Ethel Rosenberg’s petition for pardon (1953)

In March 1951, a New York jury found Julius and Ethel Rosenberg guilty of espionage against the United States. They were convicted and sentenced to death in the electric chair. The public response to their sentence was divided. Many Americans, horrified at the passing of nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, wanted the Rosenbergs executed – but many campaigned for clemency. There were also significant doubts about the guilty finding, particularly in the case of Ethel Rosenberg. In January 1953, she petitioned US President Dwight D. Eisenhower for a pardon or commutation of sentence, maintaining her innocence. The following extract comes from this petition. Eisenhower ignored her request and the Rosenbergs were electrocuted in Sing Sing Prison, New York five months later.

“Your petitioner, Ethel Rosenberg… hereby respectfully prays your Excellency to grant her pardon or commutation of sentence for reasons set forth…

Petitioner states that the facts in her case are as follows: I pleaded not guilty to the crime charged against me. I have proclaimed my innocence at all times and defended it at my trial by producing evidence on my behalf and testimony in my own defence. I am guilty of no wrong-doing and I assert here before you, Mr President, and before God and all men, that the whole truth is that I am innocent…

My husband, Julius Rosenberg and myself, were convicted, together with Morton Sobell, a co-defendant, of having conspired with Anatoli Yakovlev, a Soviet national, Harry Gold and David and Ruth Greenglass during World War II, and for some years thereafter, to transmit information ‘relating to the national defence’ to the Soviet Union, with the intention to advantage that nation…

The case burst upon the public in 1950, when relations between the Soviet Union and the United States, strained over the course of the preceding years, had reached a critical stage. The arrests compounded the shock to the national mind which had been publicly informed the year before that the Soviet Union had mastered the ‘know-how’ of the atomic bomb.

In this supercharged atmosphere, the mere accusation was enough to arouse the deepest passions and hostility against us…

Petitioner respectfully prays that she be granted a pardon or commutation of sentence… The primary reason I assert, and my husband with me, is that we are innocent… We are innocent, as we have proclaimed and maintained from the time of our arrest. This is the whole truth…

We are not martyrs or heroes, nor do we wish to be. We do not want to die. We are young, too young, for death. We long to see our two young sons, Michael and Robert, grown to full manhood. We desire with every fibre to be restored sometime to our children and to resume the harmonious family life we enjoyed before the nightmare of our arrests and convictions. We desire some day to be restored to society, where we can contribute our energies toward building a world where all shall have peace, bread and roses…”

Ethel Rosenberg
‘Death House’
Sing Sing Prison
New York
January 9th 1953

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s mugshots, taken after their arrest