Julius and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg – 1918–1953 and 1915–1953
On June 19, 1953, Julius Rosenberg and his wife, Ethel, became the first American civilians to be executed for espionage. Julius, a member of the Communist party, had been employed as an engineer by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II.
Largely on the basis of testimony by Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, who had worked on the “A-bomb” project at Los Alamos, New Mexico, he and Ethel were found guilty of supplying Soviet agents with nuclear secrets. Deep in the Cold War, their death sentences provoked international protest and polarized American public opinion, but President Eisenhower, convinced of the couple’s guilt, refused to commute the sentences. (Soviet documents released in the 1990s suggest that Julius was in fact a spy, but that his wife was substantially innocent. Experts continue to debate the actual value of the secrets leaked.)