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July 11, 2008


David Boothroyd

While the evidence for Julius Rosenberg's guilt is overwhelming, and in fact even made for an open and shut case in 1951, the evidence of Ethel's involvement is slight and extended to no more that that she had typed up notes on behalf of her husband. The general theory that she was indicted, and that a death sentence was pressed, in order to pressure her husband for a confession that never came seems a good one.

Mention of these people that are often claimed to be innocent brings up that other case of the time, Alger Hiss, who possibly shows the issues in even starker relief. It goes against the grain of most left-wingers to side against Hiss, who had a very high rank in the State Department and had done good work in contributing to founding the United Nations, and with those who accused him - the moreso since the most prominent was Richard Nixon. And yet Hiss was clearly implicated by multiple independent sources including those not available at the time. I was surprised to see him omitted by Daniel Finkelstein's top ten.

Oliver Kamm

David, I agree with all that you say here. The death sentence against both of them was intended to exercise leverage and force a confession that never came. I don't defend that tactic - I think it was abominable - but it was within the Rosenbergs' power to save themselves. Their ideological fanaticism caused them to protest their innocence to their deaths, leaving two young sons behind them.

The parallel with Alger Hiss, who was imprisoned for perjury rather than espionage, extends to his having also vehemently protested his innocence to the end of his long life. It was a lie.


Oliver --

Your mention of the Slansky trial leads me to suggest the sad memoir of Ivan Margolius, son of Rudolf Margolius, who was tried and executed with Slansky: "Reflections of Prague: Journeys Through the 20th Century" (Wiley, 2006).

Also, if you don't already know it, you may like to read this article, in which the hapless Noel Field is said to have a part in the events leading to the Slansky trial:

Igor Lukes: "The Rudolf Slansky Affair: New Evidence" Slavic Review, Vol. 58, No. 1. (Spring, 1999), pp. 160-187.

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