1950's

Anti-Communism Trials

By Lisa Martin

During the 50’s the United States was gripped with panic.  Communists control led the two world superpowers, China and the Soviet Union Americans feared a takeover in their own country.  While Senator McCarthy accused hundreds of people in the government of communist activities, Americans listened to and read the news in fear.  Nobody was safe from accusations, neighbors, war veterans, not even governmental officials.

Then, in 1950, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were arrested for sending vital information about the atomic bomb to the Soviets in Russia.  In 1951, they were sentenced to death.  Some Americans felt that the Rosenbergs were being used to fuel anticommunist propaganda and anti-Semitism.  Additionally, the couple had two young sons, and the American public was not happy to see a mother of young children executed, especially in times of peace.  Others felt that allowing the couple to live would eventually force them to tell the government just how much they had passed onto the Soviets, and maybe even provide additional information that could be used against the USSR.  Regardless, both sides were angry over the decision, which allowed the Rosenbergs to appeal the ruling to higher courts.

It was two years later before the Federal judge Irving R. Kauffman announced the final ruling: both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were be sentenced to death.  He called the couple’s acts of espionage a crime that was “worse than murder”.  Other Soviet spies who had been involved in the case were not handed such harsh punishments, just prison sentences.  On June 19, 1953 both Julius and Ethel were executed by electric chair.

At the time of their conviction and execution, anticommunist hysteria was at full power in America.  Had the case occurred a few years later, neither Ethel nor Julius would have received such a harsh sentence, especially Ethel, whose guilt was never fully determined.