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This Day In History: The Rosenbergs Were Sentenced To Death For Spying

April 05, 2017

This day in history, April 5, 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death just one week after they were found guilty of conspiring to transmit atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. In June 1953, their sentence was carried out.

The Rosenberg case began with the arrest of Klaus Fuchs, a German-born and U.S.-employed scientist who confessed to passing classified information about the U.S. atomic program to the Soviets. He implicated Harry Gold as a courier who delivered the documents to Soviet agents. Gold was arrested a short time later, followed by David Greenglass, who had been stationed near the Los Alamos atomic testing site during the war.

In July 1950, Ethel Rosenberg, the sister of Greenglass, was arrested along with her husband, Julius, an electrical engineer who had worked for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II. They were accused of convincing Greenglass to provide Harry Gold with atomic secrets.

After a trial in March 1951, the Rosenbergs were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage. Federal Judge Irving R. Kaufman described their crime as “worse than murder” and said, “By your betrayal you undoubtedly have altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country.” Greenglass was sentenced to 15 years in prison, Harry Gold was sentenced to a 30 years, and the Rosenbergs were sentenced to death.

The Rosenbergs continued to plead their innocence, arguing that they were “victims of political hysteria.” Some questioned the sentence as the most incriminating evidence came from a confessed spy who was given a reduced sentence to testify against them.

The execution was carried out on June 19, 1953.