Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were accused of committing espionage during World War II and in the end, they were executed in 1953. The Rosenberg’s case is still controversial nowadays, however, it is commonly believed among historians that Julius had been a Soviet spy but Ethel was not. Also, in 1995, US government released several classified documents and one of them was VENONA, which supported that Julius was a spy but hesitated to make such charge against Ethel. This consensus gained a moral certainty when Morton Sobell, who was a fellow defendant in the Rosenberg’s case, confessed in 2008 that he was a Soviet spy with Julius. He added that Ethel was aware of what her husband was up to, however, she did not actually participate in the espionage. He said the guilty of Ethel was “being Julius’s wife.”
Ive Meeropol, who is a granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, tracked down what was really happening to her grandparents and the Rosenberg family through her movie <Heir to an Execution>. She interviewed various people who were close to her grandparents and tried to figure out what was going on at that time. She did not provide a clear answer to whether Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were actually spies or not, but it seemed to me that she and her family think Julius and Ethel as scapegoats of the chaos. During 1950s, so-called red scare period, the U.S was worried about spread of communism throughout the country and especially, Soviet infiltration into the federal government. That might be the reason why the state took a firm attitude toward the Rosenbergs. President Eisenhower even refused to have mercy on them. The country probably wanted to advertise what would be the consequences of treason. However, a question still remains; was it necessary to execute the Rosenbergs? Other fellow defendants were not sentenced to the death. They just spent several years in the prison. Also, evidences presented in the trial were not enough to prove their espionage. The console alleged as a tool of spying was turned out to be a normal product bought from Macy’s. Moreover, Ethel was convicted by fake testimony from her brother, David Greenglass. He said that Ethel was helping Julius’s work by typing some documents. However, he confessed later that he was not sure who was typing the documents from interview in 2001. Though the trial was lacking in justice, it does not mean Rosenbergs were completely innocent. Throughout the documents and testimony, it seems highly likely that Julius was a spy. Some people argue that Ethel should not have been convicted because she was not involved in the spy ring. However, I think she was deserved to be punished since she had connived her husband’s crime. She did not call the police. She did not make any effort to stop him. It might show her willingness to help her husband or at least, be in agreement with him. In addition, Ethel followed her husband to the death. It is controversial whether they were actually spies, however, they might be socialists, who were deeply obsessed with the communism. Taking that into consideration, it makes sense why they chose to die rather than name other fellows’ names and survive. They sacrificed themselves for the sake of entire “socialist’s groups”. The U.S. government had staged the power game. In contrast, Julius and Ethel’s choice had to do with ideology. The Rosenbergs case might be dealt with as a question of one’s values. What was the most important thing? To the U.S., the security and power over Soviet was probably the most important thing. To the Rosenbergs, the ideology was presumably the most important.
As for the movie, it did not solve all the mysteries but succeeded in showing the case from the inner circle’s view. Also, it showed the agony of people who survived from that era. You might not get a new clue about the Rosenbergs case but you could think of what would be the appropriate approach to deal with this case.