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October 05, 2005

Ethel, Julius and their friends

Today's NY Sun had a review of an interesting new book exploring the history of two Soviet spies recruited by Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were famously convicted of spying and executed at Sing Sing in 1953. The two spies, Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant, are the subject of Steven Usdin's Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley.

The review was written by Ronald Radosh, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and co-author of The Rosenberg File, a well regarded examination of the case in light of information from Soviet and American archives that became available over the last twenty years.

Not surprisingly, Radosh sees Usdin's book primarily in terms of the light it sheds upon the Rosenbergs, confirming that they were important Soviet agents whose actions had a serious impact on US national security. (Barr and Sarant played a major role in developing the Soviet microelectronics industry and designed the computer guidance system for torpedoes used in Kilo class submarines. They also turned over to the Soviets plans for American fighter aircraft and fire control radar systems used to develop weapons employed against US troops in Korea and Vietnam.) However, there is also an interesting human interest angle in the complicated personal lives of the two spies. This is how a press release from Yale University Press puts it:

Engineering Communism tells an incredible personal story of Barr’s dual lives in Leningrad with his Czech wife and children and with a married Russian mistress who bore him two children. It follows the two spies through Sarant’s death, Barr’s unbelievable return to the United States after more than four decades, and the reconciliation of Sarant’s common-law wife with the husband and children she had abandoned in America.

Growing up in NYC, I remember hearing one of the Rosenberg's sons come to my high school and speak about his parent's case. (This was probably in connection with the release of their book We Are Your Sons: The Legacy of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.) At the time, I was a good lefty, and believed that his parents were innocent victims of McCarthyism and cold war hysteria. For better or worse, we all now have a better understanding of where the truth actually lay.

October 5, 2005 at 06:28 PM | Permalink


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