Ethel Rosenberg's Sons Want Truth About Mom Known

She was executed for spying in 1953; they are fighting for her to be exonerated
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 26, 2021 8:00 AM CDT
Ethel Rosenberg's Sons Want Truth About Mom Known
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.   (Wikimedia Commons)

When his mother called to tell him she had been arrested and couldn't come home, as had happened to his father the month prior, Michael Meeropol screamed into the phone. He was just 7. The boy's last name at the time—the summer of 1950—was Rosenberg. He would adopt the last name of his adoptive parents after his own, Ethel and Julius, were infamously executed for espionage. Writing for the Guardian, Hadley Freeman speaks with Michael and his younger brother Robert—now 78 and 74—as well as Anne Sebba, author of Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy. The lengthy piece looks at the brothers' quest to clear Ethel's name, which has been ongoing since 2015. To that end, they aren't seeking a pardon—which would indicate she had committed a crime—but an exoneration.

Freeman lays out in detail the case for that, from Soviet papers declassified in the '90s that explicitly stated she was not a spy (and also indicated that while Julius was, he didn't pass on atomic secrets as the US government claimed) to a 1997 interview with Julius' handler who said Ethel "had nothing to do with this, she was completely innocent. I think she knew [what her husband was doing], but for that you don’t kill people." There was also a 1996 interview her brother, David Greenglass, gave in which he admitted he and his wife, who were also arrested as spies, lied about his sister in court. Sebba helps paint a picture of who Ethel was, theorizing that she didn't join her husband, brother, and sister-in-law in spying because "she gave up activism when her children were born. Her main identity was as a wife and a mother, and that’s what mattered to her." (Read the full story, which explains why the brothers' effort stalled during the Trump administration.)

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