Publish date:
Updated on

Rosenbergs sentenced to die

At the end of a highly publicized espionage case, death sentences are imposed against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, one week after the couple were found guilty of conspiring to transmit atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

The Rosenberg case began with the arrest of Klaus Fuchs, a German-born and U.S.-employed scientist who confessed to passing classified information about the U.S. atomic program to the Soviets. Following his 1950 conviction, U.S. authorities began an extensive investigation of Los Alamos, New Mexico, the top secret U.S. atomic development headquarters where Fuchs worked during the war. Harry Gold, a Philadelphia chemist, was arrested as a Fuchs accomplice, followed by David Greenglass, who had been stationed near the Los Alamos atomic testing site during the war. In July 1950, Ethel Rosenberg, the sister of Greenglass, was arrested along with her husband, Julius, an electrical engineer who had worked for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the war. Alleged to have communist leanings, the couple was accused of convincing Greenglass to provide Harry Gold with atomic secrets.

During their trial, the Rosenbergs maintained their innocence, though Greenglass, who had pleaded guilty, agreed to testify against them. At the trial’s end in the spring of 1951, David Greenglass was sentenced to 15 years in prison, Harry Gold was sentenced to 30 years, and the Rosenbergs were sentenced to death. Despite court appeals and pleas for executive clemency, the Rosenbergs, the first U.S. civilians to be given the death penalty in an espionage trial, were executed by electrocution on June 19, 1953.

The trial occurred at the height of the “red scare” in the early 1950s, and critics of the case argued that the political climate of the time made a fair trial impossible. In one of her last letters before being executed, Ethel Rosenberg wrote, “My husband and I must be vindicated by history; we are the first victims of American Fascism.” However, amid growing evidence, the Rosenberg's own sons eventually came to the agonizing conclusion that their father wasn't innocent after all. 


FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Winston Churchill resigns

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, the British leader who guided Great Britain and the Allies through the crisis of World War II, retires as prime minister of Great Britain. Born at Blenheim Palace in 1874, Churchill joined the British Fourth Hussars upon his father’s death more

Pocahontas marries John Rolfe

Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Indian confederacy, marries English tobacco planter John Rolfe in Jamestown, Virginia. The marriage ensured peace between the Jamestown settlers and the Powhatan Indians for several years. In May 1607, about 100 English colonists more

Charlton Heston dies

Best known in his later years as the outspoken president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the actor Charlton Heston first earned a reputation in Hollywood for playing larger-than-life figures in epic movies such as The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur. He died on this day in more

Kurt Cobain

Grunge Rock Icon Kurt Cobain Commits Suicide

Modern rock icon Kurt Cobain commits suicide on this day in 1994. His body was discovered inside his home in Seattle, Washington, three days later by Gary Smith, an electrician, who was installing a security system in the suburban house. Despite indications that Cobain, the lead more

Rosenbergs sentenced to death for spying

The climax of the most sensational spy trial in American history is reached when a federal judge sentences Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to death for their roles in passing atomic secrets to the Soviets. Although the couple proclaimed their innocence, they died in the electric chair more

Siege of Yorktown begins

Union forces under General George McClellan arrive at Yorktown, Virginia, and establish siege lines instead of directly attacking the Confederate defenders. This was the opening of McClellan’s Peninsular campaign. He sailed his massive Army of the Potomac down Chesapeake Bay and more

NASCAR legend Lee Petty dies

On April 5, 2000, Lee Petty, an early star of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and the patriarch of a racing dynasty that includes his son, NASCAR legend Richard Petty, dies at the age 86 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Lee Petty won more than 50 races more