Ethel Rosenberg
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At 9.15 p.m. one hour after Ethel's electrocution, she was lying in her coffin. She was clad in a white
sheet and her head was covered with a bit of silk to hide the "hot spot".
Ethel tried to assure her children that the electric chair is painless. In reality Ethel found the concept of
electrocution repulsive and would have preferred to be shot.
Once the current was turned on she
stiffened, and was lifted off the oak
seat. Her hands opened and closed
and then she slowly sank down into
the chair. Being electrocuted
according to the procedure, Ethel
was unstrapped and her dress pulled
down to place a stethoscope on her
chest. She was still alive! After
consultations between the warden
and the executioner, Ethel was
restrapped and the current was
applied two more times while smoke
rose from her head. Finally Ethel
was dead at 8.16 p.m. after 4
minutes and 30 seconds.
Julius Rosenberg and his wife Ethel, both members of
the American Communist Party were convicted spies.
They were accused of providing the Soviet Union
with information about the atomic bomb.
Their trial took place in the environment of the Korean
War, with Senator Joseph McCarthy at the peak of his
anti-Communism "Red Scare" campaign and at a time
when confict with the Soviet Union was considered
almost inevitable. Therefore the first detonation of a
soviet atomic bomb was a chock for America.
Ethel Rosenberg is the only woman in the U.S. who
has been elecrocuted for another crime than murder.
The judge considered their crime - handling over the
atomic bomb to Stalin - worse than murder. President
Eisenhower felt the same way, and granted no
clemency.
However they were promised their death sentence
would be commuted should they be willing to tell all.
The execution was scheduled for June 19, 1953. Ethel
was then 35 years old.
When Julius was dead and Ethel was led from her cell
the rabbi asked her to say something to save herself.
Her response - and final words were:
"I have nothing to say. I am ready".
Ethel entered the death chamber quietly wearing a
dark green print dress with white polka dots. She
wore cloth slippers on her bare feet. The top of her
head had been shaved to ensure for better contact
with the sponge inside the electrocution's helmet.
Ethel sat down in the chair unassisted, her composure
solid and defiant. She looked straight ahead but closed
her eyes when the leather mask was pulled over her
face.