On this day June 19, 1953

Americans Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed as spies who passed U.S. nuclear weapons secrets to the Soviet Union.

Julius Rosenberg (May 12, 1918–June 19, 1953) and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg (September 28, 1915–June 19, 1953) were Jewish American communists who were executed in 1953 after having been found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage. The charges were in relation to the passing of information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Their execution was the first of civilians, for espionage, in United States history.

Since the execution, decoded Soviet cables have appeared to confirm that Julius acted as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets, but doubts remain about the level of Ethel’s active involvement. The decision to execute the Rosenbergs was, and still is, controversial.

The other atomic spies that were caught by the FBI were not executed. Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, who supplied documents to Julius from Los Alamos, served 10 years of his 15 year sentence. Harry Gold served 15 years in Federal prison as the courier for Klaus Fuchs, who supplied much more detailed information to the Soviets on the atomic bomb. Morton Sobell, who was tried with the Rosenbergs, served 17 years and 9 months.

In 2008, Sobell admitted he was a spy and confirmed Julius Rosenberg was “in a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb.”

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