Greenglass, who worked as a machinist in the atomic bomb program at Los Alamos, N.M., to provide them with information and diagrams of the bomb.

David's wife, Ruth Greenglass, testified at trial that in 1945 Ethel Rosenberg had typed her brother David's notes. David corroborated that story, which became significant evidence against Ethel.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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