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An Execution in the Family: One Son's Journey [Hardcover]

Robert Meeropol
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 19 2003
Robert Meeropol was six years old in 1953 when his parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were executed after being convicted of Conspiracy to Commit Espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union at the height of the McCarthy era. Just before they were put to death, the Rosenbergs wrote a letter to their two sons saying they were “secure in the knowledge that others would carry on after them.”

The Rosenbergs left their young sons a legacy that was both a burden and a gift, as well as an aching emotional void. Robert Meeropol grew up torn between the need to pursue his political values and his intense fear that personal exposure might subject him and his family to violence or even death.

An Execution in the Family details Robert Meeropol’s political odyssey from being the Rosenbergs’son to becoming a prominent political activist in his own right, and it chronicles a very personal journey of self-discovery. This is the story of how he tried to balance a strong desire to live a normal life and raise a family with a growing need to create something useful out of his childhood nightmare. It is also a poignant account of how, at age forty-three, he finally found a way to honor his parents and be true to himself.

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From Amazon

Robert Meeropol was six years old when his parents Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for conspiracy to commit espionage in 1953. Though this was certainly a significant event in his life, it was not the single defining moment as one might assume. It is also not the central theme of his memoir, though it does play a strong supporting role. In fact, Meeropol has only vague memories of his parents. What he does remember are years spent in orphanages and foster homes before he and his brother were adopted by Abel and Anne Meeropol. While the event did cause some childhood trauma, he reflects that "I can't help feeling that I gained as much as I lost during those years." An Execution in the Family is hardly the work of a bitter man fuming at the establishment for the loss of his parents. Rather, it is the story of a thoughtful person and his struggle to find his purpose in the world. Reared on left-wing politics and social activism, he knew he wanted to help others, but he was unsure of the route to take, and his writes of his confusion and troubles with engaging frankness.

Part of his restlessness stemmed from his inability to come to terms with his past. Up into his early twenties, he never revealed who his biological parents were, even to his closest friends. Ultimately, however, events forced him to acknowledge his lineage and confront the facts, plunging him into his own in-depth investigation of the Rosenbergs' case. Eventually he was able to prove publicly that his parents' trial had been unfair and that critical testimony against them had been tainted. He also had to acknowledge that his parents' names would never be completely cleared. The process proved rewarding in many ways, notably because it served to reveal a greater purpose for him: In 1990 Meeropol started the Rosenberg Fund for Children to support children of political prisoners, beginning his life as an activist and offering him an opportunity to honor both his biological and adoptive parents in the process. "My parents’ resistance inspired a movement. That inspiration survived their execution," he writes. With this memoir, Meeropol hopes in turn to inspire others. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs. His story, which is a story of postwar America, is compelling. He chronicles with vision and clarity his personal and political journeys and the lengthy battle to uncover the truth about his parents' case. "For as long as I could remember we'd suffered whatever was said about our parents in silence. We had never had the opportunity or the emotional freedom to give voice to our opinions about our parents' trial and execution." When Meeropol and his brother did, in the 1970s, the floodgates opened-and over the years, the case's full horror was exposed. The Rosenbergs were charged with "conspiracy to commit espionage," not with selling atomic secrets. According to Meeropol, the person who confessed to that crime, Ethel's brother, David Greenglass, was pressured to reveal co-conspirators in exchange for his wife's freedom. And he succumbed-mouthing the words an FBI agent later testified he supplied. New documents reveal the Rosenbergs were executed for a crime the government knew they did not commit. Their sons have battled valiantly to clear their names and to lead productive lives, and Meeropol's captivating memoir deserves a spot on American history bookshelves.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
I WAS SIX YEARS, ONE MONTH, AND ONE DAY OLD ON MONDAY, JUNE 15, 1953-four days before my parents' execution. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Rachel
Format:Hardcover
This book is so much more than just a recounting of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. It is their son Robert's life journey which is directly a result of his parent's execution. Robert mentions that moral arguments are problematic because they are not necessarily rational. He is right, but that being said, all of his arguments against the "establishment" being wrong have no more credibility than his own opinion of being right. Robert's loyalty to the left and his concern with fighting the "them," who executed his parents almost 50 years ago, has blinded him. We see how the movement is like leaf that just blows in the wind according to the political current. He is so concerned with remaining on the "left," his parent's party, that his own ideologies evolve with the movement. He moves from communism to SDS, to progressive, etc. Robert has no absolute standard for right and wrong. Who can blame him? In a Godless world, there is no absolute standard.
I can't even begin to articulate how this story saddened me though. It saddens me to admit that I had never heard of the Rosenbergs, although I went to an Ivy League University and was familiar with the McCarthy era. I learned about the Rosenbergs from an HBO documentary by Michael's daughter. I also hate to admit that most of my peers have never heard of the Rosenbergs. I was so upset to learn about of all of the Jews who were involved in the execution of Ethel and Julius. Although Robert's recount is very pragmatic, there is such an underlying pain and sadness between the words. What saddened me most is the torn Rosenberg/Greenglass family. As a Jew myself, I can honestly say, their pain is my pain. Family not taking them in; it is not Jewish! Where were those Jewish values and ethics?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and Deeply Moving Oct. 11 2003
Format:Hardcover
Robert Meeropol's memoir of life as one of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's two sons, with its sardonic title echoing James Agee's novel "A Death in the Family" (although strictly speaking it's incomplete, since Meeropol had *two* executions in his family), is a powerful and moving account of growing up under the shadow of the legalized murder of both his parents by the United States government.
Having a parent in prison is not easy for a child. Having a parent executed is even worse. But having had *both* your parents executed for crimes they almost certainly did not commit, and having them become for a time the most vilified couple in America is a huge psychic burden, one which Meeropol repressed for a long time. In many ways, as he points out, he was fortunate -- he was adopted by a loving couple who raised both him and his older brother well. He received a good education, married and began a career and a family. But underneath it all was a secret he told to almost no one until he was in late twenties: that his parents had been sent to the electric chair for conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union.
Not all of Meeropol's book is about the Rosenberg Case. He has had an interesting life on his own merits, and much of it makes for engrossing reading. If I have any reservations at all about the book it's because, maybe due to his being dyslexic, possibly because he's worked with children for many years, Meeropol's prose style is a little simplistic. To put it mildly. He uses commas so sparingly that I began to suspect he'd read way too much Hemingway. An average paragraph will read: CLAUSE COMMA CLAUSE FULLSTOP CLAUSE COMMA CLAUSE FULL STOP CLAUSE COMMA CLAUSE FULL STOP.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Aug. 30 2003
By Sammy
Format:Hardcover
I never knew that the Rosenberg children were basically forced to assume a different last name so they wouldn't be persecuted by children and adults throughout their lives. Instead of understandably seeking revenge against those that did wrong by his parents (and our democracy), Robert Meeropol has adopted a philosophy of the highest order, to create something constructive out of something terribly heinous. His argument against the death penalty in Chapter 9 is so eloquently convincing that it should be read by every citizen of the free world. I don't believe this to be an understatement. If you read this review, don't just sit there... get the book and read that chapter!!
The author also describes his support of Mumia Abu Jamal and how the Fraternal Order of Police stance for execution is more vengeance than truth-oriented. It's a controversial stance, and he doesn't belabor the point.
On top of it all, he even suggests that he isn't quite convinced that his father wasn't guilty of something, just that there was no evidence to support the government's case against him, and even moreso with his mother. It seems that had the Rosenbergs admitted some guilt, their lives would be spared, Because they refused to lie, they chose death instead. Turns out they were brave, and their executioners cowards. Not a great moment for the USA.
Written simply and with a voice free of self righteousness, Meeropol suggests the proper way our species should think, without moral relativism, and without the hysterics of today's political talking heads. This book makes places like Fox News obsolete.
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