False testimony clinched Rosenberg spy trial

BBC Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 14:48 GMT
False testimony clinched Rosenberg spy trial

Ethel Rosenberg's own brother was the key witness Memories of one of the most controversial episodes of the Cold War, the trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg as Soviet spies, have been revived with the confession of a key witness that he lied in court to protect himself.

David Greenglass, the younger brother of Ethel Rosenberg and himself a convicted spy, said he felt no remorse over his action which may have sent his sister to the electric chair. "I sleep very well," the 79-year old told an American television station in his first public appearance for more than 40 years. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who always denied the charges of espionage, were executed in New York's Sing Sing prison in 1953, despite numerous protests in the United States and abroad. I would not sacrifice my wife and my children for my sister David Greenglass They had been convicted of conspiring to steal US atomic secrets for the Soviet Union. The prosecution's case rested mainly on the testimony of Mr Greenglass. At the trial in 1951, he said his sister typed up notes containing US nuclear secrets that were later turned over to the KGB, the Soviet intelligence service. The notes - typed on a portable Remington typewriter - apparently contained little that was new to the Soviets, but for the prosecution they clinched the case against Ethel Rosenberg.

No recollection
However, in this week's television interview, Mr Greenglass said his testimony was not based on first-hand knowledge: "I don't know who typed it, frankly, and to this day I can't remember that the typing took place. I had no memory of that at all - none whatsoever." He said he gave false testimony to protect himself and his wife, Ruth, and that he was encouraged by the prosecution to do so. "I would not sacrifice my wife and my children for my sister." David Greenglass admitted to spying for the Soviets Mr Greenglass, who worked on the atomic bomb at the top-secret Manhattan Project in Los Alamos during the Second World War, was himself convicted of giving the Soviets information about nuclear research - but was spared execution in exchange for his testimony. He spent 10 years in prison and was released in 1960. Today, he and his wife live under an assumed name in the New York area. Asked whether his false testimony against his sister still haunted him 50 years later, Mr Greenglass said: "Every time I am haunted by it, my wife says 'Look, we are still alive.'"

Anti-communist hunt
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were the only people in the United States ever executed for Cold War espionage, and their conviction fuelled US Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist crusade against "anti-American activities" by US citizens. While their devotion to the communist cause was well documented, they denied the spying charges even as they faced the electric chair. Their defenders said they never stood the chance of a fair trial given the anti-communist sentiment in the US in the 1950s.

No apology
But others saw the Rosenberg case as proof of a communist conspiracy. Some 50 years later, Mr Greenglass believes he will be remembered by history as "a spy that turned his family in". But, he says, he does not care. "I had no idea they would give them the death sentence." And he says if he ever met the Rosenbergs' two sons he would say "sorry your parents are dead" but he would not apologise for his actions.


Document URL: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/greenglass.html
Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:42:24 EDT