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Heir to an Execution

3.9 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

The trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg during the height of The Cold War shook America to its core. And in light of the stranglehold Senator Joe McCarthy's red scare propaganda had on the nation, a true reflection of Julius and Ethel never surfaced during this volatile period. Now fifty years later, their granddaughter, Ivy Meeropol, goes on an exhaustive quest to find the "true" Rosenbergs, and to also answer the question that has haunted her family to this day: What drove the Rosenbergs to sacrifice their lives and jeopardize the future of their children?

Special Features

  • Interviews with playwright Tony Kushner, attorney Arthur Kinoy, reporter Bill Reuben
  • Additional observations from family and friends

Product Details

  • Directors: Ivy Meeropol
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: HBO Studios
  • DVD Release Date: September 2, 2008
  • Run Time: 99 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00026L9CA
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #123,779 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Heir to an Execution" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
This documentary is well done but it is very narrow in scope. Granddaughter/filmmaker Ivy Meeropol focuses her effort on trying to understand the grandparents she never knew through the eyes of her father Michael, eldest son of the Rosenbergs, his younger brother Robert, and through some of the Rosenberg's closest surviving friends. A key element is the distance created by all other family members including distant relatives, even to this day.

This documentary assumes the viewer is intimate with the Rosenberg case, the fervor of McCarthyism, and the red scare -at least from the perspective of what the official story was. With that assumption in place she tells the story from the inside out. This is a moving side of the story to tell and at times a tough film to watch; however, it is not filled with the saccharine sentiment one may expect.

While this documentary is expectedly one-sided, surprisingly it is not totally absent scrutiny. Ivy explores tough questions: Was Julius a communist? Yes. Was he a spy? Yes. Did he ever trade any secrets that compromised our national security or resulted in the death of any American? Very hard to tell, but probably not. Was Ethel a communist? Well, yes but mostly by association. Was she a dedicated wife and mother? My take is that she was more of a dedicated wife then mother, but I may be completely wrong. She was put in a very tough position where every choice was a lose/lose. All the government ever really had on her was being loyal to her husband.

This documentary may well upset supporters who view the Rosenbergs as leftist martyrs, as well as detractors who condemn them as agents of Stalin.
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Format: DVD
Ivy Meeropol takes us behind the scenes into the lives of the children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing prison for treason in June of 1953. This extraordinary documentary focuses primarily on the impact of this tragic miscarriage of justice on Ivy and her family. Viewers who expect to learn about the facts of Rosenberg case are advised to look elsewhere; this is Ivy's story primarly, although we do learn enough about Ethel Rosenberg to appreciate that this was a woman of remarkable integrity and courage. She could easily have saved her life by betraying her friends and family. She chose death before dishonor.

Ivy's father Michael and her uncle Robert were young children abandoned by their relatives who did not want to be associated with anyone connected with the notorious Rosenberg trial. Ann and Abel Meeropol adopted the two boys; Michael became a college professor and Robert a lawyer. Both men have spent much of their adult lives attempting to learn the true facts of the case against their parents.

Ivy discovers that Ethel Rosenberg's brother, David Greenglass, by his own admission, gave false testimony against his sister. In one scene of the film she drives by the home of Greenglass, but decides against interviewing him. Greenglass has worked hard to disappear from the public view and has, for the most part, been successful. Ivy is not ready to question Greenglass about his false testimony. We respect her reticence in this sensitive matter.

Ivy does visit other relatives, some of whom are now ashamed that they did not have the courage to support the innocent children of the Rosenbergs. Ivy's purpose is to reestablish family ties; accusation and blame are not on her agenda.
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Format: DVD
Fifty years after Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed as spies, their granddaughter Ivy Meeropol made this film to understand her grandparents more intimately and humanly.

As a narrator, Meeropol offers charm and charisma. In fact, the whole family seems incredibly normal and, well, nice. Her father and uncle, the Rosenberg sons, survived what many would view as childhood trauma: reading about their parents in the media, visiting their parents in prison, temporary stays in group homes. They were lucky to live in a pre-pop-psych era and even luckier to be adopted by the loving Meeropols.

The Rosenberg sons always believed in the innocence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Through release of formerly classified documents, it's obvious that Julius did some sort of spying. But realistically he probably was a small fish, in over his head, caught up in the government's search for a scapegoat.

Sure, Khruschev mentions the Rosenbergs in his biography, and Julius (but not Ethel) had a couple of code names, but another KGB agent came forward late in his life to say, "They really didn't amount to much." And another accused party member, Miriam Moskowitz, questions the Venona documents when she's interviewed: mostly scraps, she says, except for the Rosenbergs' very complete file.

Ivy's cousin Rachel, a newly-minted lawyer, summarizes the tragedy succinctly. Even if guilty, Ethel and Julius deserved a fair trial, and they didn't get one. The prosecutor engaged in illegal ex parte (out of court) communication with the judge. Ethel's brother David Greenglass has admitted he gave false testimony. The Rosenbergs were accused of accepting a console table with spy equipment; the table turned out to be what they claimed -- an ordinary table they bought at Macy's.
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