• December 7, 2021
Book Review: 'Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy' Reexamines Conviction and Legacy

E-book Overview: ‘Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy’ Reexamines Conviction and Legacy


Ethel and Julius Rosenberg go away a U.S. Courtroom House after being found accountable by jury in 1951. (Roger Higgins/World Telegram/Library of Congress)

A model new e e-book argues for the earlier. Nonetheless proof nonetheless components to the latter.

Anne Sebba’s new e e-book, Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy, is an impassioned ode to one among America’s most well-known convicted criminals intertwining a romanticizing account of Ethel Rosenberg’s life with a reexamination of her conviction inside the infamous 1951 Rosenberg spy trial. Whereas the e e-book is successfully researched and written with care, the overwhelming sympathy Sebba has for her subject, as detected inside the biographical segments, seems to have impeded the objectivity of her evaluation of Ethel’s conviction. Whereas Sebba’s e e-book is entertaining, it should have been far superior had she not set herself the hardly attainable intention of exonerating Ethel Rosenberg and instead tried merely to paint a humanizing nevertheless, not lower than ostensibly, objective portrait of her subject.

Having ably written seven biographies on distinctive women such as a result of the Duchess of Windsor and Mother Teresa, Anne Sebba is an accomplished historian acknowledged for her examination of the lives of excellent, influential women and the female experience all by way of historic previous. Sebba’s alternative of Ethel Rosenberg as the subject of her e e-book is peculiar. Ethel Rosenberg, in spite of everything, may also be a distinctive woman in a positive sense. Her title seems, nonetheless, incongruous amidst these of the nice women who’ve had their tales suggested by Sebba.

It isn’t notably effectively timed in that it neither coincides with any very important anniversaries related to the Rosenberg case nor was written in response to any new information or proof resurfaced.

No matter Sebba’s curious various of subject, she has effectively sketched a humanizing and shifting, if significantly excessively glowing, portrait of Ethel Rosenberg as an individual. Ethel Rosenberg’s tutorial success in highschool and her experience and aspirations in expert singing are examined and lauded at measurement; so is her dedication to being a superb mother to her children and a very good partner to Julius Rosenberg.

The humanization of controversial historic figures is altogether agreeable and typically acceptable. Nonetheless, what this e e-book accomplishes advances previous merely humanization and approaches what may be additional appropriately dubbed romanticization. In accordance with Sebba, Ethel Rosenberg is an effective woman of integrity and righteousness who’s “determined to make one factor useful of her life consistent with her private moral necessities.”

Bizarrely, Sebba seems to be almost unable to admit that Ethel Rosenberg ever did one thing improper. All by way of the e e-book, she crafts numerous excuses for any questionable actions of Ethel Rosenberg’s. In accordance with Sebba, Ethel’s continued assist for the Soviet Union after the Hitler–Stalin Pact is outlined by her actual and admirable ideological integrity, and her sustaining of Julius’s innocence was induced by her hopeless devotion to her loving husband.

One may also see Sebba’s elaborate use of Ethel Rosenberg’s struggling and misfortune to paint a portrait of innocence, honor, and almost saintliness as an attempt to martyrize her legacy. On account of she is a girl born in a society stifling to ladies, born to a mother unkind to her daughter, born earlier to a brother eager to betray his private kin, she is someway excused of all wrongs and made the protagonist of an “American tragedy” as if she herself had no half in inducing her private tragedy. In influence, Anne Sebba blames Ethel Rosenberg’s tragedy on her mother, her brother, her lawyer, her husband, the resolve, the society, and mainly all of the items other than her.

It is troublesome to probably not really feel the slightest sliver of sympathy for Ethel Rosenberg’s troubled life regardless of her guilt or innocence. Nonetheless sympathy for the plight of a girl wronged by her mother, husband, and brother and succumbing to the fruits of her private wrongdoings should not be confused with empathy alongside along with her actions, or the belief in her innocence — every, one would possibly assume, are what Sebba targets at inspiring in readers of this e e-book.

The thesis of the e e-book, as enunciated in its final pages, is how Ethel Rosenberg betrayed no person, versus her husband, who, as Sebba concedes, did betray his nation.

The one draw back is that she is improper. Even consistent with Sebba’s account, Ethel Rosenberg clearly betrayed the idea of people who believed in every the Rosenbergs’ innocence when she proclaimed her husband’s innocence with full information of his participation in delivering atomic secrets and techniques and methods to the Soviet Union. She betrayed her obligation as a citizen of america when she grew to change into complicit in her husband’s crimes by the use of actively concealing them and perjuring herself in courtroom. Most important, to many who’re company of their notion in Ethel’s guilt, she moreover betrayed her nation.

In any case, the Venona Information, a sequence of decoded Soviet-intelligence messages declassified by the U.S. in 1995, level out every Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s involvement in recommending Ruth Greenglass, Ethel’s sister-in-law, to their subversive superiors. Whereas Sebba casually casts this very important piece of proof aside as “open to completely completely different interpretations,” to many historians and most inexpensive readers, that’s indisputable proof of Ethel Rosenberg’s involvement in espionage train.

Sebba moreover tends to exclude data that can undermine her narrative. For instance, Sebba consists of on this e e-book Rosenberg safety lawyer Alexander Bloch’s rivalry that the Rosenbergs had not obtained a very good trial nevertheless neglects to say that Emmanuel Bloch, Alexander’s son and colleague inside the Rosenberg case, in his summation not solely thanked Select Kauffman and the prosecutors for treating the safety with “utmost courtesy” however moreover expressed his notion that “the trial [had] been carried out . . . with that dignity and that decorum that befits an American trial.” Nikita Khrushchev’s revelation in his memoirs of how every Ethel and Julius Rosenberg had “equipped essential help in accelerating the manufacturing of [the Soviet Union’s] atomic bomb” may also be nowhere to be current in Sebba’s e e-book.

Sebba requires a nuanced and sympathetic view of Ethel Rosenberg whereas not offering the similar to completely different controversial historic figures she dislikes with an apparent passion. She is hardly reticent in coarsely characterizing figures unfriendly to the Rosenbergs as “pure evil” (Roy Cohn) and “unscrupulous” (Richard Nixon). Sebba moreover aggressively questions each little bit of proof suggesting Ethel Rosenberg’s guilt with out making use of the similar diploma of scrutiny to testimony favorable to the Rosenbergs. For instance, Sebba first characterizes David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, as unreliable when presenting his testimony that Ethel Rosenberg had typed up notes containing confidential information in cooperation alongside along with her husband’s espionage train. Nonetheless, in the direction of the tip of the e e-book, when Sebba relates how Greenglass later recanted his testimony, she hardly calls into question his reliability and treats his recantation as credible proof proving Ethel Rosenberg’s innocence.

Ultimately, whereas the e e-book is an fascinating reexamination of Ethel Rosenberg’s conviction and legacy, it makes an unconvincing case for Ethel Rosenberg’s innocence, not solely because of the proof proffered falls in want of exonerating her however moreover as a result of author’s overt biases and evaluation antics. Whereas one would possibly assume that’s an honest strive of Anne Sebba’s to exonerate Ethel Rosenberg, the way in which during which that data and testimony are selectively launched inside the e e-book attracts suspicion in regards to the reliability of a conclusion drawn by an investigator so carefully biased in sentiment and so predisposed to proving her subject’s innocence.

Ingrid Chung is a summer season editorial intern at Nationwide Overview.

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