“America’s moment of shame”, Anne Sebba on her new timely biography of Ethel Rosenberg
Aga Malik, MA Journalism graduate, University of Roehampton
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were American citizens convicted of spying on behalf of Soviet Union. Found guilty of espionage in 1951 and executed in 1953, the Rosenbergs were the first Americans to be executed for such charges during peacetime, and their trial was one of the most sensational in the history of the United States
In her new biography, writer Anne Sebba presents the case of Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy. While previous publications have either focused on the Rosenbergs as a couple or just Julius, Sebba’s book is the first to concentrate solely on Ethel Rosenberg, showing her as an
independent character. In conversation with writer and journalist Melissa Benn, Sebba explained why focusing on Ethel’s history was particularly important: “I wanted to restore some humanity to a woman who has been denied a voice.”
The biography is a political history, charting the course of post-war communism, the Cold War, US spies, and the surprising roots of, and connections to Trumpism. However, it is also a personal story about a young woman, her unfulfilled dreams, her role as a wife and mother. Sebba explores Ethel’s upbringing, her difficult relationship with her mother, and the communist beliefs born out of American inequalities.
The picture that emerges in Sebba’s biography – far from being a ruthless Russian spy, helping pass on sensitive military secrets - is Ethel as a loyal, faithful wife, and a loving mother. She was a progressive parent, with an interest in child psychology. She attended parenting courses and visited child therapists. Yet, the fear-whipped media of the Cold War period, portrayed Ethel as a cold woman, who loved communism more than her own children.
The case of Rosenbergs has been well-known for decades, yet, the story of Ethel remained untold. Once again, author Anna Sebba has successfully brought life to the untold story of a woman key to a high profile historical events or periods, usually portrayed solely from the men’s perspective. “One of the most heart-breaking things is the life that she might have led”, Sebba says.
You can find out more about Ethel’s unfulfilled dreams in the moving biography Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy, with Sebba’s compelling storytelling, accompanied by archival and private photography.