Born in 1947 (in New York City) as Robert Rosenberg, Robert Meeropol is the younger of the two biological sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who in 1953 were executed for conspiracy to commit espionage. After Robert’s parents were arrested and incarcerated (at New York’s Sing Sing Prison) in the summer of 1950, the boy and his older brother Michael lived for three months with their maternal grandmother, Tessie Greenglass, who then sent the pair to live at Hebrew Children’s Home in the Bronx. Several months later, their paternal grandmother, Sophie Rosenberg, took the boys into her custody for about a year. She then sent them to New Jersey to live with the Bach family, friends of the Rosenbergs. Eventually the boys were adopted by writer/songwriter Abel Meeropol and his wife Anne, both of whom were die-hard Stalinists who – unlike most American Communists – were unaffected by the 1956 revelations of the late Joseph Stalin‘s monstrous crimes. Upon their adoption, Robert and Michael took the Meeropol surname. Robert, for his part, never revealed who his biological parents were, even to his closest friends, until his early twenties.
By his own account, Robert Meeropol “had never felt so isolated” as he did during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when America teetered on the brink of nuclear war. His feelings of isolation were due to the fact that he identified with Communist Russia, rather than with his own country under attack. Indeed, he had already soaked up most of the Communist creed and was devoted to his boyhood idol, the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro: “In Fidel I found my contemporary hero.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, Meeropol became active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. Moreover, he and his brother sued the FBI and CIA under the Freedom of Information Act, winning the release of 300,000 previously secret documents which Robert cited as evidence that his parents had been wrongly convicted. In 1975, Robert and Michael co-wrote a book proclaiming their parents’ innocence, We Are Your Sons: The Legacy of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Emerging for the first time as public figures, the brothers threw their energies – as organizers, fundraisers and spokesmen – into the National Committee to Re-Open the Rosenberg Case. This effort and its offshoots have remained – by Robert’s own account – the principal focus of both their lives ever since.
When certain international events of the Sixties and Seventies – e.g., the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Communist genocide in Cambodia – shattered the coalitions of the Communist left, Robert Meeropol’s political faith never wavered. In the 1980s he and his wife became organizers of a chapter of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador – an organization set up in the United States by Cuban intelligence operatives to aid the Communist guerrillas in Central America.
Meeropol’s life as a young man in the 1970s and 1980s is brought to light in his 2004 memoir, An Execution in the Family. In this text, Meeropol emerges as a sensitive and self-conscious individual who, for many years, had been concerned to preserve his anonymity. As a young parent, he was preoccupied with family, in particular with providing his young children the stability and shelter that was so traumatically lacking in his own. He writes disarmingly of his insecurities, his lack of physical and moral courage, his inability to find himself or to establish an adult life. He and his wife seem to have lived for an exceptionally long time as college students, both literally – extending their schooling into their thirties, teaching courses half-heartedly while working on the Rosenberg case – and metaphorically, finding paying jobs that were in one way or another related to their progressive political community and its agitational causes. When Robert finally obtained a law-school degree ,he admitted to feeling “a bit concerned that at thirty-seven I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do when I grew up.”
At first the answer appeared to be “estate planning.” But when Meeropol could not find a “leftwing estate-planning firm,” he found himself doing business law instead. When his apprenticeship was complete, and the firm gave him adult responsibilities, they proved too much for his fragile psychology. The pressures of making decisions and “closing deals” soon overwhelmed Meeropol and he suffered a nervous breakdown. Surviving on doses of Xanax in the daytime and Halycon at night, he eventually decided to leave the law firm.
In 1990, Meeropol created the Rosenberg Fund for Children, a self-described support group for the children of “political prisoners,” where Meeropol continues to serve as executive director. Explaining how he came to create the Fund, Meeropol writes: “I was startled to learn how many children today were vulnerable to the same kind of nightmares I endured after my parents’ arrest. I learned that our country held over more than one hundred political prisoners (Black Panthers, American Indian Movement members, Puerto Rican Nationalists, and white revolutionaries like the Ohio Seven).” But in fact, the very concept of a “political prisoner” is unintelligible outside of leftist mythology, since there are no such prisoners in the United States.
In his 2004 memoir, Meeropol reveals that his original crusade to prove his parents’ innocence had evolved into something quite different:
“I used to hope that when we finally got to the bottom of what really happened in my parents’ case, the facts would show their unequivocal innocence. I no longer feel that way. Now I’d rather my parents had been conscious political actors than innocent victims.”
In short, Meeropol wishes that his parents had in fact committed the crime they were charged with — because it was a “crime” only in the eyes of their persecutors; because the goal in whose service they committed it – the socialist future – was just. Meeropol, then, is not a defender of his parents’ legal innocence, but of their Communist cause.
This mindset was on display when Meeropol and his brother, appearing on stage as featured “performers” at the 50th anniversary “celebration” of their parents’ 1953 executions, included in the festivities the son of Mumia Abu Jamal, the Panther radical convicted of murdering a Philadelphia policeman in cold blood. Robert Meeropol finds a parallel in his own parents’ trial and martyrdom, and Mumia Abu Jamal’s. Meeropol explains this affinity, and his support for Mumia, thusly:
“Like my parents before him, Mumia was not the typical death-row inmate, because regardless of what he had done, his most dangerous crime was his articulate resistance to the dominant forces of our society [emphasis added].”
In other words, it does not really matter whether Mumia Abu Jamal murdered police officer Daniel Faulkner, any more than it matters whether Julius and Ethel Rosenberg actually stole the plans for American jet fighters or the trigger of the atomic bomb, as they are accused of having done. To Meeropol – who once acknowledged that he could in fact conceive of the possibility that his parents indeed had been guilty of atomic spying for the Soviet Union – all that matters is their noble “resistance” to the government of the United States and its ruling class. This resistance makes them “progressives,” and worthy of the cause, and above morality and the law.
This profile is adapted from “Guilt of the Son,” written by David Horowitz and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on June 23, 2003.