The Collection of the Committee to Secure Justice for Morton Sobell
Scope and Content
The Committee to Secure Justice for Morton Sobell collection primarily consists of various publications of the Committee dating from 1955 to 1958. These include newspapers, newsletters, pamphlets, press releases, memoranda, circular letters, reports, posters, programs, petitions and lists of supporters, and copies of legal documents. All of this material pertains to the U.S. government's accusations of espionage against Morton Sobell and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
In addition to the above material, published by the main committee, there are several items in the collection pertaining to other regional committees. The Chicago Sobell Committee, the Los Angeles Sobell Committee, and the St. Louis Committee for Morton Sobell are all represented in the collection. In addition, the collection order forms and book reviews regarding John Wexley's book The Judgment of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; and miscellaneous offprints of various newspaper and magazine articles regarding the case.
Morton Sobell (1917- ) was born in New York City, into a Jewish family. Sobell entered City College of New York in 1934 to study electrical engineering. After graduating in 1939, he was hired as a junior engineer by the Bureau of Naval Ordnance in Washington, DC. In June 1942, Sobell was hired by General Electric in Schenectady, New York to work on radar, servo-mechanisms used in anti-aircraft guns, and other weapons systems. At some point in the summer of 1944, he was approached by Julius Rosenberg, who attempted to recruit Sobell to spy for the Soviet Union. Sobell agreed, providing a large volume of classified technical information about U.S. military weapons and equipment. In 1945, he married Helen Levitov (1918-2002); she had a daughter, Sydney, from a previous marriage, and together Morton and Helen had a son, Mark. Sobell was hired by the Reeves Instrument Company in June 1948. Their work for the U.S. Air Force gave Sobell access to top secret technical information. Shortly after Julius Rosenberg's brother-in-law David Greenglass was arrested, Sobell and his family fled the U.S., flying to Mexico City in June 1950. Sobell was apprehended two months later, driven to the U.S. border, and turned over to the FBI. Sobell was indicted for conspiracy to commit espionage and tried along with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Sobell was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison, initially imprisoned on the island of Alacatraz and transferred to the federal prison in Atlanta in 1958. After serving seventeen years and nine months of his sentence, Sobell was released in 1969.
The Committee to Secure Justice for Morton Sobell was formed in 1951 by Helen Sobell, Ted Jacobs, and David Alman. Believing Morton Sobell to be innocent of the charges against him, the Committee carried on a campaign to free him from prison and clear his name. Several members of the Committee were subpoenaed in 1956 to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Their publicizing of Sobell's harsh prison conditions led to his 1958 transfer out of Alcatraz to Atlanta. They issued pleas to U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, and then John F. Kennedy, for executive clemency, but with no success. These pleas were co-signed by various public figures, including Martin Buber, Roger Baldwin, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1966, the Committee changed its name to the Committee to Free Morton Sobell. The Committee's activity decreased after Sobell's release from prison.