Jews, Communism, and Espionage
In the history of the American Left, Jews have been disproportionately represented—disproportionately, that is, relative to their share of the American population. At the extremes, they have also been active participants in what has sentimentally been called the "romance" of American Communism, including by committing espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union against the United States itself.
The most notorious instance is that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Their case shaped the political and moral attitudes of millions of Americans alive today, and in modified form its tropes pervade the debate over critical present-day issues as well. A recent conference at George Washington University helped bring into focus the period in which the Rosenbergs perpetrated the crimes that led to their trial and eventual execution, and the enduring implications of their case.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were model American Communists. Joining the party in their teens, they loyally adhered to the beliefs and dogmas of their surrogate religion and faithfully carried out the directives issued by the totalitarian Stalinist regime in Moscow to its American followers. Julius, who graduated from the City College of New York, joined the Army Signal Corps. In 1942 he was recruited by Soviet intelligence, to which he provided thousands of pages of secret documents on American technical projects. No less importantly, he recruited other spies, mostly Jews, who transmitted similar information. Among them was his wife Ethel's brother, David Greenglass, who worked as a machinist on the American atomic-weapons program known as the Manhattan Project.
The Manhattan Project was riddled with Soviet spies. When one of the most important of them, Klaus Fuchs, was uncovered in 1950, the Rosenberg ring likewise began to unravel. Julius and Ethel were indicted for espionage, tried in 1951 (by a Jewish prosecutor, in front of a Jewish judge, with a New York jury that included no Jews), convicted, and sentenced to death. The execution, carried out in 1953, elicited worldwide outrage. The pair went to their deaths refusing to admit guilt or to implicate others, and celebrated by many as victims of official American malevolence and cold-war "hysteria."
At the conference in Washington, the gray-haired participants included virtually all of today's leading scholars of the case and experts in the history of Soviet espionage, American Communism and anti-Communism, and the American Left: Ronald Radosh, John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, Richard Gid Powers, and many more. They spoke as insiders: the Rosenbergs were referred to by their first names, and full knowledge of their deeds and misdeeds was assumed.
It was the 1983 publication of The Rosenberg File by Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton that severely dented the then-accepted narrative among leftists and many liberals of the couple's innocence. At the conference, Radosh recounted the vicious campaign against him by Rosenberg loyalists and revisionist historians dedicated to preserving the pair's reputation as blameless martyrs to a great cause. Although a number of such loyalists were invited to the Washington conference, none attended.
But another June event, the "58th Annual Memorial Meeting for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg," made up for the lack. Held at New York University and sponsored by the National Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg Case, that meeting featured, among others, Robert Meeropol, one of Ethel and Julius's two sons. Fifty years ago, such a gathering would have been held in Madison Square Garden. Today, thanks to the declassification of American and Soviet documents, the fact of the Rosenbergs' espionage, he as leader and recruiter, she as facilitator, is no longer in question except by a handful of true believers, and the wind has gone out of efforts to "reopen" the legal case against them.
Which has not impeded efforts to exonerate the couple politically and morally, as Radosh pointed out in Washington. Instead, it has only prompted a switch in emphasis.
Supporters of the Rosenbergs had always admitted their membership in the Communist party—touting this, however, as evidence not of their guilt but of their virtue: at a time when the "capitalist" nations had been doing nothing to oppose Hitler, the Rosenbergs were staunch anti-fascists as well as upholders of the higher ideals of equality and social justice embodied in the Communist revolution and the Soviet experiment. When pressed, supporters would concede that some, like Greenglass, may have been guilty of espionage, but not Julius and Ethel. Now, this pillar of the argument having been knocked out from under them, they have fallen back on the insistence that what the Rosenbergs did was good, just, and necessary, performed by two citizens of the world in support of a wartime ally. The real villain of the piece was not the Rosenbergs; it was the U.S. government.
As participants at the Washington conference repeatedly stipulated, however, the misdeeds of the U.S. government are not in question. Witnesses for the prosecution were indeed pressured, perjury was suborned, and Ethel Rosenberg was given the death penalty on less than fully conclusive evidence in an effort to coerce a confession from her husband. But to transform the fact of American misconduct into the focal point of the entire narrative is to engage in the same sort of subterfuge that the Rosenbergs' defenders perfected in the 1950s with such striking success among liberals and intellectuals, turning on its head the widespread and well-founded alarm over internal subversion and discrediting the cause of anti-Communism itself.
At the conference, Harvey Klehr detailed the way in which many of today's high-school history textbooks perpetuate this same ideological campaign, passing off the issue of Soviet espionage as a trivial matter, much less significant than government abuses and the manipulations of public opinion practiced by the American Right. As if to illustrate Klehr's point, the historian David Garrow, conceding at the conference that scholars like Radosh have proved their case, proceeded to accuse the "winners" of exaggerating the influence of ongoing defenses of the Rosenbergs like the meeting at NYU. The leading revisionist Ellen Schrecker similarly referred to the issue of Soviet espionage as a lamentable "fixation" of the Right: a "scab" at which the likes of Radosh and Klehr obsessively pick, refusing to allow it to heal.
But who is really picking at this scab? That the Rosenberg case continues to be a fetish of the American Left—Exhibit A in its indictment of American evil—is blazingly apparent not just in the textbooks cited by Klehr, which are reprehensible enough, but in such popular works of middlebrow entertainment as Tony Kushner's Angels in America (one of the "angels" in that play being Ethel Rosenberg). Echoes live on, moreover, in the push to dismiss today's legitimate fears of domestic terrorism and Islamist extremism as contemporary equivalents of alleged cold-war hysteria, in this case ginned up by the administration of George W. Bush and the "vast right-wing conspiracy" to justify domestic repression and forestall world peace.
The Rosenbergs' devotion to the Communist party, to Moscow, and to Stalinist doctrine was total and absolute. Do analogous forms of devotion still exist? At the conference, it was left to Alexander Vassiliev, a former KGB officer who copied and smuggled out Soviet documents showing the Rosenbergs' guilt, to ask obliquely whether such a spy network might be created in America today—and to wonder whether so politically incorrect a thought could even be openly voiced.
This brings us back to the political and moral choices of American Jews. To the degree that Jews have sympathized with radical revolutionary movements aimed at remaking whole societies and peoples, most of which have ended by creating variants of hell on earth, is not a more scrupulous Jewish accounting of ends and means long overdue?
And there is a specific obligation as well. As compared with the phenomenon of Nazism, still vividly present in modern consciousness, the vast, blood-soaked, and no less openly anti-Semitic tyranny that was Soviet Communism has been largely erased from mind. When it comes to individuals like the Rosenbergs, whose service to that tyranny involved high crimes against their fellow American citizens, technical guilt may now be grudgingly acknowledged but, for the most part, moral guilt is not. To the contrary, the alleged nobility of their motives is held to trump the all too evident evil of their actions. To the extent that American Jews sympathize with such perversions of morality, they owe themselves, and their fellow Americans, a reckoning.
Alex Joffe is a research scholar with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.
It is no accident that these lovers of justice are, as usual, on the wrong side of history, defending the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people.
Given this statement, I would like to know how they were in any sense theologically Jewish? Or, for that matter, culturally?
The earliest 20th century Jewish thinkers in Europe in the 10s and 20s actually thought often, long and hard about liberation of society from government.
That the "capitalist" nations of the West did not restrain Hitler, the theme sold by Soviet Socialists -- nor Stalin, whose murderous numbers far surpass the Nazis -- was not and is not reason to be socialist.
At best the Rosenbergs were not fully Jewish, not theologically Jewish and not particularly interested in freedom. Rather they were converts -- to the secular gods of socialism. So it seems to me.
I was greatly surprised that Mr Joffe accepted as a "fact" that Jews were predominatly associated with Communism and espionage. He seems unaware that the documented anti-Semitism of J. Edgar Hoover, the then Director of the FBI, led his agency to focus on Jews and dissent, which deliberately created an impression that Joffe accepts without question and inadvertently propagates. He would do well to ponder an important fact: in his 48 years as the nation's prime spy-hunter, Hoover never provided the Justice Department with so much as one prosecutable Anglo-Saxon suspected of spying for the Soviet Union. With one exception, every susepct he provided was Jewish. The exception was an African-American.
Mr Joffe should confront some unhappy facts about the role of anti-Semitism in American life. The Pollard case has no precedent for a life sentence for spying for Israel. None of the non-Jewish billionaire thieves of the past 3 years was given a sentence anywhere near Madoff's 150 years sentence. None of the non-Jewish persons previously convicted of the crimes for which Sholom Rubashkin was convicted recieved 27-years sentences.
Two decades after Hoover died, a dozen spies for the Soviet Union were discovered, some of whom were charged with having caused the deaths of American agents abroad. None was a Jew. None was executed.
I respect Mr Joffe's scholarship, but it is incomplete.
The government created an unusual spectacle in the Federal Courthouse in New York City on March 1951 by prosecuting an all-Jewish cast of defendants charged with conspiring to commit espionage against the United States on behalf of the Soviet Union. In his 48 years as Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, the nation's chief spy-hunter, discovered only one non-Jewish Soviet spy, and that exception was an African-American, who was not sentenced to death.
Perhaps the explanation for the spectacle was in a statement to the press by national law enforcement officials nine months after the trial, in which they said that persons of "pure Anglo-Saxon stock" were less likely to be disloyal than others (see NY Times 12/26/51). Here is another clue: According to one of Hoover's biographers, when Hoover began his career at the Department of Justice, he sent for 12 copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (the 'Bible' of international anti-Semitim) one for himself, the others for his colleagues (see Ackerman, Kenneth D.,Young J. Edgar, Carrol & Graf, NY, 2007, p. 342). Here's another clue, from J. Edgar Hoover himself: in Masters of Deceit, a 1958 book by Hoover, he devoted an entire chapter to complaining about Communists among Jews (page 270), a complaint he never made against any other ethnic group.
Twenty years after Hoover's death, a dozen American spies for the Soviet Union were discovered in the FBI itself, the CIA and the armed forces. All were found guilty. None were Jewish. None were critics of the government. None received death sentences.
I have a suggestion: examine the sentences given to the Rosenbergs, Jonathan Pollard, Bernard Madoff and Sholom Rubashkin, against the sentences given to non-Jews for the same crimes. Why the ethnic-driven great disparity in sentences?
Not sure Hoover would have dabbled in the Protocols of Zion?
“Why the ethnic-driven great disparity in sentences?” Obviously, the Rosenbergs were the fall guys. But it takes nothing away from what they did. I don’t believe there was a policy then (and now) of official anti - Semitism in the sentencing of Jewish Traitors.
David (if I may), can you give some details of the crimes and sentences of the 20 no - Jew spies.
The dozen non-Jewish Cold War spies for the Soviet Union included agents in the FBI (Earl Pitts , Robert Hannsen ); in CIA (Aldrich Ames, Harold J. Nicholson); in the armed forces (Army Lt. Colonel William H. Whalen, Air Force Sgt. Herbert W. Boeckhaupt,Army Intelligence officer Richard Craig Smith, Chief Warrant Officer John Anthony Walker, Yeoman 3rd Class Michael Walker, Navy Lt. Commander Arthur Walker,Senior Chief Radioman Jerry Whitworth; Sgt. David S. Boone, Marine Sgt. Clayton Lonetree). They were arrested between 1966 and 2001, and their sentences ranged from 15 years to life. The 15 year sentence was given to W.H. Whalen, who was specifically charged with atomic espionage. For more details, you can get the FBI’s Report to the American People, 1993-1998, Chapter 2, p. 7-9; FBI press release on espionage 02/20/01; joint FBI-CIA press release 02/18/96; a number of biographies of several of these spies are available in public libraries and at bookstores.
There are 2 issues that that should concern us. The first is whether the FBI was searching for Soviet spies or only for Jewish Soviet spies. Certainly, the Germans and Japanese were well motivated to spy on our atomic development program (the Germans had an active one of their own) and yet the FBI did not turn up even one atomic spy on behalf of Germany or Japan. The statement I cited in my last comment, in which our national law enforcement officials stated they doubted they’d find many disloyal people among the nation’s “pure Anglo-Saxon stock” isn’t one bit reassuring. The second issue is this: out of a minimum of 14 spies for the Soviet Union, the only ones to be sentenced to death were a Jewish couple. Doesn't sound right to me, no matter how you try to rationalize it. And to find the same ethnic-driven disparities in sentences today isn't reassuring either. In fact, it's alarming.
They may have been Jewish only in the sense that Mel Gibson could be said to be Catholic.
However, I also would like to bring your attention to another tragic and unexplored consequence of Rosenbergs' treason.
To paraphrase a certain rabbi in Russia who famously said that Trotskys make revolutions while Bronsteins (real name of Trotsky) pay for it, I'd like to say that while American-Jewish traitors were spying for Stalin, Russian Jews were paying for it. As Stalin was very detail-oriented about all important matters, he was informed very early on that certain American Jews were passing atomic secrets to KGB. It was very logical for him to assume then that Jews in general were disloyal to the states where they live, and that Soviet Jews could be also passing Soviet secrets to CIA. As a result, Jews in the USSR were removed from all sensitive agencies (such as KGB, GRU, General Staff and Foreign Ministry). Soon after trials and executions of prominent Jews followed (it is necessary to add that creation of the State of Israel and prominent Jews' sympathies toward it only confirmed Stalin's suspicions about Jews). And finally, there were plans for a "final solution" (Soviet style) - all Jews were to be deported to Siberia (as that already happened to Chechens, Ingush, Crimean Tartars, etc. etc.). Only Stalin's timely death saved lives of at least tens of thousands Jews who would have certainly perished during such deportation (as that happened to all previously deported).
And that would have happened thanks to Rosenbergs & Co. Thus not only they fully deserved to die, but to be publicly hanged at that, and their sons should be grateful that Rosenbergs' lives ended in electric chairs instead.
I can't say whether or not Rosenbergs were proud Jews, but proud Americans they were not for sure. Proud citizens don't spy for foreign intelligence services, never ever.
As to that part of your comment which is supposed to exonerate Rosenbergs (they were spying for Stalin "to do their small part to save Jewish lives in Nazi Europe") you conveniently forgot that Nazi Germany capitulated in May, 1945, and since that time there were no longer a need "to save Jewish lives in Nazi Europe", yet Rosenbergs' spying continued unabated.
However, after that time there was real need to save lives of Soviet Jews and Rosenbergs' continued espionage instead of averting that disaster caused it to happen, as I mentioned in my other post.
As for Stalin, he was an antisemite who was planning to send Jews on a death march to Birobaijan before he died. Go look "The Doctor's Plot" after you have read Marx's "On the Jewish Question".
There was no shame in the death of traitors and definitional antisemites/communists like the Rosenbergs. The only shame is that their whole clique were not killed.
One can also find that the Jews of Soviet Russia ignored the anti-Semitic direction in which Stalin was going after World War II ended. True, he didn't order the building of crematoria for Jews, but he conducted "treason trials" in which almost all the defendants were Jews, and had them executed.
It is also true, however, that before and during World War II the United States government repeatedly found "reasons" for not accepting scores of thousands of Jewish children and adults who it knew would end up in the ovens.
So now we come to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a young Jewish-American couple with two small sons. At some early point in World War II, Julius Rosenberg became a spy for the Soviet Union. Although his indictment and some other sources claim he continued his espionage beyond the end of the war, the trial record contains no evidence or testimony that his espionage went on after the allied victory. (Whether the Rosenbergs recieved an honest trial was examined in great depth by Zman, a popular Orthodox publication in a 60-page analysis in February 2011; the article questioned the guilty verdicts). In any case, the all-Jewish cast of defendants in the 1951 espionage treason trial of the Rosenbergs in New York City, followed the same path as similar trials in Moscow and Prague, and executed the Rosenberg couple. The participation of Jews at the trial as judge and prosecution did not "kosherize" the trial, it simply reminded us that the Judenrat was alive and well. A few months after the trial, the New York Times ran a story based on comments from high level American law enforcement officials, in which the officials declared that espionage/treason were not crimes commonly committed by Anglo-Saxons.
If anti-Semitism produces a shudder of disgust and angry words when the offending party is Russia, why does it not produce a similar reaction when the offending party is the United States government? Is there a non-anti-Semitism explanation for the disgraceful imprisonment of Jonathan Pollard?
What is the rationale for being disgusted with anti-Semites only if their language is German or Russian, but not if they speak English?
I think you are mistaken on quite a few points.
1) Hitler (be he forever damned) didn't "prepare incinerate" German Jews until Wannsee Conference of January, 1942. (Same goes for Jews of all occupied Europe, except those of USSR for whom Holocaust started in June of 1941 and those of Denmark who were never destined to be killed at all). Instead he planned to expel them (German Jews first, and all others afterwards). With that aim in 1938 Evian Conference was held. Sadly, no countries attending it were willing to take any significant numbers (I believe that best offer came from Brazil which was ready to take 1,000 Jewish Catholics). As a matter of fact German Jews had right to emigrate until October, 1941. They didn't because they needed foreign visas in their passports and only very few of them (either wealthy or prominent) were able to obtain those.
2) As to Soviet Jews your assertion that they "ignored anti-Semitic direction in which Stalin was going after WWII" is ludicrous, no less. What they were supposed to do, to emigrate? Such opportunity didn't exist until many years after Stalin's death,
until at least 1971 (and even then only small part of desiring to do so succeeded). Or perhaps to buy hunting rifles and axes (the only kinds of weapons available to population) and go on barricades? They would have been crashed and executed in 24 hours.
3) As to American anti-Semitism, yes, it did exist before WWII (especially so) and even after it. Though it never took extreme forms of German or Soviet, it was repugnant, nevertheless. However, you are wrong again when you are trying to pin Rosenbergs' sentence on it (and attempting to compare it with sentences received by non-Jews). As far as latter are concerned, the worst case was of one who sold to KGB names of a dozen Soviet officers who were spying for the US and who were subsequently executed. Compare that to almost 37,000 Americans killed during Korean War! That war wouldn't have happened if USSR didn't acquire its own A-bomb! And although Soviet physicists building that bomb attempted to minimize importance of information stolen from the USA (at least they acknowledged that they got it) claiming that said information "merely confirmed that they were on the right track", this is a bunch of b/s (find and read book of a German author with a very self-explanatory title "Russia - West = 0"). Thus even if Rosenbergs & Co. were Gentiles, they would have gotten same sentence. And please don't try to minimize extent of their treason (do not parrot aforementioned Soviet physicists). You are not their lawyer in court who is paid to get his clients out of jail no matter what. As a historian (or writer on important historic topic) you are obligated to be utmost objective rather than partisan. Let the chips fall wherever they may and not where you want them.
In another reliance on the appearance of truth rather than on reality, Dan writes that "German Jews had the right to emigrate until October 1941", and then admits that the real truth was that "only a very few" were able to avail themselves of this "right".
Dan argues that death sentences against the Rosenbergs are not exceptional because if they had been non-Jews, they would have also been sentenced to death. To begin with, the Rosenbergs were the only Americans ever sentenced to death in peacetime for the crime of espionage. But a more important question arises: following World War II, a series of books appeared that described in great detail the treasonous activities of giant American corporations that continued to do business with the Nazis during the war years. (see Trading with the Enemy, by Charles Higham; and The Splendid Blond Beast, by Christopher Simpson) An example: Standard Oil of New Jersey went to court after the war to regain synthetic rubber patents it had withheld from the U.S. during the war. A federal judge ruled that "Standard Oil can be considered an enemy national in view of its relationship with I.G. Farben after the United States and Germany had become active enemies." (see Trading with the Enemy,pp. 61-2) How is it that none of the officials, overwhelmingly non-Jewish, of the many megacorporations cited in the two books was ever indicted for treason? How is it, in fact, that none of the corporations and officials cited in the two books sued the authors for slander and libel? The law forbids selective prosecution - but apparently does not apply when Jews are selected.
Finally, if Dan wanted to learn something about the "damage" the Rosenbergs did, he might do well to read a statement by General Leslie Groves, the man in charge of the research and construction of the atom bomb. Here's what he told a hearing that would decide whether J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Jewish chief scientist responsible for the successful development iof the atom bomb would retain his clearance: "I think the data that went out in the case of the Rosenbergs was of minor value. I would never say that in public."
(FBI memorandum:05/11/54:FBI:AN 847-22 [Note the AN number corresponds to number of the memorandum in the Emily and David Alman Collection at the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University])
There is a fine old saying that describes exactly what happened in the Rosenberg case:
Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
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