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Julius Rosenberg (May 12, 1918 - June 19, 1953) and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg (September 28, 1915 - June 19, 1953) were American Communists who received international attention when they were executed for passing nuclear weapons secrets to the Soviet Union.
In the 1990s, Soviet communications decrypted in the Venona project were released, which supported the general allegations of espionage by Julius, though not supporting the specific charges on which the Rosenbergs were convicted. Also supporting the conviction were Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's posthumously published memoirs.
Julius Rosenberg was born to a Jewish family on May 12, 1918 in New York City. He became a leader in the Young Communist League where, in 1936, he met Ethel, whom he married three years later. He graduated from the City College of New York with a degree in electrical engineering in 1939 and in 1940 joined the Army Signal Corps, where he worked on radar equipment.
Ethel Greenglass was born on September 28, 1915, in New York City, also to a Jewish family. She was an aspiring actress and singer, but eventually took a secretarial job at a shipping company. She became involved in labor disputes and joined the Young Communist League, USA, where she first met Julius. The Rosenbergs had two sons named Robert and Michael Meeropol.
According to his former KGB handler, Alexandre Feklisov, Julius Rosenberg was originally recruited by the KGB on Labor Day 1942, by former KGB spymaster Semyon Semyonov. Julius had been introduced to Semenov by Bernard Schuster, a high-ranking member of the Communist Party USA as well as Earl Browder's personal KGB liaison. After Semenov was recalled to Moscow in 1944, his duties were taken over by his apprentice, Feklisov.
According to Feklisov, Julius was his most dedicated and valuable asset, providing thousands of classified reports from Emerson Radio, including a complete proximity fuze, the same design that was used to shoot down Gary Powers's U-2 in 1960. Under Feklisov's administration, Julius Rosenberg is said to have recruited sympathetic individuals to the KGB's service, including Joel Barr, Alfred Sarant, William Perl and Morton Sobell.
According to Feklisov's account, he was supplied by Perl, under Julius Rosenberg's direction, with thousands of documents from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics including a complete set of design and production drawings for the Lockheed's P-80 Shooting Star. Feklisov says he learned through Julius that his brother-in-law David Greenglass was working on the top-secret Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and used Julius to recruit him.
During World War II, the USSR and the U.S. became allies in war, but the U.S. government was highly suspicious of Joseph Stalin's intentions. As such, the Americans did not share information or seek assistance from the Soviet Union for the Manhattan Project. However, the Soviets were aware of the project as a result of espionage penetration of the U.S. government and had made a number of attempts to infiltrate its operations at the University of California, Berkeley. A number of project members - some high-profile, others lower in rank - did voluntarily give secret information to Soviet agents, many because they were sympathetic to communism (or the Soviet Union's role in the war) and did not feel that the U.S. should have a monopoly on atomic weapons
After the war, the U.S. continued to resist efforts to share nuclear secrets, but the Soviet Union was able to produce its own atomic weapons by 1949. Its first nuclear test, "Joe 1", shocked the West with the speed in which it was produced. It was then discovered in January 1950 that Klaus Fuchs, a German refugee theoretical physicist working for the British mission in the Manhattan Project, had given key documents to the Russians throughout the war. Through Fuchs' confession, U.S. and United Kingdom intelligence agents were able to make a case against his "courier," Harry Gold, who was arrested on May 23, 1950. A former machinist at Los Alamos, Sergeant David Greenglass confessed to having passed secret information on to the USSR through Gold as well. Though he initially denied any involvement by his sister, Ethel Rosenberg, he claimed that her husband, Julius, had convinced his wife to recruit him while on a visit to him in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1944 and that Julius had also passed secrets. Another accused conspirator, Morton Sobell, was on vacation in Mexico City when both Rosenbergs were arrested. According to his story published in On Doing Time, he tried to figure out a way to reach Europe without a passport but ultimately abandoned that effort and was back in Mexico City when he was kidnapped by members of the Mexican secret police and driven to the U.S. border where he was arrested. The government claimed he had been deported, but in 1956 the Mexican government officially declared that he had never been deported. Regardless of how he was returned to the U.S., he was arrested and stood trial with the Rosenbergs on one count of conspiracy to commit espionage.
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