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Ethel Rosenberg

When Ethel Rosenberg was accused of treason alongside her husband and executed after one of the most controversial trials in American history, her guilt or innocence became secondary to what her treatment said about the position of Jews in America. Rosenberg pursued an early interest in music and theater while working at a packing and shipping company, joining the other workers in labor organizing and leftist politics and performing at socialist rallies. When her brother, David Greenglass, who had ties to the Manhattan Project, was accused as a Communist spy, he named Julius and Ethel as collaborators in exchange for immunity for his wife. While there was little evidence against Ethel, her refusal to show emotion at the trial caused many to believe that she was the driving force in the spy ring. Others believed that the Rosenbergs were simply left-wing, activist Jews being made scapegoats for crimes they hadn’t committed, while the Jewish establishment, fearing anti-Semitic backlash, publically endorsed the guilty verdict. Despite questions about the legitimacy of the chain of evidence and the trial proceedings, the Rosenbergs were executed in 1953, making Ethel the second woman ever executed for treason in the US.

Ethel Rosenberg with Husband Julius
Full image

Ethel Rosenberg’s Jewish identity was forged not by any ties to traditional Judaism but by her political radicalism. Indeed, when she and her husband, Julius, were charged with espionage, attempts were made by their fellow "leftists" to link their prosecution with antisemitism. But the established Jewish community, fearing any association with Jewish radicalism, rejected this charge. The couple was convicted on March 29, 1951, and sentenced to death, the only two American civilians to be executed for espionage-related activity during the Cold War.

Date of Birth
September 28, 1915
Place of Birth
New York, New York
Date of Death
June 18, 1953

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Ethel Rosenberg." (Viewed on December 15, 2018) <>.


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