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An Undue Honor for Ethel Rosenberg
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, separated by heavy wire screen as they leave U.S. Court House after being found guilty by jury, 1951. (Roger Higgins/New York World-Telegram and the Sun/Library of Congress)

An Undue Honor for Ethel Rosenberg

Ronald Radosh

The New York City Council issued a proclamation Monday honoring Ethel Rosenberg on what would have been the convicted Soviet spy’s 100th birthday. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer joined the festivities, declaring Sept. 28 “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.”

The proclamations mentioned Rosenberg’s work as a labor organizer. But the emphasis was on showing that she was “wrongfully executed,” as the council said, when she and her husband, Julius, were put to death in 1953 for passing atomic secrets to Moscow. The Rosenbergs’ sons, Michael and Robert Meeropol, attended the event and issued a statement calling on the federal government to acknowledge “a terrible injustice.”

At the City Hall ceremony, Daniel Dromm, a councilman from Queens, said Ethel was convicted in a “rush to judgment” after “a lot of hysteria was created around anticommunism.” Ms. Brewer decried “a terrible stain on our country.”

The real stain is on New York City’s gullible representatives. Revelations over the past 20 years—the Venona decrypts of KGB transmissions to its American agents in the 1940s, and KGB files released by a Russian defector who now lives in Britain, Alexander Vassiliev—showed concretely Ethel’s involvement in her husband’s espionage ring. For six decades, her defenders have insisted that Ethel was an innocent bystander, at worst a bit player, but the evidence shows her thorough involvement. She helped recruit her sister-in-law, Ruth, who in turn brought her husband—Ethel’s brother— David Greenglass into the ring that passed secrets to KGB courier Harry Gold.

It is a sad day when New York officially honors a woman whose loyalty was to the Soviet Union, and who martyred herself by refusing to tell the truth, leaving two orphan sons, because she was a firm believer in Joseph Stalin and his totalitarian dictatorship.

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