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Ethel Rosenberg Reviews

On June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed by electrocution for their part in a conspiracy to provide to the Soviet Union top secret information on the development of nuclear weapons. Their co-conspirators received long prison sentences, but the Rosenbergs became the first American civilians to be sentenced to death in peacetime.

At their trial, Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, testified that his brother-in-law Julius had recruited him into a spy ring, and that Greenglass, working in 1944 on the atomic bomb project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, had supplied drawings of a lens mold as part of the espionage that led to the first Soviet nuclear test on Aug. 29, 1949, years ahead of American scientists’ expectations.

The shock of the Soviet blast came at a time of increasing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, now no longer a World War II ally but regarded as a menace to world peace because of its aggressive takeover of Eastern Europe and its employment of espionage networks in the United States and among its allies. At sentencing, Judge Irving Kaufman denounced the Rosenbergs for their perfidy which had put millions of American lives in jeopardy. His view, as Anne Sebba recounts, was seconded by President Dwight Eisenhower, who refused all pleas to grant clemency to the couple who steadfastly proclaimed their innocence. They became a cause around the world with protests at the inhumanity of executing the parents of two young children when other guilty parties, notably scientist Klaus Fuchs (tried in England), had been spared the death penalty. Many Americans supported the Rosenberg verdict, and others attacked what they considered a hysterical persecution of two Jews suspected of espousing radical views but not treason.

Sebba concedes the now overwhelming evidence that Julius Rosenberg was in fact a Soviet spy who recruited others, but like other recent commentators on the case, she regards the evidence against Ethel as nearly nonexistent, trumped up by one of the prosecutors, Roy Cohn, who persuaded David Greenglass to concoct a story about how Ethel typed up her husband’s espionage reports.

Sebba provides a compassionate account of Ethel’s character as a wife and mother, dutifully standing by her husband no matter what, and at the same time doing everything in her power to nurture her two boys, who emerged remarkably unscathed by their parents’ ordeal and who honor their parents’ memory in Sebba’s account of their lives.

In this engrossing narrative, Ethel emerges as a doctrinaire Communist, and yet the opposite of the contemporary attacks on her as an unfit mother. Ironically, Ethel conformed to the period’s American ideal of the wife and mother with fealty to her family while she was attacked for being the spy ring leader who manipulated her husband and was thus unfaithful to her role in society and her ties to her kindred.

Review source: Datebook (8 June 2021)

Read Gerald Jacobs’s review of Ethel Rosenberg in The Critic.

Read Adam Sisman’s review of Ethel Rosenberg in the Literary Review.

Ten Reasons to be cheerful in the time of Coronavirus

Blog about Ten Reasons to be cheerful in the time of Coronavirus

Because we humans are (mostly) a perverse bunch, being told I can undertake only one form of exercise a day makes me want to spend the whole day running, jumping, skipping, cycling. It’s not as if I ever did that but, just because I can’t, I want to!  In this weird new world where the government is not simply telling me how to live my life but actually ordering me how to do it, it would be so easy to collapse under a pile of negativity or anxiety or to rebel  – How do they know whether or not I have already been out once?  But actually it’s not difficult to play the game and do what I am told because I know all our lives depend on it, mine included. I have in any case spent the past two years in semi isolation, desperately trying to write a book in the immediate aftermath of my husband’s sudden death and deal with probate, a situation guaranteed to lure anyone into depths of depression even without associated grief. What kept me going was my mantra ‘once the book is done’ I shall be free …. free to spend a week at a spa, free to travel wherever I wanted, free to meet all the friends I have had to shun so rudely over the past two years. Even free to behave badly. Read More

Here is a piece I wrote a few years ago which I am reposting to mark this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR holds the hand of his granddaughter during the annual ‘March of the Living’ at Auschwitz in May 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)

A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR holds the hand of his granddaughter during the annual ‘March of the Living’ at Auschwitz in May 2019

What makes two people with identical backgrounds turn in completely opposite directions?  I have just finished a fascinating book called The Horror of Love by Lisa Hilton about the relationship between Nancy Mitford and her French lover, Gaston Palewski. I thought I knew all I ever needed to know about the Mitford sisters (and perhaps I did) but reading it made me struggle with this question once again? Of course with the Mitfords – Unity and Diana, the Hitler worshippers and Jessica, the communist – the problem is writ larger than in most families. Nancy vehemently opposed both extremes and devoted herself to writing (Love in a Cold Climate) not politics (Palewski was one of General de Gaulle’s closest advisers). Read More

Women’s Voices Reporting D Day

If like me you’ve been enjoying hearing the deep and clipped tones of the 1940’s reporters telling us about the progress of D Day (I know it’s radio but you can definitely see that they are wearing suits and ties or possibly even dinner jackets) have you also wondered where are the women’s voices? Answer is, of course, there weren’t any. Not only were there no women announcers or presenters but British women were not allowed to be accredited war reporters. The only way around this disbarment was for reporters like Clare Hollingworth to join an American news organisation if they wanted to report the biggest story of the day.

Image result for picture of martha gellhorn

Even Martha Gellhorn, the veteran American journalist who had been reporting the War for Collier’s Magazine since 1937, suffered from this attitude as the US Army’s public relations officers objected to a woman being a correspondent with combat troops. But she was determined not to be relegated to reporting behind the lines or what was demeaningly called ‘the women’s angle’ and came up with a brilliant ruse. Read More

How Chickens helped soothe my Grief

One thing I never thought I would be doing this summer was mucking out a smelly chicken coop. I’m fond enough of animals (well, dogs) but nobody would describe me as the rustic type.

But then I also never thought I would be saying goodbye to my beloved life partner and husband of 43 years. The two are not unconnected.

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