Sons of Ethel Rosen­berg plead with Obama to ex­on­er­ate mother

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Eric Tucker and Josh Lederman

The sons of con­victed spy Ethel Rosen­berg re­turned to the White House on Thurs­day, more than 50 years after plead­ing un­suc­cess­fully to spare her life, in a last-ditch ap­peal to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to ex­on­er­ate her amid new ev­i­dence.

Rosen­berg was ex­e­cuted in 1953 along with her hus­band, Julius, after be­ing con­victed of con­spir­ing to pass se­crets about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. But court records made pub­lic last year through a judge’s or­der cast doubt on the con­ven­tional nar­ra­tive of a Cold War es­pi­onage case that cap­ti­vated the coun­try.

“This is our mother we’re talk­ing about,” Robert Meeropol, one of Rosen­berg’s two sons, said as he stood out­side the White House gates. “Since we can’t bring her back to life, there could be noth­ing more sat­is­fy­ing to us than to have the gov­ern­ment ac­knowl­edge that this shouldn’t have hap­pened, that this was wrong.”

The new doc­u­ments showed that Ethel Rosen­berg’s brother, whose damn­ing trial tes­ti­mony against her and her hus­band helped se­cure the cou­ple’s con­vic­tion, had never im­pli­cated his sis­ter in an earlier ap­pear­ance be­fore a grand jury. The brother, David Green­glass, of­fered the grand jury no ev­i­dence of his sis­ter’s di­rect in­volve­ment and said he never dis­cussed such mat­ters with his sis­ter.

As young boys, Robert and Michael Meeropol vis­ited the White House in 1953 in a failed bid to get Pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­hower to pre­vent their par­ents’ ex­e­cu­tions. Half a cen­tury later, the brothers ap­proached a guard booth out­side the White House and asked to de­liver their let­ter to Obama.

They were turned away by U.S. Se­cret Ser­vice. “Ok, well, we tried,” Michael Meeropol said as he stood in the sun, peer­ing through the gate at the West Wing. “Thank you very much, any­way.”

No mat­ter, the brothers said. They’ve al­ready sent a hard copy to Obama se­nior ad­viser Va­lerie Jar­rett, and are hop­ing Obama will act be­fore leaving of­fice.

“I’m sure we’ll take a look,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. He said he was “not aware of any work that has been done thus far” on the brothers’ re­quest.

Both brothers ar­gued that a na­tional reck­on­ing over an er­ro­neous ex­e­cu­tion is cru­cial, per­haps now more than ever.

“We have gone through cy­cles in our his­tory of hys­te­ria, tar­get­ing peo­ple, over pun­ish­ing, fram­ing peo­ple. We’re in dan­ger of that hap­pen­ing again,” Michael Meeropol said. “Rec­og­niz­ing that in the past we’ve done things we shouldn’t have done might be a cau­tion­ary tale.”

The Meeropols are not seek­ing a pres­i­den­tial par­don, say­ing that would sug­gest their mother was guilty. They in­stead are seek­ing a pub­lic ex­on­er­a­tion, akin to a 1977 state­ment by then-Mas­sachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis on be­half of Ni­cola Sacco and Bar­tolomeo Vanzetti, Ital­ian im­mi­grants who were con­victed in a 1920 mur­der. That procla­ma­tion said “any stigma and dis­grace should be for­ever re­moved” from their names.

It’s not clear what ac­tion, if any, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will take in its wan­ing weeks. But Rosen­berg’s sup­port­ers be­lieve their prospects are dim once Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump takes of­fice, in part be­cause Roy Cohn, once a lawyer for Trump, was a mem­ber of the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s pros­e­cu­tion team against the Rosen­bergs.

“The ghost of Ethel Rosen­berg is go­ing to haunt the White House once Don­ald Trump takes of­fice,” Robert Meeropol said.

The Rosen­bergs both main­tained their in­no­cence, though they re­quested only Ethel’s ex­on­er­a­tion. The sons said that’s be­cause they be­lieve their fa­ther was guilty of con­spir­acy to com­mit es­pi­onage, though they ar­gue he didn’t en­gage in atomic spy­ing and shouldn’t have been ex­e­cuted.

Ethel Rosen­berg’s sup­port­ers be­lieve their cause was helped by the July 2015 re­lease of Green­glass’ grand jury tes­ti­mony, which a fed­eral judge in New York un­sealed in re­sponse to a re­quest from his­to­ri­ans and ar­chiv­ists fol­low­ing Green­glass’ death.

That 1950 tes­ti­mony con­flicted with state­ments made a year later dur­ing the cou­ple’s trial by Green­glass, who was in­dicted as a co-con­spir­a­tor and was him­self sen­tenced to 10 years in prison.

Green­glass said he had given the Rosen­bergs re­search data he had ob­tained while work­ing as an Army ma­chin­ist at the Los Alamos, New Mex­ico, head­quar­ters of the topse­cret Man­hat­tan Project to build the atomic bomb. He said he re­called see­ing his older sis­ter tran­scrib­ing hand­writ­ten notes to give to the Sovi­ets on a por­ta­ble type­writer at the Rosen­bergs’ New York apart­ment in 1945.

But the grand jury records show no men­tion of that and in­di­cate he ap­peared to min­i­mize his deal­ings with his sis­ter.

Green­glass told the grand jury that Julius Rosen­berg was adamant that he should con­tinue with his Army ser­vice so he could “con­tinue giv­ing him in­for­ma­tion, but when asked whether his sis­ter, Ethel, was sim­i­larly in­sis­tent, he replied, “I said be­fore, and say it again, hon­estly, this is a fact: I never spoke to my sis­ter about this at all.”

ALEX BRAN­DON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Michael, left, and Robert Meeropol, the sons of Ethel Rosen­berg, speak to re­porters after they at­tempted to de­liver a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in an ef­fort to ob­tain a par­don for their mother Ethel Rosen­berg, in front of the White House Thurs­day in Wash­ing­ton. Ethel Rosen­berg was ex­e­cuted, along with her hus­band, Julius, in 1953 after be­ing con­victed in a Cold War atomic spy­ing case that cap­ti­vated the coun­try.

AP PHOTO

Th­ese un­dated file pho­tos show Julius and Ethel Rosen­berg, the con­victed hus­band and wife of the Cold War atomic spy­ing case. The sons of con­victed spy Ethel Rosen­berg are ask­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to ex­on­er­ate their mother, Ethel Rosen­berg. Rosen­berg was ex­e­cuted, along with her hus­band, Julius, in 1953 after be­ing con­victed in a Cold War atomic spy­ing case that cap­ti­vated the coun­try.

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