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Trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Morton Sobell: 1951

Prosecution Witnesses Provide Details

The trial that opened on March 6, 1951, found both Rosenbergs and Morton Sobell as defendants. Sobell, however, never took the stand. The first prosecution witness, Max Elitcher, connected him with Julius Rosenberg, and another witness testified that the Sobell family trip to Mexico was actually a flight from the United States in which they used aliases.

At the outset, prosecutor Irving H. Saypol warned defense attorney Emanuel H. Bloch, "If your clients don't confess, they are doomed." Saypol's assistant, Roy Cohn, questioned David Greenglass, the first prosecution witness against the Rosenbergs. Greenglass testified that, while stationed at Los Alamos, he gave Julius Rosenberg crude sketches of two lens molds used to focus high-pressure shock waves converging in an implosion—molds that were "new and original" in 1945 and that still merited classified status in 1951.

Greenglass further related how he had obtained a "pretty good description" of the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki for his brother-in-law. Altogether, he had written a dozen pages of description and drawn several sketches, for which Julius paid him $200.

Prosecutor Cohn proposed to introduce one of the sketches as Exhibit 8. Defense attorney Emanuel Bloch immediately demanded that the sketch be impounded "so that it remains secret from the court, the jury and counsel." Judge Irving R. Kaufman cleared the courtroom of press and spectators—thus encouraging the jury to think it was hearing "the secret of the atom bomb." Bloch admitted later that his move was made in the desperate hope of impressing the jury with his clients' concern for national security. The impounded testimony remained under security wraps until 1966.

Ruth Greenglass testified to Ethel Rosenberg's telling her in January 1945 that she was tired from typing David's notes for Julius Rosenberg, whom she said had promised to give the Greenglasses $6,000—and actually provided $5,000—for travel.

Judge Kaufman: Who was as it coming from?

Ruth: From the Russians, for us to leave the country.

Witness Harry Gold, who already had been convicted of espionage and sentenced to 30 years, testified that he had received orders from Soviet Vice Consul Yakovlev to go to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to meet a new contact named Greenglass. On a piece of paper that Yakovlev had handed him were the words: "Recognition signal. I come from Julius." He had picked up an envelope from Greenglass, he said, and taken it back to Yakovlev in Brooklyn, New York. In addition, he revealed that Greenglass had given him a telephone number, that of his "brother-in-law Julius," where Greenglass could be reached during his next furlough in New York.

With this strong testimony on the connection between the defendants and a Soviet agent, spectators and journalists alike looked eagerly to the defense attorney. But Bloch declared, "The defendants Rosenberg have no cross-examination of this witness."

Ex-Communist Elizabeth Bentley testified that, as confidential assistant to Jacob Golos when he was chief of Soviet espionage operations in the United States, she had received several phone calls as early as 1943 from a man who said, "This is Julius," and who wanted Golos to get in touch with him.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Morton Sobell: 1951 - Invited To Engage In Espionage, Prosecution Witnesses Provide Details, A Jell-o Box Cut In Two