“Constructive Revenge”: When The U.S. Gov’t Executes Your Grandparents

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Ethel & Julius Rosenberg

Ethel & Julius Rosenberg

Jennifer Meeropol sees her work as carrying on the “constructive revenge” of her father.

Her grandparents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were executed in 1953 after being convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage — allegedly transferring atomic bomb secrets to the USSR. Their sons, Meeropol’s father Michael and uncle Robert, had to endure not only the execution of their parents, but the negative publicity that would hang over their heads while growing up. The Rosenberg’s two sons, spurned by the immediate family, were adopted by Abel and Anne Meeropol.

Supporters of the Rosenbergs rallied around the family, something the children never forgot. Keeping in mind the kindness that helped them with their suffering, Meeropol’s father Michael created the Rosenberg Fund for Children, a group that she now heads.

“My dad founded this organization in 1990. He likes to call it his ‘constructive revenge’,” Jennifer Meeropol recently told a gathering of supporters in Minneapolis. She said it was “his way of taking the negative that was visited on his family, in particularly on my grandparents and my uncle when they were children, and turning it into something positive.

“We provide for the educational and emotional needs of the children of targeted activists as well as targeted activist youth. We make grants for summer camp and arts programs, progressive schools, therapy.” Meeropol says the Rosenberg Fund also helps children visit incarcerated parents and grandparents through the Attica Prison Grant Program, which was funded through donations from some of the attorneys who won settlements for the victims of the Attica prison riots.

Meeropol was in the Twin Cities because the Rosenberg Fund for Children was one of the sponsors of the National Convention of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) which was held at the University of Minnesota. She attended a benefit rally for Rasmea Odeh, a Chicago Palestinian American peace activist who is being threatened with imprisonment for improperly reporting her torture and sexual abuse by the Israeli Police on her immigration application 40 years ago.

Meeropol’s first contact with the Twin Cities came shortly after the FBI raids on peace activists in September 2010. She offered the services of the fund to provide assistance for two young children of the activists. The court cases against those peace activists are still unresolved.

Her grandparents, the Rosenbergs, were executed on June 19, 1953. Their conviction of conspiracy for allegedly transferring atomic bomb secrets to the USSR came during an hysterical period of spies, conspiracies and fear of Communists as the Korean War wound down. This was the time of the McCarthy Communist hearings, the House Un-American Activities Committee, blacklist of Hollywood writers, spy messages left in pumpkins and the FBI’s quest for Communists.

The key witness against Ethel Rosenberg was her brother David Greenglass. He died on July 1, 2014, at age 92. He had served nine and a half years in prison. In 1996 he admitted to Sam Roberts of the New York Times that he had lied about Ethel’s involvement to protect his wife Ruth, who was actually involved. Ruth Greenglass died on April 7, 2008.

Lee Ross, longtime Minneapolis peace activist, who also attended the Odeh benefit, grew up in the same New York neighborhood where the Rosenbergs lived. She had participated in street protests at the time of the trial and execution. She reminisced with Meeropol about those tumultuous New York days.

Ross says she attended the same high school as Ethel Rosenberg and her husband’s friends attended college with Julius Rosenberg. Her husband’s friends said it could have easily been them who were targeted by the government rather than Julius. “They could have picked on any one of them.”

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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