When I Was a Kid . . .

One of the most heartbreaking, memorable images from my childhood was the photograph (above) of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on their way to prison, convicted of atomic spying for the USSR and sentenced to death in the electric chair. Their guilt or innocence was always a matter of fierce debate, and many artists, like Picasso, saw them as scapegoats and created art in response (below). The French political cartoonist Louis Mittelberg, also known as TIM, drew a barb at President Eisenhower–pictured with electric chairs for teeth (bottom)–for allowing them to be executed.
    Last week Morton Sobell, a co-defendant who served 30 years in prison, and whose son I befriended when we were teenagers, confessed that he and Julius did indeed spy for the Russians. I was reminded of the emotional impact this case had on many of us in New York. On Tuesday, the Rosenberg’s two sons, who had adamantly fought to vindicate their parents, finally admitted to The New York Times that they now accept their father had spied, but their mother had not and was used as a tragic pawn in the case.
    I was also reminded how as a teenager, I protested for Sobell’s release by carrying handmade signs at the courthouse in Foley Square, perhaps my first use of graphic design.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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