Max Elitcher was the first witness called by the prosecution. Elitcher was a friend of Martin Sobell whom Julius Rosenberg had tried to recruit (and probably did, though Elitcher claimed otherwise) as a member of his spy ring. Sobell's conviction rested primarily on Elitcher's testimony. Elitcher most likely cooperated with authorities in order to avoid prosecution for perjury based on falsely denying membership in the Communist Party on a questionaire completed for naval security. (Elitcher worked as a artillery specialist for the Navy Ordnance Department.)
SAYPOL: Did Sobell ever invite you to join meetings of the Communist Party?
ELITCHER: Yes. At first, I declined, but he continued to ask me and I finally visited a cell of the Communist Party and joined it.
SAYPOL: Did you thereafter attend meetings of this Communist cell with Sobell?
Saypol asked him whether Julius Rosenberg visited him in 1944 in Washington, where Elitcher was working on firing control for anti-aircraft artillery.
ELITCHER: Yes, he called me and reminded me of our school friendship and came to my home. After a while, he asked if my wife would leave the room, that he wanted to talk to me in private. She did. Then he began talking about the job that the Soviet Union was doing in the war effort and how at present a good deal of military information was being denied them by some interests in the United States, and because of that their effort was being impeded. He said there were many people who were implementing aid to the Soviet Union by providing classified information about military equipment, and so forth, and asked whether in my capacity at the Bureau of Ordnance working on anti-aircraft devices, and computer control of firing missiles, would I turn information over to him? He told me that any information I gave him would be taken to New York, processed photographically and would be returned overnight--so it would not be missed. The process would be safe as far as I am concerned.
SAYPOL: Was Sobell mentioned in this conversation?
ELITCHER: Yes, Rosenberg said Sobell was one of those who were getting military information for him.
SAYPOL: For what purpose?
ELITCHER: To transfer to the Soviet Union. Rosenberg pursued him, but Elitcher evaded, saying if he had anything and wanted to give it to Rosenberg, he "would let him know."
SAYPOL: Later, did Rosenberg warn you of a leak in espionage?
ELITCHER: Yes. He said, we must be more careful--not to visit him any more, or see him. Also, he advised that I discontinue my Communist Party activities. I told him I couldn't. That was my life and I could not withdraw....
SAYPOL: Did Rosenberg tell you how he got into espionage?
ELITCHER: He told me that a long time ago he decided that this is what he wanted to do, and he made it a point to get close to people in the Communist Party, until he was able to approach a Russian.
Elitcher testified that in 1948 he decided to leave Washington. He drove with his family to New York to seek a permanent residence. He arranged a emporary stopover at the home of Sobell. While on the way to New York, he noticed he was being followed. Elitcher expressed his concern about being followed to Sobell when he reached his hom , who became agitated and asked him to leave, but then relented and allowed him to stay.
ELITCHER: ....Sobell said he had some valuable information in the house, something he should have given to Julius Rosenberg some time ago. It was too valuable to be destroyed and too dangerous to keep around. He said he wanted to deliver it to Rosenberg that night. He said he was tired and he wanted me to go along. He might not be able to make the trip back. He took a 33 millimeter film can. We drove to Catherine Slip. I parked the car facing the East River. He left with the can. I waited. He came back about a half hour later and as we drove off, I said, "Well, what does Julie think about my being followed?" He said, "Don't be concerned about it; it is ok."
E. H. BLOCH: As a matter of fact, from your own story on direct examination, you rejected all overtures on the part of anybody to try to enlist you in stealing information from the Government; isn't that correct?
ELITCHER: Well, I didn't reject them. I went along. I never turned over material, but I was part of it, I mean, it was part of the--I was part of discussions concerning it until I948.
E. H. BLOCH: Did you at any time tell him that you would turn over material to him?
ELITCHER: Well, I said that I might and I didn't say I would not turn over information, I said that I might....
E. R. BLOCH: Did you ever sign a loyalty oath for the Federal Government?
ELITCHER: I did.
E. H. BLOCH: Do you know the contents of the oath you signed and swore to?
ELITCHER: I signed a statement saying that I was not or had not been a member of an organization that was dedicated to overthrow the Government by force and violence. I don't remember whether the statement specifically mentioned the Communist Party or not.
E.H. BLOCH: At the time you verified that oath, did you believe you were lying when you concealed your membership in the Cornmunist Party?
ELITCHER: Yes. I did.
E. H. BLOCH: So you have lied under oath?
E. H. BLOCH: Were you worried about it?
E. H. BLOCH: AS a matter of fact, didn't you leave the Government service to try to get a job in private industry because you were afraid you rnight be prosecuted for perjury?
ELITCHER: That is not the entire reason for my leaving.
E. R. BLOCH: But that was one of the substantial reasons?
ELITCHER: I would say, yes.
(Elitcher had been interviewed by the FBI.)
E. R.BLOCH: Now when you were interrogated by the FBI for the first time, did that fear of prosecution persist in your mind?
ELITCHER: Yes, I realized what the implications might be.
E. H. BLOCH: You felt that the Government had something over you, didn't you?
ELITCHER: I couldn't tell; I thought, yes, perhaps.
(Bloch asked whether Elitcher had confessed because he feared government prosecution.)
ELITCHER: Well, partly, yes. I didn't know what information the FBI had; I had no idea. However, I felt that I didn't want to fight the case. When they came to me, I freely told them the story, and as they might know about it anyway, I felt the only course was to tell the complete story, which I did.
E. H. BLOCH: It wasn't out of any sense of patriotism that you told the FBI the story?
ELITCHER: Well, in a sense, yes.
E. H. BLOCH: It was to save your own skin, wasn't it?
ELITCHER: No, because I didn't know what would happen to my skin even when I told the story--and I knew of nothing I was doing that would save my skin....
E.H. BLOCH: You voluntarily came up to New York, you say, for the purpose of discussing espionage with Julius Rosenberg; is that right?
COURT: Was it pursuant to your talk with Sobell?
PHILLIPS: We object to your Honor's question. The word "pursuant" is objectionable, It calls for a conclusion.
COURT: Denied . . . Where the Court is of the opinion the jury may not follow the sequence of events, the Court will not hesitate to call that to the jury's attention.I
E. H. BLOCH: When you were questioned by the FBI, did you tell them about the automobile trip you took with Sobell to Catherine Slip?
FLITCHER: I did not.
E .R. BLOCH: Tell me, Mr. Elitcher, have you ever been treated by a psychiatrist?
ELITCHER: Yes, for about a year in Washington and for a similar period in New York.
E. H.. BLOCH: How continuous were those visits?
ELITCHER: Apprommately twice a week.
COURT: Did the treatment consist of a discussion with the psychiatrist?
COURT: It didn't include any so-called shock therapy or anything of that character?
ELITCHER: No shock or other therapy involved.
BLOCH: Did your wife also take psychiatric treatment?
E. H. BLOCH: Did both of you go to the same psychiatrist?
ELITCHER: No, that is not done....
E. H. BLOCH: You have come here voluntarily, without any compulsion, isn't that right?
ELITCHER: That is correct.
E. H. BLOCH: Were any promises made to you in return for your testimony before the grand jury or this Court?
ELITCHER: Absolutely none. In fact, I was told that there were no promises to be made, nothing-- the Government would make no statement in regard to what would happen to me.
E . H. BLOCH: Did you at the time you were first interrogated by the FBI entertain any hope that if you told a story in which you said that Julius Rosenberg and Morton Sobell tried to recruit you in espionage work, that the Government would go easy on you or would not prosecute you criminally for any crime you may have committed?
ELITCHER: From the first time that I was approached by the FBI, I decided I would tell the whole complete story. I had no idea at the time of what would happen to me. Frankly, I didn't know whether I would be arrested the same day, and to this day, I don't know what is going to happen, and I decided that purely on the basis that I would tell the whole truth and at least in the future I would not be subjected to any perjury, and I would hope in that way I would come out in the best way. I could see no other course but to tell the truth.
E. H. BLOCH: Now, you had merely the most casual relationship with Julius Rosenberg during your student days, isn't that right?
E. R. BLOCH: And you didn't see him for six years after graduation?
ELITCHER: That is right.
E. H. BLOCH: Now, not having seen him for six years, he then comes to your apartment, asks your wife to step into the bedroom, and this man who hardly knows you, launches into an overture for you to be a spy?
E. H. BLOCH: What did you reply?
ELITCHER: Well, I told him I would see about it. I didn't say I would not engage in this activity; I would think about it. I said, "I can't make trips to New York on my own without my wife's knowledge. It is just impractical . . . I will consider it, and if something comes up and I feel I should bring it, I will."
E. H. BLOCH: Was there any question of money raised?
E. H. BLOCH: Did you pass any information, secret, classified or otherwise of the Government of the United States, to the defendant Julius Rosenberg at any time?
ELITCHER: I did not.
E. H. BLOCH: Well what particular crime did you have in mind you may have committed when you went to a lawyer?
ELITCHER: I know I had discussed a transfer of such material, and I knew that was not legal.
Cross-examination by Edward Kuntz, attorney for Morton Sobell:
KUNTZ: Mr. Elitcher, during all the time you knew Sobell, did he in any way offer you any documents belonging to the United States Government?
COURT: Did Sobell ask you to see Rosenberg?
KUNTZ: I object to the interjection by the Court.
COURT: Your objection is overruled. I will ask questions whenever I think I ought to.
KUNTZ: Well it seems to--
COURT: You proceed. Let's not argue the point.
KUNTZ: Now on each occasion that you had a conversation with Rosenberg or Sobell, where they made invitations to you, did you accept those invitations to commit espionage?
ELITCHER: I accepted the invitations. Yes.
KUNTZ: Did you get any documents from the United States Government?
KUNTZ: Your trip to Catherine Slip, that loomed rather important in your mind, did it not?
KUNTZ: As a matter of fact, according to your testimony, the only contact you have ever had with secret stuff was on that trip; right?
KUNTZ: But you didn't tell this to the FBI on the first visit?
ELITCHER: No, I did not.
KUNTZ: Were you trying to conceal it?
ELITCHER: At that time, perhaps.
KUNTZ: In other words, you were trying to lie to the FBI, weren't you?
ELITCHER: I ornitted it, but I didn't--all right, I lied.
KUNTZ: And in other respects, you continued to lie, did you not, by not reporting fully, is that it?
Kuntz asked Elitcher about the night he drove in from Washington and was followed. Judge Kaufman intervened to ask why he drove at "nine or ten o'clock" at night to Rosenberg's home with a film can.
COURT: Did he tell you why he was going at that hour of the night?
ELITCHER: Yes, he said it was too valuable to destroy and he didn't want to keep it around the house because of the danger.
COURT: The danger of what?
ELITCHER: The danger resulting from my being followed to New York, to the house.
KUNTZ: And you offered to go into the car with Sobell, to take a ten-mile trip, knowing he had dangerous stuff?
SAYPOL: Just a minute now. That is not the testimony. It was Sobell who made the suggestion, not the witness.
KUNTZ: May I suggest that the United States Attorney just make an objection without characterizing whether it was or was not the testimony. If he doubts that it was the testimony, let the stenographer read it, because I don't think it is fair to characterize what is or is not testimony during my questioning.
COURT: Are you finished?
KUNTZ: Yes, sir.
COURT: I sustain the objection.
KUNTZ: I didn't hear your Honor's ruling.
COURT: I sustain the objection, because you are assuming something that hasn't been testified to.
KUNTZ: Well, when you say that Sobell told you he had some very dangerous, some very important material to deliver to Rosenberg, did you believe him?
KUNTZ: Nevertheless, you got into this automobile with Sobell and made that ten-mile trip; is that right?
Judge Kaufman asked who brought up the name of Elizabeth Bentley, the ex-Communist who turned informer.
ELITCHER: The name Bentley was brought up by the FBI agents and I said I had nothing to do with Miss Bentley. At a much later period, I told them that the name Bentley had been mentioned to me by Sobell.
Kuntz protested the judge's intervention.
COURT: Don't raise your voice to me.
KUNTZ: I am sorry, judge; I am sorry, judge; it means nothing. It is my customary way your Honor.
COURT: I will accept your answer.
KUNTZ: I have never tried a case in any different way.
KUNTZ: I assure you.
COURT: All right.
KUNTZ: All the judges have occasion at times to say the same thing, but after a while they get to know me.
COURT: Very well.
KUNTZ: I am sorry.
COURT: But you got into the field and I think you have left a certain implication, which all laymen have, when somebody goes to see a psychiatrist. I think this witness should be permitted to tell what motivated him in going to the psychiatrist.
SAYPOL: What was it that made you go or caused you to go to a psychiatrist, to a doctor?
ELITCHER: Well, after our marriage we found that we had domestic difficulties and we found it difficult to live with each other. We found that I had personality problems and she had personality problems which prevented a happy existence together. I found it difficult to meet with people to have a good time, to talk in front of an audience. I think, to jump a step, without the aid that I went to, it would be difficult for me to present myself in front of this audience in this matter, and because of that my wife decided that she would attempt to correct her problems which were of a similar nature to mine, but perhaps not exactly the same. She went to a psychiatrist and felt that she was being benefited by it, but because I wasn't going, so that it would be a two-way arrangement, that both of us would be improved by it, she insisted that I go. It was upon her insistence that I finally did go to a psychiatrist. It was only after I had gone and had been able to recognize some of my problems, that our married life did adjust itself, and I will say right now that it couldn't be much happier as married life goes.
SAYPOL: In taking these treatments from the doctor did it require that you remain away from your work?
SAYPOL: Was there any coercion [during the FBI interviews]?
SAYPOL: Was there any loud shouting?
COURT: Would you say the agents at all times behaved themselves like gentlemen?
ELITCHER: I would say so.
SAYPOL: At any time in your relation with the agencies of the Government, and I couple them all, has anybody tried to color your story or suggest to you anything other than the truth as you know it?
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