Walter Schneir, Who Changed Mind About Rosenbergs, Dies at 81

Historians in the News

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 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.
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