This book will make you feel ill. I don’t know what to think about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The truth of that particular trial has been so obscured that it’s not clear what really happened there. It’s clear to their sons that they loved their parents and missed them and being denied contact with them for years damaged them in many ways that took them years to overcome.
Were the Rosenbergs really spies? Were they innocent as they claimed until they died — and their sons continue to claim in this book? It’s easy to see how they might have been accused falsely when you see the perspective of these two boys. There was a great deal of paranoia in the United States at the time and many secrets were sold to hostile governments.
What this book gives is a perspective that I didn’t expect to get. This is the account of two young boys who lost their parents over night and were passed around to foster parents for years while they waited for their parents to be sentenced to death.
If the Rosenbergs were traitors then they deserved the sentence they got. But their sons, Robert and Michael didn’t deserve to be raised by other people. They didn’t deserve to have children told not to play with them because their parents were afraid of associating with communists. They didn’t deserve to go to their parents trial and hear them sentenced to death. They didn’t deserve to read about it in the newspaper. They didn’t deserve the calumny they had to live with for years as children.
The first half of the book is written by Robert and it has short accounts of his experiences followed by copies of letters that his parents wrote back and forth to themselves while in prison. Many of the letters are repetitive and add little to the book, in fact they are probably only there because of what they meant to Robert. Quotes would have worked better.
However, the second half of the book is written by Michael and is really his autobiography of growing up after his parents were killed. It’s fascinating to see how his life was affected, even into adulthood, by his parents and their trial and sentencing.
Both brothers tell a story that is compelling and powerful. You should read this book, if you can find it. Unfortunately it is no longer in print but it’s worth hunting it down.