Me and the Atomic Spies, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
I’m standing on the stairs in our summer house, 85 Philips Avenue, Deal NJ, a seashore town we go to during the hot summer months. My father and grandfather have gone to work in New York for the week. My mother is in the living room and I am looking down at her. She’s tense, upset. It’s late afternoon, June 19th, 1953. Something is going on, something is wrong – something.
Now, skip forward to the mid 1980’s. I live in Brookline, MA. I have a wife, two step-children and a dog.
Josh, the younger of the two children, is doing a paper on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for high school. They were the “Atomic Spies” They were executed June 19th, 1953.
When I think of my political upbringing, nothing outstanding comes to
Paul Robeson, a Communist, entered my life on two 78 records. I memorized them. I can still almost sing the entire piece from memory.
My mother’s father was a socialist. One of her cousins was a communist. I knew my father was a democrat. Those were the labels I heard.
But other things were going on. My dad was president of the NY Urban League. Black people came to our house on Central Park West. He told the door and elevator men they should come upstairs on the front elevator.
Jacob Potofsky would come to the house, he was head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. In my teens, my dad would invite me to sing Pete Seeger Union Songs when Jacob came over.
One time, the Russians had developed a surgical stapling device and introduced it to Mt. Sinai Hospital in our living room.
Things happened in our living room, but in many ways, I was clueless about my dad. Important people gave him great respect, but I knew one secret; All he really wanted was to run a bait and tackle shop in Asbury Park, NJ, and go fishing off the Philips Avenue jetty.
I was stunned by my mother’s response when I told her Josh was writing about the Rosenberg’s.
“That’s interesting” she said, did you know Ethyl Rosenberg was your father's administrative assistant when he was the civil defense ward captain on the Lower East Side during WW2, and Ethyl asked my dad if his brother Irving could hire Julius. Irving had recently bought a Marine Radio company in Fort Monmouth, NJ.
I was stunned at the thought there was so much about my father I had no clue about. The association with the Rosenberg’s was big.
My father and uncle were ‘players’ in NY on the 50’s and 60’s. My dad had been head of the NYC Planning Commission and many civic organizations. My uncle was perhaps best known for taring down Penn Station and putting up Madison Square Garden. You would not suspect these two of associated with the Rosenberg’s.
Once I mentioned this to Toshi Seeger, the wife of Pete Seeger, the folk sing who had devastating run-ins with the House of Un-American
Activities Commission. Toshi laughingly responded that my dad and uncle must have been “in deep cover” for the party.
The Seeger’s helped me make contact with the Rosenberg’s sons. They confirmed what my mother told me.