A black and white, medium close-up of a woman and man in 1950s clothing, sitting next to one another.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, separated by heavy wire screen as they leave U.S. Court House after being found guilty of federal espionage charges. (Roger Higgins/New York World-Telegram and the Sun/Library of Congress)

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Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

This is the story of the South Philly kid who became a spy, helped pass atomic secrets to the Soviets, and later helped the U.S. convict a famous Cold War couple.

It was noted in the Delaware County Daily Times in May 1966 with the headline, “Atomic Spy Gold Goes Free Today”

Harry Gold’s life in South Philly was similar to many Jewish immigrants of his era.

Born in Switzerland in 1910 to Ukrainian parents, Gold and his family arrived here in 1915.

Gold’s father got a factory job in Camden, working for the Victor Talking Machine Company. It provided the family a relatively stable existence, although Gold was often the target of anti-Semitic bullying in his neighborhood.

In 1929, Gold graduated from South Philly High School.

Gold’s path toward espionage began in 1931, when his father lost the factory job. To support his family, the 20-year-old Gold ended his pursuit of a chemistry degree.

He eventually landed a gig in North Jersey thanks to a friend, who asked him to attend Communist Party meetings.

When Gold later got a job at Penn Sugar in Philly, the same friend recruited him to swipe trade secrets on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Though not exactly a committed Communist, Gold assented.

According to the Science History Institute, Gold likely became a spy because of the antisemitism he experienced growing up in South Philly.

He believed the USSR’s commitment to abolishing anti-Semitism was sincere and he wanted to help the cause.

Over the next decade, Gold slipped further and further into the world of espionage. He was apparently quite adept at it.

During World War II, his spying focused more on military secrets. And by 1944, he was in contact with a theoretical physicist named Klaus Fuchs.

Fuchs, a German refugee, would soon be transferred to Los Alamos, New Mexico — where the United States was feverishly working to build the world’s first atomic weapon.

That transfer would change Fuchs’ life…and Harry Gold’s.

In June of 1945, Gold made a fateful trip to New Mexico. He separately met with two people there: Klaus Fuchs and a man named David Greenglass.

Fuchs and Greenglass both passed Gold packets of information containing secrets on America’s atomic capabilities.

The war ended shortly thereafter — with the detonation of a nuclear weapon.

Harry Gold wound up working for a chemist, where he remained until 1950.

That was the year authorities arrested Klaus Fuchs in England.

As part of his confession, Gold mentioned the New Mexico meeting with David Greenglass.

(Apparently he didn’t remember Greenglass’ exact name. But he provided enough info for the FBI to triangulate and track down Greenglass)

David Greenglass’s sister was a woman named Ethel Rosenberg.

After his arrest, Greenglass claimed that Ethel and her husband, Julius, were also involved in Soviet espionage.

This is the part of the story you might know…

After one of the most sensational and widely covered trials in Cold War history, a jury convicted Ethel and Julius Rosenberg of espionage.

In 1953, the government executed both.

The testimony of Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, would be a major building block in that case.

Philadelphia’s Harry Gold did not know where his confession would lead. He didn’t know the Rosenbergs. But he did testify at their trial.

And he ended up as a critical link in the chain that led to America’s first ever execution of civilians for conspiracy to commit espionage.

As for Gold, he served about half of his 30-year prison sentence.

He was released — as the above headline indicates — in 1966.

After his release, Gold realized his lifelong dream and became a chemist at a hospital in his hometown of Philadelphia.

It would be a short career. Gold suffered from a heart condition and died on the operating table in 1972.

He was 61 years old.

Originally tweeted by Avi Wolfman-Arent (@Avi_WA) on May 18, 2023.

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Avi Wolfman-Arent

Avi Wolfman-Arent is co-host of Studio 2 and a broadcast anchor on 90.9 FM. He was previously an education reporter with WHYY, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the...