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January 12, 1975 - Image 3

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1975-01-12

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editors:.
laura berman
howard brick
contributing editors:
dan borus

sundaiy

magazine

inside:
page four-the
controversy
page five-the
evidence
page six-the
bLhaklist

r7

l d V

Number 14 Page Three Januay r
FEATUR

112, 1975
ES

The
The
a

Rosenbergs

in

retrospect:

cloak

and

government

By HOWARD BRICK
FTER THE SOVIET UNION explod-
ed its first atomic bomb in August
49, the United States went berserk.
ot believing that the Soviet regime had
fficient 'neans to develop the bomb
its own, numerous government of-
cials cried out that atomic secrets had
een stolen from the United States. One
oung congressman stood out in demand-
ig action: "If the President says the
merican people are entitled to know all
ie facts, I feel the American people
re also entitled to know the facts about
ie espionage ring which was respon-
ble for turning over information on the
om bomb to agents of the Russian
vernment."

That man was Richard Nixon, an in-
strumental figure in stirring up the na-
tional frenzy that stultified political life
in the 1950's. One of his statements or,
the floor of the House of Representa-
tives - made after his successful per-
secution of Alger Hiss - is indicative
of his attempt to breed widespread
paranoia: "Five years ago, at the time
of the Dumbarton Oaks Conferenze in
1944, when Alger Hiss served as director
of our secretariat, the number of peo-
ple in the world in the Soviet orbit was
180 million . . . in 1944, before Dum-
barton Oaks, Teheran, Yalta, and Pots-
dam the odds were nine to one in our
favor. Today since those conferences,
the odds are five to three against us."

Be that as it may, by the end of 1949,
the search for spies had begun. It end-
ed with the execution of Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg on June 19, 1953, an
episode that can be counted as one of the
worst government crimes in the century.
* *~ *
IN THE LATE sixties, Robby Meeropol
spent his summer days in Ann
Arbor walking a friend's dog through
the arb. Coming out of the Geddes gate,
he would walk down to South University
-"the strip" as he and his friends used
to call it - and eat himself sick on a
large Miller's ice cream cone of chocolate
ice cream and a quart of Orange Julius.
He used to eat Krazy Jim's Blimpyburg-
ers, despite stories he had heard that
they contained horsemeat, and when fall
came, he looked forward to seeing Mich-
igan football despite the deris.ve com-
ments of his fellow SDS members. He
was active politically, and his moment of
stardom came when he created the
slogan for SDS' campaign agaist class-
ified war research in the fall of 1968:
it was "Go, Michigan, Beat Thailand."
It made a splash, he remembers; ever-
body was wearing the button.
But throughout this time, he never
told anybody that he was Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg's son. The name Meer-
opol had come from the New York
couple who had adopted him and his
older brother Michael after the execu-
tion. He had learned to keep his true
identity under cover when he was young-
er and was contented to keep if that
way for many years.
His anonymity ended in 1973 w h e n
Louis Nizer published The Implosion
Conspiracy, a book designed to com-
memorate the twentieth anniversary of
the Rosenberg execution. While opposed
to the death penalty, the book agreed
with the verdict of guilt and character-
ized the Rosenbergs as political fana-
tics who - if nothing else - were
guilty of child neglect. The Meeropols
revealed their identities for the first
time since their adoption in order to
bring suit against Nizer for invasion of
privacy, defamation of character, and
the use of their parents' prison letters
without permission. The case is still
pending. In the past year, a National
Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg
Case has been established, and the
Meeropol sons have traveled across the
country asserting their parents' inno-
cence, helping to set up local com-
mittees and appearing on radio and tele-
vision talk shows.
SEADING AN ANONYMOUS life for
so many years must have been try-
ing, but Robby tends to downplay his
own hardships. "I think that, really, my
parents and what happened to them
in their own case is much more import-
ant than Michael or I," he says.
He is a 27-year-old man with bushy
hair, heavy eyebrows over dark sunk-
en eyes, and a thick mustache that ac-
centuates a slightly protruding upper
lip. He walks slowly, leisurely, barely
swinging his arms, but when he s i t s
down to talk, he talks rapidly and ex-
citedly. The first thing he tels any
interviewer is that he will not answer
any questions regarding memories of
his parents his childhood before, dor--
ing, or after the trial, or his psychologi-
cal development. There are many rea-
sons for this, he explains. First, he
doesn't want public pity for him or his
brother to divert attention from the
facts of the Rosenberg case and its
political ramifications. Second, such ma-
terial is bound to play nn important
part in the law suit against Louis Nizer
and therefore should not be discussed
beforehand. But also, a third reason is

probably that he is shy and simply
doesn't like living in the public eye.
Cn .nknnnhnt icAn rcnt Iiraian

dagger
gone
NEVERTHELESS, it was always clear
to him that sometime in the future,
he and Michael would come out into the
open and try to clear their parents'
names. "At Michigan, it was clear in
my head that sooner or later, I was
going to do it, I just didn't know
when." After completing his masters
degree and passing his prelims in cul-
tural anthropology, Robby left Michi-
gan in the fall of 1971, still known only
as Meeropol to most of his acquaint-
ances. He went back east, found a job
teaching anthropology at a small college
in Springfield, Massachusetts, where
Michael taught economics, and lived
there quietly until the Nizer book was
published. He is still enrolled at Mich-
igan, a doctoral student in absentia.
* * *
In February, 1950, a Britisn physicist
who had worked on the Manhattan Pro-
ject in Los Alamos, New Mexico, ad-
mitted to British police that he had per-
sonally given atomic secrets to Soviet
agents in the United States. The man,
Klaus Fuchs, was tried and convicted of
espionage with no prosecution evidence
other than his own confesion. The pre-
cise nature of the material given to
the Soviets was never disclosed. Im-
mediately after Fuch's arest, however,
Nixon called for "a full congressional in-
vestigation . . . to find out who may
have worked with Fuchs in this coun-
try." Of course, FBI director J. Edgar
Hoover also had his men working on the
job, and within months, a spate of al-
leged spies were arrested.
On May 23, 1950, Harry Gold, the man
alleged to be Fuch's American accom-
plice was arrested in Philadelphia. He
freely confessed to espionage and seem-
ed the model of contrition. He instructed
the court to appoint an attorney who
would not impede his complete coopera-
tion with the FBI.
Less than a month later, a young ma-
chinist named David Greenglass was
arrested in New York, accused of giving
,atom bomb information to Gold while
he was serving as a GI at Los Alamo.
He was described in FBI press releases
as a former member of the Young
Communist League. On July 17, Julius
Rosenberg, brother-in-law and former
business partner of Greengl~ass, was ar-
rested, charged with recruiting Green-
glass for his spying job.
THE FBI PRESS release on Rosenberg .
stated that he had been removed
from his job in the Army Signal Corps
in early 1945 for suspicion of Commun-
ist Party membership. Julius' wife Ethel,
David Greenglass' sister, was arrested
for participating in the espionage
scheme on August 11. To complete the
chain of arests, a friend of Julius',
Morton Sobell, was arrested in Laredo,
Texas on August 18. He had been ds-
covered in Mexico and had been deport-
ed, according to government sources. It
was soon known that David Greenglass
and his wife Ruth would be the chief
government witnesses in the case.
R OBBY WAS ONLY three years old at
the time of his parents' arrest and
six when they were electrocuted at Sing
Sing prison. One famous photo has the

two Rosenberg boys looking over a copy
of the Daily News. The banner headline
read "Spies Get 1 More Day," and
Robby looked on with an innocent, un-
comprehending gaze. Even now, when
his bushy eyebrows are arched high up
his forehead, his broad face shows a
similar expression. But through t h e
years he has come to understand what
went on in the past.
"I think they did some specific things,"
he says, "and this may be going out on a
limb a little bit and theorizing, but, you
know, I think it's no accident that they
had a brother testifying against a sister
- that was David Greenglass testify-
ina against my mother and my father

tale

berserk
formation is going to get to the FBT"
There is no doubt that the trial was
full of political overtones. In opening the
case, chief prosecutor Irving Saypol stat-
ed, "The evidence will show that the
loyalty and allegiance of the Rosenbergs
and Sobell were not to our country, but
that it was to Communism, Communism
in this country and Communism through-
out the world." While the Posenbergs
and Sobell refused to answer any ques-
tions regarding Communist Party mem-
bership, Julius and Ethel were contin-
ually baited by both the prosecution and
Judge Irving Kaufman for their political
beliefs.
WHEN DEFENSE ATTORNEY Manny
Bloch asked Julius if he had ever
tried to recruit Ann Sidorovich, a woman
whose name was mentioned by the
Greenglasses, for espionaga, Kaufman
interjected, "Did you ever discuss with
Ann Sidorovich the respective prefer-
ences of economic systems between Rus-
sia and the United States?" Later Say-
pol badgered Julius on what newspapers
he read. Saypol also submitted as evi-
dence a nominating petition for a Com-

of

was doing this, the prosecutor (Irving
Saypol), the judge (Irving Kaufmanj,
who were Jewish, were put under pres-
sures to prove the opposite - to prove
that they were good Americans and
this was not the case about Jews; so
they were under pressure to he harsh and
to be uncompromising and so the gov-
ernment had it both ways.
"They had Jews putting Jews in jail
and giving them stronger sentences and
at the same time they were identifying
Jews with the international community.
So they whipped the Jews into line and
at the same time they propagated an
anti-semitic myth. And again it was
very effective."
* * *
The evidence itself is shoddy. Ruth
Greenglass testified that Julius came
to see her in her New York apartment
in November 1944. He told her that
David Greenglass was working on the
atomic bomb project and that he wanted
him to furnish information on the bomb
for the Soviet Union. Later, while he
was home on furlough, David testified.
Julius cut one side of a jello box, gave
one half of it to him and said a courier
would meet him in New Mexico with
the other half. On June 3, 1945, the
Greenglasses said, a man, later identi-
fied as Harry Gold came to their Al-
buquerque apartment, presented half of
the jello box side, and said "Julius sent
me." Greenglass was working in a
machine shop at the time on experiment-
al "5high explosive lens molds" and he
gave Gold diagrams of the molds. High
explosive lenses were devices used in
the implosion bomb dropped on Naga-
saki. Months later, Greenglass said, he
gave more sketches to Julius, includ-
ing one showing the cross section of
the bomb itself. Ethel allegedly typed
up David's. explanatory notes.
HARRY GOLD TESTIFIED at the
trial that he had met the Green-
glasses in Albuquerque on June 3, 194,
saying "I come from Julius." He receiv-
ed an envelope of material that he later
gave to his Russian contact in New
York, and gave the Greenglasses $500
for the information. Gold testified that
he had never met Julius and had re-
ceived his part of the jello box and his
instructions from the Russian contact.
Despite all this testimony, no real docu-
mentary evidence of the crime was pre-
sented at the trial. The diagrams intro-
duced as prosecution exhibits were sup-
posed replicas of the ones Greenglass
had made six years before. He had
drawn them in 1950 when under interro-
gation by the FBI. The diagrams of the
lens molds, though, are so rudimentary
as to be almost useless, and when scien-
tists examined the diagrams of the
bomb's cross-section in the 1960's, they
said it was incoreot and ambiguous.
When Julius was first told about the
jello box story, he reportedly laughed
and called it "fantastic - something like
kids hear over the television on the
Lone Ranger program." At that time,
however - when he was first being
interrogated by the FBI - he did not
know what an important part the story
would play in the case against him.
"THE GREENGLASSES perjured
themselves," Robby says. He nev-
er refers to David as "uncle" or Ruth
as "aunt."

"But I think. the Greenglasses, you
know thev've nanid an awfuli mtro.

AP Photo

AP Photo

Dear President Eisenhower,
I saw on television on Monday Mr.
Oatts is not in prison anymore be-
cause the President of the country let
him go. It said his wife wrote a let-
ter to the President over there and
she told why Mr. Qatis should be let
go. I think it is a good thing to let
him go home because I think prison is
a very bad place for anybody to be.
My mommy and daddy are in pri-

son in New York. My brother is six
years old, his name is Robby. He
misses them very much and I miss
them too. I got the idea to write you
from Mr. Oatis on television. Please
let my mommy and daddy go and not
let anything happen to them. If they
come home Robby and I will be very
happy, we will thank you very much.
Very truly yours,
Michael Rosenberg

When Robby Meeropol went to
the University from fall 1967 to fall
1971, he never told anyone that he
was the son of Julius and Ethel
Rosenberg. Mike Castleman, a former
SDS member now working at the
Free People's Clinic, knew Meeropol
for several years without knowing his
true identity. But since 1971, he has
found out that as many as half a
dozen people in SDS knew at the time
who Meeropol was. How? They had
seen Meeropol's bedroom, where he
had prints of the Picasso portraits of
Ethel and Julius on the wall. They
guessed the rest, but apparently didn't
talk about it.
munist Party candidate for New York
city council which Ethel had signed
in 1939.
11 HE RESULT (of the trial),' Robby
says, "was to make people so scar-
ed that they could not engage in or-
ganized political activity. Also, picking
out my parents who were very very or-
dinary people (was significant). I've
talked to so many people wha said they
saw this as an attack on them as well,
they saw Michael and I could be their
children and they could have been
Ethel and Julius and it could have just
been switched, you know, it could have
been them so easily. And the warning
was clearly, 'You're next if you don't
cool it,' and it was very effective."
Also, one intriguing fact of the case
is that all major participants, defend-
ants, witnesses, prosecutors and judge,

ma mes

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