Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Dramatic Retelling of The Trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

This year's Signature in the Schools production, Un-American, is inspired by the McCarthy Era.  The cast and crew spent the first three weeks of the rehearsal process becoming experts on this topic. They devoted several rehearsals just to learning about the significant figures, events, and acts surrounding this period in history.  To culminate the research part our rehearsal process, the company, including both cast and crew, were asked to create short films that accurately portray  major historic events surrounding the McCarthy Era.  The company was split into two groups. Each group was assigned a topic, and given only two and a half hours to cast, write, rehearse, and film their projects. (Luckily, editing was not included in those two hours.)  Due to certain limitations with resources and time, you may see some elements such as contemporary clothing, gender/color-blind casting, and resourceful uses of Shirlington Village throughout the films. 

Our first group was asked to cover the Rosenberg Trial.   Be sure to tune back to From the Classroom soon to see Signature in the Schools coverage of the Hollywood Ten!

The Rosenberg Trial 

To this day, the Rosenberg trial is regarded by some as the most controversial case of the McCarthy Era.  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the only two people to receive the death penalty during the McCarthy Era and the first husband and wife to receive the death penalty in American history. They were found guilty on charges of espionage and delivering top secret, first hand information about the Atomic Bomb to the Soviet Union.
In February of 1950, German physicist and spy, Klaus Fuchs, was arrested in Great Britain for supplying information from the American, British, and Canadian atomic bomb research to the USSR shortly after World War II. Although he initially refused to name people who worked with him, he did eventually confess to working with courierHarry Gold. In turn, Gold made remarks that led to the investigation and arrest of David Greenglass.

David Greenglass, Sergeant in the United States Army, and member of the Communist Party of the United States, was assigned to the highly confidential Manhattan Project, the wartime project intended to develop the first atomic weapons.  Greenglass began passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, while also supplying his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg, with top secret documents. In June of 1950, Greenglass was arrested for espionage and sentenced to fifteen years in prison (although he only served ten.) During Greenglass’ trial, he implicated Julius Rosenberg as a collaborator in the espionage ring.  In 1951, the FBI offered Greenglass an immunity agreement, allowing his wife to stay at home with their children if he testified against his sister and brother-in-law.  While he initially denied his sister’s involvement with the crime, he later changed his story, admitting that Ethel Rosenberg helped to type his notes, including her in the espionage ring.

Ruth Greenglass, David’s wife, also testified that Ethel Rosenberg typed up the notes for her husband.  She also testified that Julius and Ethel were the ones that pressured her husband into sharing nuclear secrets with the Soviet Union. Both Julius and Ethel chose their right to plead the fifth in court, refusing to answer any potentially incriminating questions. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted on March 29, 1951 and sentenced to death the following April. Up until their death in 1953, both Rosenbergs denied all charges of espionage.  

Judge Irving Kauffman, upon imposing the death penalty upon the Rosenbergs declared:

I consider your crime 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…the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason. Indeed, by your betrayal you undoubtedly have altered the course of history to the disadvantage of our country…We have evidence of your treachery all around us every day for the civilian defense activities throughout the nation are aimed at preparing us for an atom bomb attack.


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