Short summary about Ethel Rosenberg?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg and her husband,Julius Rosenberg were both American Communists who were executed for passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. Ethel's brother, David Greenglass, worked at the nuclear research facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico where Project Manhattan (the development of the first nuclear weapon) was  underway. At the end of World War II, American observers were surprised at the speed with which the Soviets were able to develop their own nuclear weapon, and soon determined that Greenglass had passed nuclear secrets to a Soviet Agent. Subsequent evidence revealed that Greenglass had been recruited by Ethel Rosenberg at the urgings of her husband, Julius. According to testimony from Greenglass' wife Ruth,

H]e [Julius] proceeded to tell me that he knew that David was working on the atomic bomb.... that he felt there was not a direct exchange of scientific information among the Allies, and that it would be only fair for Russia to have the information, too... and he wanted to make that possible. He asked me if I would relate this to David and ask him to pass on information through Julius.

Later information also implicated Ethel in the plot:

His wife said that I should at least relay the message, that she felt that David might be interested, he would want to do this.... [S]he urged me to talk to David. She felt that even if I was against it, I should at least discuss it with him and hear what he had to say.

Julius and Ethel were both charged with Espionage. Although the defense argued that Ethel had no knowledge of her husband's actions, the above remarks argued otherwise. There was also evidence that Ethel had typed notes for Julius and burned them in a frying pan to destroy any evidence.

On March 29, 1951, Julius and Ethel were convicted, and sentenced to death on April 5 by Judge Irving Kaufman who did not mince words:

 I consider your crime worse than murder... I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-Bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason. Indeed, by your betrayal you undoubtedly have altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country. No one can say that we do not live in a constant state of tension. We have evidence of your treachery all around us every day for the civilian defense activities throughout the nation are aimed at preparing us for an atom bomb attack.

All appeals failed, and on June 19, 1953, the Rosenbergs were executed at Sing Sing Prison in New York. For many years, substantial debate was held about the couple's guilt or innocence, that of Ethel in particular. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, overwhelming evidence of their guilt came forth. Interestingly former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in his memoirs commented:

Let this be a worthy tribute to the memory of those people. Let my words serve as an expression of gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives to a great cause of the Soviet state at a time when the U.S. was using its advantage over our state to blackmail our state and undermine its proletarian cause.