In this weekend’s New York Times Book Review, journalist Sam Roberts, who wrote a book about David Greenglass and his role in the Rosenberg case, The Brother:The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case, has a review of two new books about the Rosenbergs.
Roberts pays little attention to what is in fact a major new book about the case, one that is a real page-turner as well as one filled with much new information about the man whose testimony led to the conviction of both Klaus Fuchs, the German born British subject and atom spy, and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and David Greenglass. That man is the little- known Philadelphia chemist Harry Gold, who is usually depicted by the Rosenberg’s defenders as a liar, moral monster and a total psychopath. The book is Allen Hornblum’s The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man Who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb. (I am in the process of writing a review of it for The Weekly Standard.)
The other book, the main focus of Roberts’ attention, is by the late Walter Schneir and his wife Miriam, Final Verdict: What Really Happened in the Rosenberg Case. Really not more than a short pamphlet — supposedly the result of ten years of research and writing, and yet a scant 100 pages of large print text with only seventeen footnotes — it is already no.1 in US History on Amazon’s book page. I suspect this is because of the attention Roberts gives it, and the misleading and laudatory treatment he presents. (My review of it will appear in the December issue of Commentary.)
True, Roberts calls it a “slim posthumously published volume,” but he is incorrect to say it is based on “new evidence,” and also incorrect to say that Walter Schneir really changed his mind about his original belief that the United States had framed up the Rosenbergs because of testimony from “self-serving liars.” The truth is that although Schneir and his wife now believe that Julius Rosenberg was a Soviet agent, they still believe their original take on the case was right: the Rosenbergs were framed up for giving the Russians the “secret” of the A-bomb because of their “progressive” political views.
It is rather ridiculous that the Schneirs, who for forty years or more argued on behalf of the Rosenbergs’ complete innocence, now should be awarded stars for reluctantly concluding what others had proved since the mid 1980s, especially since they write that for those (who like this writer) had proved the Rosenbergs were Soviet agents, they say they have one response: “No regrets. No apologies.”
Having once said that courier Harry Gold never met David Greenglass near Los Alamos and gave a sketch of the bomb to be handed over to Julius Rosenberg, they now admit he had been there, but argue instead that not only was his material worth little, but that David Greenglass was the only real atom spy, and that he testified against his brother-in-law Julius Rosenberg to cover up his own active spy career. It is about this preposterous theory — for which Walter Schneir offers no evidence at all — that Roberts writes his “version is not completely implausible.” Moreover, he adds that the truth “will have to await the full opening of K.G.B. archives for verification.”
The latter — which may never take place and therefore means waiting till Kingdom Come — is also misleading. Roberts does not mention that the KGB files collected by former KGB agent Alexander Vassiliev have been scanned and are posted in both English and Russian on the website of the Cold War International History Project, and can be found here. A timeline created by Steve Usdin that has details about the complete nature of the espionage they committed is also online at the site. Moreover, Vassiliev, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have written at length about what the files contain, including much material about the Rosenbergs, in their book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, which although a volume of the greatest importance (unlike the small volume by Walter Schneir), the NYTBR chose not to review.
In their book, the three co-authors provide new KGB messages which indicate that Ethel Rosenberg not only knew about her husband’s espionage activities, but actively recruited for the ring and indeed was the person who first suggested that her husband be recruited, as well as her own brother.
The Haynes-Klehr-Vassiliev book also reveals that Julius Rosenberg recruited another atomic spy, Russell McNutt, who was not only brought into espionage by Rosenberg but instructed by him to seek work in the area of atomic energy and the bomb. While Greenglass was, by chance, assigned by the Army to work on the bomb assembly, McNutt was recruited on Rosenberg’s “initiative…to cultivate ‘Enormous’” (the Manhattan Project). McNutt worked at the Kellex design office in New York, which had the contract for building the massive atomic facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. So contrary to what Miriam Schneir argues in the afterword that Sam Roberts terms “cogent,” and Walter Schneir, who as Roberts writes, “largely absolves the Rosenbergs of any involvement in atomic espionage,” the evidence shows that Julius Rosenberg did lead a major Soviet spy ring, that among other things, sought data relating to the atomic bomb.
The question to raise is a simple one: Why did The New York Times Book Review see fit to give attention to a minor and unimpressive book about the Rosenbergs, written by a late author and his wife who have been completely discredited for decades, thereby giving new grist for the mill for what Allen Hornblum rightfully and correctly terms “the Rosenberg propaganda mill”? That does exist, as the Schneir book, as well as two others soon appearing, makes quite clear. Yet Roberts calls Hornblum’s appropriate term and his other criticisms of the delusional “the Rosenbergs are innocent crew” simply “gratuitous put-downs.”
They are anything but gratuitous, as the constant barrage of propaganda shows. A recent example is from the Communist Party’s weekly newspaper, titled “Time for U.S. to exonerate Rosenbergs,” and it serves as a fine case of their never-ending campaign to indict the United States and depict the Rosenbergs as progressive heroes. Ironically, the author notes that all the protests about the Rosenbergs at the time came from the ranks of the CPUSA. As she writes:
[It] “is clear from the authors’ narrative of the remarkable history of the committee and the massive movement to save the lives of the Rosenbergs that Communists played an enormous role in the growth of the committee and the movement as a whole.”
If you are looking for new insight into the Rosenberg case, one thing is certain. You can’t any longer find what you want in the pages of The New York Times.