[Marxism] Walter Schneir

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Apr 26 07:54:53 MDT 2009

NY Times, April 26, 2009
Walter Schneir, Wrote About Rosenbergs, Dies at 81

Walter Schneir, whose fascination with the Rosenberg espionage case 
began with a hotly debated 1965 book arguing that the couple had been 
framed, and ended with his grim acceptance that Julius, if not Ethel, 
Rosenberg was indeed a Soviet spy, died April 11 at his home in 
Pleasantville, N.Y. He was 81.

The cause was thyroid cancer, said his wife, Miriam, who was the 
co-author of the book.

The arrest, trial and execution of the Rosenbergs mesmerized an America 
coming to grips with the early cold war and the anxiety aroused by the 
Soviet Union’s testing of an atomic bomb. When the two were convicted of 
conspiracy to commit espionage on March 29, 1951, few seemed to disagree 
with Judge Irving R. Kaufman that their crime was “worse than murder.”

But by the time of the Rosenbergs’ execution, at sundown on June 19, 
1953, the number of people around the world who questioned the 
government’s handling of the case had grown. They ranged from 
death-penalty opponents to those who saw a Soviet-style show trial, from 
Communists to skeptics of the prosecution’s evidence. Picasso and the 
pope pleaded for mercy. With time, Americans’ views on the case 
demarcated a range of political identities, from left to right.

Emotions had cooled by 1965, when Doubleday published “Invitation to an 
Inquest” by Walter and Miriam Schneir. Their sensational accusations, 
most of them documented, reignited the Rosenberg debate. They presented 
evidence that witnesses had changed their stories after coaching from 
prosecutors, and they asserted that critical evidence had been forged by 
the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They argued not only that the 
Rosenbergs were innocent, but also that no crime had occurred.

The Houston Chronicle said the Schneirs created enough “reasonable 
doubt” for a “dispassionate court” to render a not-guilty verdict. 
Newsweek said of the book, “Not a line of it can be readily dismissed as 
mere apologetics.”

On the basis of the book’s conclusions, Morton Sobell, who had been 
convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage in the same trial as the 
Rosenbergs, appealed his 30-year sentence in 1966. Well-known figures, 
mostly on the left, demanded Mr. Sobell’s release; they included the 
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bertrand Russell. Mr. Sobell’s 
appeal was denied.

The picture began to change with the publication in 1983 of “The 
Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth” by Ronald Radosh and Joyce 
Milton. The new book used 200,000 pages of documents obtained under the 
Freedom of Information Act to argue that Julius Rosenberg was guilty, 
and that his wife may have helped him. But like the Schneirs, Mr. Radosh 
and Ms. Milton saw the trial as a mockery of justice.

Also in 1983, the Schneirs used the wealth of new material to revise and 
expand their book without changing its conclusions. The debate roared 
for months in book reviews and political journals, and led in October 
1983 to a duel of authors at Town Hall in Manhattan.

More than a decade later, however, the Schneirs were compelled to change 
their minds. In 1995 the federal government began to release 3,000 
Soviet intelligence documents that it had decoded, decrypted and 
translated. Some of the first related to the Rosenberg case. Mr. 
Schneir, saying he “knew it was accurate,” put the new information 
together with his vast knowledge of the case and, with his wife, writing 
in the magazine The Nation, concluded that “no reasonable person” could 
now doubt that Julius Rosenberg was a spy.

This meant that the top echelons of the federal government, including 
the F.B.I. director, J. Edgar Hoover, knew from the intercepted 
documents that Julius Rosenberg was a spy at the time of the trial. By 
the Schneirs’ reading, however, the tapes did not implicate Ethel 
Rosenberg and probably exonerated her. They did not believe that Julius 
had passed on any atomic secrets, if only because he appeared to have 
lacked the knowledge and opportunity.

Victor Navasky, former editor and publisher of The Nation, lauded Mr. 
Schneir, saying he had not let his leftist views interfere with his 
scholarship. “He went public when he felt that the weight of the 
evidence forced him to,” he said.

Mr. Navasky said he continued to agree with the questions Mr. Schneir 
had raised about the trial’s fairness, even though he, too, had accepted 
that Julius Rosenberg had done some spying. “It’s possible to frame a 
guilty man,” he said.

Walter Daniel Schneir was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 14, 1927. He 
graduated from Syracuse University with a journalism degree and worked 
for many years as news editor of MD magazine. He wrote for many 
magazines and published an anthology of writings relating to the riots 
at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

In addition to his wife of 51 years, the former Miriam Blumberg, Mr. 
Schneir is survived by his sons, Jason and Nicholas; his daughter, 
Frances Schneir Baron; his sister, Elaine Fein; and four grandchildren.

Ms. Schneir said that her husband had started the book not to exonerate 
the Rosenbergs but to do “something important.” He later asked her if 
she wanted to help.

Over the years, Mr. Schneir followed twists and turns in the Rosenberg 
case with fascination. Some bittersweet satisfaction came in 2001, when 
David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother and one of the most 
important prosecution witnesses, confessed in the book “The Brother,” by 
Sam Roberts, a reporter for The New York Times, that he had given false 
testimony in the 1951 trial.

Mr. Greenglass’s testimony — that his sister had typed notes explaining 
an atomic bomb sketch — was crucial to her conviction. The Schneirs’ 
book had sharply attacked that testimony.

Mr. Schneir was writing his autobiography at his death. Realizing he had 
little time left, he raced to finish the four chapters on the 
Rosenbergs. Ms. Schneir, without providing specifics, said it would 
marshal fresh evidence to propose “a new narrative of the case.”

Mr. Navasky, who has read the chapters, said, “If he’s right, one has to 
rethink again.”

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