Monday, May 11, 2009

The executions of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg

In HOLLYWOOD EXILE, or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist, Bernard Gordon writes about the effort by many, including the Pope, to stop the execution of convicted Soviet spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

"The Supreme Court was in recess for the summer. A last-minute appeal to Justice William O. Douglas resulted in a stay of execution. It was standard procedure for a single designated justice to rule on a case until the full court could consider it. In this instance, good, old, warm friendly Ike took an unprecedented action. For the first time ever, he called all the scattered justices of the Supreme Court back into session. They considered the matter summarily, overruled Douglas, and adjourned to go back to their vacations...

"To appreciate the true magnitude of this atrocity, it is useful to know a few facts that have only recently been revealed and published. In 1997, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, senior senator from New York, wrote a report on government secrecy (Government Printing Office, 1997; published as Secrecy: The American Experience, Yale University Press, 1998). Through the Freedom of Information Act, Moynihan obtained previously classified documents that showed that

"[T]wo scientists at Los Alamos, Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall, did convey valuable atomic information to the Soviets; but neither had any connection to the Communist Party...
"Moynihan makes it clear that when the FBI put Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on trial for atomic espionage in March 1951, it had already learned, in May 1950, that real atomic secrets had been given to the Soviets by Theodore Hall....Hall was never charged with espionage and eventually moved to Britain, where he lived a long and happy life, while the United States executed the Rosenbergs for stealing 'the secret of the a-bomb'.
"The decoded Soviet cables show that Ethel was not a Soviet spy and that, while Julius had passed nonatomic information to the Soviets, the trial case against them was largely fabricated...
"Moynihan calls the execution of the Rosenbergs 'a harsh injustice...'
"Why didn't the FBI go after Hall?...Did the government execute the Rosenbergs and let Hall go because it didn't want to admit it had prosecuted the wrong people as atom spies? (John Wiener, The Nation, December 21, 1198)

"After the Rosenbergs' execution, the political atmosphere in Hollywood became ever more poisonous. The studios that were run by Jews had to make it endlessly clear that there were Jews in America who were not atomic spies, that, in this instance quite literally, they were holier than the Pope. Any thought of an easing of the Hollywood blacklist now seemed hopelessly remote. What had once seemed a temporary political aberration, a moment in a changing world (and we believed that things did change), now seemed like a trap from which we would never escape.
"The party? During the early days of the blacklist, we had hung together. A cold wind was blowing and we needed each other for warmth, companionship, and mutual support. When Stalin died in 1953, rumors of the appalling nature of the dictatorship in the Soviet Union began to leak out. In early 1956, Khrushchev spoke publicly about Stalin's atrocities. This was quite different from Henry Luce of Time magazine of the Chandlers of the Los Angeles Times unfurling their anticommunist propaganda. This news could not be ignored. But by 1957, as the scope of Stalin's abominations became clear, many of our people had scattered to Mexico, New York, Europe; few of our members remained in the section, and functioning was desultory.
"In the party, we felt betrayed. A lifetime of dedication and sacrifice to help make a better world had put us on the side of an inconceivable butcher. We still felt that humane socialism was necessary to correct the brutality and inequity of our own system, but the party had lashed itself too tightly to the fate of the U.S.S.R. Unannounced, informally, most of us simply stopped attending meetings. We just faded away from the party."

*For me, it is interesting that of the autobiographies that I've read, those who became Communists during World War 2 - Edward Dymtryk and Bernard Gordon - became disillusioned after the War. Shelley Winters is the only one of whom I've read that joined the party in the early 1930s. She cut all ties after Stalin signed his pact with Hitler and then joined-in on the invasion of Poland. Knowing what Hitler was doing to the Jews in Germany, she could not stomach American Communists excusing Stalin's colaboration with Hitler.
*And howcome Roman Polanski, who was there, did not mention the Soviets invading Poland from the East at the same time that the Nazis were invading from the West in his movie THE PIANIST?

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