Letter to Julius

July, 1951:

Believe me, my loved one, children are what their parents truly expect them to be. If we can face the thought of our intended execution without terror, so then will they. Certainly neither of us will seek to dwell on these matters unduly but let’s not be afraid and they won’t either.

Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy, p. 185

The visit with her children on Aug. 1 lasted one hour. It was the first time she’d seen them in a year.

Self’s tearducts are getting properly exercised, for sure!

David Greenglass, you are a lousy, stinking rat! I hope you weren’t paid for your 60 Minutes interview!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Emmanuel Bloch Closing Argument in the Trial of Ethel Rosenberg

March 28, 1951, shortly after 10 a.m.:

  • “Dave Greenglass loved his wife. He loved her more than he loved himself . . . and ladies and gentlemen this explains why Dave Greenglass was willing to bury his sister and his brother-in-law to save his wife.” — Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy, p. 165

Granted this may not have been the most persuasive closing argument in the history of closing arguments, but it was heartfelt.

Apparently not content with having sent his sister to the electric chair, in 2016 Dave Greenglass gave an interview to 60 Minutes (!!!!) where he tried to justify his actions (again!) and showed not the slightest remorse.

Here’s the link to a foundation started by Ethel Rosenberg’s younger son, Robert Meeropol. His brother Michael is on the board.

On to the jury deliberations. “The one juror holding out against a death sentence for Ethel was a forty-eight-year-old accountant called James A. Gibbons, with two children of his own.” (p. 169) May his name go down in history.

If self had been on the jury, notwithstanding the terrible incompetence of the Blochs, self would have thought: Hmm, isn’t it strange that the ONLY testimony to this woman’s guilt comes from her brother? He cannot be entirely trustworthy. It’s all his word against hers.

On April 5, the judge handed down his sentence. Julius and Ethel sat there, their faces “chalk-white . . . frozen into grimaces of incredulity.”

The judge went on to sentence the two to death, and probably went home afterwards feeling very satisfied with the day’s work, while Ethel’s brother David — well, who cares what David was feeling. He’s not smart, so he probably felt self-congratulatory, too.

The judge did not just stop at sentencing Julius and Ethel to death, oh no. He drove his point home by singling out and “criticizing Ethel as a mother.” (What about Julius as a father? Did the judge care to say any words about that? Newp)

Before the two were taken back to their respective prisons, Ethel sang a Puccini aria from Madame Butterfly to Julius. AARGH! Which prompted a prison guard to say (p. 174): “Julie, you’re a low-down son of a bitch . . . but you’re the luckiest man in the world because no man ever had a woman who loved him that much.”

That night, the prison matron offered Ethel a sedative, but she refused it. Singing arias to her feckless husband after she’d just been sentenced to death? Then refusing the sedative? God, that woman was strong.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Million-Dollar Question

Manny Bloch’s cross-examination of David Greenglass, Ethel’s younger brother (bear in mind Bloch’s experience in court was settling small bakery contract disputes, and he was up against a very wily and very slippery Roy Cohn, David’s lawyer)

Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy, pp. 141 – 142

“You realize the possible death penalty in the event that Ethel is convicted by this jury, do you not?”

Repeating the question, Bloch asked: “And you bear affection for her?”

“I do.”

“This moment?”

“At this moment.”

“And yesterday?”

“And yesterday.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Lawyer for the Defense

Self is now about halfway through Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy. Last night, she almost contemplated stopping. It is so painful, in hindsight, to read about Ethel’s fate. Self’s already lost two full nights’ sleep, reading.

Nevertheless.

p. 135: The father-son legal team for the defense are Alexander and Manny Bloch (who have cut their teeth, according to journalist Anne Sebba, representing small bakeries in contract disputes. Seriously?) For the prosecution: ROY COHN, and all the power of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. The charge: treason (Apparently there was a time in America when treason was taken very seriously).

Bloch senior “attempted to separate Ethel from the alleged conspiracy in his opening remarks by describing her as a wife of twelve years’ standing and a mother raising two young sons. “She was a housewife, basically a housewife and nothing more,” Bloch senior insisted. “She did not transmit or conspire to transmit any information to any government . . . she was dragged into this case through the machinations of her own brother and her own sister-in-law, who in order to transfer and lighten their burden of responsibility, accused her of being a co-conspirator.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Leaving Shards of Self’s Heart, All Over the Floor

There won’t be much left of self, after she finishes Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy. Really agree with the title. Ethel Rosenberg’s story is a tragedy.

She’s at Chapter Five: Prison.

After Julius Rosenberg is arrested, Ethel Rosenberg goes home to their squalid little apartment, and continues caring for her young sons. BUT NO ONE WILL SPEAK TO HER. And Ethel is too afraid to approach any of her friends for fear of incriminating them.

Ethel even stops her psychotherapy sessions with Dr. Saul Miller (the only thing she had going for her)

  • When he called her, having read about Julius’s arrest in the newspapers, Ethel responded by telling him, “Oh, you don’t have to see me anymore.” Miller tried to reassure Ethel that he was not worried about being “tainted.” Ethel started crying, said she would be in touch, and hung up. According to Miller, he got the impression that Ethel was trying to protect him.

She is called to testify twice. After the second time, she is immediately arrested and taken to jail. She asks if she can call her sons, who she has left with a babysitter. When the older one gets on the phone, and she tells him she cannot come for him, he breaks into a loud wail. When the babysitter realizes that Ethel will not return, she deposits the children at their grandmother’s, Ethel’s mother. This kind (NOT!) woman almost refuses to take the boys. She calls Ethel’s lawyer to complain. She threatens to drop the boys off at the nearest police station, a comment that “shocked” the lawyer. You see, the mother always thought Ethel was too big for her britches. Her daughter entertained some fancy notions about becoming a singer, now look where that got her, and so forth.

Per Hoover’s instructions, bail was set astronomically high ($100,000, around $1 million today), in the hopes that seeing his wife in prison would cause Julius to crack and give up some information.

Well, we all know how that turned out.

Ethel doesn’t know yet that it was her own brother who implicated her. This delightful person was a REAL spy, stealing things from Los Alamos, which he would then pass on to the Russians. After his arrest, he knew he had to give the Feds something, or they would put him in prison. So he gave them his sister. NICE! 2016, the brother’s on 60 Minutes. He said he had no choice, it was either Ethel or him. And I guess he didn’t think twice about his nephews, Ethel’s sons? I can’t imagine that the boys would have anything to do with their uncle today!

In prison, she is strip-searched and given an enema. She writes to Julius, but always tries to sound “cheerful and not complain.”

(You might wonder what happened to the boys after? They were adopted by a very nice childless couple, changed their names, and tried never to think about the past. The younger boy calls it “the long nightmare.” WAAAAH! And all their mother wanted was to be the best mother in the world for them)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy, Ch. 3

Chapter 3 of Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy is very, very hard to read.

The strength of this book is that it really puts you inside Ethel’s head. Which means, of course, you will find the end depressing.

We find in Chapter 3 that these two naive young people, Julius and Ethel, were lonely IN their marriage. They were so poor, Ethel had to “occasionally” borrow small food items from neighbors “that she never returned” and everyone just learned to look the other way. The worst thing for her, though, was not their poverty, but the sight of her husband “failing.”

Julius, on the other hand, was lonely because his Russian handler worried that Julius might be compromised and stopped seeing him for eight months. During which time Ethel got pregnant again, probably as her way of reassuring Julius that she had absolute faith in him as a husband and father! While Julius, probably had so much time on his hands after Feklisov stopped meeting with him that he got bored and had nothing better to do! You see, people, this is what happens when you marry a feckless man!

Julius’s handler is eventually called back to Moscow. He feels he must tell Julius in person, so he takes him to a nice Hungarian restaurant. And then breaks the news.

This is the agent, Feklisov, writing from memory six months later:

  • Julius stopped, looking at me wide-eyed. A few long seconds went by. “What do you mean,” he asked. “You’re leaving me? Why?”

Oh God. This is so painful. Self wants to kick Julius for acting like a lovesick puppy. With his newly pregnant wife at home yet.

Stay tuned.

The Noose

Self pulled a switcheroo one sleepless night and decided to read Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy. Something about the prose, something about the hour, something about her mood — she put aside Chris Offutt for later.

The past few days, she’s been reading about idealistic young Ethel Rosenberg, and she hopes her heart doesn’t break too much later, when Ethel is sentenced. It’s bad enough reading about what a hard worker she was, how determined she was to be a good wife and mother, and how all her life she yearned for music and scrimped and saved to buy herself a piano.

Of Julius and Ethel, it is pretty clear that Ethel is probably more intelligent. Definitely, she’s the one more rooted in family (as the woman usually is, even now). So when Julius gets flattered into passing on information to a Russian agent on p. 58, it is quite a gut punch.

Julius Rosenberg to his Russian “handler,” Alexander Feklisov, who was four years Julius’s senior, who’d “been working in New York since 1940”:

  • “I know you may not be aware of it, but our meetings are among the happiest moments of all my life . . . I have a wonderful wife and son whom I adore but you are the only person who knows all my secrets and it’s very important to be able to confide to someone.”

Damn you, Julius Rosenberg and also damn you, Alexander Feklisov!

The Russians expressed skepticism, remarking with cool detachment that his “health is nothing splendid.”

Past Squares 7: A Look Back at This Kickass Reading Year (2021)

This is also today’s post for Life of B’s Past Squares!

Next: Chris Offutt, The Killing Hills

The old man walked the hill with a long stick, pushing aside mayapple and horseweed, seeking ginseng.

The Killing Hills, p. 1

Sentence of the Day: The Butcher’s Boy, p. 155

What is it about Las Vegas? It just seems to pull the best writing out of writers, especially writers of noir. Which Thomas Perry definitely is.

  • The dealer looked young, his carefully sculpted hair blond from the sun, but already he had the ageless look of detached competence they all seemed to have worn into them.

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