(Robert Meeropol is the youngest son of executed victims of the Cold War, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. He is also the adopted son of songwriters Ann and Abel Meeropol. Abel Meeropol wrote the classic anti-lynching anthem "Strange Fruit" made famous by Billie Holiday)
Do you remember much about your parents?
Well, I remember...they were arrested shortly after my third birthday so I remember virtually nothing about them. It's specific, before their arrest. I do have a memory that is a vague memory of a warm and loving family. Whether his is a myth of a golden age or whether it's a real memory, I can't tell you. There's just no way of knowing that. Then starting approximately a year after their arrest, which would mean it was the end of the summer or the beginning of the fall of 1951 when I was four years old. From that period until their execution in June of 1953 when I was six we, my brother and I must have visited them at least a dozen times in prison. And I do remember them from those prison visits. Now again, I was a little kid and I can't say that I can't differentiate one prison visit from the next. But what I do remember is seeing them both. I do have visual images. I remember thinking how short my mother was. I'm saying that because I had grown and she was wearing these flat prison slippers and she was quite short. She was only five feel tall. And I remember my father playing these sort of word games with my brother at table in the room that we visited them in. And what I also remember is that they were calm, quiet affairs. I alter learned from reading my parents prison correspondence that they made a real effort to pretend that things were as normal ass possible. And I wanted that to be the case, too. So I would say that they made and effort to fool me and I wanted to be fooled. So, you know, if someone wanted to do a dramatization of these visits they would try to make them filled with anxiety and emotional outbursts and that type of stuff. And I think that would be false. That the reality of that was that if somebody portrayed them fairly accurately they would be kind of boring. That's what I remember.
Maybe this would be a little different for you, but your brother was a little bit older than you and I'm sure he's talked to you about his times visiting your parents. My father was also in prison for a pretty long time and I vividly remember how strange and traumatic visiting him in prison could be. It brought out an enormous mixture of feelings with each visit. Had your brother talked to you about this?
Oh yeah, we've had lots of conversations about this. If you want to put the questions a different way, because even I remember the actual process of going to the visit...I didn't mind the car ride up the Hudson River, to Ossing, to Sing Sing (Federal Prison), but I sure as hell didn't like the prison. The prison was this big gray forbidding building with iron gates that would slam behind you. And there would be reporters snapping pictures and I didn't like that at all, you know. In fact, if you happen to come across any newsreel footage of me and my brother visiting the prison, you'll see pictures of us kind of running across the prison yard and grabbing the hands of lawyers. The minute I become aware that there are people snapping my picture, and I'm not always doing this, but I immediately sort of hide behind the lawyer. I didn't like the attention or the process of getting in and out of there, the prison. But I think both my brother and I, after talking with him, actually found the visits to be a positive experience. For us, with both of our parents gone, and getting to see them both...it was the only time we saw them.
Did you get to see them both at the same time?
No, no. We never saw them at the same time. The lawyer was always there. One would be brought in and then the other would be brought in because they were not allowed to be together in the same room.
The lawyer is Manny Bloch?
Yes. So, you know for instance when my parents saw each other in prison, my father was...a cage was placed in front of my mother's cell. And he would place himself in the cage...he would be put in the cage in front of the cell so that there would always be bars or mesh separating them. No, my brother remembers the visits quite clearly and what he remembers most is during the last visit. The last visit took place on a Tuesday and the executions were scheduled for a Thursday. Michael was very upset then. He knew about the plans.
How old was he then?
At that point he was then and he knew what was going on. And yet they were just acting normal, like "See you next visit." And he broke down. He started wailing "One more day to live!" and they both ran out of the room. Actually, they may have been in the room together then. That was the last visit, and I think the only visit the two of them were in the room together with us. they ran out of the room and Michael was very upset. It maybe seem strange that it was Tuesday and the execution was set for Thursday and he said "One more day to live." But I guess what he says he meant was Wednesday...they would be killed on Thursday and Wednesday was the "one more day." And he was upset that they wouldn't acknowledge the situation. This caused my mother to write a letter, the next to last letter she wrote to us. And really to Michael. She explained that she would have liked to break down, too but she felt it was more important for her not to do that in his presence and that she hoped the last minute maneuvers would work. So, he does remember more, but I think for both of us, that they were actually good things. It maybe also be concentrating with your own experience, though I can't say. We, during this period, didn't have a very stable existence. We shifter around to a bunch of different places. Everything about our lives was temporary.
Before and after the execution?
Yeah. This was not really the visiting process. The period between '51 and '53. So there wasn't like this normal life that we were ripped out of. In fact, seeing our parents, at least for my brother, it's harder to say if it was for me, it was even a glimmer of what our old life had been. Which of course, he desperately, and I guess I did, although I don't know if I could articulate it, desperately wanted to go back to.
Were you aware of your parent's execution?
That's a yes and no answer. The last week of my parent's lives I remember a surprising amount and have a strong memory of my own version of the events. Which was not quite accurate. Far from accurate, but in some ways captured their essence. What I mean is that on Monday, June 15, the execution was scheduled for June 18th. Which was a Thursday. There was a last minute stay of execution. And then the Supreme Court was re-convened in emergency session and the execution was reinstated. But by that point it was moved to Friday. So there was this roller coaster ride of good news and bad news. I was too young to read about this in the newspapers, but I listened to the radio and I watched television. My version of what was going on was that Manny Bloch had been asked by the Supreme Court's lawyers to give them ten reasons why my parents lives should be saved. And he did, so the execution was stayed. But then when they reconvened the court, they asked him for a n eleventh reason...and he couldn't come up with one. So they killed them. They killed them. I think what happened was that I confused all the statements I kept hearing about eleventh hour appeals with giving eleven reasons. And that was my six-year olds version of it. So, I knew on some level that it happened and yet my brother reports...and I remember the day of their execution (I didn't know it was their execution date) we were staying with friends in New Jersey. The reporters found us and we were whisked away to another friends house. I remember playing ball with my friend, Mark, while my brother played with Mark's older brother Steve. Then we came inside and we were watching a ballgame on TV and the trailer came across the TV screen that said that the plans for the execution were going forward. Michael...I don't recall this, but I did remember Michael was upset, but I don't recall his exact reaction, but he says he said, "That's it. Goodbye, goodbye." The adults were really upset. They turned the TV off and they sent us outside to play somewhere. And we played until it got too dark to see the ball, came in, and I have some vague memory of my brother being upset about something. That he missed something and was upset and the adults tried to console him. But my attitude towards this kind of situation, and it was about my bedtime anyway, was that I didn't want to deal with all the fuss and bother. It was always quieter and better when I pretend that I didn't understand what was going on anyway. So I did that and I went to sleep. And the adults persuaded Michael not to tell me. Finally, a week later, when I said, when are we going to see Mommy and Daddy again, Michael couldn't contain himself anymore and said "We're not going to see them again. They're dead." But he says I still didn't act like I understood. So, I think on some lever I knew, but I still was in such great denial of it that I didn't know. And I'm not sure I quite understood at 6 years old what was death anyway. So, I think I was at a stage of life where when you're a little kid, when you believe, you really want something to happen, and you believe strongly enough in it, you can make it happen. Or it can be so. There's a magic to your thinking that reality, like the there's no Santa Claus kind of thing, hasn't quite sunk in. So, I don't know exactly when I figured it out and understood it. I think it was something that slowly sunk in over the last few months of 1953, so that by the end of 1953, when I was introduced to Ann and Abel Meeropol, who would ultimately adopt me. My brother, too. I think by that point I knew that they had been killed and I'd never see them again.
And they were executed, what happened to you and your brother?
Well, we were living in New Jersey. We'd been attending Tom's River Elementary school, which was in the town where we lived. Turns out, once the reporters found us there, and there was a lot of publicity, there were complaints from townspeople about their kids going to school with us. And the local school board petitioned the state to say that, since we weren't legal residents of the State of New Jersey, that we really had no right to be in that school. So, I guess you could say I had the honor of having been thrown out of the New Jersey Public School system at the age of 6. Now the lawyer managed to delay...Manny Bloch became our legal guardian, and the lawyer managed to delay the process of us being thrown out of school until December. In December we went back to stay with my father's mother for a few days. Then, after that, we got introduced to Abel and Ann Meeropol at a Christmas Eve Party actually...
That was at W.E.B. DuBois' house, right?
Yes, at DuBois' house. Then we moved in with them in January. So, you know, really I stayed in New Jersey until December, spent a few days with my Grandmother, then moved in with the Meeropols. We spent the month of January with them and it was like a magical transformation. I mean, my parent's attorney came to visit us and he couldn't believe the change that had occurred in such a short time. Then, within w week, he was dead. And at that point the adoption hadn't been finalized and we were living with Abel and Ann Meeropol. But they weren't our legal guardians. Manny Bloch had been our legal guardian and the New Jersey Public School system at the age of 6. Right wing groups petitioned the children's court asking that we be seized and institutionalized and taken away from them, the Meeropols, because the Meeropols were supporters of the Rosenbergs. They said other things in their petition, but that's really the gist of it. And we were seized and sent to an orphanage for a few days. This led to a custody battle that the Meeropols ultimately won. For a while, we were taken out of the orphanage, luckily after a couple of days, and sent back to our grandmother. So for a while we saw the Meeropols regularly, but we actually slept at our grandmother's house. Luckily they both lived in far Northern Manhattan, so it wasn't that far apart. We ultimately won that custody battle and in the fall of 1954 we moved in with Abel and Ann Meeropol permanently. Our names were changed, we dropped form public sight and that public period, that period that my brother always refers to as the long nightmare that lasted from June of 1950 until the middle of 1954 was over. It was really a four year period I guess. Then of course my life changed entirely.
What were the Meeropols like?
Well, they were a childless couple. Abel Meeropol was a songwriter and a high school teacher who quit his job to become a full-time songwriter. he wrote a couple of pretty well known songs. Billie Holiday's signature song Strange Fruit, which Time Magazine ultimately in the year 2000 named Song of the Century. Which is kind of amazing and been recorded by dozens of artists and is the subject of a book and a film at this point.
That's actually when I first learned that the person who wrote the song Strange Fruit adopted you and your brother. I remember when I saw the film in the theater, when it came to the point in the documentary where you said that the Meeropols weren't your birth parents, but you were the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the entire audience gasped at once. "Oh my god."
Yeah, it's kind of amazing that the person who wrote the anti-lynching anthem adopted the children of people who he'd say were the victims of legal lynching.
It speaks highly of them.
Yes, He was an artistic, theatrical sort of person. Ann Meeropol also was, too. She has been a teacher, too. They both had been very active in the arts committee of the Teacher's Union in New York City in the '20's and '30s. She was a part-time...she did a little bit of acting, ran drama classes. She could sing, she could...Abel and Ann put on political satire shows that Ann would direct and Abel would write during the 1960's. It was a very interesting existence because we'd have a parade of writers and artists coming thought our home. We'd often go to Broadway shows and go back stage and meet people who the Meeropols knew. The actors and the writers. We couldn't go to a movie without having to stay for the credits. We'd always have to stay for the credits to see who they knew. Who was doing what. So it was a very interesting home to be growing up in and Able and Ann were always around. They had a regular schedule, but when I came home in the afternoon from school, it was likely that they'd both be there. So they has a lot of time to devote to us and that was really important. Of course as a little kid, I took that all for granted. So I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been adopted by them. And that's the other thing, when I talk about luck, there was not like this massive screening process. Abel and Ann Meeropol know someone who knew Manny Bloch. That person introduced the Meeropols to Manny. They had one meeting. He said that the seemed like good people and said OK. And that was it. When you think about the screening processes and what it takes to adopt people today this is unheard of.
Especially with your case, too.
Yeah, right. And the fact that they won the custody battle given who they were is amazing. So, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have ended up with them. I had a very rich childhood experience. Not financially rich because actually, Abel I don't want to say he was Blacklisted during the McCarthy period. But he was kind of "greylisted." He wasn't getting any work. We were just barely scraping by on the royalties from my father's previously published songs. So we lived very modestly. But fortunately in the last six months before they died, my parent's attorney had traveled the country and even gotten money from all over the world and a trust fund had been built up for me and my brother. It wasn't enormous, but it enabled us to go to summer camp, to get therapy, to go to this alternative private school in Greenwich Village. All of those things were really good for us. They made a big difference. I took are classes at the Museum of Modern Art...things that I think we could never have afforded if it weren't for this trust fund. And that was a benefit as well.
One of my favorite parts about your book was the recollection of historical events early in you life. I liked it so much because it contrasted so heavily with what's accepted as the american perspective. Like with Kennedy's assassination, the U2 spy plane being shot down, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Can you tell me a little about what it was like growing up in a Communist household?
Well, one of the things that it was like was...and I think this is very healthy because when you're in opposition to the dominant culture, yet you're intellectually oriented...we got the New York Times. We watched the news shows. The world was very important to us, the Meeropol family, but it was all filtered by a pro-american media. So what happened was, we got all the information, then filtered it ourselves. We'd interpret it ourselves. We would say "This is what the New York Times says what is what's really going on." So it because a never-ending instruction in critical reading. I don't remember seeing Communist material in my parent's house. Perhaps during the McCarthy period they were just leery of all that. So, it was wasn't like someone handed my a piece of paper and said "this is what you should think." It's that, I got all this other very sophisticated information and thee was all this discussion about what was wrong with it. I was shocked when I was to graduate school in the University of Michigan to read a study which concluded that in the social sciences areas, the average student didn't read text books critically until their second year of graduate school. They just sort of accepted what was said as given, rather than saying "wait a second, maybe this person has a slanted point of view and that there is something wrong here." If it's in a text, then it must be the word of god or something. And that shocked me because I had been reading things critically since I was ten years old. That's just the way I was raised. So that was very interesting, to have that perspective on the world. Though I admit, I don't want to say that I was all that politically sophisticated as a child. A lot of ties my politics basically were if the united states says it's right, then it must be wrong. Like with the Cuban Missile Crisis as a good example. Everybody always talked about Soviet missiles 90 miles from our shore. is that terrible? Well, what about the Cubans? They have a lot more american missiles 90 miles from their shore. Nobody every talked about that. The Cubans hadn't invaded the united states, but the united states had paid for the Bay of Pigs invasion. There was this, what I saw, as this double standard. And that double standard goes on to this day. There's no country on earth today that had invaded more countries than the united states ahs. No country on Earth that had more troops overseas, foreign bases. There's no country on Earth that has a bigger, more powerful military, that has taken more aggressive action. And yet we're always claiming that everybody else is the aggressor. That kind of double standard, and what I see as hypocrisy, and in some cases just a willful blindness. Refusal to acknowledge what's so obvious. I grew up with that and I saw it over and over and over again, so that's what it was like.
What was it like growing up in 1950's american, knowing that the government had murdered your parents?
It was just a more intense version of being a Communist in the 1950's. Just try to imagine being a tiny minority. Less than one percent of the country. 99% of the country would do you emotional and physical harm if they knew what you were thinking. Or your belief that that would happen. And so you had to keep it a secret. So that you were sort of living in hiding in your own land. And yet, you believed that you were right and that if you could convince people, more people would agree with you. So you were always, at least me as a political animal even as a ten or twelve year old, were always trying to figure out ways to get people to see my point of view without revealing who I was. Then of course, I think the key to survival, because that's a very hard life to live for a little kid, is to be placed in situations where you weren't always a minority. To attend the left wing summer camps where you discovered there were dozens of other kids who agreed with you. To be at a school where your views weren't so off the wall, which was the case are the school I went to in Greenwich Village in New York City from the 4th to the 5th grade. And also to keep in mind that most of the time I didn't think about these things. I don't want to overemphasize them because most of the time I went to school, hung out with kids, played on the street, played ball on the street, had a good time. I didn't even really think about the world because I was a ten year old kid and playing ball on the street was the thing that I liked to do most. Or go to camp in the summer time. So there was plenty of time that it wasn't difficult at all because I was doing just what all the other kids were doing.
How do you feel about their execution today, politically or emotionally?
My parents execution, and I'm going to talk more generally in terms of capital punishment... I felt when I was a kid growing up that I knew for certain that they were innocent. That they were framed, that they were innocent. They were killed because they were Communists who wouldn't lie. The whole idea that my parents, the ordinary people who were living on the lower east side of Manhattan who had no money, stole the secret to the atomic bomb was absurd. But I didn't know anything about my parent's case. That was just emotional. That's what people I trusted told me and that's what I believed. And I believed that their execution was wrong, not because executing people was wrong, but because they were innocent. I was not anti-capital punishment. And I wasn't until I went to law school many years later, and I didn't go to law school fresh out of college. I went ten years after I graduated. I went to law school in my thirties and took a look at the american judicial system. Anyone who goes to law school who wants to think about this, they read all the cases where it's really clear that the court makes all these mistakes. Our system is just far from perfect. And the reasoning behind decisions, you could make an argument one way or you could make an argument another way, it's clear that there's some sort of truth that has some sort of inherent value to it that is so clear has been discovered. And given the flawed nature of the court systems. How could you trust such a flawed system with matters of life and death to determine whether someone should live or die? So I became convinced that our system was... and I think that all human systems are incapable of perfection and that capital punishment requires perfection because you can't afford too make a mistake. As a result, I became ant-capital punishment and remain so to this day. So I believe my parent's execution was wrong, in part because I believe executing anybody is wrong. In terms of my views of my parent's case, I started out with this emotional belief that they were innocent. I then, as a teenager, started reading about the case so that when people started asking me questions I wouldn't appear stupid. Because I really didn't know the answers to questions about the case. Then I became intellectually convinced of their innocence. You know I learned that they were only charged with conspiracy. I learned that there was no physical evidence against them. I learned that the chief prosecution witnesses had perjured themselves. I learned all of these things and that just proves that they were innocent. Then I went to law school again, as I said, and one of the things I realized was that yeah, we'd proved they didn't steal the secret of the atomic bomb. That was absurd. We'd proved more things because during the 1970's I got involved in this re-opening effort and I didn't go to law school until the 80's. And we'd forced a lot of previously secret documents that reinforced our knowledge of the fabrication of evidence and lying by part of government witnesses. Also, the bias of the judge in the fact that the judge and the prosecution secretly communicated with each other and basically orchestrated my parent's execution. Which is truly outrageous considering the way the system is supposed to work. So I learned all these thinks and I said OK, I knew they had never had a fair trial. I know they should be presumed innocent based on never having had a fair trial. But that's very different from proving them innocent. I realized that you could frame guilty people. Just because all the evidence against them was fabricated and the prosecuting witnesses lied, that didn't prove they were "innocent." Yeah, maybe they didn't do the thing they were killed for, but that didn't prove they didn't do anything. Armed with that sort of new perspective and as new material has come out starting from 1990 onward, I believe at this point that the evidence is overwhelming that my mother was never a spy of any sort. I think I go into that in some detail in the book. And the evidence against my father... well, you know if the Venona transcriptions are accurate, then he was a non-atomic spy [ed. note-Venona was the code name for secret KGB messages sent in the 1940's that were compromised by a double agent. These documents were used as secret evidence against the Rosenbergs during their trial. The Venona transcripts were released by the National Security Agency in 1995. I have provided a link below to the NSA's web site for VENONA]. Military-industrial spy, working or helping the Soviet Union to defeat Hitler during World War II, when incidentally we were allied with the Soviet Union. But that material may not be accurate. It might be disinformation. And I go into quite a bit of detail about how just because something might be true doesn't mean it is true. I've dealt with a lot of people on both sides of the issue of my parent's case who want to make definitive determinations, which tend to reflect their political positions, I think, more than the fact of my parent's case. I've come to the conclusion that I really don't know whether or not my father did anything. I know he didn't do the thing he was killed for, or I don't want to say I know, but I'm virtually certain. But, did he do something else? Well, that's possible. That little analogy in the book where I talk about what if my parents had been convicted of mass murder instead of stealing the secret to the atomic bomb and there was a big controversy. Forty years later the government released material showing that they'd engaged, my father at least, has engaged in a series of armed robberies in which no one was killed. And the government said "See! They were guilty." Well I'd have a hard time if that were true saying that my father was innocent. But it would be the government who was guilty of murder. Not my parents. And that kind of analogy, understanding that... and as I spent a lot of time in the book talking about how does one deal with this uncertainty? But also, once it became clear that this was the case how did I as both a child, their child, and as a parent, and as someone who runs the Rosenberg Fund for Children and deals with targeted activists today. People who were going through similar things to what I was going through as a child. How do I feel about people engaging in this sort of high risk activity when they have small kids, How do I come to terms with my feelings about my parents, given this. And of course I think that is really what I learned from writing the book. The conclusions I reach about that. And the other thing to say is that I wrote the book... I mean in some ways I took advantage of the 50th anniversary both as a good point in time to look back over 50 years and also as an opportunity to produce something that would get more attention than it would otherwise. I took advantage of that milestone to get more attention than I would have otherwise. But my main purpose in writing the book was to really tell the story of the Rosenberg Fund for Children. The book's not really about my parent's case. I know at least one reviewer complained that my parents weren't even in the book that much. Well, it's not about them! It's my memoir. It's not a factual book about their case, it's my journey, not their story. It doesn't mean that the case doesn't animate a good portion of the journey, but ultimately my story leads to the Rosenberg Fund for Children and that's the story that I wanted to tell and that's primarily why I wrote the book.
What is the Rosenberg Fund for Children?
The Rosenberg Fund for Children is a public foundation that provides for the educational and emotional needs of the children of targeted activists and targeted activist youth in the United States. It's been my full time work since 1990. I've been doing this for 13 years since I left private practice.
And you had an anniversary the other day, too, right?
Yep. We will give away a quarter million dollars this year. It's a public foundation. We have to raise the money from the general public. We have at least 10,000 supporters across the country. We get a large number of modest donations which we in turn give out to about a couple hundred kids a year now. The shorthand version of what the fund does is that we find young people, children, young people today, who are experiencing the sort of nightmare that I was experiencing as a child. And we help them in the same way that I was helped. The trust fund that was set up for my benefit that enabled me to go to art classes, go to a private school, go to a summer camp. Well, that's just the thing that we provide for. So for me, I have found my life's calling. People sometimes come to me and they thank me for doing this work of altruism. I don't see what I'm doing as particularly altruistic. I get up in the morning and go to work and do what I want every day. I get a tremendous sense of personal satisfaction from what I do and I don't want to claim for a minute that these efforts involve any self-sacrifice on my part. It's great to be able to make a positive contribution. I think another purpose I had in writing the book, in telling my survival story and, it took me a long time to be able to do it, how I essentially transformed the destruction of my family into something that... an institution that would benefit other families. To say to people that, yes, my story may be particularly dramatic. But how many of us go through our childhood and reach adulthood without having some pretty big bumps and bruises. Difficult situations. And I think there are many ways we can react to those kind of traumatic events. My way of dealing with it, and the title of the last chapter of the book, Constructive Revenge, is my solution. When terrible things happen to us, particularly members of our family, it's only natural to want revenge. But the problem with revenge is that it's negative. It ends up, in most cases, only making things worse. It doesn't make things better. So, the trick is how to transform those negative feelings into something that creates something positive. So the Rosenberg Fund for Children is my constructive revenge. And the point I'm making here, though it's taking me a long time to get to it, is that it's not a unique situation. That there are universal elements to it. That there is a lot of constructive revenge out there. Some of the best projects in america today, and in the world, are constructive revenge. One of the other objectives of my book is to try to point people in this direction. To tell this story and perhaps generate more constructive revenge projects. Because not only will it make you feel good about yourself, but society will benefit from it as well.
Especially in these days as well, in post-September 11th America.
And that's the trick for america. How do we find the constructive revenge to September 11th instead of going off and bombing countries and invading countries and say that we have to get rid of all of our civil liberties in order to protect our national security. I would say that the course we have taken is the exact opposite of constructive revenge. And we have to take a look at how do we find this. That is our challenge here today in america.
Do you feel that the same thing that happened to your parents could happen again?
Oh absolutely. As long as there is a death penalty. I mean, there's one way to make sure it can't happen and that is to abolish capital punishment. As long as that's the case, then it can't happen. The characters might be different because they will reflect the political tones of the time, but yes. America today, America of 2003, is unfortunately too much like america of 1953. America of 2000 had many differences, but America of 20003 has too many similarities. And the current administration, which is building it's entire policy, the entire policy, based on frightening people. Frightening Americans.
Like Truman and Eisenhower did...
Yes, it's very much like the policies of the McCarthy period, One thing I've learned and have been around long enough to realize is that groups of frightened people do stupid things. And groups of powerful frightened people do stupid and dangerous things. So, I'm afraid that a fearful and aroused American public can be a very dangerous animal and we live in very dangerous times.
What kind of advice could you give to someone who is in similar circumstances to what you were in 1953?
Try to find a community of support. Isolation is the worse situation you can be in. Often times, if you're a kid and you're in a similar situation you can't do it on your own. The advice that I would give to those that are providing support for this kid is to try to nest in a community of support. Get a supportive community. Reach out and get help because isolation is the worst possible scenario. The other thing, if at all possible, children need to be free to be children. Keep them out of the spotlight. Let them live, let them try and grow up to live ordinary lives. Don't try to hide them from what happened. Don't keep it a deep, dark secret. But don't force it down their throats. I was growing up in the Meeropol household. And this is something that I've only realized recently, there was a whole shelf of books on my parent's case in our living room. Nobody ever talked about it. They were sort of on a bottom shelf. They were there where I could see them and access them when I wanted to, but no one ever told me to do it. When I was ready, they were there. I didn't have to ask anybody I could just get up in the morning, walk into that room and pick out a book without making a big deal of it. And look when I felt like it. I'm not saying have a shelf of books, but if you look at that, think about that kind of a model. I think that's important. The other thing of course is to try and put a positive spin on things. Try to figure out a way to make some good come of the situation. In some ways that's the hardest. But if you can figure that out, I think ultimately that will be the most satisfying
My last question, and also one of my favorite parts of the book, was when you held the conference and actually met with the beneficiaries of the RFC. How was that for you?
Well that was in some ways a revelation. I've kept my distance from RFC beneficiaries. I wanted to help them, but I wasn't sure what it was going to be like to know them. I guess perhaps I was worried it would bring up too many painful memories. So when we started holding these gatherings, which I think was a very important thing to do, and on eof the first things I said to you about helping these people out was ending isolation. Bringing these young people together, current and former beneficiaries of the fund. We accomplished a lot. Without us having to say anything, we'd shown them that they weren't alone. Too many of them had been too isolated. To put them together and give them an opportunity to get to know each other was just terrific for everybody involved. And it made me feel great that it made them feel good because I have a special feeling of kinship with these people. At the same time, some of them, asked some very difficult questions because not all of them thought their parents were totally wonderful for what they did. A number of them were angry with their parents. This forced me to confront whether or not I was angry at my parents and how I felt about them. I ultimately concluded I wasn't angry at my parents. Now, how much of that has to do with me really examining these questions for the first time when I was in my mid-fifties as opposed to being thirty-five, or twenty-five, or fifteen is an interesting question, because I can't help but think, as I analyze how I feel about this today, that I successfully, so successfully repressed my feelings in this area. That I really can't say more than that I never really felt that anger towards them when I was growing up, or when I was a young adult. That may be because I didn't feel it. Or maybe because I repressed it. But either way, I can't dredge it up and so I can only talk about it today. And today I probably share the perspective of a parent more than I do as a child because of my age. That may color my perspective. In any event, spending more time with these young people really forced ,e to confront these issues in a manner that I never have before. I like to say that whatever we've given our beneficiaries of the fund, I always feel that I've gotten more than I've given from doing this work. That's one of the reasons that it's not altruistic.
Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview with me. It was nice to talk with you.
It was nice to talk to you, too.
Rosenberg Fund For Children
Background on the Rosenberg Trial