Exactly 70 years ago, on 5th April 1951, married couple Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were sentenced to death thanks to testimony from Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, which placed them at the centre of a Soviet spy ring. A year earlier, David, who previously worked on the Manhattan Project, had been arrested on suspicion of selling atomic secrets to a Soviet spy; keen to minimise his own punishment, he soon supplied names to the FBI and specifically recalled his sister typing out the stolen notes he had passed on. Years later, with his sister dead, David admitted that he had lied in court about her involvement in an effort to save the real typist, his pregnant wife, from imprisonment.
On the morning of their execution in 1953, Ethel and Julius wrote a letter to their two young sons, Robert and Michael.
June 19, 1953
Dearest Sweethearts, my most precious children,
Only this morning it looked like we might be together again after all. Now that his cannot be, I want so much for you to know all that I have come to know. Unfortunately, I may write only a few simple words; the rest your own lives must teach you, even as mine taught me.
At first, of course, you will grieve bitterly for us, but you will not grieve alone. That is our consolation and it must eventually be yours.
Eventually, too you must come to believe that life is worth the living. Be comforted that even now, with the end of ours slowly approaching, that we know this with a conviction that defeats the executioner!
Your lives must teach you, too, that good cannot really flourish in the midst of evil; that freedom and all the things that go to make up a truly satisfying and worthwhile life, must sometimes be purchased very dearly. Be comforted then that we were serene and understood with the deepest kind of understanding, that civilization had not as yet progressed to the point where life did not have to be lost for the sake of life; and that we were comforted in the sure knowledge that others would carry on after us.
We wish we might have had the tremendous joy and gratification of living our lives out with you. Your Daddy who is with me in these last momentous hours, sends his heart and all the love that is in it for his dearest boys. Always remember that we were innocent and could not wrong our conscience.
We press you close and kiss you with all our strength.
Daddy and Mommy
This letter can be found in the book, More Letters of Note, special editions of which can be purchased here. The Letters of Note newsletter is free to read, but you can support it by becoming a paying subscriber, for which you will receive additional ‘members-only’ emails. Or you could donate. Thanks.