The Eternal Return of Ethel Rosenberg

A much-loved new biography argues that the convicted Soviet spy “betrayed no one.” How has the myth of her innocence become so untethered from the evidence of her guilt?

Ethel Rosenberg escorted by U.S. marshals as she arrives at Sing Sing Prison in the early 1950s. Ossie Leviness/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images.

Ethel Rosenberg escorted by U.S. marshals as she arrives at Sing Sing Prison in the early 1950s. Ossie Leviness/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images.

Essay
Oct. 4 2021
About the author

Harvey Klehr is the Andrew W. Mellon professor of politics and history, emeritus, at Emory University. He has written many books on espionage in the United States and the history of the American Communist party.

On June 19, 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg went to the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in New York, having been convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage by transmitting atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs were, as the British writer Anne Sebba notes in her new biography, Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy, the only American civilians executed for espionage during peacetime and Ethel remains the only American woman executed for a crime other than murder.

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More about: Cold War, History & Ideas, Politics & Current Affairs, Rosenberg Trial