Till the World is Bright (In Memory of the Rosenbergs)
A poem by Edna May Quentin Laxer
On this day in 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed on the electric chair by the United States government.
In the anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthyist era they had been doomed from the start, regardless of their guilt or innocence (and it is now quite clear that in the case of Ethel, at least, her only crime was being Julius' wife) and despite calls for clemency from around the world that even included the Pope.
The execution of the Rosenbergs greatly affected my grandmother, Edna May Quentin Laxer, emotionally at the time. Edna was a member of the Labour Progressive Party, as Canada's Communist Party was called at the time, along with my grandfather Robert Laxer.
Having seen Ethel, a mother of two young boys, killed in this way made her feel that her family, and her three kids, were at risk in a very immediate sense as well.
As a 2010 Fifth Estate documentary that featured my father, James Laxer, discovered, she was entirely correct to be worried:
When James Laxer was growing up in Toronto, he suspected his family was under constant surveillance.
But he had no idea that the Canadian government had a Cold War-era plan in place that — if a national security crisis struck — would have seen him, his mother, father, sister and brother arrested and detained.
And that under the plan his family would have been herded on to a bus and shuttled several blocks from their home to Casa Loma, the historic castle where they would be kept until a permanent internment camp was ready.
Edna died in 2002, fortunately never fully aware of just how right she was, but in 1953, after the execution, she wrote this poem that I share today in remembrance of the Rosenbergs and of the dangers that flow, now as well more than ever, from those who would use nationalism and fear to target certain groups and to suppress our liberties.