While sweating my way through a section of my dissertation (in which I’m attempting to say something intelligent about Roy Cohn and Ethel Rosenberg and failing utterly), I got an e-mail from my dad, who passed along this article:
Today, or, more precisely, a few minutes past 8 p.m. tonight, marks the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the electric chair at Sing Sing. The Rosenbergs, who maintained their innocence to the end, were convicted of conspiring to pass atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, a crime the judge declared “worse than murder.” It now seems clear the Rosenbergs were neither as innocent as they claimed nor as guilty as the government alleged.
I had to read the article twice before I noticed that throwaway phrase in the first sentence —”a few minutes past 8 p.m. tonight.” I’d forgotten that the execution was delayed by several hours because Eisenhower and his cronies thought it unseemly to execute Jews on the Sabbath. Apparently they weren’t as troubled by the other quirky problem posed by the date: Julius and Ethel died on their fourteenth wedding anniversary.
If you’re looking for a fun summer read — something equal parts spy thriller, courtroom drama, and political history — check out The Rosenberg File by Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton. I’m hoping that they will publish a revised version soon, incorporating the newly available KGB documents. It really is a fascinating story.