Sunday, October 18, 2009

JFK’s assassin in Moscow

Lee Harvey Oswald might have reached his three score years and ten on this day - 18 October - had he not been gunned down and killed, aged 24, by a Dallas night club operator while being held by the police for the most notorious assassination in modern history - that of John F Kennedy. For a couple of years in his short life, just before his 20th birthday - half a century ago today - and while trying to become a Soviet citizen, Oswald turned diarist.

Oswald was born in New Orleans on 18 October 1939, 70 years ago today, but his father died even before he was born. After a period in a children’s home, he returned to live with his mother and two brothers in Benbrook and Fort Worth. In 1952, Lee and his mother moved to New York, where he was sent to a detention centre and underwent psychiatric treatment. Leaving school at 16, he joined the US Marines Corps. After qualifying as an aviation electronics operator, he was posted, in 1957, to the Atsugi Air Base in Japan. He also served in Taiwan and the Philippines before returning to California, and then, in 1959, leaving the Marines.

Oswald became interested in Marxism and a supporter of Fidel Castro. He travelled to Finland and then to Moscow, where he applied to become a Soviet citizen. When his application was rejected, Oswald attempted suicide. Thereafter, he was allowed to remain in the country. He went to Minsk where he was given work as an assembler at a radio and television factory. There, in April 1960, he married Marina Prusakova, a young pharmacy worker.

Two years later, Oswald took his wife and a baby daughter to the US, where they settled, first in Fort Worth, then Dallas and then New Orleans. He became increasingly political, associating with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, as well as some known criminals. In September 1963, Oswald’s wife moved to Dallas to have her second child while Oswald, after failing to get a visa for Cuba, found a job at the Texas School Book Depository. And it was from there that he shot and killed John F Kennedy. Two days later Oswald was murdered by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub operator, while in police custody.

There is a huge amount of information about Oswald in books and on the internet. Wikipedia is as good a place as any to start: its biography is very well referenced, and provides many links. For over two years, Oswald kept a diary - which has been dubbed Historic Diary - and this is widely available on the internet. Wikisource has the original text, with all its errors (possibly suggestive of dsylexia), but a cleaned-up version can be found on John McAdams’ website The Kennedy Assassination. Images of the actual pages can also be viewed among the many papers of the Warren Commission Hearings at the website of The Assassination Archives and Research Center. See also The Diary Junction.

The diary starts in October 1959, two days before Oswald’s 20th birthday, on arrival in Moscow where he is hoping to gain Soviet citizenship. Here are all the entries from the diary’s first week, including his 20th birthday, being snubbed by the Soviet state, and the attempt to commit suicide. (The extracts are taken from Wikisource and are as Oswald wrote them, not least using spellings like ‘flabbergassed’ and ‘Ideot’!)

16 October 1959
‘Arrive from Helsinki by train; am met by Intourest Repre. and in car to Hotel ‘Berlin’. Reges. as. ‘studet’ 5 day Lux. tourist Ticket.) Meet my Intorist guied Rhimma Sherikova I explain to her I wish to appli. for Rus. citizenship. She is flabbergassed, but aggrees to help. She checks with her boss, main office Intour; than helps me add. a letter to Sup. Sovit asking for citizenship, mean while boss telephons passport & visa office and notifies them about me.’

17 October 1959
‘Rimma meets me for Intourist sighseeing says we must contin. with this although I am too nevous she is ‘sure’ I’ll have an anserwer. soon. Asks me about myself and my reasons for doing this I explain I am a communist, ect. She is politly sym. but uneasy now. She tries to be a friend to me. she feels sorry for me I am someth. new.’

18 October 1959
‘My 20th birthday, we visit exhib. in morning and in the after noon The Lenin-Stalin tomb. She gives me a present Book ‘Ideot’ by Dostoevski.’

19 October 1959
‘Rimmer in the afternoon says Intourist was notified by the pass & visa dept. that they want to see me I am excited greatly by this news.’

20 October 1959
‘Rimma in the afternoon says Intourist was notified by the pass & visa department [OVIR] that they want to see me; I am excited greatly by this news.’

21 October 1959
‘(mor) Meeting with single offial. Balding stout, black suit fairly. good English, askes what do I want?, I say Sovite citizenship, he ask why I give vauge answers about ‘Great Soviet Union’ He tells me ‘USSR only great in Literature wants use to go back home’ I am stunned I reiterate, he says he shall check and let me know weather my visa will be (exteaded it exipiers today) Eve. 6.00 Recive word from police official. I must leave country tonight at. 8.00 P.M. as visa expirs. I am shocked!! My dreams! I retire to my room. I have $100. left. I have waited for 2 year to be accepted. My fondest dreams are shattered because of a petty offial; because of bad planning I planned to much!’

‘7.00 P.M. I decide to end it..[1] Soak rist in cold water to numb the pain. Than slash my left wrist. Than plunge wrist into bathtub of hot water. I think ‘when Rimma comes at 8. to find me dead it wil be a great shock. somewhere, a violin plays, as I watch my life whirl away. I think to myself, ‘how easy to die’ and ‘a sweet death,’ (to violins) wacth my life whirl away. I think to myself. ‘how easy to die’ and a sweet death, (to violins ) about 8.00 Rimma finds my unconcious (bathtub water a rich red color) she screams (I remember that) and runs for help. Amulance comes, am taken to hospital where five stitches are put in my wrist. Poor Rimmea stays by side as interrpator (my Russian is still very bad) far into the night, I tell her ‘go home’ (my mood is bad) but she stays, she is my ‘friend’ She has a strong will only at this moment I notice she is preety’

22 October 1959
‘Hospital I am in a small room with about 12 others (sick persons.) 2 ordalies and a nurse the room is very drab as well as the breakfast. Only after prolonged (2 hours) observation of the other pat. do I relize I am in the Insanity ward. This relizatinn disqits me. Later in afternoon I am visited by Rimma, she comes in with two doctors, as interr she must ask me medical question; Did you know what you were doing? Ans. yes Did you blackout? No. ect. I than comp. about poor food the doctors laugh app. this is a good sign Later they leave, I am alone with Rimma (amognst the mentaly ill) she encourgest me and scolds me she says she will help me me get trasfered to another section of Hos. (not for insane) where food is good.’

23 October 1959
‘Transfered to ordinary ward, (airy, good food.) but nurses suspious of me.) they know). Afternoon. I am visited by Rosa Agafonova tourist office of the hotel,/ who askes about my health, very beauitiful, excelant Eng., very merry and kind, she makes me very glad to be alive. Later Rimma vists’

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