Ethel Rosenberg’s Mythic Innocence

The author of “The Eternal Return of Ethel Rosenberg” joins us for a discussion about his subject’s unending—and false—air of innocence.

Ethel Rosenberg looks out of a U.S. marshal’s car. Ed Jackson/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images.

Ethel Rosenberg looks out of a U.S. marshal’s car. Ed Jackson/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images.

Response
Oct. 28 2021
About the authors

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.

Jonathan Brent is executive director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. He was previously the editorial director at Yale University Press, where he founded the “Annals of Communism Series.”

Jonathan Silver is the editor of Mosaic.

If you’ve heard about the case against Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, you’ve probably heard about it spoken of in stridently critical tones: as an expression of McCarthyite excess, as an expression of American anti-Semitism, as a miscarriage of justice that reveals just how broken the American judiciary really is. The trial was convened in March 1951, and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage for transmitting atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The next month, they were sentenced to death and were finally executed by electrocution in June 1953. Some 70 years later, the idea that Ethel Rosenberg was improperly and unfairly convicted persists. In June of 2021, the British writer Anne Sebba published a new biography of Ethel Rosenberg, subtitled An American Tragedy. In it, she concludes that Ethel Rosenberg was a “profoundly moral woman . . . who betrayed no one.”

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