July 2010, Week 3


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Thu, 15 Jul 2010 23:25:36 -0400
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The Children of Russian Agents

Robert Meeropol

Rosenberg Fund for Children

July 12, 2010


I spent the end of June and early July on a speaking tour in
Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima in Japan, and Taipei, Hsin-chu
and Tai-chung in Taiwan as part of an anti-death penalty
campaign. Thus, I was half a world away when the FBI
arrested ten people and accused them of being agents of the
Russian Federation. It was hard to figure out what was going
on from Japan and Taiwan, but I soon learned the 10 people
included four couples who collectively had seven children,
and that one of the children was three years old, the exact
age I was when my parents were arrested.

The media wanted to know my reaction to these events, but my
rigorous schedule, limited phone and email accessibility and
a twelve hour time difference forced me to remain silent
until today. This was, to a degree, fortuitous because
whatever I might have said last week or even two days ago
would not fit today's circumstances.

At first it appeared that these children's world was being
turned upside down; they were separated from their parents
and faced enduring the spectacle of their parents' trial and
long-term imprisonment. Now it looks like those who are not
yet adults may be uprooted and shipped back to Russia with
their parents. We don't know if these children can speak a
word of Russian, and we don't know what kind of life they,
and their parents, face in Russia. Since we have so little
information we can only speculate. Still I can't help
imagining being a teenager growing up in an American suburb,
with immigrant parents, who - presumably - had told you a
cover story, and then discovering that your parents are not
who they said they were; and next, summarily being deported
to a different country.

I know of at least one teenage RFC beneficiary who suddenly
discovered his parents' secret life when his father was
arrested. He has never gotten over what he considered an
enormous betrayal. Is this the way some of the older
children will feel? Clearly, how much the children knew, and
how deeply connected they were to their parents lives would
make a tremendous difference. Those who were blindsided and
felt they and their parents were living a lie could be
devastated regardless of how this case is ultimately
disposed of. While the children would probably suffer more
if they faced long-term separation from their parents, I
doubt any of them will have an easy time even if they are
reunited and set up in relatively comfortable lives in

While I was focused on the children initially, I can't help
but marvel at the political gulf that separates my parents'
case from the current one. The way the government reacted to
the present situation stands in stark contrast to how they
treated my parents.

At the height of the Cold War, the government inflated the
vague charge of Conspiracy to Commit Espionage levied
against my parents into the Theft of the Secret of the
Atomic Bomb. We know now that my father and a group of
technically oriented young adults supplied our ally, the
Soviet Union, with military-industrial information to help
them defeat the Nazis. But the government transformed this
activity into giving our most deadly weapon to our greatest
enemy and causing the Korean War.

Today the United States is engaged in delicate negotiations
with Russia, and is courting their cooperation. Thus,
initial claims that these people were part of a dangerous
network of "sleeper" cells have been re-characterized as a
poorly conceived plan of a relatively trivial nature that
produced little, if any, information of value for Russia.
General Leslie Groves, the head of security for the Atom
Bomb project, wrote years after parents' execution: "I think
the data that went out in the case of the Rosenbergs was of
minor value." Perhaps, that is how my parents' case would be
presented if it occurred today.

[Robert Meeropol is the younger son of Ethel and Julius
Rosenberg. In 1953, when he was six years old, the United
States Government executed his parents for "conspiring to
steal the secret of the atomic bomb." Since 1990 he has
served as the Executive Director of the Rosenberg Fund for
Children (www.rfc.org), a non-profit, public foundation that
provides for the educational and emotional needs of both
targeted activist youth and children in this country whose
parents have been harassed, injured, jailed, lost jobs or
died in the course of their progressive activities.]


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