A sons story of survival

An Execution in the Family, by Robert Meeropol, St. Martin’s Press, 288 pp., $25.95

If you’re a regular reader of this newspaper you may think you know Robert Meeropol’s story. Think again.

Meeropol, the younger son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in 1953 for “stealing the secret of the atomic bomb,” has written An Execution in the Family to tell his story his way.

An earlier book, We Are Your Sons, published in 1987, was really his brother Michael’s story because Robert wrote only 80 of its 470 pages.

“If you want to follow the thread of my thinking,” he said in a telephone interview from his office in Easthampton, Mass., “you have to read [An Execution in the Family].”

That’s not just a sales ploy. The book details Meeropol’s personal and political development in a way that may only make sense to some people if they read it in his own words. Once you’ve done that, though, it’s difficult to disagree with him.

The book details the effects of the childhood trauma of his parents’ frame-up and execution during the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s, the brothers’ adoption by Anne and Abel Meeropol, Robert’s early political activism and the personal struggle that ultimately led him to found the Rosenberg Fund for Children (RFC).

Robert described An Execution in the Family in a nutshell: “It’s really the story of how I survived what happened to me in my childhood and how ultimately I grew up and … how my entire life experience led to my starting the RFC and what that is all about.” It’s also the story of the evolution of his views on his parents’ case.

“I knew that I would be opening up a can of worms by doing it,” he said, “but what I found is that those who have actually read the book and see it all, see the totality of what I’m saying, they may or may not agree with me … but I think if they have progressive sensibilities, they generally applaud what I’ve done.”

The RFC, which he founded in 1990, is his way of honoring his birth parents while also providing help for children who – because of their parents’ political activities – are going through some of the same suffering he did.

Robert said he doesn’t judge the parents’ guilt or innocence but does consider their motivation when awarding grants.

“I think this comes down to questions of purity,” he said. “If the people we want to support politically have to be pure, then that becomes an argument for disengaging from the political process because no one’s pure.”

The fund has awarded over $1 million in grants so far and plans to give another $250,000 in 2003. The money pays for everything from piano lessons to therapy. A new category provides grants to youth who are targeted because of their own activism.

Meeropol is rightly proud of what the RFC has accomplished in just 13 years of existence. “It took me almost forty years to figure out how to overcome my fear, harness my anger, and transform the destruction that was visited upon my family into something constructive – something to benefit my community,” he writes in the epilogue of An Execution in the Family.

“America today is confronted with a similar challenge. I don’t doubt for an instant that ... we could channel our fear and anger and use our immense power to protect ourselves by spreading economic and social justice throughout the world ... This is the positive way to respond to the murderous impulses that spawned the September 11 attacks. This is the way to find our constructive revenge.”



– Carolyn Rummel (crummel@pww.org) The full interview with Robert Meeropol will appear in the September Political Affairs.