Nearly four decades after Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for conspiring to pass America's atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union, the case that has haunted scholars, historians and partisans of the left and the right has found a new witness: Nikita S. Khrushchev.
But the late Soviet leader's testimony -- praise for the Rosenbergs in a newly disclosed memoir that seems to reaffirm the verdict of the court that condemned them in 1953 -- is unlikely to settle a matter that has generated passionate books and an endless debate that swirls with intrigue and mirrors an age of nuclear fear and cold-war doubt.
The memoir says Khrushchev learned the couple had "provided very significant help in accelerating the production of our atomic bomb."
Yesterday's reaction was fervent but inconclusive.
"That is absolute nonsense," said Michael Meeropol, a son of the Rosenbergs, who with his brother, Robert, has written books, filed lawsuits and struggled for years to obtain secret government documents in the case and clear their parents' names.
But Ronald Radosh, co-author with Joyce Milton of "The Rosenberg File," a 1983 book that concluded that Julius Rosenberg was a spy and that his wife was at least aware of his activities, called the Khrushchev memoir "formidable evidence."