Lee Harvey Oswald and the Jews

Soviet Colleagues and Girlfriend Influenced Assassin of JFK

End of the Line: In Moscow in 1960, three years before he would assassinate JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald tried to kill himself, after which the KGB sent him to Minsk.
Getty Images
End of the Line: In Moscow in 1960, three years before he would assassinate JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald tried to kill himself, after which the KGB sent him to Minsk.

By Peter Savodnik

Published October 10, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Before he killed the president of the United States, Lee Harvey Oswald was a metal lathe operator at a radio and television factory in Minsk. He had defected to the Soviet Union in October 1959, hoping to take part in a revolution that, unbeknownst to him, had been snuffed out three decades earlier, when Stalin liquidated the old Bolshevik guard.

When Oswald learned of this he fled to Moscow, since he hated America and his mother. The KGB did not want him to stay, and they refused to extend his six-day tourist visa, but then Oswald tried to kill himself in his hotel room and they relented. In January 1960 he was sent to Minsk, which was sleepy and far away from anyone important.

In 1960 and early 1961, before Oswald met his future wife, Marina Prusakova, the people who inhabited his world were mostly Jews. Even though their Jewishness had been attenuated and warped by their Soviet experience, it flickered on. It was, in fact, unmistakable. Their religious identity colored their thinking about the Soviet Union, communism, the war, the West, God and man. They were different, even if they didn’t like to think of themselves as different, from the Russians.

Lone Writer Theory: Peter Savodnik is the author of “The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union.”
Landon Nordeman
Lone Writer Theory: Peter Savodnik is the author of “The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union.”

This had a profound, if subtle, effect on Oswald and his experience inside the Soviet experiment. That effect was felt in ways concrete and not-so-concrete, in Oswald’s daily life and in his political fragments: very short, disjointed essays on the Soviet Union, the United States and what he called his “Atheism System,” which pieced together elements of communist dogma and capitalist theory and was as juvenile as it was overwrought and misguided.

The most important Jews in Oswald’s life were Alexander and Alexandra Ziger; their daughters, Eleonora and Anita, and the woman he met at the factory and proposed to outside his apartment building January 2, 1961. Had Ella German said yes, it’s hard to imagine Oswald returning to the United States when he did: German, probably the only woman he ever loved, did not want to leave Russia.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.