Helen Levitov Sobell

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Helen Levitov Sobell
Helen Levitov Sobell.jpg
Born (1918-03-13)March 13, 1918
Washington, D.C.
Died April 15, 2002(2002-04-15) (aged 84)
Redwood City, California
Nationality American
Alma mater Columbia University
Occupation teacher, scientist
Known for wife of Morton Sobell
Spouse(s) Clarence Gurewitz (m. 1938; div. 1943)
Morton Sobell (m. 1945; div. 1980)
Children Sydney Gurewitz Clemens (b. 1939), Mark G. Sobell (b. 1949)

Helen Levitov Sobell (March 13, 1918 - April 15, 2002) was an American teacher, scientist and activist, and the former wife of convicted spy Morton Sobell. She petitioned but failed to save Julius and Ethel Rosenberg from execution for conspiracy to commit espionage.[1][2][3]


Helen Levitov was born in Washington, D.C. Her parents, Max and Rose, were Yiddish-speaking Jews from the Russian Empire who immigrated to the United States in 1909 and 1908, respectively. As a child, she contracted polio.[4]

During her lifetime, she attended Wilson Teachers College. Throughout World War II she worked at the National Bureau of Standards as a spectrometer technician.[1] In 1938, Levitov married Clarence Darrow Gurewitz. They divorced seven years later, in 1945.[2][3]

Levitov went to work at the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York, where she met, then married, Morton Sobell. Levitov Sobell then studied physics at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Levitov Sobell moved to New York City in 1947 and was, three years later, awarded an M.S. in physics from Columbia University.[1]

After being accused of spying, she and her husband fled to Mexico. They were abducted on August 16, 1950, by Mexican agents and turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[2][4] She was not prosecuted, but her husband was convicted of "conspiracy to commit espionage" and sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.[1]

She campaigned to save the Rosenbergs from execution, raising more than $1 million for their defense. She also fought to have her husband's conviction overturned, filing eight unsuccessful appeals and even leasing the main stage at Carnegie Hall where she hosted the "Committee to Secure Justice for Morton Sobell" on May 15, 1956.[4]

In 1956, she published a book of poems, You, Who Love Life.[5]

She then taught science at the Elisabeth Irwin High School. Her husband was released from prison in 1969. In 1972, at the age of 62, she earned her Ph.D. in computer education from Teachers College, Columbia University.[3]

The Sobells divorced in 1980, and she moved to San Francisco in 1981.[2] She was an active member of the Gray Panthers.[4]

She had Alzheimer's disease and died on April 15, 2002, at a nursing home in Redwood City, California.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b c d e Wolfgang Saxon (April 27, 2002). "Helen L. Sobell, 84, Leader of Effort to Spare Rosenbergs". New York Times. Retrieved March 12, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Helen Sobell, 84; Activist Fought to Save Lives of Rosenbergs". Los Angeles Times. April 24, 2002. Retrieved 2011-11-18. 
  3. ^ a b c "Helen Sobell, ex-husband was convicted spy". San Francisco Chronicle. April 19, 2002. Retrieved 2011-11-18. [permanent dead link]
  4. ^ a b c d Godfrey Hodgson (April 25, 2002). "Helen Sobell". The Guardian. Retrieved March 11, 2015. 
  5. ^ "You, Who Love Life". Biblio.com. Retrieved March 12, 2015.