NYTimes Review: “How Ethel Rosenberg Offered Her Own Life as a Sacrifice”

The Rosenbergs
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, March 1953 | Associated Press

ETHEL ROSENBERG: An American Tragedy | Anne Seba | BUY BOOK

Review by Joseph Dorman | New York Times | June 8, 2021

Few trials in American history can match that of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg for its sensationalism. The young couple were arrested in 1950 for atomic espionage. Less than a year earlier, the Soviet Union had unexpectedly tested its first nuclear bomb, a mere four years after the U.S. atomic strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mao Zedong had just declared the People’s Republic of China. Cold War hysteria was at its peak. The couple were quickly convicted, sentenced to death and, after two years of international protest and a series of failed appeals, executed in June 1953. They remain the only individuals put to death for peacetime espionage in American history and most everyone agrees neither should have been killed. … continued


New York Times bestselling author Anne Sebba’s moving biography of Ethel Rosenberg, the wife and mother whose execution for espionage-related crimes defined the Cold War and horrified the world.

In June 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a couple with two young sons, were led separately from their prison cells on Death Row and electrocuted moments apart. Both had been convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage for the Soviet Union, despite the fact that the US government was aware that the evidence against Ethel was shaky at best and based on the perjury of her own brother.

This book is the first to focus on one half of that couple for more than thirty years, and much new evidence has surfaced since then. Ethel was a bright girl who might have fulfilled her personal dream of becoming an opera singer, but instead found herself struggling with the social mores of the 1950’s. She longed to be a good wife and perfect mother, while battling the political paranoia of the McCarthy era, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and a mother who never valued her. Because of her profound love for and loyalty to her husband, she refused to incriminate him, despite government pressure on her to do so. Instead, she courageously faced the death penalty for a crime she hadn’t committed, orphaning her children.

Seventy years after her trial, this is the first time Ethel’s story has been told with the full use of the dramatic and tragic prison letters she exchanged with her husband, her lawyer and her psychotherapist over a three-year period, two of them in solitary confinement. Hers is the resonant story of what happens when a government motivated by fear tramples on the rights of its citizens.

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