I wrote to Jenn Rosenberg, and sent a few pages from Irrepressible.

Dear Jennifer,
I am following your campaign to Exonerate Ethel with great interest. I have always believed that your grandparents’ execution was a dreadful injustice, concocted by cruel men for the worst reasons of power and political gain. I told the story again in my biography of Jessica Mitford from the point of view of dedicated supporters. Please see relevant paragraphs below. If I can be of any help at all, please let me know.
Yours in the Great Hope of Exonerating Ethel,
Leslie Brody                                    

From “Irrepressible, The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford,” Counterpoint Press 2010)

The Campaign to Save the Rosenbergs[i] was for the Treuhafts, like other party members, a family affair. From Oakland, 12 year old Dinky Romilly wrote to Winston Churchill to ask her great-uncle to stop the executions, but he never answered. The catastrophic outcome of the campaign was for many of the Red Diaper children engaged in it a traumatic lesson in the raw exercise of power. Many of the Rosenbergs’ young defenders felt like the traumatized refugees of a routed army. For some the experience laid bare the obvious imbalance of power between their parents and the great threatening adversarial world in which they made their home, went to high school, listened to Billie Holliday, Bobby Darin, and Howling Wolf. The secrets of the persecuted both terrorized and mobilized them.
            On the day of the execution, Carl Bernstein stood with his family in front of the White House, among
Thousands and thousands of people, the crowd overflowing into Lafayette Square . . . Pictures of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and of their sons, solemnly held aloft. A sense of helplessness and doom mitigated only by faith, by some desperate belief that nothing as terrible as this would be permitted to happen, that some law of humanity or the universe would intervene, that clemency would be granted at the last moment . . . If the phone rang before eight o’clock it meant that Eisenhower had granted clemency. A radio played. Eight o’clock came and went. Then the phone rang. They were dead. At first people wept quietly. Then everyone in the room was sobbing, wailing and some people got sick. I remember the man on the radio said that all the lights around Ossining had dimmed when they threw the switch.[ii]

Pele and Steve Murdoch with her nine-year-old son Pete and his friend Decca and Bob’s nine year-old son Nicky heard the news in the public campgrounds at Yellowstone National Park. “After a cold two weeks sleeping outside within sight and sounds of bears and the odd moose, we emerged half frozen from the woods in June to face the shocking headline: Rosenbergs executed. How to explain such a horror to two little boys, both of them Jewish? In shock and despair ourselves, we did our inadequate best.”[iii]

Shortly after the Rosenbergs’ execution, Albert Einstein urged “every intellectual called before the committee to refuse to testify, [to] be prepared for jail or economic ruin, for the sacrifice of his personal welfare in the interest of the country’s cultural welfare.”[iv] Witnesses and lawyers tried in various ways to speak or read statements which questioned the hearing process, but the powers invested in the committee meant that few defiant words could be heard above the chairman’s gavel.
            In 1953, Decca and Bob both received subpoenas to appear before the Federal HUAC hearings in San Francisco. Bob had the idea to build his defense around the proposition that in the atmosphere of fear and shame, few lawyers were willing to sacrifice their own practice and livelihood to defend people accused of “subversion.” In the weeks leading up to his court appearance he embarked on a case study to prove the point.
            Instead of asking a Lawyers Guild colleague, he made a list of seven prospective defense counselors. His visits to these men recall the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. One attorney demurred on the grounds that he hadn’t enough gravitas. Another, silver haired and dignified, thought he hadn’t the stamina. A third, energetic, mature and confident said yes, he would indeed take on Bob’s case, and would relish the opportunity. However, several days before the hearing he phoned Bob in distress. His law partner had threatened to jump out the window if their firm represented Bob in the HUAC hearings. It wasn’t Bob’s politics; it was the scrutiny their firm would receive thereafter by the IRS. There was always a man from the Treasury sitting in all these hearings, taking notes. He would jump, Bob’s would-be attorney said of his partner, so fearful was he of a tax audit. The mature, confident man was in tears.[v]
            Decca trekked back to her children’s school to explain their situation. She and Bob would be testifying before the HUAC committee again. They had no idea what consequences there might be. The teachers she met were sympathetic and assured her that they’d “give the kids extra care & attention while the hearings were on.”[vi]
            In their parents’ absence, Dinky would cope with the assistance of various neighbors and friends. She was a star student in junior high. “The most strong-minded and determined child I ever saw once she makes her mind up, she’s just exactly like Esmond,” Decca wrote to Aranka. Nicholas was also coming into his own. He was the kind of kid who went into raptures over gadgets, an experimenter. He was quick and quieter than little Ben, who when his parents were otherwise occupied feasted on mustard and jam sandwiches.
            Decca wasn’t called to testify this time, but her subpoena required she attend all five days of the hearings: a “revolting”[vii] spectacle, during which “the “friendlies served up more than 300 names.”
            The Committee Counsel’s first question to Bob was “Are you represented by counsel?” Bob replied that he would answer (as opposed to taking the Fifth) and began to read a three-page statement. Statements were typically gaveled down and a committee member interrupted with, “You’ll have to submit that.”
            “I’m answering the question,” Bob pointed out. “The question is, do I have counsel?” The committee deliberated and to everyone’s surprise allowed Bob to explain what prevented him from securing the counsel of his choice. “What a shameful thing it was,” he said, “that I a lawyer, was unable to get counsel, and how much worse” for the unfortunate with even fewer connections and expertise. Bob was, Decca writes, “determined to reveal through his testimony the full extent to which the Committee had succeeded in terrorizing the bar.”[viii]
            “Everyone was breathless,” as Bob read his indictment of the committee and its methods. Afterwards, “There was terrific cheering & applause,” Decca told Aranka. Her son’s testimony had been heroic, and also historic—a rare triumph for any witness to make it all the way through a prepared statement. There would be only a few times, over the course of a great many hearings nationwide, when an unfriendly witness would get the chance to speak honestly, in effect to disprove the perception that he or she was a hostile demon, interchangeable from the faceless commie operative of legend. Outside the courtroom, Bob’s friends congratulated him. They hoped this day’s work indicated a crack in the power of the inquisition. Then they waited like the actors in an opening show to see how the mainstream press would review the performance. Headlines pronounced Bob’s testimony “The Day’s Stormiest.”[ix]

[i] In 1950, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother David Greenglass, a low level employee at the nuclear laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico—--confessed to the FBI that he had passed secret documents to his brother-in-Law Julius Rosenberg. Rosenberg and his wife Ethel, who was Greenglass’ older sister were arrested and accused of conspiracy to commit espionage. The case against Ethel was slight, but the federal prosecutor’s strategy was to hold her as a political hostage until Julius would make a deal: either to confess and name bigger fish in the conspiracy, or provide enough information to ransom his wife.  Both Rosenbergs said they were innocent, and would not cooperate. Meanwhile, Ruth Greenglass (wife of David) testified that Ethel had typed the notes containing the state secrets that David had stolen. This putative connection was all the government needed to declare Ethel an active conspirator, as guilty as her husband.[i]
Ethel, it has been generally acknowledged by even avid commie-hunters committed a mysterious kind of suttee. She might have saved herself, but would not repudiate her husband, or allow others to say she had. She and Julius understood that their crime was not that of treason but of being communists in America in 1953. A few years later, after Ruth died, Greenglass admitted that he and his wife had lied under oath. His sister had not typed any top-secret documents. Ruth Greenglass had fingered Ethel to save her own skin and David condemned his sister to protect his wife. (In an appended version of Ruth’s New York Times obituary, the editors corrected her age at death “83 not 84”, a scruple to truth notably neglected by the lady in question). Morton Sobol, was also convicted as an associate of the Rosenbergs and sentenced to thirty years in prison. He maintained his innocence throughout his jail stint. In the fall of 2008, when Sobell had been out of jail for – years, at the age of --, he admitted in an interview that he and Julius had between them passed on some non-nuclear information to the Soviets. They had done so, he said, before the cold war, when the Soviet Union and the United States had been allies. Ethel had never been involved. How hard it must have been to keep silent for so long. He hadn’t done the dreadful crime he’d been accused of doing, but he’d done something that could in the panic of the moment be perceived as worse. In any case, he had done his sentence. He confessed in a moment when communism had failed and capitalism was on the ropes. Let those with the passion judge him. He had done what he had done and paid. His life interrupted. His friends martyred.
[ii] 101-102, Loyalties
[iii] Pele’s memoir pp 44 add quote signs in text
[iv] Check quote from Einstein—Belfrage 191 The refusal must be based on the assertion that it is shameful for a blameless citizen to submit to such an inquisition.”
[v] Bob’s Oral History p.
[vi] 12/5/53 TO Aranka
[vii] Decca to Muv date, Dec 10, 1953
[viii] FOC page 213
[ix] San Francisco Examiner described Treuhaft’s appearance December 3, 1953

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