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December 13, 1952 - Image 6

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1952-12-13

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On April 5, 1951, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were sentenced
to die in the electric chair. The date of execution has been set
for the week of January 12, 1953.
The Rosenbergs were charged with conspiracy to commit
espionage for the Soviet Union during the period of June 1944
to June 1950. The indictment attempted to demonstrate con-
spiracy via twelve "overt acts," all of which were confined to a
period of seven months. These acts include such things as enter.
ing certain buildings, holding certain conversations, and exchang-
ing certain information with two people, namely, David and Ruth
The Greenglasses were the chief witnesses at the trial, which
took place before Judge Irving Kaufman on 14 days of March,
1951. The proof that conspiracy took place, via the "overt acts",
depended solely on the testimony of the Greenglasses. In the
words of the Court of Appeals: without their testimony, "the
conviction could not stand."
The evidence presented by David Greenglass, and reiterated
by his wife, dealt with the following alleged facts: that upon the
request of Julius Rosenberg, he (Greenglass) agreed to take part
in espionage; that he (Greenglass), when working at the Los
Alamos atom-bomb project during the war, overheard snatches of
conversation and saw details of atom-bomb blueprints; that he
drew up an elaborate sketch of the atom bomb, together with
twelve pages of written material, relying solely on his memory of
the conversations and blueprints; and that he conveyed this in-
formation to the Rosenbergs.
If the case stands or falls on the words of two witnesses,
whose oral testimony is not confirmed by documents nor by any
other independent witnesses-then what is their character and
1. David Greenglass himself faced the death penalty as a
confessed participant in the conspiracy. During the Rosenberg
trial, he had not yet been brought up for sentence. Thus, in the
words of D. N. Pritt, an English lawyer, Greenglass "might hope,
and he expressly said that he did hope, to obtain some advantage
for himself as a result of giving evidence against the Rosenbergs;
for the court might ultimately give him a light sentence, and even
if it gave him a substantial one, the Government might well re-
mit much or all of it. He thus had a strong motive to pile it on'."
2. David Greenglass and Julius Rosenberg were partners
in a business over which they had extensive and bitter disagree-
ments. Greenglass testified under cross-examination: "There were
quarrels of every type and kind." There is therefore ground to
believe that the principal witness had a bias against the defendants
for reasons unconnected with the case. It is to guard against the
effects of just such an eventuality that there is a principle in law
which states that testimony of a witness implicated in a conspiracy
--without the verification of an independent witness-will not
support a conviction. This legal precept, however, was apparently
not followed in this case.
3. Concerning Greenglass' qualifications for memorizing
and setting down intricate details of the atom-bomb: a) he had
eight technical courses at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, in all.
eight of which he admitted his grade was "failure"; b) he ad-
mitted he was ignorant of the formula governing component parts
of the atom-bomb.

No atomic scientists were called to support Greenglass' testi-
mony concerning the atom-bomb, or to confirm the authenticity
of the sketch of the bomb he made for the trial. This sketch,
prepared from memory after four or five years, was placed before
the jury as a reproduction of his alleged original. Whether
Greenglass' education made it possible for him to do this accur.
ately is a matter of serious doubt. Although the prosecution had
announced that it would call certain eminent physicists to testify,
it did not do so; for it became apparent during the trial, in our
opinion, that the calling of such authorities could only damage
the chances of the prosecution to obtain a conviction.
Life Magazine's Science Editor wrote: "Greenglass' implosion
bomb appears illogical, if not downright unworkable."
Time Magazine wrote: "Some of his testimony made little
scientific sense."
Relevant also is the statement of Dr. Harold C. Urey, made
during a Congressional hearing on March 3, 1946: "Detailed data
on the atomic bomb would require 80 or 90 volumes of close print
which only a scientist or engineer would be able to read. Any
spies capable of picking up this information would get it more
rapidly by staying home and working in their own laboratories."
In addition J. D. Bernal, a British physicist, wrote that the
alleged material "would not be of substantial advantage to a for.
eign nation," since it was already then of a non-secret nature,
available to any scientist.
Accordingly, whether a conspiracy took place or not, there
is reason to believe that the results of it could only have been of
little accuracy and of little value to a foreign power. The death
sentence, in this light, appears to be of unmerited severity.
Apart from Greenglass' testimony, the prosecution attempted
to support its case by showing that the Rosenbergs were Com-
munists. Instead, the prosecution established:
1) The Rosenbergs had a Spanish Refuge appeal can in
their home; 2) Ethel Rosenberg was one of 50,000 New York
citizens who had signed a nominating petition in 1941 for Peter
V. Cacchione, successful Communist Party candidate for New
York City Councilman; 3) the Rosenbergs carried sick and death
benefit insurance with the International Workers Order, a multi-
national, inter-racial fraternal insurance society with 160,000
members in 18 states; 5) the Rosenbergs occasionally read the
Daily Worker; 6) the Rosenbergs believed that the Soviet Union
had borne the brunt of the war against Nazi Germany; 7) the
Rosenbergs had lauded the United States and Great Britain for
opening up a second front; 8) Julius Rosenberg had once been
accused of being a Communist, for which he had been fired from
the Signal Corps, although he had sworn that he was not a
These facts, and the efforts to prove that the Rosenbergs
were radicals, had nothing to do with either the indictment or
with proof that the Rosenbergs had conspired to commit espion.
age. They could only serve to lead the minds of the jury away
from the merits of the case.
In imposing the death sentence against Ethel and Julius
Rosenberg, Judge Kaufman said that they had "altered the course
of history to the disadvantage of our country ... we have evidence
of your treachery around us every day . . . I believe your conduct

has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in
Korea, with resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows
but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of
your treason."
The Judge's comments appear to deal with a crime with which
the Rosenbergs were not charged, i.e. treason. Nor was any evi-
dence presented at the trial linking the Rosenbergs to any war,
nor was it proved that they had given the Soviet Union just the
necessary information without which that country could not have
developed the atom-bomb.
For a second time, on November 17, the Supreme Court, in
an eight-to-one decision, refused to hear the case. Both times,
Justice Hugo Black doubted the legality of the proceedings, and
maintained that the Rosenbergs had a right to a Supreme Court
Whatever your belief as to the guilt or innocence of the
Rosenbergs, the following points stand out clearly:
1. The sentence is UNPRECEDENTED. No one in Amer-
ican history has been executed for espionage in peacetime.
2. The sentence is HARSHER than that given for equal
or greater crimes. The American traitors Axis Sally and
Tokyo Rose were given ten years each; in the Malzahn case,
four men who gave vital secrets to Germany in 1941 were
given five to fifteen year sentences.
3. Whenever there is any REASONABLE DOUBT of
guilt at all, the death sentence should be commuted so a
chance remains for new evidence to be brought forward.
4. Since the Anglo-Saxon system of justice is based on
precedent, the death penalty in this case will become a
PRECEDENT for similar cases in the future. In this respect,
the case reaches beyond the lives of the Rosenbergs alone.
For many different reasons, people from all parts of the
world have asked President Truman to grant clemency to the
Rosenbergs. The following are some of the comments:
Dorothy Thompson, in the Washington Star, April 12, 1951:
"The death sentence .. . depresses me . .. in 1944, we were not
at war with the Soviet Union . . . Indeed, it is unlikely that had
they been tried in 1944 they would have received any such
Max Lerner, New York Post, June 19, 1952: "I agree that
the death sentence was unprecedented and harsh."
Rabbi Meyer Sharff: "I consider it my profound duty to
address myself to friends and foes, to all, be they Jews or non-
Jews, irrespective of institutional affiliation, or political persuasion,
to participate in the work of securing justice for the Rosen-
bergs . ."
Arthur Garfield Hays, The Nation, November 8, 1952:
. .. - We may try, but we cannot forget the two young Rosenberg .
children . . . It is the damnable death penalty that causes the
We wish to join those who have already asked for clem-
ency. We also urge you and your organizations to add your
plea to Truman for an act of clemency for the Rosenbergs.




{This ad was made possible by the contributions of a number of students, faculty members and townspeople.),



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