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The New York Times Book Review Gives New Credibility to the Rosenbergs' Most Discredited Defenders

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.”