WASHINGTON – The sons of convicted spy Ethel Rosenberg returned to the White House on Thursday, more than 50 years after pleading unsuccessfully to spare her life, in a last-ditch appeal to President Barack Obama to exonerate her amid new evidence.
Rosenberg was executed in 1953 along with her husband, Julius, after being convicted of conspiring to pass secrets about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. But court records made public last year through a judge’s order cast doubt on the conventional narrative of a Cold War espionage case that captivated the country.
"This is our mother we’re talking about," Robert Meeropol, one of Rosenberg’s two sons, said as he stood outside the White House gates. "Since we can’t bring her back to life, there could be nothing more satisfying to us than to have the government acknowledge that this shouldn’t have happened, that this was wrong."
The new documents showed that Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, whose damning trial testimony against her and her husband helped secure the couple’s conviction, had never implicated his sister in an earlier appearance before a grand jury. The brother, David Greenglass, offered the grand jury no evidence of his sister’s direct involvement and said he never discussed such matters with his sister.
As young boys, Robert and Michael Meeropol visited the White House in 1953 in a failed bid to get President Dwight Eisenhower to prevent their parents’ executions. Half a century later, the brothers approached a guard booth outside the White House and asked to deliver their letter to Obama.
They were turned away by U.S. Secret Service. "OK, well, we tried," Michael Meeropol said as he peered through the gate at the West Wing. "Thank you very much, anyway."
No matter, the brothers said. They’ve already sent a hard copy to Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and are hoping Obama will act before leaving office. The White House declined to comment.
Both brothers argued that a national reckoning over an erroneous execution is crucial, perhaps now more than ever.
"We have gone through cycles in our history of hysteria, targeting people, over punishing, framing people. We’re in danger of that happening again," Michael Meeropol said. "Recognizing that in the past we’ve done things we shouldn’t have done might be a cautionary tale."