The World Responds to the Rosenberg Trial

Los Angeles Examiner photo, ca. June 1953.  Note the partially obscured placard at left referencing Pauling's support for clemency.

Los Angeles Examiner photo, ca. June 1953. Note the partially obscured placard at left referencing Pauling’s support for clemency.

[Part 3 of 3]

The trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg attracted huge attention from an international audience that found itself polarized over the trial and sentencing of two Americans accused of spying for the Soviet Union. The length of the Rosenberg affair, from its beginning as a news item in early March 1951 through the appeals leading up to the couple’s executions on June 19, 1953, allowed for much public discussion and debate about the legality and morality of the hearing and punishments that the Rosenbergs received.

The question of the couple’s guilt played little role in these discussions – especially after their deaths, when broader focus shifted to the lengthy jail sentence issued to Morton Sobell. One did not have to buy in to the innocence of the Rosenbergs or Sobell to believe that the sentences they received were out of line with sentences issued to past conspirators or spies. Klaus Fuchs, for example, who had admitted to sharing secrets stolen from Los Alamos, received only fourteen years in prison, while confessed spy David Greenglass was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Greenglass’ wife Ruth, the likely perpetrator of the crimes for which Ethel Rosenberg was executed, was never tried at all.

Those protesting the Rosenberg decision further argued that it had set an ominous precedent for future espionage cases and, as such, had compromised the United States’ standing on the global stage. The affair likewise emphasized the growing fear of Communism, the troubling grip of McCarthyism, and the excesses associated with the Cold War as played out in the US. When the Rosenbergs were sentenced to death, protests of outrage emerged around the world, including condemnations issued by the Pope and the president of France. Despite the cacophony, important actors within the United States government did not reconsider the sentences, as the prevailing belief was that a show of mercy could be construed as weakness.


The discord that emerged over the sentences led popular scientists such as Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling and Harold Urey to speak out alongside a broad spectrum of other cultural figures, including Jean-Paul Sartre and Frida Kahlo.  Urey, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1934, was a particularly vocal supporter of both the Rosenbergs and Sobell, and he used his status as a major scientific figure to advance his argument. Urey was a physical chemist who, among other achievements, discovered deuterium through isotope separation and ultimately played a major role in the development of the atomic bomb by working on the enrichment of uranium.  He used his expertise as an atomic scientist to specifically argue against the importance of the data that the Rosenbergs had been accused of giving to the Soviets.

But it was not only popular public figures who spoke out; large protests were held outside of U.S. consulates in London, Milan, and Paris and, in February 1953, a New York Times survey reported that the Rosenberg case was the “Top issue in France” at the time. The case resonated in particular with the French due to connections that were drawn between the Rosenbergs and Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew accused of treason in 1894 whose case served as another instance of public opinion and popular press playing a role in a loyalty trial. As might be expected, the Rosenbergs likewise found support with left-leaning intellectuals and associated publications.

Advertisement from the National Guardian, December 25, 1952.

Advertisement from the National Guardian, December 25, 1952.

In August 1951, one such publication, the National Guardian news periodical, published a seven-part series that examined, critically, the ruling handed down at the Rosenberg trial. This was the first paper to do so and the series prompted such a strong response from readers looking to act that it prompted, in October 1951, the formation of the National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case. William Rueben, author of the first article in the series, served as acting chairman of the group, and it was through this committee that Linus Pauling publicly voiced his support for the Rosenbergs and lent his name to the couple’s cause.  Over time, branches of the committee or other pro-Rosenberg action groups emerged all around the world, including Britain, France, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Israel, and parts of Eastern Europe.

A primary tactic of the National Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case was to circulate correspondence written by the Rosenbergs from death row to help garner support for their cause. These letters depicted the Rosenbergs as normal people who were trying to do what was best for their children’s future by securing peace and standing up for their beliefs. The letters dealt very little with the specific details of their case or the charges that were made against them. Instead, the releases emphasized the Rosenbergs’ hopes that their death sentences might be reevaluated in an environment devoid of the fear and hysteria that had surrounded them and their trial from the outset. The committee also released a series of pamphlets that encouraged the public to read about the case and to judge for themselves.

Pauling's letter to President Truman, January 1953.

Pauling’s letter to President Truman, January 1953.

Calling attention to the science of the case was another path of support enlisted for the Rosenbergs.  In November 1952, the Rosenbergs’ attorney, Emanuel Bloch, issued a direct appeal to a number of scientists, including Pauling, requesting their help. In his letter, Bloch asked specifically that the collection of scientists support his claim – as Harold Urey had done – that the stolen information leaked by the Rosenbergs was not crucial to the Soviets’ development of atomic weapons. Bloch explained that it did not matter if scientists believed the Rosenbergs to be guilty or not; what mattered was whether or not the scientific information they had put into Soviet hands was secret and if it was crucial to advancing Moscow’s development of an atomic weapon.

Pauling chose to go a different way in his pro-Rosenberg activism. Rather than focusing on atomic science in his statements, Pauling instead emphasized the Rosenbergs’ and Sobell’s right to due process.

Most notably, in January 1953, Pauling released a statement describing a letter that he had written to President Harry Truman.  Pauling’s letter focused on the President’s right to exercise executive clemency in commuting the Rosenbergs’ death sentences. Pauling believed the death sentence to be unjustifiably severe and suggested that Truman would later regret having not acted if the sentence was ultimately exacted.

Pauling also felt, as did many others, that the sentences relied too heavily on the testimony of David and Ruth Greenglass, who themselves faced comparatively light punishments (or none at all) though they had confessed to committing acts of espionage. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, on the other hand, maintained their innocence and had received the harshest penalty possible.

After the executions of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were carried out, Pauling remained a high profile advocate of legal reconsideration of Morton Sobell’s sentence, and he continued to support the work of the National Rosenberg-Sobell Committee with this goal in mind.  Many years later, in the 1970s, Pauling once again lent his name to the Rosenbergs’ cause, speaking out in favor of the National Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg Case.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on Trial


[Part 2 of 3]

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s conspiracy trial, presided over by Judge Irving Kaufman, began on March 6, 1951.  Representing the United States was attorney Irving Saypol, well-known for his recent successful prosecution of a government official accused of being a Soviet spy and convicted of perjuring himself before the House Un-American Activities Committee.  After the Rosenbergs were ultimately convicted, Saypol was heralded by Time magazine as “the nation’s Number One legal hunter of top Communists.”

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s attorney, Emanuel (Manny) Bloch, was known for defending clients harboring left-wing or communist sympathies.  However, the Rosenbergs were not the only defendants being placed on trial – Morton Sobell, who was represented by Harold Phillips, was also among the accused.

Sobell had been recruited by Julius Rosenberg in the summer of 1944 and was accused of stealing information while working as an engineer at General Electric.  Sobell was advised by his attorney to say as little as possible throughout the trial in order to avoid implicating himself in the Rosenbergs’ activities, and indeed he never took the stand. Later outrage against the treatment of the Rosenbergs and their subsequent sentencing also included protestation of the judicial treatment of Sobell as well.


Although the trial was an item of intense media interest throughout its duration, the closing statements and summations of the case were especially interesting as they served as one final opportunity for the attorneys involved to provide their perspectives to the jury. Emanuel Bloch, the Rosenberg’s lawyer, focused on the Greenglasses as villains who had framed Ethel Rosenberg and broken family bonds by testifying against her. Bloch alleged that the Greenglasses had fooled the FBI and allowed Ruth Greenglass to get off scot free, while Ethel suffered for a crime that she did not commit.

In his summary argument, Bloch did not draw attention to the fact that the case against Ethel was far weaker than that made against Julius, as doing so would strengthen the validity of the conspiracy charge issued against the couple. Instead, Bloch’s primary tactic was to appeal to the emotions of the jurors.

The prosecution, on the other hand, argued that it was not the government’s fault that their key witnesses, the Greenglasses, did not have an unimpeachable reputation.  In his statement, Irving Saypol, the government’s lead attorney, emphasized that the jury also had ample and damning material evidence on which to rely.  He likewise reminded the jury that, although communism was not on trial, it was communism and a devotion to the Soviet Union which brought the Rosenbergs and Morton Sobell to commit the crime of which they were accused.

Heading into their deliberations, all twelve jurors were leaning towards convicting Julius, with one juror arguing against convicting Ethel. This remained a sticking point throughout discussions that night and into the next morning, but at 11:00 A.M. the group reached complete unanimity.  On March 29, 1951, the jury delivered a guilty verdict against Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

The sentencing that ensued also provided a unique look at how the trial was received in America.  At the sentencing hearing held the next week, on April 5, both Bloch and Phillips did what they could to try and lessen the severity of the punishments being considered.  Bloch in particular argued that the Rosenbergs did not wish to change the fate of the United States with their actions during World War II, nor did they even have the power to do so.  Rather, they were aiding an ally of the United States at the time of the alleged crime. Bloch further argued that, had they been tried at the time of their alleged crimes – circa 1944 – the levels of tension and fear surrounding the US’s relationship with the Soviet Union would have been far lower, and the courts would have been much more likely to show leniency.

Bloch also read a statement from the Yale Law Journal which explained that the information given to the Soviets through the atom spies was not as crucial to the development of Soviet nuclear weapons as was commonly believed.  The defense attorney concluded that it would be unfair to hand down death sentences to the Rosenbergs, as other notorious traitors including Iva Toguri D’Aquino – more commonly known as “Tokyo Rose” – and Mildred Gillars, aka “Axis Sally,” had received lesser sentences for their treasonous activities during the war. Many of these issues broached by Bloch at the sentencing hearing continue to be points of contention for scholars and commentators when they consider the Rosenberg trial today.


A statement issued by Judge Irving Kaufman prior to sentencing made it pretty clear that the court was not in a forgiving mood. In his remarks, Kaufman assigned partial blame for the onset of the Korean War to the Rosenbergs, as he believed that the information they leaked had led the Soviets to develop an atomic bomb sooner than expected, thus enabling Moscow to encourage Communist aggression in Korea.  In the judge’s estimation, this rendered the Rosenbergs’ crime “worse than murder.”

Kaufman also emphasized the role that Ethel had played in the ordeal by encouraging and assisting her husband, thus making her a “full-fledged partner” in the espionage, and for this reason he believed that she should not be shown any mercy.

Without question, Judge Kaufman’s statement was imbued with the sentiments that attorney Bloch had feared would cloud the decisions made at the trial – namely, the crisis mentality that so often defined the Cold War era. As Kaufman put it

The issue of punishment in this case is presented in a unique framework of history.  It is so difficult to make people realize that this country is engaged in a life or death struggle with a completely different system.  This struggle is not only manifested externally between these two forces but this case indicates quite clearly that it also involved the employment by the enemy of secret as well as overt outspoken forces among our own people.

After reading his statement, Kaufman sentenced the Rosenbergs to death, while Morton Sobell was sentenced to 30 years in jail.  The death sentence was to be carried out during the week of May 21, 1951, less than two months after the hearing had taken place. In this, the judge emphasized his desire to expedite the execution process, a continuing theme throughout the Rosenbergs’ later appeals.

Interestingly, the sentences issued by Judge Kaufman were not in accordance with Justice Department guidelines and went beyond what the government thought was advisable given the situation. Just as in the deliberations of the jury, the main sticking point was Ethel’s fate and the question of whether or not she should receive the death penalty alongside her husband.  And although Kaufman recommended that Morton Sobell be forced to complete his full thirty-year sentence without parole, he was in fact released in 1969 after seventeen years and nine months in prison.

On April 6, the day after the Rosenbergs hearing, David Greenglass was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, a judgement that, according to Kaufman, was “neither a light sentence nor a heavy sentence, but just a sentence.” Though this was also the sentence that prosecution attorney Saypol had suggested, it ran counter to assumptions made by Greenglass and his lawyer, O. John Rogge, who understood there to be an informal agreement with the government, wherein Greenglass would get off lightly – no more than five years imprisonment – due to his cooperation.  However, the death sentences handed down to Greenglass’ sister and brother-in-law rendered his own slap on the wrist an unlikely presumption.  Greenglass would eventually be released in 1960 after spending nine and a half years in prison.


Despite Kaufman’s directive that the Rosenbergs be put to death promptly, the couple managed to appeal their verdicts over the next two years.  However, their final appeal was thrown out on June 19, 1953, and the Rosenbergs were executed that day after a stay of execution was voided.  Although their attorneys had asked that the executions be delayed until a later date due to the start of the Jewish Sabbath, their executions were actually moved up from the standard time of midnight in order to complete them before the Sabbath began. Their date of death happened also to coincide with their fourteenth wedding anniversary.

Today, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg remain the only Americans ever put to death in peacetime for espionage and the only two American civilians executed for espionage-related crimes committed during the Cold War.

The Rosenberg Trial: Setting the Stage

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, December 1950.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, December 1950.

[Ed. Note: September 28, 2015 will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg’s birth. Over the next three weeks, the Pauling Blog will explore the famous Rosenberg trial and discuss Linus Pauling’s involvement in the public debate that it engendered.]

The trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was a source of very vocal public debate in the U.S. and around the world in the early 1950s.  Charged with conspiracy to commit espionage and accused of stealing atomic bomb secrets from the Manhattan Project to give to the Soviet Union, the Rosenbergs’ trial highlighted widespread American fears that the Soviets were quickly catching with the United States in terms of technological prowess, and that these gains might be attributed, at least in part, to the assistance of unloyal Americans.

The trial also bore many of the hallmarks of a sensational media event. It included defendants who maintained their innocence no matter how hard they were pressed, the public airing of a family feud, and potential court appearances from celebrated atomic scientists and a “Red Spy Queen.”

The Rosenberg trial might now be viewed as both a piece of a larger quest to uncover Soviet spies in the wake of World War II and an outgrowth of the fear of communism that so characterized the Cold War.  What is certain is that event sparked outrage nationally and internationally, inciting involvement and protest from a wide range of actors, including Linus Pauling.


David Greenglass.

The Rosenberg trial was actually just one high-profile event among several others that came about as the U.S. security apparatus sought to identify “atom spies” in its midst.  One such individual, Klaus Fuchs, a German-born British physicist, was convicted on March 1, 1950 after willingly granting interviews detailing his involvement.  His testimony prompted a larger investigation into potential spies at the Manhattan Project, as his statements suggested that someone else in the project had been supplying information to the Soviets before Fuchs did around 1942.

Fuchs’ testimony led to the discovery of Harry Gold, a key witness in the trials against David Greenglass, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  Gold was identified as the courier for information supplied by Greenglass at Los Alamos, which he then passed on to Julius Rosenberg.  Gold served fifteen years in prison for espionage, while Fuchs was charged with four counts of supplying secrets to an allied country during war.  (Importantly, this distinction of the Soviet Union as an ally was made in England, where he was tried.)  Fuchs was ultimately sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment, of which he ended up serving nine years and four months.

Greenglass, a machinist working on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos and the brother of Ethel Rosenberg, was arrested on June 15, 1950.  His arrest prompted Julius’ initial interview and the surveillance that followed.  Julius was arrested on July 17, 1950 after being interviewed on June 16.  Ethel was arrested one month later, based largely on new testimony given by her brother on August 11.  In this August statement, Greenglass specifically pointed out that his sister, Ethel, had typed the notes that were delivered to the Soviets, and not his wife Ruth, who had been identified in Greenglass’ original interview.

Greenglass and his testimony served as the foundation for the prosecution’s case.  It was Greenglass’ claim that Ethel had typed the notes that he made from knowledge gleaned at Los Alamos.  These notes were then given to Anatoly A. Yakovlev, the Soviet vice consul in New York City, through the courier Harry Gold.  Many years later however, Greenglass confided to author Sam Roberts – who was researching his book The Brother – that indeed it was most likely Ruth who had done the typing and not Ethel. In 1950 Greenglass had implicated Ethel to spare the life of the mother of his children, choosing to sacrifice his sister in the process.

Greenglass’ decision to change his testimony and accuse his sister Ethel rather than his wife Ruth came as a welcome turn of events for government prosecutors, who believed that they could use Ethel as a lever against Julius and force him to give up more names by charging her equally with him.  However, this tactic did not work as planned, as Ethel committed to stand by her husband and refused to incriminate herself or anyone else.  During their sessions in court, both of the Rosenbergs upheld their Fifth Amendment rights and refused to divulge other names or admit to Communist Party ties in the past.

Greenglass's sketch of an implosion-type nuclear weapon, ca. September 1945.

Greenglass’s sketch of an implosion-type nuclear weapon, ca. September 1945.

The specific information that was alleged to have been relayed to the Soviets, per Greenglass’ testimony, can be divided into four categories:

  1. General information about the layout of the labs at Los Alamos and potential recruits working on the Manhattan Project.
  2. Description and a sketch of the lens molds that were used in experiments of the implosion-type bomb.
  3. Description of what Greenglass referred to as a naval-type bomb, which was the type dropped on Nagasaki.
  4. Description and a sketch of an experiment to determine a reduction in the amount of plutonium or uranium needed to construct an atomic bomb.

The evaluations required in arguing and adjudicating the Rosenberg trial were complicated by a wide variety of factors; even discussing certain allegations in an open court proved problematic, as much of the information under review was classified.

Most importantly, because the Rosenbergs had been charged with conspiracy, there did not need to be any concrete evidence against them to arrive at a verdict of guilty. And indeed, over the course of the trial, no evidence was ever produced that showed that the couple had successfully passed information on to the Soviets.

While treason is one of the hardest crimes to prosecute, conspiracy is among the easiest.  Hearsay testimony can be admissible in a conspiracy case, and once a conspiracy has been proven to exist, all members involved can be held accountable for the actions of the others regardless of their knowledge of others’ acts. In addition, the success of a conspiracy does not have to be proven, only that those involved conspired towards an agreed upon goal.

The lack of concrete evidence presented in the trial combined with the media frenzy surrounding the proceedings to incite strong feelings among the public. As the trial moved forward and sentences were issues, many would come to believe that the punishments handed down were excessive, regardless of innocence or guilt, and that the process used to arrive at a verdict was deeply flawed.

Travels in the Soviet Union: Some Background

[Part 1 of 3]

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling traveled to the Soviet Union six times between the years 1957 and 1985. For the most part, Linus Pauling’s relationship with the Soviet Union was steeped in science, but he did speak on peace issues and the need to cease nuclear tests during his travels through the USSR.

Unlike many of his peers, Pauling did not see the Soviet Union purely as a threat, but chose to view it instead as a potential, and vital, partner in peace. Likewise, most of the Soviet scientists with whom he interacted were viewed as having pure motives for advancing their research agendas. Unfortunately, Pauling’s cordial relations with contacts in the Soviet Union caused others in the United States to be suspicious of his own true motives and political affiliation during the decades of the Cold War.

For those inclined to criticize Pauling, one group that raised eyebrows was the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship, of which Pauling was a member. For his part, Pauling affiliated with the group out of hope that it might live up to its name. Specifically, in a letter to the Council, Pauling expressed his desire that the council assist in establishing scientific links, particularly with respect to chemistry and medicine, between the Soviet Union and the United States. He believed that, above all else, the two countries needed to cooperate and ultimately desired to see an exchange of professors and students between the USSR and the US in near the future.

Pauling was also invited to attend the meetings of the Russian-American Club of Los Angeles. At one such gathering, in November 1945, he delivered a speech encouraging that the two countries work together in order to attain peace between all nations. Pauling likewise participated in events sponsored by Progressive Citizens of America, a group considered by some to be communist.

Generally speaking, Pauling was not one to take fright at the specter of communism. Whether or not this meant that he agreed with communist ideals was a matter of continuing debate during his life. A reasonable assessment might be that he had a very tolerant outlook of it all, truly believing that communism was not anything to be worried about; that it was just a set of ideals holding sway in another country and that those views should not affect scientific or diplomatic relationships between the United States and the Soviet Union. He was not naïve though. He was well aware that Moscow was not an innocent player on the world stage. Indeed, he believed them to be recalcitrant, but thought if the United States were to take the first step towards initiating peace, only good could result.

At home, these ideals only served to grow others’ suspicion of him. The start of the 1950s brought about the first wave of false claims being levied against Pauling and the sharpening of the FBI’s keen eye upon his activities. Newspapers would declare that he participated in communist activities and in 1955 declarations were made against him, especially by Louis F. Budenz, that he was a concealed communist. This charge in particular bolstered his FBI file, causing him to be watched and investigated for connection to any activities that may remotely have been related to communism.

On June 20, 1952, Linus Pauling officially denied Communist Party membership. Despite this denial, the FBI still maintained a close record of his associations, investigating and attempting to interpret his activities. Despite this, the Bureau had trouble finding current sources that would identify Pauling as a past or present Communist Party member. Effectively, the investigators were operating off of the testimony given by Budenz – a former Communist Party functionary – that Pauling was a concealed communist. Budenz also claimed that Pauling made monetary contributions to the party even though he was not openly a member. Pauling denied these allegations, stating that he was not a member and not a contributor, but was an advocate for the inclusion of Soviet scientists in international conferences and symposia. In the climate of the time, even this level of support was grounds for reprimand.

Another action that contributed to suspicion of Pauling was his appeal to the White House for the commutation of the death sentences handed down to Julius and Ethel Rosenburg. Pauling was keenly interested in the Rosenberg case and read widely of the details underlying their sentencing. His actions on their behalf were based in his analysis of these details, an analysis that led him to conclude that the death sentences were extreme and unjust. But no matter the reason, these sorts of actions made it difficult for him to convince others of his trustworthiness and his lack of association with the Communist Party. When he did give anti-communist statements in his speeches and talks, they were branded as being too weak.

The pressures on Pauling built up to the point where traveling overseas became extremely difficult. He was famously forced to issue an oath that he was not a communist in order to receive a limited passport to travel to England in 1952. Institutions also began to reject his affiliation with them, including the University of Hawaii, which rescinded its invitation to Pauling that he speak at a building dedication in 1951.

Eventually the climate of fear that permeated the Red Scare began to fade and it grew easier for Pauling to travel and to issue opinions on the Soviet Union that strayed from mainstream orthodoxy. Finally, in 1957, he made his first trip to the USSR where he was at last able to meet with many of the scientists whose right to participate in international meetings he had advocated over the much of the previous decade.

Linus Pauling, Morton Sobell and the Rosenbergs

A New York Times article published this morning and subsequently spread across the wire services, reveals compelling new information concerning the activities of accused Soviet spies Morton Sobell, Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg.  Here are the lede grafs from the Times piece:

In 1951, Morton Sobell was tried and convicted with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on espionage charges. He served more than 18 years in Alcatraz and other federal prisons, traveled to Cuba and Vietnam after his release in 1969 and became an advocate for progressive causes.

Through it all, he maintained his innocence.

But on Thursday, Mr. Sobell, 91, dramatically reversed himself, shedding new light on a case that still fans smoldering political passions. In an interview, he admitted for the first time that he had been a Soviet spy.

And he implicated his fellow defendant Julius Rosenberg, in a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb.

In the interview with The New York Times, Mr. Sobell, who lives in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, was asked whether, as an electrical engineer, he turned over military secrets to the Soviets during World War II when they were considered allies of the United States and were bearing the brunt of Nazi brutality. Was he, in fact, a spy?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, call it that,” he replied. “I never thought of it as that in those terms.”

Mr. Sobell also concurred in what has become a consensus among historians: that Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed with her husband, was aware of Julius’s espionage, but did not actively participate. “She knew what he was doing,” he said, “but what was she guilty of? Of being Julius’s wife.”

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling were keenly interested in the Rosenberg and Sobell cases, as evidenced by the two related boxes of materials held in the Pauling Biographical section, subseries two. (Boxes 2.044 and 2.045) Though not intensively involved in either the Committee to Secure Justice in the Rosenberg Case or Committee to Secure Justice for Morton Sobell, Linus Pauling did lend his name as a “letterhead sponsor” to both groups.

Pauling also spoke out in support of Sobell’s and the Rosenbergs’ right to due process — a position for which he was rather thoroughly castigated during his infamous “Meet the Press” appearance of May 11, 1958.

The Pauling Papers contain at least two short items written by Linus Pauling which articulate his position toward the Rosenberg and Sobell cases.

The handwritten note included below was scrawled on the second page of a letter that had been sent to Pauling by Sobell’s wife, Helen, in September 1953.  Pauling’s note was officially submitted to a national Sobell conference held on October 10, 1953, at which Harold Urey, among many others, spoke.

Handwritten statement by Linus Pauling, September 1953

Handwritten statement by Linus Pauling, September 1953

The second document, “Statement by Prof. Linus Pauling,” (catalogue i.d. 1953a.2) was written in January 1953 in support of a coordinated effort to secure clemency for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who had been issued a death sentence nearly two years prior.  (That’s Ava Helen Pauling‘s handwriting on the bottom)

As it turned out, the efforts of Pauling and his like-minded colleagues proved unsuccessful —  on June 19, 1953, the Rosenbergs were executed, having been found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage.