In his May 12, column, “Who’s afraid of Tony Kushner?,” Andrew Silow-Carroll notes that Kushner’s play Angels in America contrasted the “radicalism” of the Rosenbergs to the “reactionary conservatism” of Roy Cohn. To describe Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, as Kushner does, as radicals elides their significance and in the process discredits true economic and political radicalism. It is as if one would describe Osama bin Laden simply as a Muslim scholar and leave it at that.
The Rosenbergs were dedicated communists who, during World War II, transmitted secrets about the development of America’s atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Although technically they were not traitors according to the definition of treason found in the United States Constitution, in reality this is what they were. They were convicted by a jury of their peers and executed in June, 1953. They could have confessed their guilt and lived, and thereby prevent their two sons from becoming orphans, but they preferred death because of the value their martyrdom would accrue to their cause.
The evidence presented at the trial of their guilt was overwhelming and was confirmed during the 1990s by the release of the Venona dispatches, hitherto secret material found in Russian archives. Even the most credulous defenders of the Rosenbergs — including their own two sons — have been forced to back down and admit that they were probably guilty. Whether their sentence was appropriate is, of course, another question.
Furthermore, to put the Rosenbergs among those “Jews” (Silow-Carroll’s word) who made political choices during the 20th century is also a stretch. They were dedicated communists and hence hostile to and contemptuous of Judaism, Zionism, and other manifestations of Jewish identity.
The Rosenbergs supported and aided an evil and ultimately anti-Semitic ideology which demanded from its devotees that they betray the country which had granted them and their ancestors a refuge. It hardly behooves a Jewish newspaper to provide an implicit hechsher to the Rosenbergs, particularly since many of the victims of the movement to which they were loyal were Jews. .
Edward S. Shapiro