On This Day — Atomic Spies Rosenbergs Executed (June 19 1953)

“It is not within my duty or my power to intervene in this matter.”

Winston Churchill

“If the English want a king, it is their business. If the Russians want communism, it is their business. If the Americans want our form of government, it is our business.”

“This death sentence is not surprising. It had to be.”

Julius Rosenberg

“Now that they are gone, you know, the truth it can be told. They were sacrificial lambs in the market place sold… They were never proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Bob Dylan — Nobel Prize 2016

A lithograph of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg made and signed by Pablo Piccaso in 1952.

On Friday June 19, 1953 at 8 pm, Julius Rosenberg was strapped into the electric chair and died after the first jolt. Ethel proved a bit harder to kill. Her heart was still beating after three shocks.  Two more needed to be applied to finally end her life. At that point, witnesses saw a puff of smoke escape from her skull. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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President Eisenhower rejected a final appeal for clemency shortly after the Supreme Court had set aside the stay of execution granted by Justice Douglas, one of its own members.

The President’s decision was announced in the following statement from the White House:

“Since the original review of proceedings in the Rosenberg case by the Supreme Court of the United States, the courts have considered numerous further proceedings challenging the Rosenbergs conviction and the sentencing involved. Within the last two days, the Supreme Court convened in a special session and reviewed a further point which one of the justices felt the Rosenbergs should have an opportunity to present. This morning the Supreme Court ruled that there was no substance to this point.

I am convinced that the only conclusion to be drawn from the history of this case is that the Rosenbergs have received the benefits of every safeguard which American justice can provide. There is no question in my mind that their original trial and the long series of appeals constitute the fullest measure of justice and due process of law. Throughout the innumerable complications and technicalities of this case no Judge has ever expressed any doubt that they committed most serious acts of espionage.

Accordingly, only most extraordinary circumstances would warrant Executive intervention in the case. I am not unmindful of the fact that this case has aroused grave concern both here and abroad in the minds of serious people aside from the considerations of law. In this connection I can only say that, by immeasurably increasing the chances of atomic war, the Rosenbergs may have condemned to death tens of millions of innocent people all over the world. The execution of two human beings is a grave matter. But even graver is the thought of millions of dead, whose death may be directly attributable to what these spies have done.

When democracy’s enemies have been judged guilty of a crime as horrible as that of which the Rosenbergs were convicted: when the legal processes of democracy have been marshalled to their maximum strength to protect the lives of convicted spies: when in their most solemn judgement the tribunals of the United States has adjudged them guilty and the sentence just. I will not intervene in this matter. “

Bob Dylan – Julius And Ethel

The Bob Dylan song “Julius & Ethel” is an outtake that was recorded during Dylan’s Infidels (1983) sessions with Dire Straits’s Mark Knopfler.

The song recounts the story of the Rosenbergs, capturing the persecution atmosphere of the times.

For example, the line “Senator Joe was king” refers to Sen. Joe McCarthy, who led a witch hunt for communists.

Dylan, not surprisingly, takes the position that a societal injustice occurred, putting the case in the context of its time period:

“Someone says the fifties was the age of great romance / I say that’s just a lie, it was when fear had you in a trance.”

Thus, he concludes that the Rosenbergs were not given a fair trial.

 

REFERENCES

Execution of the Rosenbergs — Guardian (June 20 1953)

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On This Day — Atomic Spies Rosenbergs Executed (June 19 1953)

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