At the height of the Cold War, paranoia swept across America, and everyone was a potential Russian spy. One set of brothers, in particular, were learning that their parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, really were spying for the Russians. Or at least that’s what the FBI and newspapers told them. It wouldn’t be until years later that one of them, Robert, would start speaking out about his parents’ involvement.
The Arrest and Execution
Robert Meeropol and his older brother Michael were just 3 and 7 when they were caught up in the accusations and trials of their parents, the most infamous spy couple still to this day. Accused of 11 counts of atomic espionage, the Rosenbergs were eventually executed by electric chair in 1953.
The brothers were left orphaned, and no one wanted them, including family. To put it in perspective, Robert claims that those times were like being Osama bin Laden’s kids today.
The brothers were finally adopted, however, by Abel and Anne Meeropol.
Release of Secret Documents
Robert went on to earn degrees in anthropology and law. Michael became a professor. Even while going on with their lives, the circumstances surrounding their parents’ arrest and execution continued to bother them.
As Robert tells it, the brothers always had concerns over whether their parents were actually guilty. They wanted to know for sure. So, in the1970s, they decided to sue the CIA and FBI in order to obtain 300,000 secret documents relating to their parents’ case.
Hoping for a clear answer, the brothers reviewed the documents only to find that it wasn’t that simple.
The documents did show, however, that their father, Julius Rosenberg, was a Soviet spy living in New York. He was a recruiter of other Soviet spies, with a goal of stealing information directly related to American military technology. But, according to Robert, the information they stole wasn’t of the vital kind. Therefore, the death penalty wasn’t warranted.
What about Ethel Rosenberg?
Robert and Michael believe Ethel may have known only small details about her husband’s activities. It had been her brother, David Greenglass, an atomic spy himself, who claimed that Ethel typed up notes for her husband. This is what sealed her doomed fate. Years later, Greenglass would take back those claims about his sister, but by then, it was too late.
A Son Speaks Out
Robert began to give interviews and speak out, determined to show the importance of the Rosenberg case.
In an interview with the World Socialist Web Site back in 2013, Robert spoke out even more about the events of the time, during the Cold War, and how that affected his parents’ trials.
According to Robert, the Cold War hysteria, along with the political ploy to garner support for the Korean War, served as the backdrop. His parents, he says, refused to “contribute to the anti-communist hysteria” and therefore, would not give in and admit guilt. And for that, they paid the ultimate sacrifice.
In describing how his parents could have come to this point, Robert claimed that his parents saw the poverty and oppression in the Lower East Side of New York. They saw how this led the young people to join the Communist party. At the same time, the Soviet Union was portraying itself as a working-class defender. These all made big impressions on them and most likely pushed them into the activities that would eventually lead to their deaths.
Robert and his older brother Michael have spent their entire adult lives campaigning to expose the untold truths behind the Rosenberg case.
According to Robert, his parents’ legacy is about resistance. They refused to lie in order to avoid death. His father, he claims, may have been involved in assisting the Soviet Union, but not in atomic secrets or vital information as he was accused.
In 1990, Robert founded the Rosenberg Fund for Children to provide for the needs of children whose parents have been arrested, injured, and faced harassment for their political beliefs and activities. On a more personal level, he says he has set out to help the children who he sees as kindred spirits — children who have suffered due to attacks on their parents for their activism.
The brothers have continued their efforts to clear their mother’s name as well. They reached out to President Obama in 2015, and in 2017, a pardon for Ethel Rosenberg was requested by Senator Elizabeth Warren. With no success achieved yet, the brothers’ attempts continue.