TIMELINES: April 5, 1953 Rosenberg Sentenced to Death

April 4, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015

Thursday, April 5, 2012


On April 5, 1953, the United States sentences Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to death for espionage—specifically for transmitting secrets of the U.S. atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. In September 1949, the USSR detonates its first A-bomb, in large part because of the high treason committed by the New York-born couple. The news shocks the nation. During the high profile trial, the Rosenbergs all along profess their innocence, but David Greenglass, co-conspirator and younger brother of Ethel Rosenberg, testifies against them. All are committed communists. Greenglass is sentenced to 15 years, and the Rosenbergs on June 19, 1953, become the first U.S. civilians to be executed for spying.


Today, the issue of nuclear weapon proliferation that was spawned in the wake of World War II—particularly the arms race that developed after the Soviet Union broke the nuclear barrier 1949—is no less of an issue for the U.S. administration. The most urgent cases for Western governments are North Korea and Iran. In 2006, North Korea already declared it had nuclear weapons and, and although Iran claims its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes, most Western governments believe otherwise.