Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg (September 28, 1915 – June 19, 1953) and Julius Rosenberg (May 12, 1918 – June 19, 1953) were American communists who were convicted and executed in 1953 for conspiracy to commit espionage during a time of war. The charges related to their passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. This was the first execution of civilians for espionage in United States history.
Since the execution, the government released materials in 1995 from decoded Soviet cables, codenamed VENONA, which supported courtroom testimony that Julius acted as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets, but cast doubt on the level of Ethel's involvement. The decision to execute the Rosenbergs was, and still is, controversial. The New York Times, in an editorial on the 50th anniversary of the execution (June 19, 2003) wrote, "The Rosenbergs case still haunts American history, reminding us of the injustice that can be done when a nation gets caught up in hysteria." This hysteria had both an immediate and a lasting effect; many innocent scientists, including some who were virulently anti-communist, were investigated simply for having the last name "Rosenberg." The other atomic spies who were caught by the FBI offered confessions and were not executed. Ethel's brother, David Greenglass, who supplied documents to Julius from Los Alamos, served 10 years of his 15-year sentence. Harry Gold, who identified Greenglass, served 15 years in Federal prison as the courier for Greenglass and the British scientist, Klaus Fuchs. Morton Sobell, who was tried with the Rosenbergs, served 17 years and 9 months of a 30-year sentence. In 2008, Sobell admitted he was a spy and confirmed Julius Rosenberg was "in a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb."
Julius Rosenberg was born to a family of Jewish immigrants in New York City on May 12, 1918. Census records show that his family lived at 205 East 113th when he was two years old. The family moved to the Lower East Side by the time Julius was eleven.