Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

In one of the most discussed capital cases in American history and the only federal capital espionage case in American history, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted in 1951 of sharing top secret military information with the Soviet Union. They were executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing on June 19, 1953.

New York Daily News, June 20, 1953

Julius and Ethel were the children of Jewish immigrant parents who grew up in New York City. As youth, both were attracted to the Young Communist League, where they met in 1936. Julius worked in the Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratory during World War II. In that position, he shared military secrets with the Soviets and recruited others to do the same. Among those he recruited was David Greenglass, Ethel’s brother, who was working on the top-secret Manhattan Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Rosenbergs were arrested in 1950 when a ring of Soviet spies began to unravel. Greenglass, who was also arrested, confessed and implicated others, including the Rosenbergs.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, 1950

At trial in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, the Rosenberg’s were convicted of espionage on March 29, 1951, and sentenced to death on April 5.

An international clemency campaign followed, claiming the Rosenbergs were innocent or at least overcharged and that they were the victims of antisemitism and anticommunism. Though many prominent and powerful individuals and organizations were attracted to their cause, their appeals and clemency requests were unsuccessful.

The decades long effort to argue that the Rosenbergs were innocent and that their case was an episode of Cold War paranoia was countered by documents released after the fall of the Soviet Union.


Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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