The Other Rosenbergs
Until earlier that year, Milton Rosenberg and his family had lived on one end of a two-block-long garden apartment project called Washington Village. The aforementioined Louis Kaplan—known for writing “communist-sympathetic” letters to the editor of the local newspaper, The Asbury Park Evening Press—lived at the other end. The Rosenbergs had never associated socially or politically with Kaplan, a stout, balding man who had left his job at the Fort Monmouth Standards Agency in 1947. He had become a chicken farmer, and his wife Ruth sold eggs to neighbors.
Executive Order 9835 protected the confidentiality of informants, so Rosenberg was in the dark as to the source of the information that had led to his dismissal, but he did have a right to an administrative hearing before the loyalty board. Sidney Meistrich, a friend, prominent local attorney and a leader at Asbury Park’s Congregation Sons of Israel, the Orthodox synagogue where the Rosenbergs’ two older children attended religious school, counseled Rosenberg to hire a non-Jewish lawyer.
No longer receiving paychecks, the family of five struggled financially. Eva Rosenberg, then a stay-at-home mother, went to work. “I did bookkeeping at fish restaurants on the boardwalk,” she says, referring to Asbury Park’s beachfront resort area. “I’d get a big fish meal and could bring fish home. And my sister’s husband came by with cash every few weeks.”
Worse than their financial woes was the ostracism. “People who knew me and knew we weren’t communists would refuse to talk with me and crossed the street when they saw me,” says Eva Rosenberg. “It was very hurtful.” She says her husband never got over the way friends turned their backs. “He was very bitter at the people who weren’t our friends during this period of time.”
Anxiety pervaded their lives. Until her husband’s suspension, Eva Rosenberg had been nursing Karen but within days lost her milk. Dr. Mark Ellenson, the local pediatrician, blamed it on stress.
That same September day—50 minutes apart, to be exact—an Air Force officer visited the office of another Signal Corps civilian engineer at the Watson Lab and suspended him immediately as a security risk. His name, too, was Rosenberg: Sidney Rosenberg.
Like Milton Rosenberg, Sidney Rosenberg did not know Julius Rosenberg, was not a communist and had been raised as an Orthodox Jew in New York City. A biologist, he had recently completed four years of night school at New York University, earning an M.A. in engineering at the behest of the Air Force. Sidney Rosenberg—who lived with his wife Claire and their children, Barbara and Paul, in the nearby town of Red Bank—was also not informed what the charges against him were.
Thirty days later, Sidney Rosenberg received a letter charging him with association with the same Louis Kaplan. Again, like Milton Rosenberg, Sidney Rosenberg did not know Kaplan well and had until earlier that year resided in the same Asbury Park housing project, Washington Village. Both their wives had, out of pity, sometimes purchased eggs from Ruth Kaplan.
As the two Rosenbergs were to discover in separate administrative hearings before the Loyalty-Security Board, the charges against them were interconnected. Milton Rosenberg’s hearing came first on November 28. With his wife and attorney William J. O’Hagan by his side, he listened to the detailed charges read by the examiner in front of the four-person board, three of them civilians and one an Air Force lieutenant colonel:
“Our information is that you, Milton Rosenberg, and Louis Kaplan were seen through an open window of the apartment of Sidney Rosenberg at 16 Washington Place…and that both you and Sidney Rosenberg were talking with Louis Kaplan about once a week for approximately six weeks prior to May 1950.”