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Execution of the Rosenbergs, Note from Italy, Abolish the Death Penalty, July 23, 1953

Execution - Rosenberg Italian Translation
New York State Archives, NYSA_B0145-80_B15_001
Document Description
Translation of note from the Mayor of Ferrara, Italy asking to abolish the death penalty, July 23, 1953. Received after the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for treason.
After viewing the picture of the electric chair, what are your thoughts about it?
Why is spying such a serious crime?
What was Mayor Ferrara’s position on the death penalty?
Historical Challenges
Research the Rosenberg Trial. Decide whether you think the Rosenbergs were guilty of espionage (spying). Give reasons to support your answer.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: How many years passed between the Rosenberg’s arrest and their execution?
Science: Why does electricity passing through the body cause death?
English Language Arts: Do you think that there should be a death penalty? Give reasons to support your answer.
Monroe, Judy. Rosenberg Cold War Spy Trial. Enslow Publishers, Incorporated, April 2001. ISBN: 0766014797
Kraft, Betsy. Sensational Trials of the 20th Century. Scholastic, Inc., October 1998. ISBN: 059037205X
Warren, James. Cold War: The American Crusade against the Soviet Union and World Communism, 1945-1990, Vol. 1. HarperCollins Children's Books, October 1996. ISBN: 0688105963

About this Activity


Lesson Topic:


Historical Context
The Rosenberg trial was the most famous trial of the 1950s. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested in July 1950 and put on trial for conspiring to steal American secrets about the manufacture of the atomic bomb and for selling them to the U.S.S.R. (Russia). Many people felt that there was not enough evidence to convict them. Atomic scientists who testified at the trial felt that the information the Rosenbergs allegedly gave to Russia was too incomplete to help the Russians. To this day, there is still disagreement about whether the Rosenbergs were guilty, especially Ethel.

The jury found both Rosenbergs guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage. At their sentencing, Judge Kaufman declared, “…I consider your crimes 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, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea with the resultant casualties exceeding fifty thousand, and who knows how many millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason.”

The Rosenbergs' attorney fought for two years to save their lives. But Julius and Ethel were executed at 8:00 p.m. on June 19, 1953, at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, N.Y. They left behind two young sons.

Essential Question
How do global conflicts impact a society?
Check for Understanding
Summarize the main idea of this document and explain its connection to the Cold War.