July 9, 2008


Ruth Greenglass, Key Witness in Trial of Rosenbergs, Dies at 84 (DENNIS HEVESI, 7/09/08, NY Times)

The Rosenberg investigation can be traced to 1945, when a Soviet cipher clerk, Igor Gouzenko, defected to the West and stunned intelligence officials by revealing that the Russians were engaged in extensive spying against their wartime allies. At the time, David Greenglass was an Army sergeant assigned as a machinist to the Manhattan Project, the program to develop the atomic bomb, at Los Alamos, N.M.

When Mr. Rosenberg, an avowed Communist, found out about his brother-in-law’s assignment, he recruited Mr. Greenglass to gather information about the Manhattan Project, including documents, handwritten notes, sketches of the bomb and the names of scientists.

One afternoon in September 1945, in the Rosenberg apartment in Knickerbocker Village on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Mr. Greenglass dictated his notes to someone sitting before a Remington typewriter. Who was sitting at that typewriter, Ethel Rosenberg or Ruth Greenglass? Fifty-seven years after the Rosenberg trial the question remains.

In 1950, after confessing to his role as a spy, Mr. Greenglass agreed to testify against the Rosenbergs. At the time, he had not yet been sentenced.

A main element in the prosecution was the threat of indictment, conviction and possible execution of Ethel Rosenberg as leverage to persuade Julius Rosenberg to confess and to implicate other collaborators. Those collaborators had already been identified, largely from what became known as the Venona transcripts, a trove of intercepted Soviet cables.

But with little more than a week before the trial was to start, on March 6, 1951, the government’s case against Mrs. Rosenberg remained flimsy, lacking evidence of an overt act to justify her conviction, much less her execution.

Prosecutors had been interrogating Mrs. Greenglass since June 1950. In February 1951, she was interviewed again. After reminding her that she was still subject to indictment and that her husband had yet to be sentenced, the prosecutors extracted a recollection from her: that in the fall of 1945, Ethel Rosenberg had typed her brother’s handwritten notes.

Soon after, confronted with his wife’s account, Mr. Greenglass told prosecutors that Mrs. Greenglass had a very good memory and that if that was what she recalled of events six years earlier, she was probably right.

The transcripts of those two crucial interviews have never been released or even located in government files. But at the trial, Mr. Greenglass testified that his sister had done the typing. Called to the stand, Mrs. Greenglass corroborated her husband’s testimony.

In his summation, the chief prosecutor, Irving Saypol, declared: “This description of the atom bomb, destined for delivery to the Soviet Union, was typed up by the defendant Ethel Rosenberg that afternoon at her apartment at 10 Monroe Street. Just so had she, on countless other occasions, sat at that typewriter and struck the keys, blow by blow, against her own country in the interests of the Soviets.”

On June 19, 1953, the Rosenbergs were put to death in the electric chair at Sing Sing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 9, 2008 9:47 AM

Too bad there's no way we could ask Effendi Obama to tell us what he thought of the Rosenberg trial. There is no better litmus test for Comsymps.

On the merits, in my opinion, the notes of the David Greenglass interview do not sustain a collateral attack on the Ethel Rosenberg conviction. They are no more than an inconsistent out-of-court declaration by a witness, such as might have raised doubt but not such as to be evidence of innocence.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 9, 2008 2:50 PM

What a great conspiracy movie this would make. I wonder why Hollywood never did so. Even Oliver Stone has passed it up. By conspiracy, I refer to the Greenglasses, Rosenbergs and their entire supporting cast of collaborators.

Posted by: Genecis at July 9, 2008 6:06 PM

Hollywood makes them innocent. The Book of Daniel.

Posted by: oj at July 9, 2008 8:56 PM
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