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The Legacy Of Ethel And Julius Rosenberg

The Legacy Of Ethel And Julius Rosenberg image
Parent Issue
Month
July
Year
1993
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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Editor1 Note: Robert Meeropol is the younger son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, two left-wing política! activists who were executed 40 years ago this summer. In what was at the time called The Trial of the Century'the Rosenbergs were accused of stealing Ihe secret of the atomic bomb" and giving it to the Soviet Union. While the Rosanbergs' guilt or innocence remains a matter ofgreat histórica! controversy, over the years it has been fairiy well-established that there was no great atomic "secref passed to the USSR. In addition, prosecutors and the FBI falsified evidence and illegally conducted secret meetings with federal judge Irving Kaufman to ensure convictions anddeath sentences. A U-M gradúate and attomey, Meeropol heads the Rosenberg FundforChildren-a charity which helps the children of politica! prisoners, activists who have been fired f mm theirjobs and other victíms of polMcal or racial persecutíon. What followsisfrom a talkthathe gave in Ann Arborthis past March. Many of you know the politics of my parents' case, about the frame-up that took place. Relatlvely few people know what happened to Mlchael and I as small children after my parents' arrest. I'm golng to share that with you, because that Is really the genesis of the Rosenberg Fund for Children. My father was arrested shortly after my third birthday, in July of 1950. A few weeks later, my mother went to testify before the grand Jury that was sitting and investlgating this supposed crime. She left my brother and I with a baby sitter and went to tesüfy. When she got done with her testimony she was arrested. She never carne home, and except for a few prlson visits, Michael and I never saw our parents again. The baby sitter didnt know what to do with my brother and I. Maybe lfs different now, but in those days what to do when the parents are arrested wasn't in the baby sltter's manual. But the baby sitter had a good head on her shoulders and took us to my mother's mother's house. That turned out not to be a very good idea either, because my mother's brother, David Greenglass, was the person who provided the chief evidence against my parents. Now I'm not going to talk about my parenfs case, but there 's one thingl want to polnt out. My parents were offered a deal. They were essentially told, "Cooperate, say what we want you to say, and name others andyour Uves will be spared - and you, Ethel, you can stay home and take care of the children. " They were also told, "If you don 't do this, you face the death penalty, and thlnk what will happen to the children." In other words, Michael and I were used as a lever against our parents. The same deal was offered to David and Ruth Greenglass. They took the deal. My mother's mother wanted my mother to back up Davld's story. In order to increase the pressure on my mother, my grand - mother said to her, "If you don't back up Davld's story, I'm going to take the klds and place them in an orphanage." When my mother stlll refused, we were taken to an orphanage. It's one of my flrst memories. My grand - mother dldn't have the heart to teil Mlchael and I that she was doing thls to pressure my mother. Instead she made up a story. She sald that because thls was a coldwater flat where we llved, and the toilet froze In the wintertime, lt wasn't a safe place, or a sanltary place, to ralse children. I remember going into the bathroom and peering down Into the toilet to try to see ice down in the bottom. This was August, however, and there wasnt any ice. Off we went to this orphanage. There were siblings on both sides of my mother's and father's families, but nobody would take us in. This was the McCarthy period; people were terrifled. The relatives would come to visit us on Sundays and take us out, but then we'd go back to this orphanage. I remember thinking, as a three-anda-half-year old - almost a four-year old before I left there - that my parents were put In prison, and thls was Michael's and my prison. We got to go out on the weekends but then we had to come back. It wasn't until my father's mother. who was sick, got well enough to get out of the hospital and come to take us into her home that we finally were released. That was over six months later, in the spring of 1951. The trial was taking place at that point. There was a lot of publicity and my brother was harassed a lot. You see, he was in third grade in the public school system. I was fortúnate. I was stlll four years old. I wasn't in school yet. So he got the brunt of it. It was decided that for our own protection we needed to be taken out of the New York City area. We went to live on a chicken farm in rural New Jersey and that's where I started kindergarten. That's where I was living on June 19, 1953, when the executions took place. Mlchael and I started the school year there the following fall. I went to the flrst grade for four days. Then suddenly Mlchael and I were pulled out of the school system and sent back to New York. We weren't told at the time, but it tumed out that the school board found out who we were over the summer. They sald we could no longer attend school in Toms River because we weren't residents of the State of New Jersey. So I was thrown out of the public schools of New Jersey at the age of six. The reallty was we were thrown out because people were scared that somehow we would contamínate their children. So back to New York we went. At that point my parents' chief attorney had formed a committee of people to find parents for us. Abel and Anne Meeropol stepped forward and offered to take us permanently into their home. We met them in December of 1953 and In January of 1954 went to live with them. Within two weeks, agroup in New York City called the Jewish Board of Guardians, which was domlnated by conservatlves, flled a petition in family court saying that the Meeropols were abusing us. Now this wasn't physical abuse, this was political abuse. The court papers stated that we were being taken around to rallies and forced to listen to grisly descriptions of executions, that we were being taught to hate our country. None of this was true. We were not taken around to such rallies. We were shielded from such things. But thejudge believed it, lssued an order, and the cops came to the door and said, "WeVe come for the children." An argument developed and the Meeropols convinced the pólice to walt until the following moming. They telephoned thejudge and were able to put it off. All that night, however, there was a cop in front of our door, there were pólice on the roof, and there were pólice in the lobby of the building. The following moming they took us away to another orphanage, in Pleasantvllle, New York. That led to a custody battle. I won't belabor the custody battle, but ultimately we were reunited with the Meeropols, our names were changed to glve us some privacy, and we slipped from public view. That chapter of our lives, that my brother to this day calis the long nightmare, came to an end. With the closing of that chapter and the start of the next one, our lives changed dramatically. You see, the people that wanted tó take us from Abel and Anne Meeropol weren't satisfled that my parents were killed. They wanted to make sure that their legacy was destroyed as well. They wanted to make sure that we grew up either revillng our parents or forgetting all about them. They wanted to make sure that I wouldn't be here tonlght. Thafs really where it springs from. Being adopted by people that supported my parents, and having our lawyer spend the last six months of hls life developing a trust fund so that we could go to progressive schools and progressive camps, enabled us to grow up as children of" the movement. Abel Meeropol was a Hollywood writer who wrote under the name of Lewis Allen. He wrote "Strange Fruit," the Billie Ho'liday song. He wrote another song called "The House I Live In." He left Hollywood one step ahead of the blacklist and didn't have any money. So without this trust fund we wouldn't have been able to take advantage of these institutions. What do I mean by progressive schools and progressive camps? I went to a school ín Greenwlch Village called the Little Red Schoolhouse. When I got to seventh grade I went to somethlng called Elizabeth Irwln High School. I remember In 196O-I was In the elghth grade - we held a mock electlon. Kennedy was running agalnst Nlxon. In that mock electlon at Elizabeth Irwln High School, Kennedy lost. He lost to Norman Thomas. Norman Thomas got seventy-two votes, Kennedy got seventy votes, and Nixon got two votes, and I've always thought of those two votes as the dlversity votes at the school. Thafs the kind of place it was. It wasn't like people carne up to me and patted me on the back and said, "Oh, your parents were wonderful." People didn't talk about It. They gave my brother and I space. We grew up in an atmosphere that supported what my parents stood for. Growing up in that atmosphere in the fifties and the sixties, it was only natural that I would get involved in the civil rights movement, and the anti-war movement, and then get involved in SDS (Students for a Democratie Society) here at Michigan. In the wake of Watergate, people came to my brother and I and said: "Now for the flrst time people might believe that the government could actually frame innocent people. This is the opportunity to reopen the case." We initiated a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. We both had visions of dollar signs floating in front of our eyes. We thought we were going to win a lot of money. What we thought we'd do with this money is to start a foundation In our parents' name. That is where the idea of the Rosenberg Fund for Children came from. The Rosenberg Fund for Children provides for the éducational and emotional needs of children in this country whose parents have been targeted because of their progressive activity. It does that by linking the kids up with schools and other service providers, preferably those whose mission is to transmit progressive values from one generation to the next. My parents wrote to me shortly before they died, that they died secure in the knowledge that others would carry on their work. I believe Michael and I in our efforts to reopen our parents' case, and many other people who continue to work with us today on that case and on other issues, havejustified that trust. What the Rosenberg Fund for Children is about is trying to créate a permanent institution that focuses on the next generation, so that when we are no longer able to carry on, there will be others to do so. Contributions can be sent to: Rosenberg Fund for Children, 1145 Main Street, Suite 408, Springfield, Massachusetts 0 1 103. Phone: (4 13) 739-9020.

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