It’s only been a few days since we finished up our three-parter on the Rosenbergs, but we’ve got to return to them today because New York City’s City Council has done something truly remarkable. On Monday, September 29, which would have been Ethel Rosenberg’s 100th birthday, the City Council issued an official proclamation honoring her “life and memory,” praising her “bravery,” and describing her as having been “wrongfully” executed. The man behind this initiative was Daniel Dromm, a Democrat who represents the neighborhoods of Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Rego Park, and Woodside in Queens. At the same time, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, also a Democrat, issued a separate proclamation, declaring September 29 the “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.”
The putative reason for this official tribute to Ethel Rosenberg is that she was a pro-union activist who took part in a 1935 strike. But the real reason, which neither Dromm and Brewer sought to disguise in their remarks at a public ceremony outside City Hall, was to portray both Rosenbergs, in time-honored fashion, as innocent victims of American anti-communist hysteria.
When the Rosenbergs were executed, said Dromm, “it was a time of Jew-baiting, it was a time of McCarthyism, a time of anti-Communist hysteria.” These are familiar words. For certain people on the left, even all these decades later, it’s McCarthyism, not Stalinism, that was the real horror of the early postwar years. They still speak of anti-Communism almost as if there was no such thing as Communism itself. In their rhetoric, the terror of life under Stalin dissolves; the Gulag disappears; the Iron Curtain evaporates. And all that is left is Americans’ apparently baseless “hysteria.”
Then there’s Dromm’s reference to “Jew-baiting,” which is, of course, a total diversion. The Rosenbergs weren’t targeted because they were Jews; they were arrested, prosecuted, and executed because they were consciously betraying their country, and threatening its security, on behalf of a totalitarian enemy.
Fortunately, some savvy observers called Dromm and Brewer out on their reprehensible actions. “In these days of progressive ascendancy in New York,” wrote Seth Barron the other day in City Journal, “the Left is in charge, and thus responsible for the humdrum management of trash pickup and school curricula. But that stuff is boring when you’ve been raised on the mythos of class struggle and the glory of violent martyrdom. Today’s leftist leaders can’t help but be wistful for a time when their side was losing and their fight was noble. They cherish the ideals of their revolutionary forebears because it makes them feel like warriors for the oppressed.”
The editors of the New York Post were disgusted, too. The City Council, they charged, had “yet again proved itself one of New York’s biggest political embarrassments.” The City Hall ceremony, they aptly put it, was “the latest installment in the left’s decades-long drive to pretend Ethel and her husband Julius didn’t spy for Moscow.”
But Dromm and Brewer weren’t alone in celebrating the Rosenbergs – and condemning their executioners. At Raw Story, Katie Halper, a contributor to such outlets as The Nation, MSNBC, Jezebel, and Russia Today, rhapsodized over Julius and Ethel and confessed that Ethel’s farewell letter to her sons had made her “cry on live radio.” This is the famous letter in which Ethel lied to her kids, insisting that she and their father were innocent and perversely representing their devotion to Stalin as a commitment to “freedom.” The City Hall ceremony was attended by members of the Rosenberg family, including the traitors’ granddaughter Rachel and her seven-year-old daughter. “The execution left two children orphaned,” we were solemnly reminded at the ceremony. But it wasn’t the fault of America that those two boys grew up without parents; Julius and Ethel made the conscious choice to put their allegiance to a monstrous, bloodthirsty tyrant above their duty to their children.