Today in History


On this day, in 1951, Julius and Ether Rosenberg were sentenced to death for supplying secrets about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.

After a trial that could at best be called controversial, Judge Irving Kaufman imposed the death penalty under the Espionage Act of 1917. ? Prosecutor Roy Cohn later claimed that it was due to his influence that Kaufman had been appointed to the case, and the death penalty was imposed by Kaufman on Cohn’s recommendation.

The trial and conviction helped fuel Senator Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist hysteria in the early 50’s, in which Cohn played a major role as the chief counsel during the anti american activities hearings.

The trial and subsequent execution of the Rosenbergs have been pored over by legal students and academics for years. ?Following the fall of the Iron Curtain, more information was available which confirmed that Julius Rosenberg was indeed passing information to the Soviet Union, but that it was of negligible value. ?It is reasonably certain that his wife played no part in the spy ring itself, but she may have been aware of her husbands actions. ?This was confirmed when key members of the prosecution case recanted their testimony years later.

The international protests against the incarceration of the Rosenbergs were huge, with the couple becoming ?a cause celbre?to many people, communist and non-communist, including Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein and Jean-Paul Sartre. ? There was even a request made of President Eisenhower from Pope Pius XII to spare the couple, which the President ignored.

The couple were executed by electric chair at Sing Sing prison on June 19, 1953. ?Julius died instantly during the first surge of electricity. Ethel was checked after the first three surges, and doctors assessed that she still showed signs of life, and a further two surges of electricity were passed through her body to ensure she was dead. ? ?The Rosenbergs were the only people executed in the United States for the crime of espionage during the Cold War.