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Masses & Mainstream
April, 1952, pp 48-50


By Howard Fast

NO THOUGHTFUL American could have remained unmoved by the recent U.S. Appeals Court decision on the Rosenberg case. And I believe one could say, with equal assurance, no thoughtful American Jew could have repressed a feeling of horror and a surge of tragic memory. For this decision, unanimously upholding the death sentence pronounced on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg by Judge Irving Kaufman, was timed most strikingly with another decision - the decision to rearm Western Germany under Nazi generals.
One is moved to become more than factual, more than precise, more than objective in such a situation. When six million Jews died under the monstrous heel of fascism, their cry of pain did not immediately cease to echo. Rather did it mingle with the smell of burning flesh, and linger - the hurt so enormous and so indescribable that forgetfulness in itself became a crime. Neither comprehension nor revenge is applicable in terms of six million human souls who are put to death. This great, terrible, and inhumanly filthy murder had neither precedent nor analogy, and therefore it could receive only one epitaph: "We shall not forget."
Of Jews there were fifteen million, and then a little while later there were only nine million. Such a mortal hurt, such a rending of flesh, such a blood-letting has rarely been survived by any people, and it was only the particular condition of the Jews living in so many lands that allowed them to survive this. They survived because the bulk of the Jewish people who remained alive after the bloody madness of Hitler had passed, were in the Soviet Union and in the United States of America. Here in our country are five million of the Jewish people. I wonder what they thought when they read in their paper, or heard over their radio, that by decision of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, the Rosenbergs, Julius and Ethel, would go to the chair.
It is not my plan or purpose here to review the facts of the Rosenberg case. They have been amply reviewed, indeed splendidly and boldly reviewed by William A. Reuben in the series of articles he wrote for the National Guardian. In printing these articles and taking up the banner of these two persecuted, maligned and innocent human beings, the National Guardian rendered a unique and profoundly memorable service to the best traditions of American journalism. Rarely has any newspaper investigated in such detail, and established with such a weight of evidence, the innocence of two people convicted of a crime.
One must ask whether it would be humanly possible, or even inferentially possible, that innocence so plain, so evident, so pertinent, could have remained unknown to the executive branch of the government which instituted the prosecution, to Irving Saypol who carried through the prosecution, to Judge Kaufman who pronounced the sentences of death, or the three judges of the Court of Appeals who upheld these death sentences? This question must be asked, for only through the placing of this question can the whole and hideous nature of the Rosenberg case be seen.

ARE the Jewish people in America so blind, so forgetful, so dulled to the meaning of history that they themselves will not ask certain questions? Can they avoid asking why a Jewish prosecutor and a Jewish judge were assigned to this case? Can they avoid asking why the first peace-time death sentence for espionage in all the history of the United States was reserved for these two people who are Jews?
Can they avoid asking why this death sentence was pronounced for an alleged espionage in favor of a country which was not only our ally in the Second World War, but to the valor of whose troops thousands and thousands of American soldiers owe their very lives?
If American Jews cannot and do not ask these questions, if they are willing to accept with all its hideous implications this terrible judicial murder of two innocent, brave, and good people, then indeed one can only hang one's head with shame and look into the future with fear and misgiving. For it would mean that the great mass of the Jewish people in America have chosen supinely to accept the fate which fascism historically reserves for Jewish people everywhere, and which has been shared by Jews wherever fascism triumphed.
However, I do not and cannot believe that the Jewish masses of America will accept the decision on the Rosenberg case in any such manner. Plainly and specifically I raise the following propositions for consideration.
It would seem to me that there was a most deliberate choice in this case of the Rosenbergs. Consider the whole pattern again. An ex-progressive, a lawyer who has become a servant and tool of American reaction, is chosen to make a deal for David Greenglass. Under his counseling, Greenglass confesses to espionage and implicates the Rosenbergs. We have good reason to believe that immediately after their arrest, the Rosenbergs had no knowledge of what crime they had been charged with or why they were arrested. Then the Jewish prosecutor is chosen. The case is tried amidst the worst hysteria and jingoism of the first part of the Korean war. The Jewish judge makes the incredible statement that he communed with God before passing the death sentence. The Jewish community is told, "See, it is one of your own members who sentences these two to death." In his sentencing, the judge charges Julius and Ethel Rosenberg with responsibility for the Korean war. The compounded insanity becomes diabolically sane, and all over America Jews sense the implication of the new order, thus:
"For the Jewish people, as for the Negro people, death will be the penalty for the struggle for peace."
This to me is the content and the purpose of the Rosenberg case. All too little has been made of it, both here and in other lands. It is a case with profound implications for all the people of all the earth, and with very special and immeasurably tragic implications for the Jewish people everywhere, and most of all of course, for the five million Jewish people of the United States.

IN A SPECIAL way, the Rosenberg case defines the epoch we live in. Through the Rosenberg case the Truman administration squarely and undisguisedly uses the death penalty for those who stand in opposition to it. More subtly, perhaps, than Adolph Hitler proceeded, more cleverly, perhaps, but with the same tactic, the Truman administration seeks to inflame anti-Semitism.
I do not say that this is Germany in 1933. This is America in 1952, and for that very reason the masses of American people still have both the time and the strength to say, "Ethel and Julius Rosenberg must not and shall not die!"
It is time we learned that we live in a period when the human race is indivisible. There are no more strangers to mankind. The Rosenbergs have been offered up by the men of war, the men of death, the lords of the atom, the lords of pain, of greed, of hunger, and of destruction. If the sacrifice is made, then our own flesh and blood will burn, and particularly will those of us who are Jews have committed the deepest sin, the sin of breaking faith with all of the holy dead who fought against, and who died fighting against, the monster of fascism.

The Rosenberg case is being appealed to the United States Supreme Court. We urge our readers to support the National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case, 246 Fifth Ave., New York City. Chairman of the committee, Joseph Brainin, has declared: "The decision of the appeals court must arouse all Americans to protect elementary human and legal rights by supporting efforts to reverse the conviction and the first death sentence for alleged espionage ever imposed by U.S. civil courts."