Ruth Printz, the eldest of four children, was born in New York City on 30th April 1924. She was educated at Seward Park High School. (1) After leaving school she became a typist. Ruth joined the Young Communist League (YCL).
Ruth married David Greenglass, a fellow member of the YCL, in 1942. Later the couple had two children. Her sister-in-law, Ethel Rosenberg, and her husband, Julius Rosenberg, were both members of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA).
In 1943 David Greenglass joined the United States Army. A year later he was promoted to the rank of sergeant and assigned to the Manhattan Project based at Los Alamos. He worked in the Los Angeles Technical Area doing research involving high explosives. Greenglass worked according to the verbal instructions or sketches of scientists working on the project.
Julius Rosenberg became a Soviet agent working under Alexander Feklissov. In September 1944, Rosenberg suggested to Feklissov that he should consider recruiting his brother-in-law, David Greenglass and his wife. Feklissov met the couple and on 21st September, he reported to Moscow: "They are young, intelligent, capable, and politically developed people, strongly believing in the cause of communism and wishing to do their best to help our country as much as possible. They are undoubtedly devoted to us (the Soviet Union)." (2) David wrote to his wife: "My darling, I most certainly will be glad to be part of the community project (espionage) that Julius and his friends (the Russians) have in mind." (3)
Other members of the network included Greenglass's sister, Ethel Rosenberg. Alexander Feklissov recorded details of a meeting he had with the group: "Julius inquired of Ruth how she felt about the Soviet Union and how deep in general her Communist convictions went, whereupon she replied without hesitation that, to her, socialism was the sole hope of the world and the Soviet Union commanded her deepest admiration... Julius then explained his connections with certain people interested in supplying the Soviet Union with urgently needed technical information it could not obtain through the regular channels and impressed upon her the tremendous importance of the project in which David is now at work.... Ethel here interposed to stress the need for the utmost care and caution in informing David of the work in which Julius was engaged and that, for his own safety, all other political discussion and activity on his part should be subdued." (4)
Alexander Feklissov reported that in January 1945, Rosenberg and Greenglass met to discuss their attempts to obtain information on the Manhattan Project. "(Julius Rosenberg) and (David Greenglass) met at the flat of (Greenglass's) mother... (Rosenberg's) wife and (Greenglass) are brother and sister. After a conversation in which (Greenglass) confirmed his consent to pass us data about work in Camp 2... (Rosenberg) discussed with him a list of questions to which it would be helpful to have answers... (Greenglass) has the rank of sergeant. He works in the camp as a mechanic, carrying out various instructions from his superiors. The place where (Greenglass) works is a plant where various devices for measuring and studying the explosive power of various explosives in different forms (lenses) are being produced." (5)
Greenglass later claimed that as a result of this meeting he verbally described the "atom bomb" to Rosenberg. He also prepared some sketches and provided a written description of the lens mold experiments and a list of scientists working on the project. He was also asked the names of "some possible recruits... people who seemed sympathetic with Communism." Julius Rosenberg complained about his handwriting and arranged for Ethel Rosenberg to "type it up". According to Kathryn S. Olmsted: "Greenglass's knowledge was crude compared to the disquisitions on nuclear physics that the Russians received from Fuchs." (6)
After the war Rosenberg established a small surplus products business and a machine shop, in which David Greenglass invested. (7) Greenglass also carried on providing information for the Soviets. He worked as a mechanic at a Brooklyn company that assembled radar stabilizers for tank guns. Greenglass reported that "the idea of this device is that it must keep the gun constantly directed at the target regardless of the tank's vibrations while moving during battle." Greenglass offered to take a camera into the top-security plant to photograph drawings. However, his Soviet handlers rejected the idea as too dangerous. (8)
Alexander Feklissov returned to the Soviet Union in February 1947. In a memorandum summarizing his work, he suggested that the Soviets should use David Greenglass and Ruth Greenglass as couriers and group handlers, roles similar to those previously performed by Rosenberg. Headquarters agreed: "(Greenglass), although he has the possibility of returning to work at an extremely important institution on Enormoz because of his limited education will not be able to obtain a position in which he could become an independent source of information in which we are interested." (9)
On 12th September 1949, MI5 was sent documents that had been uncovered by the Venona Project that suggested that Klaus Fuchs was a Soviet spy. Klaus Fuchs was interviewed by MI5 officers and eventually made a full-confession. Jim Skardon: "Since that time I have had continuous contact with the persons who were completely unknown to me, except that I knew they would hand whatever information I gave them to the Russian authorities. At that time I had complete confidence in Russian policy and I believed that the Western Allies deliberately allowed Russia and Germany to fight each other to the death. I had therefore, no hesitation in giving all the information I had, even though occasionally I tried to concentrate mainly on giving information about the results of my own work. There is nobody I know by name who is concerned with collecting information for the Russian authorities. There are people whom I know by sight whom I trusted with my life." (10)
A few days later J. Edgar Hoover informed President Harry S. Truman that "we have just gotten word from England that we have gotten a full confession from one of the top scientists, who worked over here, that he gave the complete know-how of the atom bomb to the Russians." (11) As Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) pointed out: "What Fuchs had failed to realize was that, but for his confession, there would have been no case against him, Skardon's knowledge of his espionage, which had so impressed him, derived from... Verona... and unusable in court." (12)
Klaus Fuchs was interviewed by MI5 about his Soviet contacts. It was later recorded that: "In the course of investigation, Fuchs was shown two American motion picture films of Harry Gold. In the first, Gold was shown on an American city street and impressed Fuchs as a man in a state of nervous excitement being chased.... After seeing the film... Fuchs identified Gold and gave testimony about him." (13) The FBI interviewed Gold about Fuchs. At first he denied knowing him. However, he suddenly broke down and made a full confession. On 23rd May, 1950, Gold appeared in court and was charged with conspiring with others to obtain secret information for the Soviet Union from Klaus Fuchs. Bail was set at $100,000 and a hearing scheduled for 12th June. The following day the newspapers reported that Gold had been arrested on evidence provided by Fuchs. (14)
According to Alexander Feklissov, the main concern was to rescue Julius Rosenberg: "The main task from the Center's point of view was to get the key members of the network out, namely Julius Rosenberg and his family.... All necessary documents were ready. Gavriil Panchenko, Julius' case officer, had an urgent meeting with him, telling him to leave the United States as soon as possible. Rosenberg refused; he felt he couldn't leave his sister-in-law, Ruth Greenglass, by herself. She had been hospitalized because of burns to her body and was pregnant." (15)
On 16th June, 1950, David Greenglass was arrested. The New York Tribune quoted him as saying: "I felt it was gross negligence on the part of the United States not to give Russia the information about the atom bomb because he was an ally." (16) According to the New York Times, while waiting to be arraigned, "Greenglass appeared unconcerned, laughing and joking with an FBI agent. When he appeared before Commissioner McDonald... he paid more attention to reporters' notes than to the proceedings." (17) Greenglass's attorney said that he had considered suicide after hearing of Gold's arrest. He was also held on $1000,000 bail.
Ruth Greenglass was also taken into custody. It has been argued: "It was important for the prosecution that Ethel Rosenberg should be implicated as it was thought that her husband might be persuaded to spill the beans if he felt he might spare her execution. But up until shortly before the trial was due to start in March 1951, the case against Ethel Rosenberg remained flimsy. In his initial statements, David Greenglass had said that she had not been involved at all." (18)
On 6th July, 1950, the New Mexico federal grand jury indicted David Greenglass on a charge of conspiring to commit espionage in wartime on behalf of the Soviet Union. Specifically, he was accused of meeting with Harry Gold in Albuquerque on 3rd June, 1945, and producing "a sketch of a high explosive lens mold" and receiving $500 from Gold. It was clear that Gold had provided the evidence to convict Greenglass.
The New York Daily Mirror reported on 13th July that Greenglass had decided to join Harry Gold and testify against other Soviet spies. "The possibility that alleged atomic spy David Greenglass has decided to tell what he knows about the relay of secret information to Russia was evidenced yesterday when U. S. Commissioner McDonald granted the ex-Army sergeant an adjournment of proceedings to move him to New Mexico for trial." (19) Four days later the FBI announced the arrest of Julius Rosenberg. The New York Times reported that Rosenberg was the "fourth American held as a atom spy". (20)
The New York Daily News sent a journalist to Rosenberg's machinist shop. He claimed that the three employees were all non-union workers who had been warned by Rosenberg that there could be no vacations because the firm had made no money in the past year and a half. The employees also disclosed that at one time David Greenglass had worked at the shop as a business partner of Rosenberg. (21) Time Magazine noted that "alone of the four arrested so far, Rosenberg stoutly insisted on his innocence." (22)
The Department of Justice issued a press release quoting J. Edgar Hoover as saying "that Rosenberg is another important link in the Soviet espionage apparatus which includes Dr. Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold, David Greenglass and Alfred Dean Slack. Mr. Hoover revealed that Rosenberg recruited Greenglass... Rosenberg, in early 1945, made available to Greenglass while on furlough in New York City one half of an irregularly cut jello box top, the other half of which was given to Greenglass by Harry Gold in Albuquerque, New Mexico as a means of identifying Gold to Greenglass." The statement went onto say that Anatoli Yatskov, Vice Consul of the Soviet Consulate in New York City, paid money to the men. Hoover referred to "the gravity of Rosenberg's offense" and stated that Rosenberg had "aggressively sought ways and means to secretly conspire with the Soviet Government to the detriment of his own country." (23)
Julius Rosenberg refused to implicate anybody else in spying for the Soviet Union. Joseph McCarthy had just launched his attack on a so-called group of communists based in Washington. Hoover saw the arrest of Rosenberg as a means of getting good publicity for the FBI. However, he was desperate to get Rosenberg to confess. Alan H. Belmont reported to Hoover: "Inasmuch as it appears that Rosenberg will not be cooperative and the indications are definite that he possesses the ifentity of a number of other individuals who have been engaged in Soviet espionage... New York should consider every possible means to bring pressure on Rosenberg to make him talk, including... a careful study of the involvement of Ethel Rosenberg in order that charges can be placed against her, if possible." (24) Hoover sent a memorandum to the US attorney general Howard McGrath saying: "There is no question that if Julius Rosenberg would furnish details of his extensive espionage activities it would be possible to proceed against other individuals. Proceeding against his wife might serve as a lever in these matters." (25)
On 11th August, 1950, Ethel Rosenberg testified before a grand jury. She refused to answer all the questions and as she left the courthouse she was taken into custody by FBI agents. Her attorney asked the U.S. Commissioner to parole her in his custody over the weekend, so that she could make arrangements for her two young children. The request was denied. One of the prosecuting team commented that there "is ample evidence that Mrs. Rosenberg and her husband have been affiliated with Communist activities for a long period of time." (26) Rosenberg's two children, Michael Rosenberg and Robert Rosenberg, were looked after by her mother, Tessie Greenglass. Julius and Ethel were put under pressure to incriminate others involved in the spy ring. Neither offered any further information.
On 10th October, 1950, David Greenglass, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Morton Sobell and Anatoli Yatskov were charged with espionage. On 18th October, Greenglass pleaded guilty. It soon became clear that he and his wife, had been offered a deal if they provided information against the Rosenbergs. This included a promise not to charge Ruth with being a member of the spy ring. Greenglass now changed his story. In his original statement, he said that he handed over atomic information to Julius on a street corner in New York. In his new interview, Greenglass claimed that the handover had taken place in the living room of the Rosenberg's New York flat. In her FBI interview Ruth argued that "Julius then took the info into the bathroom and read it, and when he came out he told (Ethel) she had to type this info immediately. Ethel then sat down at the typewriter... and proceeded to type info which David had given to Julius". (27)
According to Dennis Hevesi of the The New York Times: "Prosecutors had been interrogating Ruth Greenglass since June 1950. In February 1951, she was interviewed again. After reminding her that she was still subject to indictment and that her husband had yet to be sentenced, the prosecutors extracted a recollection from her: that in the fall of 1945, Ethel Rosenberg had typed her brother's handwritten notes. Soon after, confronted with his wife's account, David Greenglass told prosecutors that Ruth Greenglass had a very good memory and that if that was what she recalled of events six years earlier, she was probably right. The transcripts of those two crucial interviews have never been released or even located in government files." (28)
The trial of Julius Rosenberg, Ethel Rosenberg and Morton Sobell began on 6th March 1951. Irving Saypol opened the case: "The evidence will show that the loyalty and alliance of the Rosenbergs and Sobell were not to our country, but that it was to Communism, Communism in this country and Communism throughout the world... Sobell and Julius Rosenberg, classmates together in college, dedicated themselves to the cause of Communism... this love of Communism and the Soviet Union soon led them into a Soviet espionage ring... You will hear our Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Sobell reached into wartime projects and installations of the United States Government... to obtain... secret information... and speed it on its way to Russia.... We will prove that the Rosenbergs devised and put into operation, with the aid of Soviet... agents in the country, an elaborate scheme which enabled them to steal through David Greenglass this one weapon, that might well hold the key to the survival of this nation and means the peace of the world, the atomic bomb." (29)
David Greenglass, who was examined by Roy Cohn, provided important evidence against the Rosenbergs. He claimed that his sister, Ethel, influenced him to become a Communist. He remembered having conversations with Ethel at their home in 1935 when he was thirteen or fourteen. She told him that she preferred Russian socialism to capitalism. Two years later, her boyfriend, Julius, also persuasively talked about the merits of Communism. As a result of these conversations he joined the Young Communist League (YCL). (30)
Greenglass pointed out that Julius Rosenberg recruited him as a Soviet spy in September 1944. Over the next few months he provided some sketches and provided a written description of the lens mold experiments and a list of scientists working on the project. He was gave Rosenberg the names of "some possible recruits... people who seemed sympathetic with Communism." Greenglass also claimed that because of his poor handwriting his sister typed up some of the material. (31)
In June 1945 Greenglass claimed that Harry Gold visited him. "There was a man standing in the hallway who asked if I were Mr. Greenglass, and I said yes. He steeped through the door and he said, Julius sent me... and I walked to my wife's purse, took out the wallet and took out the matched part of the Jello box." Gold then produced the other part and he and David checked the pieces and saw they fitted. Greenglass did not have the information ready and asked Gold to return in the afternoon. He then prepared sketches of lens mold experiments with written descriptive material. When he returned Greenglass gave him the material in an envelope. Gold also gave Greenglass an envelope containing $500. (32)
David Greenglass told the court that in February 1950, Julius Rosenberg came to see him. He gave him the news that Klaus Fuchs had been arrested and that he had made a full confession. This would mean that members of his Soviet spy network would also be arrested. According to Greenglass, Rosenberg suggested that he should leave the country. Greenglass replied: "Well, I told him that I would need money to pay my debts back... to leave with a clear head... I insisted on it, so he said he would get the money for me from the Russians." In May he gave him $1,000 and promised him $6,000 more. (He later gave him another $4,000.) Rosenberg also warned him that Harry Gold had been arrested and was also providing information about the spy ring. Rosenberg also said he had to flee as the FBI had identified Jacob Golos as a spy and he had been his main contact until his death in 1943.
Greenglass was cross-examined by Emanuel Bloch and suggested that his hostility towards Rosenberg had been caused by their failed business venture: "Now, weren't there repeated quarrels between you and Julius when Julius accused you of trying to be a boss and not working on machines?" Greenglass replied: "There were quarrels of every type and every kind... arguments over personality... arguments over money... arguments over the way the shop was run... We remained as good friends in spite of the quarrels." Bloch asked him why he had punched Rosenberg while in a "candy shop." Greenglass admitted that "it was some violent quarrel over something in the business." Greenglass complained that he had lost all of his money in investing in Rosenberg's business.
The New York Times reported that Ruth Greenglass, the mother of a boy, four, and a girl, ten months, was a "buxom and self-possessed brunette" but looked older and her twenty-six years. It added that she testified "in seemingly eager, rapid fashion." (33) Ruth Greenglass recalled a conversation she had with Julius Rosenberg in November 1944: "Julius said that I might have noticed that for some time he and Ethel had not been actively pursuing any Communist Party activities, that they didn't buy the Daily Worker at the usual newsstand; that for two years he had been trying to get in touch with people who would assist him to be able to help the Russian people more directly other than just his membership in the Communist Party... He said that his friends had told him that David was working on the atomic bomb, and he went on to tell me that the atomic bomb was the most destructive weapon used so far, that it had dangerous radiation effects that the United States and Britain were working on this project jointly and that he felt that the information should be shared with Russia, who was our ally at the time, because if all nations had the information then one nation couldn't use the bomb as a threat against another. He said that he wanted me to tell my husband, David, that he should give information to Julius to be passed on to the Russians."
Ruth Greenglass admitted that in February 1945, Rosenberg paid her to go and live in Albuquerque so she was close to David Greenglass who was working in Los Alamos: "Julius said he would take care of my expenses; the money was no object; the important thing was for me to go to Albuquerque to live." Harry Gold would visit and exchange information for money. One payment in June was $500. She "deposited $400 in an Albuquerque bank, purchased a $50 defense bond (for $37.50)" and used the rest for "household expenses." (34)
Greenglass testified that she saw a "mahogany console table" in the Rosenberg's apartment in 1946. "Julius said it was from his friend and it was a special kind of table, and he turned the table on its side." A portion of the table was hollow "for a lamp to fit underneath it so that the table could be used for photograph purposes." Rosenberg said he used the table to take "pictures on microfilm of the typewritten notes."
Julius Rosenberg was asked if he had ever been a member of the Communist Party on the United States. Rosenberg replied by invoking the Fifth Amendment. After further questioning he agreed that he sometimes read the party newspaper, the Daily Worker. He was also asked about his wartime views regarding the Soviet Union. He replied that he "felt that the Russians contributed the major share in destroying the Nazi army" and "should get as much help as possible." His opinion was "that if we had a common enemy we should get together commonly." He also admitted that he had been a member of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee.
Rosenberg was asked about the "mahogany console table" claimed by Ruth Greenglass to be in the Rosenberg's apartment in 1946. Rosenberg claimed he had purchased it from Macy's for $21. Irving Saypol replied: "Don't you know, Mr. Rosenberg, that you couldn't buy a console table in Macy's... in 1944 and 1945, for less than $85?" This was later found to be incorrect but at the time the impression was given that Rosenberg was lying.
The "mahogany console table" was not presented in the courtroom as evidence. It was claimed that it had been lost. Therefore it was not possible to examine it to see if Greenglass was right when she said that a portion of the table was hollow "for a lamp to fit underneath it so that the table could be used for photograph purposes." Aftter the case had finished it the table was found and it did not have the section claimed by Greenglass. A brochure was also produced to suggest that Rosenberg might have purchased it for $21 at Macy's. (35)
Emanuel Bloch argued: "Is there anything here which in any way connects Rosenberg with this conspiracy? The FBI "stopped at nothing in their investigation... to try to find some piece of evidence that you could feel, that you could see, that would tie the Rosenbergs up with this case... and yet this is the... complete documentary evidence adduced by the Government... this case, therefore, against the Rosenbergs depends upon oral testimony."
Bloch attacked David Greenglass, the main witness against the Rosenbergs. Greenglass was "a self-confessed espionage agent," was "repulsive... he smirked and he smiled... I wonder whether... you have ever come across a man, who comes around to bury his own sister and smiles." Bloch argued that Greenglass's "grudge against Rosenberg" over money was not enough to explain his testimony. The explanation was that Greenglass "loved his wife" and was "willing to bury his sister and his brother-in-law" to save her. The "Greenglass Plot" was to lessen his punishment by pointing his finger at someone else. Julius Rosenberg was a "clay pigeon" because he had been fired from his government job for being a member of the Communist Party of the United States in 1945. (36)
In his reply, Irving Saypol, pointed out that "Mr Bloch had a lot of things to say about Greenglass... but the story of the Albuquerque meeting... does not come to you from Greenglass alone. Every word that David and Ruth Greenglass spoke on this stand about that incident was corroborated by Harry Gold... a man concerning whom there cannot even be a suggestion of motive... He had been sentenced to thirty years... He can gain nothing from testifying as he did in this courtroom and tried to make amends. Harry Gold, who furnished the absolute corroboration of the testimony of the Greenglasses, forged the necessary link in the chain that points indisputably to the guilt of the Rosenbergs."
In his summing up Judge Irving Kaufman was considered by many to have been highly subjective: "Judge Kaufman tied the crimes the Rosenbergs were being accused of to their ideas and the fact that they were sympathetic to the Soviet Union. He stated that they had given the atomic bomb to the Russians, which had triggered Communist aggression in Korea resulting in over 50,000 American casualties. He added that, because of their treason, the Soviet Union was threatening America with an atomic attack and this made it necessary for the United States to spend enormous amounts of money to build underground bomb shelters." (37)
The jury found all three defendants guilty. Thanking the jurors, Judge Kaufman, told them: "My own opinion is that your verdict is a correct verdict... The thought that citizens of our country would lend themselves to the destruction of their own country by the most destructive weapons known to man is so shocking that I can't find words to describe this loathsome offense." (38) Judge Kaufman sentenced Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the death penalty and Morton Sobell to thirty years in prison.
A large number of people were shocked by the severity of the sentence as they had not been found guilty of treason. In fact, they had been tried under the terms of the Espionage Act that had been passed in 1917 to deal with the American anti-war movement. Under the terms of this act, it was a crime to pass secrets to the enemy whereas these secrets had gone to an ally, the Soviet Union. During the Second World War several American citizens were convicted of passing information to Nazi Germany. Yet none of these people were executed.
Irving Saypol opened the sentencing proceedings for David Greenglass by saying that the sentences imposed on Julius Rosenberg, Ethel Rosenberg and Morton Sobell "yesterday are substantially in accord with my views". He recommended that Judge Irving Kaufman demonstrate "the broad tolerance of the Court in the presence of penitence, contriteness, remorse and belated truth" and sentence Greenglass to fifteen years.
Greenglass's lawyer, Oetje John Rogge, strongly disagreed with Saypol "as to what mercy means in this case." Rogge told the Court that Greenglass had been seduced into this conspiracy by Julius Rosenberg and only agreed because of his "fuzzy thinking" on the subject of the Soviet Union. He recommended a "light" sentence and a "pat on the back" for him, so as to encourage others to come forward with information on spying.
Judge Kaufman responded: "I like to think that neither do I ever mete out a light sentence, nor a heavy sentence, but rather a just sentence." Turning to Greenglass, he added: "The fact that I am about to show you some consideration does not mean that I condone your acts or that I mimimize them in any respect... I must, however, recognize the help given by you in apprehending and bringing to justice the arch criminals in this nefarious scheme.. It is the judgment of this Court that I shall follow the recommendation of the government and sentence you to fifteen years in prison." (39)
It seems that Ruth Greenglass was taken by surprise by the length of the sentence. The New York Times reported: "As the last words fell, Ruth Greenglass almost toppled from her front-row seat on the left of the courtroom. After a stiffening shudder, the defendant's twenty-seven-year-old wife dropped her bare head forward to the rail and gripped hard with her right hand to steady herself." (40)
He was released after only serving ten years. Greenglass went to live with his wife in the New York City area under an assumed name. In 1997 Alexander Feklissov, gave an interview to the The Washington Post where he claimed that Julius Rosenberg passed valuable secrets about U.S. military electronics but played only a peripheral role in Soviet atomic espionage. And he said Ethel Rosenberg did not actively spy but probably was aware that her husband was involved. Feklissov said neither he nor any other Soviet intelligence agent met Ethel Rosenberg. "She had nothing to do with this. She was completely innocent." (41)
In December 2001, Sam Roberts, a New York Times reporter, traced David Greenglass, who was living under an assumed name with Ruth Greenglass. Interviewed on television under a heavy disguise, he acknowledged that his and his wife's court statements had been untrue. "Julius asked me to write up some stuff, which I did, and then he had it typed. I don't know who typed it, frankly. And to this day I can't even remember that the typing took place. But somebody typed it. Now I'm not sure who it was and I don't even think it was done while we were there."
Greenglass said he had no regrets about his testimony that resulted in the execution of Ethel Rosenberg. "As a spy who turned his family in, I don't care. I sleep very well. I would not sacrifice my wife and my children for my sister... You know, I seldom use the word sister anymore; I've just wiped it out of my mind. My wife put her in it. So what am I going to do, call my wife a liar? My wife is my wife... My wife says, 'Look, we're still alive'." (42)
Ruth Greenglass died on 7th April 2008.
Julius inquired of Ruth how she felt about the Soviet Union and how deep in general her Communist convictions went, whereupon she replied without hesitation that, to her, socialism was the sole hope of the world and the Soviet Union commanded her deepest admiration... Julius then explained his connections with certain people interested in supplying the Soviet Union with urgently needed technical information it could not obtain through the regular channels and impressed upon her the tremendous importance of the project in which David is now at work.... Ethel here interposed to stress the need for the utmost care and caution in informing David of the work in which Julius was engaged and that, for his own safety, all other political discussion and activity on his part should be subdued.
I told my husband that I knew that he was working on the atomic bomb. He asked me how I knew and who had told me. I said that I had been to Julius Rosenberg's house and that he had told me that David's work was on the atomic bomb, and he asked me how Julius knew it and I told him of the conversation we had had, that Julius had said they spent two years getting in touch with people who would enable him to do work directly for the Russian people, that his friends, the Russians, had told him that the work was on the atomic bomb, that the bomb had dangerous radiation effects, that it was a very destructive weapon and that the scientific basis, the information on the bomb should be made available to Soviet Russia....
Julius said that I might have noticed that for some time he and Ethel had not been actively pursuing any Communist Party activities, that they didn't buy the Daily Worker at the usual newsstand; that for two years he had been trying to get in touch with people who would assist him to be able to help the Russian people more directly other than just his membership in the Communist Party, and he went on to tell me that he knew that David was working on the atomic bomb and I asked him how he knew, because I had received an affidavit from the War Department telling me - I said that I had received an affidavit from the War Department telling me that my mail to David would be censored and his to me, because he was working on a top secret project. And he said - I wanted to know how he knew what David was doing. He said that his friends had told him that David was working on the atomic bomb, and he went on to tell me that the atomic bomb was the most destructive weapon used so far, that it had dangerous radiation effects that the United States and Britain were working on this project jointly and that he felt that the information should be shared with Russia, who was our ally at the time, because if all nations had the information then one nation couldn't use the bomb as a threat against another. He said that he wanted me to tell my husband, David, that he should give information to Julius to be passed on to the Russians.
One of the most enduring controversies of the cold war, the trial and executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as Soviet spies, was revived last night when her convicted brother said that he had lied at the trial to save himself and his wife.
"As a spy who turned his family in, I don't care," David Greenglass, 79, said on his first public appearance for more than 40 years.
"I sleep very well. I would not sacrifice my wife and my children for my sister."
Mr Greenglass, who lives under an assumed identity, was sentenced to 15 years and released from prison in 1960.
He said in a taped interview on last night's CBS television programme 60 Minutes that he, too, gave the Russians atomic secrets and information about a newly invented detonator.
He said he gave false testimony because he feared that his wife Ruth might be charged, and that he was encouraged by the prosecution to lie.
He gave the court the most damning evidence against his sister: that she had typed up his spying notes, intended for transmission to Moscow, on a Remington portable typewriter.
Now he says that this testimony was based on the recollection of his wife rather than his own first-hand knowledge.
"I don't know who typed it, frankly, and to this day I can't remember that the typing took place," he said last night. "I had no memory of that at all - none whatsoever."
David Greenglass, a technical sergeant involved in machining parts at the Manhattan Project, originally attracted the FBI's attention for stealing small quantities of uranium as a souvenir. Under questioning, he admitted acting as a Soviet spy at Los Alamos and named Julius Rosenberg as one of his contacts. But he flatly denied that his sister, Ethel, had ever been involved. Though he told the FBI at the time that his wife Ruth had acted as a courier, he said in his 2001 television interview that he had warned the bureau: "If you indict my wife you can forget it. I'll never say a word about anybody."
The difficulty with Hoover's proposed strategy of using Rosenberg's wife as a lever was that there was no evidence against her. Nonetheless, she was arrested and her two children were taken into care. The Rosenbergs' bail was set at $100,000 each, which they had no hope of raising, and the pressure on them to incriminate others increased. Neither offered any further information.
Ten days before the start of the trial, the FBI re-interviewed the Greenglasses. In his original statement, David had said that he handed over atomic information to Julius on a street corner in New York. In this new interview, he said that the handover had taken place in the living room of the Rosenbergs' New York flat. Ruth then elaborated on this by telling the FBI agents that "Julius then took the info into the bathroom and read it, and when he came out he told [Ethel] she had to type this info immediately. Ethel then sat down at the typewriter ... and proceeded to type the info which David had given to Julius."
Ruth and her husband repeated this evidence in the witness box and it became the basis of Ethel's conviction as a co-conspirator. However, the court verdict failed to induce a confession from Julius, as Hoover had hoped it might. There were innumerable unsuccessful appeals, and up until the night of the execution President Dwight Eisenhower was on standby to commute one or both of the Rosenbergs' sentences. But the couple remained silent.
A main element in the prosecution was the threat of indictment, conviction and possible execution of Ethel Rosenberg as leverage to persuade Julius Rosenberg to confess and to implicate other collaborators. Those collaborators had already been identified, largely from what became known as the Venona transcripts, a trove of intercepted Soviet cables.
But with little more than a week before the trial was to start, on March 6, 1951, the government's case against Ethel Rosenberg remained flimsy, lacking evidence of an overt act to justify her conviction, much less her execution.
Prosecutors had been interrogating Ruth Greenglass since June 1950. In February 1951, she was interviewed again. After reminding her that she was still subject to indictment and that her husband had yet to be sentenced, the prosecutors extracted a recollection from her: that in the fall of 1945, Ethel Rosenberg had typed her brother's handwritten notes.
Soon after, confronted with his wife's account, David Greenglass told prosecutors that Ruth Greenglass had a very good memory and that if that was what she recalled of events six years earlier, she was probably right.
The transcripts of those two crucial interviews have never been released or even located in government files. But at the trial, David Greenglass testified that his sister had done the typing. Called to the stand, Ruth Greenglass corroborated her husband's testimony.
Ruth Greenglass, who has died aged 84, provided crucial evidence in a notorious espionage trial that led to the execution of her sister-in-law, Ethel Rosenberg, in 1953; her testimony, and the conviction, was later called into question.
During the Second World War Ruth's husband, David Greenglass, had worked as a machinist on the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico.
He was said by prosecutors at the trial to have been persuaded by his sister, Ethel Rosenberg, and her husband Julius, to give them top-secret data relating to atomic weapons, which Julius then transmitted to Moscow. Both couples were avowed Communists.
Following a tip-off by a Soviet defector, in 1950 Klaus Fuchs, head of the physics department of the British nuclear research centre at Harwell, was arrested and charged with espionage. Fuchs confessed that he had been passing information to the Soviet Union since the Manhattan Project. It was clear that he had not worked alone and, during subsequent investigations by the FBI, suspicion fell on David Greenglass.
Greenglass was called in for interrogation and confessed. He claimed that the Rosenbergs had also been members of the spy ring and agreed to testify against them. It was important for the prosecution that Ethel Rosenberg should be implicated as it was thought that her husband might be persuaded to spill the beans if he felt he might spare her execution.
But up until shortly before the trial was due to start in March 1951, the case against Ethel Rosenberg remained flimsy. In his initial statements, David Greenglass had said that she had not been involved at all.
In February Ruth Greenglass, who had already been interrogated on several previous occasions, was called in for further questioning.
After reminding her that she was still subject to indictment and that her husband had not yet been sentenced for his confessed espionage, the prosecutors extracted a recollection that her sister-in-law had typed up David Greenglass's handwritten notes on her Remington.
Soon afterwards Greenglass, confronted with his wife's account, said that if that was what she recalled, then she was probably right. At the trial he testified that his sister had done the typing and his wife confirmed his testimony. On June 19 1953 the Rosenbergs were sent to the electric chair.
The case generated a great deal of controversy, especially in Europe, where it was argued that the Rosenbergs were victims of anti-Semitism and McCarthyism and had been framed solely on account of their politics. The couple had never confessed and went to their deaths protesting their innocence.
In the late 1990s, however, a reporter for The New York Times interviewed David Greenglass while doing research for a book and got him to acknowledge that he had lied on the witness stand at the behest of prosecutors to save his own life and keep his wife out of jail, and that he had no recollection of his sister typing his notes.
"I frankly think my wife did the typing. But I don't remember," he said. "You know I seldom use the word 'sister' any more. I've just wiped it out of my mind." He admitted that he was sometimes haunted by the Rosenberg case, though he steadfastly refused to apologise to the Rosenbergs' orphaned sons. After all, he reasoned, "My wife says, 'Look, we're still alive'."
The prosecution’s case against Ethel Rosenberg, who had been repeatedly interviewed, was a flimsy one. It seemed on the face of it far more likely that Greenglass, who had already confessed to spying and agreed to testify against the Rosenbergs, would have employed his wife for the task. Indeed, he had consistently asserted his sister’s innocence under questioning.
But in February 1951, with the scheduled start of the trial less than a month away, prosecutors interviewed Mrs Greenglass again, reminding her that her husband had yet to be sentenced. At that point she remembered that in the autumn of 1945 it had been Ethel Rosenberg who had typed the notes in a Manhattan apartment. Later confronted with his wife’s account, Greenglass agreed that she had a very good memory and that her version of events that had taken place almost six years before was almost certainly the right one. The admission was to send his sister to the electric chair along with her husband.
Today, as a result of the Venona decrypts of 1940s cable traffic to Moscow from the Soviet Consulate in New York, and previously unavailable Soviet sources, there is scant doubt that Julius (codenamed "Liberal" in the Venona transcipts) was a leader in the plot to pass over information on the Manhattan project to develop an atom bomb. Among his accomplices was David Greenglass, brother of Julius's wife Ethel, who was working as a machinist on the ultra-secret programme at Los Alamos in New Mexico. But, then as now, the evidence of Ethel's involvement was tenuous in the extreme.
None the less, as the US government built the case against Julius, it threatened to bring capital charges of espionage against his wife as well, as a lever to extract a full confession that would reveal details of the ring. But the strategy failed, when Julius refused to co-operate, even though his two young children risked losing not only their father but their mother too. Their bluff called, prosecutors had no choice but to produce evidence showing Ethel was an active participant in the ring. Thanks to Ruth Greenglass, they secured it.
Confronted in 1950, David Greenglass quickly admitted his role as a spy, and agreed to testify against the Rosenbergs to avoid the death penalty. But he offered little that linked Ethel directly with the espionage operation. Ruth, however, did. Still facing indictment herself, she told prosecutors that, one September afternoon at the Rosenberg apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1945, she had watched Ethel typing up hand-written notes from her brother about the atom bomb project. When prosecutors asked David Greenglass to confirm Ruth's recollection, he replied that since she had a good memory, she was probably right.
At the Rosenbergs' trial, which began in March 1951, David Greenglass testified that Ethel had been the typist. So, crucially, did Ruth when she was called to the witness stand. Thus could the chief prosecutor proclaim, in his closing statement to the court, that on that September day in 1945, and "on countless other occasions," Ethel "sat at that typewriter and struck the keys, blow by blow, against her own country in the interests of the Soviets". The jury agreed. Both Rosenbergs were found guilty. After their last appeals were rejected by the Supreme Court, they went to the electric chair at Sing Sing prison on 19 June 1953.
If the evidence against Ethel was already slender, it became even more so with publication in 2003 of The Brother: the untold story of the Rosenberg Case, in which David Greenglass effectively admitted to the author Sam Roberts that he had lied at the Rosenberg trial.