Saturday, November 3, 2012

Odd NYT article on Oswald in Russia

It doesn't really tell us very much.  But we really don't know a great deal about Oswald in Russia so make of it what you will.

Peeking through years and the wall at Oswald
(It appears to be retitled as "Intimate Glimpses of Lee Harvey Oswald's time in Minsk"

MINSK, Belarus — At the end of the cold war, the leadership of the K.G.B., demoralized and seeking favor with the pro-Western reformers then coming to power in post-Soviet states, briefly opened its files on the accused assassin of John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald.
The material was so intimate as to be painful to read, showing unequivocally that the K.G.B. had Oswald under intense surveillance, even at night, for the two and a half years he lived in the Soviet Union as a defector.
“They go to bed,” a transcript states at one point, according to the only Western researcher to read it, Norman Mailer.
The agency had a peephole into Oswald’s bedroom here, taking advantage of a thin wall between it and a neighboring apartment, where a watcher sat.
“Don’t touch me, damn you,” Oswald says after climbing into bed, in the transcript dated July 29, 1961.
“No, damn you,” says Oswald’s wife, née Marina Prusakova, now Marina Oswald Porter and a resident of Dallas.
“In a minute I’m going to cut off a particular place. Oy mama.”
“They laugh,” the watcher notes.
The tiny peephole and magnifying lens that made such observation possible are long gone. This summer, the wall that remained as a reminder, of sorts, of Oswald’s presence in Minsk was also lost; a neighbor rebuilt it to add sound insulation.
Minsk, a leafy and pleasant former Soviet backwater, is a city where tiny traces of Oswald linger to this day as perhaps nowhere else but in Dealey Plaza, in Dallas. They will not last forever.
Taking advantage of what clues — and in two cases memories — remain, four new books touching on Oswald’s Soviet period went to press over the past two years or are awaiting publication.
These books comb through a surprising wealth of detail about a central mystery of the accused assassin’s life. A Southerner from a broken home, he lived behind the Iron Curtain after defecting at the age of 19, in 1959. Oswald returned to the United States with Marina and their first daughter, June, in 1962.
An acquaintance of Oswald’s from this time, Dr. Ernst Titovets, published a memoir in 2010 describing the long-ago friendship. He still lives in Minsk, where he is a researcher specializing in the chemistry of the brain.
The book makes clear that, in Minsk at least, Oswald was hardly a lone gunman: the two went on numerous double dates before Marina came along. It rattles through a list of girlfriends and flings that kept Oswald, a young former Marine, busy while his do-nothing job at a radio factory did not.
A foreign-language university, still operating on a side street off Victory Square, about a five-minute walk from his apartment, was a wellspring of young English-speaking women, and a favorite hangout.
“Our tastes in girls differed markedly,” Dr. Titovets writes in the memoir, “Oswald: Russian Episode,” published in English in Belarus. “Lee fancies a species of flashy, uninhibited and seductive female, full-breasted and lean, but never an athletic type.”
In fact, Dr. Titovets suggests, the K.G.B. with its long experience using sex for intelligence-gathering purposes intentionally placed Oswald near this bounty of English-speaking college women, hoping pillow talk might reveal his real purpose in the Soviet Union.
If these clues the city offers up, such as they are, have meaning, it has been to reinforce a conclusion reached by most serious researchers, including Mr. Mailer, who first gained access to Minsk soon after the Soviet collapse: the K.G.B. had no role in the assassination. The agency was as perplexed as anybody by Mr. Oswald.
“The K.G.B. understood better than Oswald what Oswald wanted,” said Peter Savodnik, whose book, “The Interloper,” is scheduled for publication by Basic Books, timed to the 50th anniversary of the assassination on Nov. 22 next year. “They knew very well he had never had anything akin to a real family, a mother and a father who loved him. In a way, they provided him with a world.”
Compared with the scorched earth the Kennedy assassination presents to researchers in the United States, Oswald’s time in Minsk remains a fertile topic, for now, Mr. Savodnik said.
Mr. Mailer handled it in his 1995 book “Oswald’s Tale,” based on the exclusive access granted by the first post-Soviet president of Belarus, Stanislav S. Shushkevich, who ordered the K.G.B. to open the file.
Mr. Mailer’s book incorporated techniques of fiction like imagined dialogue, muddying the historical picture and in some views squandering what turned out to be a one-time opportunity to view the file.
Mr. Shushkevich’s forthcoming memoirs, discussed with a reporter in a hotel lobby where plainclothes police officers sat at an adjoining table, include a chapter on Oswald, whom he taught Russian at the radio factory. He wrote that the two were never allowed to meet alone, reinforcing the narrative that Oswald could hardly have been a Soviet agent if the K.G.B. was taking such pains to watch him.
But the author of one of the new books is now suggesting that author of another — Dr. Titovets — is a K.G.B. agent, once part of the team watching Oswald. In an interview, Dr. Titovets denied this.
Alexander Lukashuk, a reporter with the American-financed Radio Liberty and author of “Trace of the Butterfly,” published in 2011, cites Dr. Titovets’s role in creating audio recordings of Oswald’s voice, perhaps used by the K.G.B. to authenticate Oswald’s Southern accent. Dr. Titovets is now using these recordings to promote his book.
The peephole into the bedroom was only part of the K.G.B.’s surveillance effort. A listening device was installed in Oswald’s ceiling, researchers have determined; the family living upstairs later emigrated to Israel, where members recalled being asked to leave for a few days while this work was done.
The K.G.B tape recorder caught Oswald’s marital spats with Marina, among other things, according to the agency files shown to Mr. Mailer:
“You idiot!” the transcript records Marina saying on May 19, 1962.
“Shut up,” Oswald says. “Take the baby.”
Even today, the apartment has poor sound insulation. “Whenever I watch television, my neighbor hears everything,” said Eduard K. Sagyndykov, a retiree who settled into the one-bedroom home a decade ago without knowing who had lived there before. “He yells at me through the wall. ‘Turn it down!’ ”
Not all those listening in on Oswald were members of the K.G.B. Irina Ganeles, a retired journalist, 65, lived downstairs, and as a 14-year-old girl once overheard Oswald singing in the shower.
She and her giggling schoolgirl friends wrote him a note, practicing their English and praising his singing, she said in an interview.
The response, now a treasured family heirloom, came in the looping longhand of Oswald, who went by Alex while in Minsk. It reads: “Dear Girls, I was very glad to receive your note and I want very much to meet you. Please feel free to come and see me. In your next letter, please say when it shall be convenient for you. Sincerely, Alex Oswald.”

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