Helen Yelen remembers Ethel Rosenberg
Earlier this month the Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project shared a video of Helen Yelen, who reflected on her time working in a factory alongside Ethel Rosenberg. Rosenberg was executed alongside her husband, Julius Rosenberg, for conspiracy to divulge atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.
Learn more about the Rosenbergs through our encyclopedia:
Ethel Rosenberg’s Jewish identity was forged not by her childhood ties to traditional Judaism but by her political radicalism. As was common with Jewish radicals, the abandonment of religious belief and affiliation was a necessary step in the assumption of a transcendent universalist ideology. The prison letters Rosenberg wrote suggest that, while she had an adequate understanding and appreciation of Jewish values and customs, she first and foremost saw herself as a martyr for political oppression.
Few legal cases in United States history have raised as many questions as the Rosenbergs’. Regardless of questions concerning the guilt or innocence of the accused, legal scholars now agree that some of the actions on the part of government players, from ex-parte discussions between Judge Kaufman and the prosecution to Chief Justice Vinson’s politicizing of the final appeal, would today have seriously compromised the integrity of the government’s case.
At the end of the twentieth century, with the terrors of McCarthyism a distant historical nightmare, many Americans still believe that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were guilty because they were un-American. Others believe them guilty although the punishment did not fit the crime. And many believe even more strongly than before that they were the hapless victims of gross governmental misconduct.