About the Archive
Scope and Content
The Julius and Ethel Rosenberg collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, printed material, legal material, professional material, and other items.
Correspondence in the collection includes letters from Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to various recipients, written while the Rosenbergs were in prison. These letters date from 1950 to 1953. The correspondents include their children, Robert and Michael; their lawyer, Emanuel Bloch; various other family members; and each other. Other letters in the collection include copies of U.S. government memoranda regarding the Rosenbergs and the case (1950-1975); letters about the trust fund for the Rosenberg's children (1953-1961); letters from various individuals to the Meeropols (1975-1995); and other letters between various individuals regarding the legacy of the case and the VENONA intercepts (1982-1995).
Manuscripts in the collection include writings by various authors, including several pieces by Michael Meeropol and Robert Meeropol and some by Morton Sobell. There are several items addressing the information present in the release of the VENONA intercepts.
Printed material in the collection is extensive. It includes various pamphlets, booklets, and flyers regarding the Rosenberg case (1952-1953); newspaper and magazine clippings from various periodicals about the case (1951-1954); sheet music for songs about the Rosenbergs; publications from the National Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg Case; and other material.
Legal material in the collection includes the last wills and testaments of both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; extensive photocopies of grand jury testimony (1947-2008); scanned copies of an amicus curiae brief from 1952, in which W.E.B. du Bois was involved; and material regarding the retrial, including a document chronology and excerpts of transcripts.
The collection includes several items from Vicki Gabriner's files on the Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg Case. This material includes a drawing by Jennifer Meeropol; a copy of a manuscript for a speech by Gabriner at a rally in 1977; correspondence and documents (contact lists, meeting minutes, agendas, etc.); pamphlets on the Fund for Open Information and Accountability and the Rosenberg Research Project; and other items.
Also present in the collection are numerous photocopies of documents used for the retrial proceedings. These include affidavits, articles, memoranda, statements, reports, and other documents, dating from 1941 to 1993. Many of these documents are copies of memos and reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the Rosenberg case.
Other material in the collection includes a cassette recording of a debate with Walter and Miriam Schneir; an audio recording of Peter Boyd's 1975 song "The Rosenbergs"; an interview with Michael Meeropol; press releases on various topics (1990s); financial records (1951); and lapel pins from the National Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg Case.
Julius (May 12, 1918 - June 19, 1953) and Ethel (Sept. 25, 1915 - June 19, 1953) Rosenberg were both jailed and executed on conspiracy to commit espionage charges for passing along top secret information about the atomic bomb, communications and electronics to the Soviet Union, in one of the most controversial cases of the Cold War.
Born in New York City, Ethel Greenglass was an aspiring actress and singer, but took a secretarial position and after being involved in labor disputes, joined the Young Communist League where she met Julius in 1936. Julius, also born in New York City was the son of Jewish immigrants and grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Julius attended City College of New York where he graduated in 1939 with a degree in electrical engineering. During this time he became a leader at the Young Communist League. Julius and Ethel were married in 1939. They had two sons, Michael and Robert, who were orphaned by the execution of their parents, and with no relatives willing to take them in they were adopted by high school teacher and social activist Abel Meeropol and his wife Anne. The two took the Meeropol surname.
Julius joined the Army Signal Corps in 1940 in Fort Monmouth, NJ. In 1942, Julius and Ethel became full members of the American Communist Party and in 1945 Julius was fired from his position with Signal Corps when his membership in the Communist party came to light. Fort Monmouth was heavily involved in research on guided missiles, radar, communications and electronics. On June 17, 1950 Julius was arrested on suspicion of espionage, and August 11 of the same year, Ethel was arrested on the same charge.
According to his 2001 book, Alexander Feklisov (Rosenberg's former handler), Julius was originally recruited into the NKVD in 1942 by Semyon Seminov whom he had been introduced to by the high-ranking official of the Communist Party USA, Bernard Schuster. The NKVD, known as The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, was a law enforcement agency of the Soviet Union, which was responsible for executing the rule of the All Union Communist Party. Closely associated with the Secret Police, the NKVD was known for it's brutal tactics, political repression, enforcement of Stalinist policy, and assassinations during the Stalin era. Rosenberg was accused of passing along thousands of top-secret documents from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics to the soviet spy ring in New York. During this time, Julius recruited sympathetic individuals into the spy ring, including his brother-in-law David Greenglass and his wife Ruth. Julius had recommended his sister-in-law Ruth to the NKVD for use of her apartment as a photography safe house. The NKVD quickly found out about Greenglass' work on the Manhattan project and recruited him at Julius' suggestion. Greenglass was a sergeant in the U.S. Army and assigned to the secret Manhattan Project, the wartime project to develop the first atomic weapons in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The NKVD cut ties with Julius when they found out his membership in the Communist Party had come to light, and the Signal Corps had fired him. Greenglass continued to supply the NKVD with secret documents about the Manhattan Project through a courier, Harry Gold.
In 1950 British and U.S. intelligence agencies discovered that a Los Alamos physicist, Klaus Fuchs, had passed along information to the NKVD through Harry Gold. Through Fuchs and Gold (Gold was arrested in May, 1950) the FBI was led to the Rosenbergs and Greenglass. In June of 1950 Greenglass was arrested for conspiracy to commit espionage, and was quick to implicate the Rosenbergs. Julius was then arrested on June 17, 1950 and Ethel on August 11, 1950. Though Greenglass initially denied the involvement of his sister Ethel, he recanted his testimony in order to provide a deal from the prosecution for a lesser sentence. Both David and Ruth Greenglass testified to the Grand Jury that he had provided documents and secret information to the Soviets during the war, and also implicated Julius Rosenberg as doing the same and recruiting him and his wife for the endeavor. The trial began on March 6, 1951, judged by Irving Kaufman and prosecuted by Irving Saypol. The prosecution's star witnesses were both Ruth and David Greenglass. David claiming that his sister Ethel had typed documents containing U.S. nuclear secrets and that he had turned over sketches of a cross section of an implosion type atom bomb, such as the one dropped on Nagasaki to Julius. Supposedly the notes typed by Ethel were of little value to the Soviets, and some believe she was used to pressure Julius into implicating other conspirators. Neither Julius nor Ethel Rosenberg named anyone else during the trial, invoking their 5th amendment rights not to incriminate themselves. For his testimony David Greenglass was sentenced to 15 years in prison and released after nine and a half.
The Rosenbergs were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage on March 29, 1951 and sentenced to death on April 5, 1951. Judge Kaufman sentenced them under Section 2 of the Espionage Act of 1917, 50 Code 32, which "prohibits transmitting or attempting to transmit to another government information relating to the national defense". Their conviction helped to fuel the fire of Senator Joseph McCarthy in his investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens. The Rosenbergs continued to deny their involvement up until the time of their death.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing prison in New York at sundown on June 19, 1953. Julius was executed first, followed by his wife Ethel.
Archive Manager is a web based application currently under development at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. Archive Manager is a custom built content management system which allows archivists to enter descriptive metadata during the cataloguing process; manage digital objects; and create online searchable finding aids. The development of this application was a direct result of our experiences as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Archival Collaborative, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded cataloguing project. Archive Manager is designed to mesh with the Gotlieb Center's current policies and practices with regard to description and cataloguing. It also allows us to create a substantial authority file of Library of Congress standardized names and subjects linked to the descriptive data, making the finding aids searchable by scholars, patrons, and staff, using those standard terms.Cataloging collections with Archive Manager allows us to connect various people, places, thoughts and ideas; the value of the central authority file increases exponentially with each collection catalogued. Archive Manager is the "engine" that runs several Gotlieb Center projects including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Online Finding Aid, the Alistair Cooke Letter from America project, Partisan Review Online, Expanding Common Ground: The Howard Thurman and Sue Bailey Thurman Collections, and the newly developed international collaborative the Florence Nightingale Digitization Project.