Why were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg considered dangerous during the Cold War?

A. Both worked to create the first atomic bombs for the USSR.

B. Both were connected to radical groups.

C. Julius had worked for the VENONA project.

D. Ethel was a Russian immigrant who arrived after WWII.

The answer is A:  Both worked to create the first atomic bombs for the USSR. The more about the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg has been explained in details below.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were a married couple who were convicted on the accusation of conspiring to commit espionage in the year 1951. In the year 1953, both were put to death by means of the electric chair.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, separated by heavy wire screen as they leave U.S. Court House after being found guilty by jury.

This dual execution signaled a dramatic end to what was one of the most controversy-riddled espionage cases recorded at the time of the Cold War.

Neither Julius nor his wife were directly involved with the USSR but were found to have sold the formula for creating atomic bombs – information that was closely guarded by the United States – to the Soviets. This put the world at risk with the Russians holding the key to a weapon of mass destruction.

When the Soviets carried out their first nuclear tests in 1949, fear gripped the Americans concerning the kind of scientific strides their rivals had been able to make. They firmly believed that it was an act of Soviet spies that had allowed the information to be passed on across the Pacific.

Julius Rosenberg, an electrical engineer by profession who was employed by the US Army Signal Corps, was arrested on 17th July 1950 on the charges of having passed on atomic secrets to the Soviet government.

A month later, 11th August being the precise date, his wife Ethel was also picked up on the accusation of having aided her husband in carrying out these illicit, anti-national activities.

Background to the case

The USSR and US were allies during World War II, but the latter always remained highly suspicious of Joseph Stalin in the USSR Government and his primary intentions. This prevented the Americans from seeking any assistance or sharing information with the Soviets on the top-secret Manhattan Project.

However, espionage penetration helped them penetrate the inner chambers of the US Government as they made several attempts to infiltrate the operations ongoing at the University of California, Berkeley.

Many project members across ranks, especially the ones who were communism sympathizers, voluntarily handed over information to Soviet agents because they did not agree to the idea of US monopoly on atomic weapons.

Julius Rosenberg’s espionage is believed to have been at the heart of many of these findings by the Russians. Though the war was over, the US remained reluctant to share its nuclear secrets, but this did not prevent the communist USSR from coming out with its own atomic weapon in 1949.

Their first nuclear test by the name of “Joe 1” was a shock for the West, given the speed at which the project had been conducted. It was in January 1950 that the involvement of spies was first revealed in the form of Klaus Fuchs.

Klaus was a German theoretical physicist and refugee who was involved in the Manhattan Project on behalf of the British Mission.

He had handed over key documents over the course of the war to the Russians. His confession led to several other arrests including that of the Rosenberg couple.

Trial, conviction, and execution

From the very beginning of the Rosenberg trial, there was a great deal of media attention. However, unlike some other high-profile cases in the past, the observers were not polarized in their response as not a single individual expressed doubt over the couple’s involvement in the espionage. Public trial unanimously held them guilty.

It was only in August 1951 after certain articles appeared in The National Guardian that a defense committee was formed.

Many historians have been led to believe that the conviction of Ethel was more an attempt at getting Julius to talk. But it did not quite turn out as expected. Both husband and wife asserted their respective rights of not incriminating themselves as allowed by the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Thus, remaining silent on their alleged involvement with the Soviets. This did not help their cause of being viewed with sympathy by the jury. They were convicted on 29th March 1951 and a few days later, on 5th April, awarded the death sentence on the electric chair.

The Rosenberg trial has found itself at the center of many controversies since concerning communism in the United States.

Many left sympathizers have held the belief that this was no more than an example of the hysteric persecutions prevalent in those days due to the scare of the Red created by a communism wave.

Parallels have been drawn to cases of witch hunts that have left a black spot on the history of medieval Europe and Salem.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed at sundown on 19th June 1953 by means of the electric chair. The couple has been interred at the Wellwood Cemetery in the Pinelawn are of Suffolk County, New York.

Controversies in the Rosenberg trials

The involvement of Ethel Rosenberg:

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that Julius Rosenberg was guilty of espionage, but the same cannot be said for his wife.

There is no proof in the VENONA transcripts while the only person ever to make any claims of her involvement, Ethel’s brother David Greenglass has gone on record later saying that he cooked up the story to help his own cause.

The trial:

The political air of the time is believed to have played a key role in preventing a fair trial by an impartial jury for the Rosenberg couple. Moreover, their lawyer Emmanuel Bloch made a series of legal blunders that further pointed the finger of guilt at the duo.

The role of the prosecutor is also a matter of controversy. Roy Cohn, the person in question, has been found to mention in his autobiography how he had an influence on the selection of the judge. He also claims to have pushed for the death penalty to be imposed on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

The sentence:

This is perhaps the most controversial of all aspects with many believing that the sentence was harsh compared to the standards of the times.

Klaus Fuchs, whose testimony led to the acquittal of the others, was guilty of passing on far more sensitive information to the USSR but did not receive more than the 14 years prison sentence which was the highest penalty for the crime in question at the time.

The prosecutors blamed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of perpetrating the Korean War though there was no proof to suggest that their act of espionage had actually led to the situation in the first place.

These are some of the issues that have come to the fore in recent years surrounding the Rosenberg case, remaining contentious points that are yet to be solved. It is sad to note that the world will never become aware of the true story behind the fairness of the Rosenberg trials.


  1. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg execution: Retrieved from history.com
  2. Trail of the Julius & Ethel Rosenberg: Retrieved from spartacus-educational.com
  3. Background of Julius Rosenberg: Retrieved from newworldencyclopedia.org


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