19 June 1953 – Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Julius and Ethel RosenbergOur next American duo was the stuff of James Bond movies. A couple by the name of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for espionage after they were found guilty of spying for Russia.

At a time when East/West relations were beginning to get strained to say the least, it was a bizarre climate of distrust. We’re talking allies after all – both the US and the USSR were united during the Second World War, but one was out-and-out capitalist, while the other was deep-seated Communist. However the left-wing politics of our Eastern friend didn’t stop it being interested in what the West was up to.

And boy did the Americans have a secret – only the deadliest weapon of mass destruction ever to hit the decks. The atomic bomb was a closely guarded secret, which they didn’t want to divulge, not least because the US was wary of Communism and so they preferred to keep Russia at arm’s length.

Fuchs this

Of course, the Rosenbergs’ aims were simple – atomic bomb information for all. The fact that they were Communist sympathisers too made them all the more attractive as spies and Russia happily turned to foul methods to extract details.

It all came crashing down in 1950 when a theoretical physicist was exposed. Klaus Fuchs was a German refugee who was found to have been feeding the Russians info.

Struck Gold

He was trafficking details via a messenger in the shape of Harry Gold. Gold also had links to another – a soldier by the name of Greenglass, who was also feeding information through to the Russians.

So what’s this got to do with the Rosenbergs? Well, Greenglass’ sister was Ethel and, Julius, his brother-in-law. The tangled web of deception began to unravel and the extent of the betrayal of secrets was exposed. Real minutiae about the nature of the bomb had been handed over and for the co-conspirators were sharply taken into custody.

Power struggle

Given their Jewish roots and such raw proximity to the war, sympathisers to the Rosenbergs’ plight cried anti-Semitism, but people really sat up when Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Jean Paul Sartre condemned the trail as ‘a legal lynching with smears of blood on the whole nation’. He accurately surmised that America was ‘afraid of the shadow of [its] own bomb’.

Despite the furore, they were taken into custody and there was compelling evidence to suggest Julius was in up to his neck. But the case against Ethel was all together more flimsy. Nevertheless she was hauled in as a means of getting to her husband. The ploy worked.

The prosecution enlisted the help of Ethel’s own brother in return for his lighter sentence and the deathly net cloyingly closed around the beleaguered Rosenbergs. They were eventually found guilty of espionage and sent to the electric chair at Sing Sing, when Julius was 45 and Ethel was 44.

Apparently Ethel’s spirit was strong and despite a 58-second burst of shockingly high voltage, she didn’t pop her clogs, so another bout kicked in to finish her off.

Also on this day

19 June 2001 – Juan Garza
19 June 1784 – Jean Saint Malo

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