The Rosenberg Executions
June 19, 1953
by Elissa Haney
June 19 marks the anniversary of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's historic execution in 1953. Found guilty of relaying U.S. military secrets to the Soviets, the Rosenbergs were the first U.S. civilians to be sentenced to death for espionage.
The Rosenbergs were accused of persuading Ethel's brother, David Greenglass, to provide them with confidential U.S. military information gained from his involvement in the development of nuclear weapons. It was believed that Julius, who was an active member of the Communist party, then funneled the top-secret information on to Soviet intelligence.
Although the court found the evidence strong enough for a conviction, the ruling and the Rosenberg's death sentence became a controversial topic among the American public. Many believed that the anti-Communist political climate, which was being stirred up by the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy, made for an unfair trial. Other Americans believed the death penalty to be too severe. There was a strong movement to save the couple, but they were ultimately put to death in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.
New information that has emerged since the end of the Cold War confirms the Rosenbergs' role in helping the Russians to develop the A-bomb. Not the least significant among this evidence is mention of the couple in Krushchev's memoirs, published in 1990.
—Elissa Haney is an editor at Information Please.