An Execution in the Family: One Son's Journey

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9780312306366: An Execution in the Family: One Son's Journey

Robert Meeropol was six years old in 1953 when his parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were executed after being convicted of Conspiracy to Commit Espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union at the height of the McCarthy era. Just before they were put to death, the Rosenbergs wrote a letter to their two sons saying they were “secure in the knowledge that others would carry on after them.”

The Rosenbergs left their young sons a legacy that was both a burden and a gift, as well as an aching emotional void. Robert Meeropol grew up torn between the need to pursue his political values and his intense fear that personal exposure might subject him and his family to violence or even death.

An Execution in the Family details Robert Meeropol’s political odyssey from being the Rosenbergs’son to becoming a prominent political activist in his own right, and it chronicles a very personal journey of self-discovery. This is the story of how he tried to balance a strong desire to live a normal life and raise a family with a growing need to create something useful out of his childhood nightmare. It is also a poignant account of how, at age forty-three, he finally found a way to honor his parents and be true to himself.

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Review:

Robert Meeropol was six years old when his parents Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for conspiracy to commit espionage in 1953. Though this was certainly a significant event in his life, it was not the single defining moment as one might assume. It is also not the central theme of his memoir, though it does play a strong supporting role. In fact, Meeropol has only vague memories of his parents. What he does remember are years spent in orphanages and foster homes before he and his brother were adopted by Abel and Anne Meeropol. While the event did cause some childhood trauma, he reflects that "I can't help feeling that I gained as much as I lost during those years." An Execution in the Family is hardly the work of a bitter man fuming at the establishment for the loss of his parents. Rather, it is the story of a thoughtful person and his struggle to find his purpose in the world. Reared on left-wing politics and social activism, he knew he wanted to help others, but he was unsure of the route to take, and his writes of his confusion and troubles with engaging frankness.

Part of his restlessness stemmed from his inability to come to terms with his past. Up into his early twenties, he never revealed who his biological parents were, even to his closest friends. Ultimately, however, events forced him to acknowledge his lineage and confront the facts, plunging him into his own in-depth investigation of the Rosenbergs' case. Eventually he was able to prove publicly that his parents' trial had been unfair and that critical testimony against them had been tainted. He also had to acknowledge that his parents' names would never be completely cleared. The process proved rewarding in many ways, notably because it served to reveal a greater purpose for him: In 1990 Meeropol started the Rosenberg Fund for Children to support children of political prisoners, beginning his life as an activist and offering him an opportunity to honor both his biological and adoptive parents in the process. "My parents’ resistance inspired a movement. That inspiration survived their execution," he writes. With this memoir, Meeropol hopes in turn to inspire others. --Shawn Carkonen

From the Back Cover:

"Inspirational . . . moving . . . engaging . . . should be required reading."
- Michael Moore

"A riveting and deeply moving human document, filled with the ache and longing of a son bereaved by history."
- Jonathan Kozol

"Heart-wrending, honest memoir . . . Meeropol's captivating memoir deserves a spot on American history bookshelves."
- Publishers Weekly

"Touchingly sincere."
- The New York Times Book Review

"What is compelling about Robert Meeropol's poignant memoir is his utter honesty in examining the question of whether his parents were guilty of espionage. Yet, this extraordinary candor does not diminish his anger at the travesty of justice that deprived him of his mother and father. His story is a personal, anguished search for truth, even while it illuminates a tragic moment in the history of our country."
- Howard Zinn

"I was intrigued by this brilliantly honest memoir in which Robert Meeropol describes his struggle to honor his heritage as the son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg while striving to create his own identity. He writes powerfully of his childhood years of self-muting, his adult years of self-searching. And he writes with a lawyer's acumen on the question of his parents' guilt or innocence of the crime for which they were executed."
- E. L. Doctorow

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