author photo

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

Cuban Ravings against the Cold War and the Execution of the Rosenbergs

July 28, 2014 | Print Print |

Dmitri Prieto

rosenberg-monumento-cuba

Monument in Havana to the Rosenburgs. Photo: radiorebelde.cu

HAVANA TIMES — What happened to the Rosenbergs pisses me off. I’ve known their story since the time I was in high school (they made us read a number of documents about their trial, carefully selected for the 10th grade history textbook).

In June, Cuban television remembered the sad date of their execution.

At the height of McCarthyism, Ethel and Julius, two young, American communist intellectuals, were accused of having leaked the “secret of the atomic bomb” to the soviets and were condemned to death.

According to Wikipedia, the two “were ultimately sent to the electric chair on June 19, 1953. Articles from the time report that, though Julius died after the first discharge, his wife Ethel, despite being a petite and supposedly fragile woman, endured three electrical discharges before dying, a fact blamed on the design of the chair, constructed for a larger person, whose electrodes had not been “adequately” adjusted to the woman’s body.”

Within the context of the United States’ war against Korea, “communist” and “spy” were practically synonyms, but the “deadly” 1917 espionage law invoked during the Rosenberg case, we hear today, was not justly applied, as the Soviet Union and the United States were not technically at war.

There have always been doubts about the facts of the case. In the 1990s, Russia and the United States released documents that reveal that Julius (not Ethel) was in fact working for Soviet intelligence, and that he apparently leaked, not information about the bomb (presumably because he never had access to them), but less spectacular information about the construction of radars.

In any event, Julius was condemned to death for a crime he did not commit, and his wife was, in fact, innocent. In any event, he also acted in accordance with his convictions.

I won’t delve into the political and moral dilemma of whether it was right for an American communist to spy for the Soviet Union at the time, or whether it would have been right, during that same time, for a British anti-Stalinist socialist to maintain ties with his country’s secret services (that militant’s name was George Orwell). I am interested in another aspect of the case.

Said bluntly, I deplore ANY “sanctioned murder” (as I said, it is not even clear how “legal” the execution of the Rosenbergs was, but I deplore it just the same).

It is said Ethel and Julius were the first American civilians ever to be executed on charges of espionage.

Near Havana’s Colon Cemetary, there is a discrete little monument of the Rosenbergs. The faces of the couple look down on passersby from a brick stele crowned by a flock of pigeons.

I wonder: in the days of Stalinism, how many civilians were executed in the Soviet Union on false (and absurd) charges of espionage?

Where are their monuments in Havana?

Of the thousands of Soviet citizens who came to Cuba to aid in its economic development (from 1961 to 1991), there were surely some who were the relatives or friends or colleagues of those executed.

If there is one day in which we remember the cruel death of the Rosenbergs, each and every day of the year is surely the anniversary of the forced departure of hundreds or even thousands of the innocent victims of Stalinism.

The Cold War gave rise to a schizoid, imaginary geometry.

There are still those whose minds operate on the basis of that geometry.


What's your opinion?

  • Griffin

    Have you wondered how many Cubans were executed on charges of espionage, whether real or false? Quite a few Cubans were sent to the firing squads, and not all of them were Batista’s torturers. The Americano Commandante, William Morgan was executed on charges that he was arming a revolt against Fidel. There’s no monument to him anywhere as far as I know.

  • Griffin

    It’s not clear where Dmitri got his information that the Rosenbergs were innocent victims of the Cold War:

    According to Wiki:

    Rosenberg provided thousands of classified (top secret) reports from Emerson Radio, including a complete proximity fuse, an upgraded model of which was used to shoot down Gary Powers’ U-2 in 1960. Under Feklisov’s administration, Rosenberg is said to have recruited sympathetic individuals into NKVD service, including Joel Barr, Alfred Sarant, William Perl and Morton Sobell.[12] The Venona intercept shows that Julius Rosenberg (code name LIBERAL) was the head of this particular spy ring.

    According to Feklisov, he was supplied by Perl, under Julius Rosenberg’s direction, with thousands of documents from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, including a complete set of design and production drawings for the Lockheed’s P-80 Shooting Star. Feklisov says he learned through Rosenberg that his brother-in-lawDavid Greenglass was working on the top-secret Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory; he used Julius to recruit him.[11]

    Gold confessed and identified Sergeant David Greenglass, a former machinist at Los Alamos, as an additional source.

    Greenglass confessed to having passed secret information on to the USSR through Gold. Though he initially denied any involvement by his sister, Ethel Rosenberg, eventually he claimed that she knew of her husband’s dealings and typed some documents for him.[15] He also claimed that her husband, Julius, had convinced her sister-in-law Ruth Greenglass to recruit David while on a visit to him in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1944. He said Julius had passed secrets, and linked him and Ethel to the Soviet contact agent Anatoli Yakovlev.

    The prosecution’s primary witness, David Greenglass, stated that his sister Ethel typed notes containing U.S. nuclear secrets in the Rosenberg apartment in September 1945. He also testified that he turned over to Julius Rosenberg a sketch of the cross-section of an implosion-type atom bomb (the “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, as opposed to a bomb with the “gun method” triggering device as used in the “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima).[24]

    In 2008, after many years of denial, Morton Sobell finally admitted he was a Soviet spy and confirmed Julius Rosenberg was “in a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information … [on] the atomic bomb.”[7]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_and_Ethel_Rosenberg

    There was solid evidence that both Ethyl & Julius Rosenberg were involved in espionage of military secrets, including atomic weapons, for their Soviet spymasters. It has been debated how useful the information on atomic weapons was to the Soviets, but there is no doubt they did give the top secret information to the Soviets.

  • Moses Patterson

    Are Cuban schoolchildren taught about the Cuban execution of Cuban Cornelio Rojas, former chief of police of Santa Clara, whom Che Guevara ordered to be shot to death without a trial? Below is a letter from Barbara Rangel, granddaughter of Col. Rojas:

    My name is Barbara Rangel, granddaughter of Colonel Cornelio Rojas, Chief of Police in Santa Clara in the 1950’s. He was a national policeman before Batista came to power. He earned his military status of Colonel and was involved in revolutionary activities in the 1930’s. He was a man who always fought for the freedom of Cuba, in the 1930’s he was fighting against dictator Gerardo Machado at Gibara. His father and grandfather: Colonel Cornelio Rojas Escobar and Brig. General Cornelio Rojas Hurtado, had fought prominently in Cuba’s War of Independence from Spain. I would like to clarify and educate, if I may, those who are ignorant of the truth. My grandfather was arrested and murdered by the godfather of modern terrorism, Che Guevara, and another murderer, Fidel Castro, for the only purpose of creating terror among the population. They wanted to eliminate my grandfather because he was a man of great courage, a descendant of Generals who had fought for Cuba’s independence.
    My granddad was a beloved pillar in his community, well known for his public service and philanthropy. He was executed on national television without the opportunity of a trial, therefore violating his human rights (Article #10 & #11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Che Guevara had sent a message to my family informing them that no harm would come to my granddad, but it was a lie, as he had already murdered him by the time my family received it. After his execution, he was buried in a mass grave, Che Guevara didn’t even give us the solace of a funeral or allowed his family to put a cross or flowers atop my murdered granddad’s grave. My family suffered tremendously, it was very traumatic; especially for my mom, Blanca Rojas, who was pregnant when my grandfather was murdered. Imagine seeing your dad being murdered on national television! She immediately went into labor. By then, Che’s goons had surrounded our family house, and didn’t allow my mother to go to a hospital. A midwife had to be called to assist her with the labor. My brother, Silvio Gonzalez, was born on the same bed that belonged to my granddad. What is a person supposed to do? Rejoice for the birth of her son, or weep for the murder of her father? […] My grandfather never killed anyone, and he died like brave men are supposed to die. His last words were: “There’s the revolution, take care of it” and then he ordered the soldiers who were going to murder him: “Get ready, aim, fire.” Only a brave man with military blood and courage would die like this! I am so proud of him, and my ancestors…..

  • Hubert Gieschen

    The death penalty is not the mark of a civilised country.