[Marxism] Walter Schneir
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Sun Apr 26 07:54:53 MDT 2009
NY Times, April 26, 2009
Walter Schneir, Wrote About Rosenbergs, Dies at 81
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
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
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
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