The Rosenbergs - Victims of their time?

Seminar Paper, 2003

13 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Historical Background

3. Who were the Rosenbergs

4. Why were the Rosenbergs arrested?
4.1 The Trial – Controversial issues

5. The Aftermath

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography
7.1 Literature
7.2 Internet Sources

1. Introduction

The post World War II era went down in many people’s mind as a time of prosperity and economical growth both for the European countries and the US.[1] Europe was busy rebuilding its cities and establishing new governments under the supervision of the Allied countries. The question was though if the Allies would remain Allies? Soon the differences became too obvious to be ignored. Despite of having fought together against the Axis powers the Soviet Union and the US faced a clash of two totally different systems: Capitalism versus Communism. In his famous speech on March 3rd 1946 Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Britain, declared the ‘Iron Curtain’ had gone down between the East and the West marking the beginning of the Cold War.[2] From that point on the two hegemonic countries in this conflict, the US and the Soviet Union, would watch each other’s steps very closely. The US had one major military advantage though and that was the Atomic bomb. With the dropping of this weapon on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in August 1945 the world had to recognize the US as the first Atomic power in world history. In 1949 it was a shock to the US that the Soviet Union also had its first test of an Atomic bomb and therefore had to be recognized as an Atomic power. The politicians and the public had believed in the optimistic predictions of some scientist that the Soviet Union would at least need another twenty years to obtain Atomic weaponry. There had also been other voices but the picture of the uncapable Soviets fit better into the opinion of the US public during the time.[3]

The explanation for this misapprehension was not the failure of the experts but that the Soviets had obtained the knowledge through help from outside; through help from communist sympathizers inside the US. This is where the tragedy of the Rosenbergs begins. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed on June 19th 1953 on the electric chair. They had been accused of a conspiracy to commit espionage. They left behind two orphaned sons and many questions to be asked. Was it an objective trial based on the principals of the legal system of the US? Or was it just another part of an anti communist hysteria and therefore heavily politically influenced? Was the case against the Rosenbergs really strong enough to issue the first ever death penalty because of espionage in the US after World War II? There are certainly more questions to be asked but these are the ones this work will try to focus on: To put the trial in a historic perspective and examine the evidence that was made public against the Rosenbergs.

2. Historical background

The first fundamental political action on the side of the US to underline Churchill’s description of the Iron Curtain was the ‘Truman-Doctrine’ in 1947. Greece and Turkey were on the verge to be taken over by communism through strong labour movements. The US suspected the Soviets to have helped these groups. They feared the expansion of the communist influence in Europe. So on March 12th President Truman asked Congress for 400 Mill. $ to help the two countries turn down the communist threat: “I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” (President Harry S. Truman quoted from Davis, 321).[4] Due to the US effort Greece and Turkey did not become communist but they did not turn democratic either. Both came under the control of right wing military regimes. Concerning this, one could think that to the US it was more important to prevent communism than to install democracy. The ‘Truman-Doctrine’ was based on a concept by George F. Kannan, a State Department official, who wrote about a ‘Containment Policy’ towards communism in a foreign affair newsletter. This concept suggested containing the communist threat wherever it would show up. It also expressed the anxiety of the US that once one country had turned to communism others would soon follow in a kind of ‘Domino Effect’. Another result of this theory was the NATO whose purpose it was to defend Western Europe from Soviet aggression.[5] Another way of defence for the US seemed to be the economical support of Western Europe. The war had exhausted countries like Germany and France and in the first two years after the war economic recovery made little progress. In June of 1947 the Truman administration came to the conclusion that poverty in Europe would be a potential basis for communist activities. Especially in divided Germany with its boarders right next to the Soviet Union the US saw it as essential to restore economic stability and give faith to the people in the future of their country. A ‘European Recovery Program’ was started which became known as the ‘Marshall Plan’, named after Secretary of State George C. Marshall. 14 Billion $ were pumped into the European economy during the time of 1947 until 1952. It helped to trigger the economies and balance trade deficits in the affected countries. Two major effects were essential for the US : First they made sure communism would not come up in these countries through the revitalised belief of the people in the democratic system. Secondly they would open up new markets to sell their products on.[6]


[1] In this paper the terms ’US’ or ‘America’ are frequently used to refer to the United States of America

[2] Jürgen Heideking, Geschichte der USA, rev. 2nd ed. (Tübingen: Francke, 1999) 349ff.

[3] John Newhouse, Krieg und Frieden im Atomzeitalter (München, 1990) 26.

[4] Kenneth C. Davis, Don’t Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About History but Never Learned (New York: Avon Books, 1995) 321.

[5] Heideking 350

[6] Davis 323.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The Rosenbergs - Victims of their time?
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Fakultät für Amerikanistik/Anglistik)
Jewish Immigrant Culture
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ISBN (Book)
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This paper tells the story of the Rosenberg couple who were charged with espionage for the Sowjets in 1950s "communist haunted" America. the paper especially focusses on the question if the Rosenbergs were just victims of the McCarthy era or not. They were charged with having betrayed Atomic bomb secrets to the Sowjets and were sentenced to death after a highly controversial trial. Until today there have been reasonable doubts about their guiltiness especially taking new Fbi files into account.
Rosenbergs, Victims, Jewish, Immigrant, Culture
Quote paper
Robert Schwanitz (Author), 2003, The Rosenbergs - Victims of their time?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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