The Manhattan Project and the Rosenbergs

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

By Katherine Littlejohn, Staff Writer

Los Alamos, New Mexico: The infamous location where America developed its first atomic bomb, known as “Project Y” or “The Manhattan Project.”

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the parents of two children, Robby and Michael, ages 3 and 7, respectively.[1] The Rosenbergs, however, lived anything but a normal life. Julius was an electrical engineer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps.[2] He was fired from his job during the Red Scare, a period of time when “[f]ederal employees were analyzed to determine whether they were sufficiently loyal to the government.”[3] Allegedly, following Julius’ dismissal, he subsequently asked his brother-in-law David Greenglass, a machinist working on the atomic bomb project, to pass the instructions on how to make a bomb to the Soviet Union.[4]

On July 17, 1950, Julius was arrested for passing the secretive information to Russia, and a month later, on August 11, Ethel was also arrested and charged with assisting her husband with the illicit activities.[5] On March 6, 1951, the Rosenbergs entered Judge Irving R. Kaufman’s courtroom.[6] Both were on trial for selling nuclear secrets to the Russians.[7] Notably, the only evidence against the Rosenbergs was the conflicting stories between Greenglass and Julius, and a “series of vague sketches that Greenglass presented as being identical to the secrets passed by Julius to the Soviets.”[8]

In an article written by Norma Abrams, published in the Daily News on March 7, 1951, she observed the couple in court.[9] “[T]he most unconcerned people there appeared to be the Rosenbergs,” Abrams writes, “who held hands, smiled and murmured comments to each other — seemingly paying little attention to the formal proceedings.”[10]

Upon the Rosenbergs’ arrest, there were many protests throughout the United States because the public thought the evidence used to convict them was “weak and ethereal.”[11] The public felt pity for the Rosenberg couple and their two children.[12]

The trial lasted almost a month, and on April 4, the defendants’ convictions were returned.[13] Greenglass received a 15-year prison sentence for aiding the Rosenbergs.[14] The Rosenbergs were sentenced to death under the Espionage Act of 1917; they continued to assert their innocence from their prison cells at Sing-Sing,[15] regardless of the prosecution’s deal to substitute their death sentences in return for an admission of guilt.[16] On June 19, 1953, both were executed by electric chair.[17]

Nonetheless, the American public’s opinion on the Rosenbergs’ innocence was incorrect. “[W]ith the end of the Cold War and the disclosure of Soviet intelligence in the 1990s, new, stronger information confirming the espionage activities of Julius Rosenberg was released (although the role of his wife still remains dubious)”[18] — ultimately affirming the court’s decision.

If this article was of interest to you, think about attending Mark Yochum’s Continuing Legal Education on Roy Cohn, the attorney who prosecuted the Rosenbergs. The CLE will be held on May 25, 2017.




















[18] (emphasis added)

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