Harry Gold

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Harry Gold
U.S. vs. Julius ^amp, Ethel Rosenberg and Martin Sobell, Government Exhibit 5, photograph of Harry Gold - NARA - 278750.jpg
Gold after his arrest by the FBI
Henrich Golodnitsky

(1910-12-11)December 11, 1910
Bern, Switzerland
DiedAugust 28, 1972(1972-08-28) (aged 61)
Resting placeHar Nebo Cemetery
OccupationLaboratory chemist
Criminal statusParoled after 15 years
Criminal chargeConspiracy to commit espionage
Penalty30 year sentence with parole

Harry Gold (born Henrich Golodnitsky, December 11, 1910 – August 28, 1972) was a Swiss-born American laboratory chemist who is known for having been convicted as a courier for the Soviet Union to pass atomic secrets from Klaus Fuchs, an agent of the Soviet Union, during World War II. Gold served as a government witness and testified in the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted and executed in 1953 for their roles. Gold served 15 years in prison.

Born in Bern, Switzerland, to parents from the Russian Empire, Gold had immigrated to the US with his parents as a child at the age of four. They settled in Philadelphia. During the Great Depression, he found work and finished his degree in chemistry at night. He returned to work as a clinical chemist after release from prison.

Early life[edit]

Heinrich Golodnitsky was born on December 12, 1910, in Bern, Switzerland to Samson and Celia (Ominsky) Golodnitsky, both Jewish immigrants from what is now Ukraine[1] and was then part of the Russian Empire. Samson had grown up in Smila, where his father was a successful merchant. He was sent to Switzerland for additional schooling, as opportunities for Jews were limited in Russia, but he was already influenced by reading Leo Tolstoy, and chose to go into woodworking. He became a carpenter. Henrich's mother Celia had first emigrated from central Ukraine (Russia) as a teenager to Paris, where she studied dentistry. She had become radicalized in Russia and supported the Zionist movement. After running out of money, she took a job in a cigar factory in Bern, where she met Samson. They married about 1907 or 1908.[2]

When Heinrich was 4, his family immigrated to the United States, seeking more opportunity. After they arrived at New York in July 1914, an agent at Ellis Island suggested they shorten their surname to Gold, which they agreed to, and they kept that version. In the United States, the boy became known as Harry. They first went to Chicago, where Sam worked in a coalyard and Celia in a tobacco factory, both limited by their lack of English. After a year, they left. Sam went to Norfolk, Virginia, where he had some relatives. Celia took their son to Philadelphia, where her brother Shama had settled. When the shipyard job and conditions in Norfolk did not work out, Sam joined them in Philadelphia, a major industrial city. They settled in South Philadelphia in 1915 in the Jewish section. Ethnic Irish occupied territory to the north, and Italians to the west. After some other jobs, Sam found work as a cabinetmaker at the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey, across the Delaware River.[2]

In 1917, Gold’s mother had another son, named Yussel (Joseph) after a grandfather. Neighbors on Philip Street later described the Gold family as having been unusually quiet and stand-offish, but Harry Gold said he had a happy and secure childhood. He greatly enjoyed learning and was a good student in school. To supplement Sam's modest earnings, Celia taught Hebrew and Yiddish to neighborhood children, and was considered an excellent teacher. She expanded the lessons with Jewish folklore and Hebrew literature.[2]

But in the early 20th century, immigrant groups in Philadelphia clashed over their territories; Gold as a boy in the neighborhood suffered with this, especially since he was small and slight, and non-athletic. His father complained of discrimination by newly hired Italian immigrants at the Victor Company, where he was one of the few Jews. In the mid-1920s an Irish foreman tried to drive him out of the factory, but he persisted. Gold admired his father's stoicism but resented the conflicts and developed a desire to fight prejudice. He had an early interest in chemistry and graduated from South Philadelphia High School in 1929.[2]

Early career[edit]

After high school graduation, Gold was offered a job by one of his father’s acquaintances at Giftcrafters, a woodworking firm in the northern Kensington section of the city.

While looking for other positions, Gold applied and gained a job at the Pennsylvania Sugar Company, located on the banks of the Delaware River. A job there would give him economic security and the chance to work with college-educated chemists and state-of-the art labs. He saved money from his work and attended the University of Pennsylvania full time from 1930 to 1932 before his money ran out. The Great Depression was unfolding and he returned to PA Sugar to help his family.

Great Depression, work, and espionage[edit]

Gold had expressed interest in the Socialist Party early in life, influenced by his mother, and the family bought the Jewish Daily Forward. He later said that he thought Communism was related to "a wild and vaguely defined phenomenon going on in a primitive country thousands of miles away."[3] For other Americans, the economic crisis challenged faith in capitalism. A week before Christmas 1932, Gold was laid off by the sugar company. Both Harry and his father Sam looked for work each morning, to no avail. The Gold family faced economic ruin.

Gold was offered a job by Tom Black, a former classmate, at the Holbrook Manufacturing Company in Jersey City. Black befriended him and tried to recruit Gold to the Communist Party. Grateful to Black for his friendship and a chance to work, Gold reluctantly became involved. But he continued to hold his views against the Party. When Gold found that the PA Sugar Company was hiring at the same salary he was making, he decided to return to the company, Philadelphia, and his family. Black visited Gold and his family, all the while encouraging him to attend communist meetings and join the party.

In 1934, Gold started passing industrial secrets to Black from the sugar company. During this time, Gold also attended Drexel Institute of Technology, and took night courses in chemistry, to keep working toward his goal in chemistry.

In 1940, Jacob Golos activated Gold for Soviet espionage, but he was not a recruited agent of the rezidentura. In the late 1940s, Soviet Case Officer Semyon Semenov appropriated Gold from Golos for use by the NKVD.[4] Gold became a formally recruited Soviet agent at this time, and was assigned the codename GUS, GOS, or GOOSE. Semenov remained Gold's control officer until March 1944.

After the war, tensions increased between the US and the Soviet Union following its takeover of territory in Eastern Europe. Communist governments led East Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia, and other eastern nations dominated by the Soviet Union. The Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union had begun.

Gold in 1966

In 1950, Klaus Fuchs, an NKVD agent, was arrested in England and charged with espionage. Fuchs confessed that while working in the United States during World War II, he had passed information about the atom bomb to the Soviet Union, then a US ally. Fuchs denied working with other spies, except for a courier who collected information from him. When initially shown photographs of suspects, including Gold, he failed to identify him. After prompting by the prosecution, he identified Gold.[5]

Gold was arrested that year. Under interrogation by US officials, he admitted that he had been involved in espionage since 1934 and had helped Fuchs pass information about the Manhattan Project to the Soviet Union by way of Soviet General Consul Anatoli Yakovlev. Gold's confession identified many other people connected to the espionage network, and led to the arrest of David Greenglass. He had worked as a machinist at the Manhattan Project and passed material to Gold. Greenglass's testimony resulted in the arrest in 1950 of his sister Ethel and her husband Julius Rosenberg, who were also charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. Gold cooperated and was a government witness in the trial of the Rosenbergs, as was Greenglass. The latter's testimony contributed to their convictions and death sentences; they were executed.[2]

Unable to make the $100,000 bail, Gold was jailed for 7 and a half months before his trial. In 1951, he was convicted and sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. In May 1965, one of his appeals resulted in his being paroled for good behavior after serving less than half that time. He was also credited for the time in jail before his trial.

Gold returned to Philadelphia. He worked as a clinical chemist in the pathology lab of John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, and ultimately for the chief pathologist. He died on August 28, 1972, during heart surgery, at the age of 61. He had never married.[6] He was interred in Har Nebo Cemetery in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.

Representation in other media[edit]

  • Richard Rhodes's book, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (1995), includes information about Harry Gold and his role in Soviet espionage.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Документы ФБР: Golodnitzki.
  2. ^ a b c d e Alan M. Hornblum, The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man Who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010
  3. ^ a b Richard Rhodes (1995) Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. pp. 83–84. ISBN 978-0-684-804002
  4. ^ Williams, Robert Chadwell (1987). Klaus Fuchs: Atom Spy. Harvard University Press. p. 196. ISBN 0-674-50507-7.
  5. ^ "Interview with Robert Lamphere". PBS.org. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  6. ^ Alden Whitman (February 14, 1974). "1972 Death of Harry Gold Revealed". The New York Times. Retrieved July 7, 2008. Harry Gold, who served 15 years in Federal prison as a confessed atomic spy courier, for Klaus Fuchs, a Soviet agent, and who was a key Government witness in the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg espionage case in 1951, died 18 months ago in Philadelphia.

Further reading[edit]

  • Harry Gold testimony, April 26, 1956, part 20, and 1020, both in Scope of Soviet Activity in the United States, U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act, 84th Cong., 2d sess.
  • Hoover, J. Edgar (May 1951). "The Crime of the Century: the Case of the A-Bomb Spies". Reader's Digest. 58 (349): 149–168.
  • Hornblum, Allen M. The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man Who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010 ISBN 978-0-300-15676-8
  • Lamphere, Robert and Shachtman, Tom. The FBI-KGB War, New York: Random House, 1986
  • Trahair, Richard C.S. and Miller, Robert. Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations, Enigma Books 2009 ISBN 978-1-929631-75-9
  • Sheinken, Steve. Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, Roaring Brook Press, 2012; YA non-fiction book

External links[edit]

Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) Full text of Alexander Vassiliev's notebooks, including more information on Gold's involvement in espionage.