Ron Radosh

The Delusional Believers in the Rosenbergs' Innocence Continue to Deny the Truth

The sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Michael and Robert Meeropol and their supporters, seem unable to give up the ghost believing in their parents’ essential innocence. Perhaps their own trauma serves as an excuse for their behavior, but it does not explain the behavior of those who continue to try and keep the old Communist cause of the Rosenbergs’ innocence alive.

So their delusional behavior continues to this day. As each anniversary of the couple’s execution approaches, the die-hard believers in their innocence hold a memorial meeting in New York City. This year, the event takes place at NYU’s Tamiment Center, a venue which as I have pointed out many times, serves as the single center for celebrating the past of the American Communists and their fellow-travelers.

As their announcement reveals, the major speaker will be the Rosenbergs’ youngest son Robert, who will present what he calls “the eulogy I was unable to give,” since at the time of their death, he was only about five years old. The meeting will also try to show the relationship between the spy trials of the 50’s and the war on terror today, since their argument will be that in both cases, the excuse was a phony scare set up by the “ruling class” in order to institute a wave of repression. And they will show a screening of a reading of the Rosenbergs’ “Death House Letters” by the late Howard Zinn and the former African-American Communist Party leader and hero of the 60’s New Left, Angela Davis.

I mention all this because on June 22, a truly impartial and important conference on “The Rosenberg Case, Soviet Espionage and the Cold War,” will take place beginning at 9 a.m. at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. As you look at the schedule and the speakers, you can immediately see that the sponsors have invited a prestigious group of scholars who have worked on the issue of Soviet espionage, and a group whose participants do not all see things the same way.

Let me reproduce one panel, the one on which I will participate, as a good example:

PANEL 2, 11:00 PM to 12:45 PM
“The Rosenberg Case and the Historiography of Soviet Espionage in America”
Chair: Max Holland, Editor, Washington Decoded
Bruce Craig, Assistant Professor of History, University of Prince Edward Island
John Earl Haynes, Modern Political Historian, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress and Harvey Klehr, Professor of Political Science, Emory University
Ronald Radosh, Adjunct Senior Fellow, The Hudson Institute, and Professor of History Emeritus, CUNY
Ellen Schrecker, Professor of History, Yeshiva University

Aside from myself, Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, the latter two who have written Spies:The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, the definitive book about Soviet espionage, the other members of the panel are Bruce Craig and Ellen Schrecker, both of whom do not share our point of view. Indeed, Schrecker has argued in many places that the American agents of Stalin had a loyalty to a higher authority than their own country, and represented a universalist loyalty to the cause of a progressive future for humanity, and hence were victims of American repression, despite their actions. At the conference, we intend to have a civil but sharp exchange of views, in which we can each confront our opposites and hence let the audience who listens judge for themselves who are correct about the meaning of Soviet espionage for America.

It is clear, however, that those in charge of waging the campaign for the couple’s innocence, are not willing to participate. We invited both Miriam Schneir, who with her late husband, wrote the most influential book arguing the case for their frame-up,  and Michael Meeropol, the Rosenbergs’ eldest son. Both declined to attend.  Others invited who refused to come include the noted Columbia University historian Eric Foner, who although he has written about the case many times and even wrote an introduction to the Meeropol’s own book, said he would not attend because he doesn’t consider himself an expert on the case. That did not stop him in the past from writing that they were innocent victims of a frame-up, and in particular regularly attacking my own book, The Rosenberg File, as a fraud.

Obviously, the most outspoken partisans like Miriam Schneir and Eric Foner are afraid to debate their own positions in public, obviously because they know they would be intellectually defeated, and want to be spared the embarrassment. Schneir and Michael Meeropol in particular are advocates for a cause- that of reopening the case- as if there is any doubt about the Rosenberg’s actions at this late date. They prefer to only speak in the intellectual cocoon of their own New York City left-wing circles, where they will be continually celebrated, honored and catered to, as if they had reason and evidence on their own side.

Many years ago, after publication of The Rosenberg File in 1983, when the left-wing went on an assault against the book, the most interesting and revealing comment came from the late head of the American Communist Party, Gus Hall. In an official statement of the CPUSA condemning the book, Hall referred to the Rosenbergs as “the sacred couple,” whom he accused my co-author Joyce Milton and I of defaming their memory.

That give-away term, “the sacred couple,” made it clear that for the Communists, the innocence of the Rosenbergs was a religious cause, not simply a political one. Like Communism itself, the claim of innocence was part of the religious faith they adhered to. That was over 25 years ago, but yet today, the faith of the deluded deniers continues to live on.

For those who wish to do their part in returning sanity to academia, I urge those of you in the D.C. area to consider attending on June 22nd. Admission is free, and the event is open to the public. Just arrive early to make sure you can get a seat.