What Really Happened in the Rosenberg Case
Publication Date: October 12, 2010
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A new narrative of the famed case that finally solves its remaining mysteries, by the author of the bestselling Invitation to an Inquest
Walter and Miriam Schneir’s 1965 bestseller Invitation to an Inquest was among the first critical accounts of the controversial case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, famously executed in 1953 for passing atom bomb secrets to Soviet Russia. In Invitation the Schneirs presented exhaustive and damning evidence that key witnesses in the trial had changed their stories after coaching from prosecutors, and that the FBI had forged evidence. The conclusion was unavoidable: The Rosenbergs were innocent.
But were they?
Thirty years after the publication of Inquest, Walter Schneir was back on the case after bits and pieces of new evidence started coming to light, much of it connecting Julius Rosenberg to Soviet espionage. Over more than a decade, Schneir continued his search for the truth, meeting with former intelligence officials in Moscow and Prague, and cross checking details recorded in thousands of government documents.
The result is an entirely new narrative of the Rosenberg case. The reality, Schneir demonstrates, is that Rosenbergs ended up hopelessly trapped: prosecuted for atomic espionage they didn’t commit—but unable to admit earlier espionage activities during World War II.
As it happened, Julius Rosenberg was only marginally involved in the atomic spy ring he was depicted as leading—while Ethel, critically, was not at all involved. The two lied when the contended they knew nothing about espionage. Ethel knew about it and Julius had practiced it, but the government’s contention that they had stolen the “secret” of the atom bomb was critically and fatally flawed.
Walter Schneir was a freelance writer on law, politics, and science. He is the co-author, with his wife Miriam Schneir, of Invitation to an Inquest, long considered the definitive book on the Rosenberg case. He is also the editor of Telling It Like It Was: The Chicago Riots and editor of the collection Westmoreland v. CBS. His work appeared in many publications, including The Nation, The New York Times Magazine, Ramparts, The Progressive, and the Times op-ed page. He died in April 2009.
Miriam Schneir is editor of Feminism in Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present and Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings. In addition to Invitation to an Inquest, she is also the co-author of “Remember the Ladies”: Women in America, 1750–1815.
“Walter Schneir’s willingness to acknowledge his own mistakes in the interest of historical truth makes all the more powerful his posthumous argument that new evidence throws light on precisely what Julius and Ethel Rosenberg did and didn’t do. And Miriam Schneir’s preface and afterword make clear why anyone who cares about our democracy should care about the truth of what happened here.”
—Victor Navasky, author of Naming Names and A Matter of Opinion
Praise for Invitation to an Inquest
“A major event in the history of the celebrated case.”
—The New York Times
“Some of the best detective work in modern journalism.”
“Shows that the atom bomb secrets which [the Rosenbergs] were accused of giving the Russians were naïve caricatures of scientific diagrams with little or no value. . . the execution of the Rosenbergs seems more meaningless than ever.”