In recent days interest in the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted on Federal espionage charges in the early 1950s and sent to the electric chair, has been revived after Morton Sobell, the last living defendant charged (and convicted) with them, acknowledged to Sam Roberts of the New York Times that he and Julius Rosenberg had in fact spied for the Soviet Union. In the Week In Review section of today’s Times there is a very illuminating article by Roberts discussing how widespread belief in the innocence of the Rosenbergs has affected the whole direction of the American political left since 1953, and how some of the notable figures in that movement are reacting to Sobell’s admission.
Those quoted in the article include E.L. Doctorow, the writer who first made a major impact with his novel The Book Of Daniel, based on the Rosenberg case (and later adapted into a film directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Timothy Hutton); pre-eminent leftist historian Howard Zinn (who says, “I never was going along saying I know they were innocent, and I’m not shocked by the fact they turned out to be spies. To me it didn’t matter if they were guilty or not, the most important thing was they did not get a fair trial”) ; SDS founder Tom Hayden; longtime Nation editor and publisher Victor Navasky; and Leonard J. Lehrman, co-director of the National Committee To Reopen The Rosenberg Case.