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Interpreting the Evidence

Rosenberg Witness Request, 1951

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Postwar United States (1945 - 1970)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Civil Rights

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Rosenberg Witness Request, 1951 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Request to witness the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for treason, July 24, 1951.
Historical Context
The Rosenberg trial was the most famous trial of the 1950s. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested in July 1950 and put on trial for conspiring to steal American secrets about the manufacture of the atomic bomb and for selling them to the U.S.S.R. (Russia). Many people felt that there was not enough evidence to convict them. Atomic scientists who testified at the trial felt that the information the Rosenbergs allegedly gave to Russia was too incomplete to help the Russians. To this day, there is still disagreement about whether the Rosenbergs were guilty, especially Ethel.

The jury found both Rosenbergs guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage. At their sentencing, Judge Kaufman declared, “…I consider your crimes worse than murder…I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea with the resultant casualties exceeding fifty thousand, and who knows how many millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason.”

The Rosenberg's attorney fought for two years to save their lives. But Julius and Ethel were executed at 8:00 p.m. on June 19, 1953, at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, N.Y. They left behind two young sons.

Essential Question
How do global conflicts impact a society?
Check for Understanding
Summarize the main idea of this document and explain its connection to the Cold War.
Historical Challenges
Research the Rosenberg Trial. Decide whether you think the Rosenbergs were guilty of espionage (spying). Give reasons to support your answer.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: How many years passed between the Rosenberg’s arrest and their execution?
Science: Why does electricity passing through the body cause death?
English Language Arts: Do you think that there should be a death penalty? Give reasons to support your answer.